Thursday, March 1, 2018

Eagle Quilts #1: 1853

Quilt signed C.A.C., 1853
Collection of the National Museum of American Art
Smithsonian Institution

I spent some time last year gathering pictures of quilts with dates inscribed on them and filing them on Pinterest pages by decades or years. The eagle quilt above is on the 1853 page.
Click here:

I'm only up to 1860. 

We recognize the spread eagle with olive branch
and arrows as a symbol of the United States

My goal for this year is to analyze all those images before I go on to the post-1860 years. How did quilts change over time? How did quilting's popularity ebb and flow? How did trends in trade, technology and taste affect that? And in the case of the political imagery like the eagle how did politics influence quiltmaking?

Quilt dated 1853
See more about these eagle quilts with Washington on horseback at this post:

If you look at that 1853 page you will notice an enthusiasm for eagles.

Quilt dated 1853
Collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Each pieced star represents a state. Here is Maryland's.

What happened in 1853 of political importance? Franklin Pierce was inaugurated in March, 1853. The Pierce presidency, recalled as one of the worst ever, was a slow-motion train wreck as the North and South became ever more divided. Pierce's inauguration was not likely to inspire such lively images.*

Other current events in pre-Civil War politics tend to be recalled as rather dull. Senator Stephen A. Douglas started working on the Kansas/Nebraska act, which would become a flashpoint in 1854 but that was next year. Senator Henry Clay's death in July, 1853, however, was not just the quiet passing of a politician but an occasion for national mourning. Is that the key?

Quilt signed Phelps, 1853.
Sotheby Auction
Sotheby's assumes it was made in Phelps, Ontario County, New York

Henry Clay had inspired many quilts and this one may be one of them. The words are
"INDUSTRY" above the eagles head and in the ribbon: "WHERE LIBERTY DWELLS, THERE IS MY COUNTRY," attributed to Benjamin Franklin. The word Industry referred to American production, implying support for tarrifs, protectionism that was a Clay motto.

Clay ran for President unsuccessfully three times.

Quilt dated 1853 by Lucy Shephard Loomis (1825-1907) Baltimore
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum,

Quilt commissioned by Maria Theresa Baldwin Hollander 
Collection of Historic New England

This small silk quilt with an antislavery message is not dated but it was shown at the 1853 Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York City where it received national attention, perhaps inspiring a surge of eagle quilts.
See a post here:

I thought I'd examine the politics of the 1850s and more eagle quilts over the next few days. 
Look for a post tomorrow.

*I was reading antislavery activist Hannah Ropes's letters in Civil War Nurse the other day and here's how she described  President Franklin Pierce: "the most unmitigated calamity Heaven ever suffered upon the earth." I doubt he inspired many quilts.


  1. I never tire of Eagle quilts. These are great examples. Once I'm feeling more Patriotic I may even make another one.
    Thanks for another great post.

  2. I love eagle quilts. I think I'm ready to make one. Thanks for all your wonderful posts. Even my husband looks forward to your posts. Hugs

  3. Barb---know what you mean. File them away.

  4. Count me as another fan of eagle quilts. I've been saving images on Pinterest for several years, but you found more that I've not seen before. I still need to quilt my first eagle quilt, but I know there will be more in my future. Maybe to mark the end of the second unmitigated calamity Heaven suffered upon the earth!