QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT


Monday, March 5, 2018

Eagles #5: Know Nothing Quilts



I've been looking at the popularity of the Know-Nothing or American party in the 1850s when so many eagle quilts were made. In May, 1854 they counted 50,000 members. Six months later they numbered a million, controlling eight state legislatures in 1854 and 1855.

Quilt with initials LH & SAH, dated 1856, and eagles in border
James D. Julia Auction.

We know of the tradition of political names for patterns with Whig Roses
and Democrat's Fancy. 

Marie Webster pictured this "Whig Rose" in her
1915 book Quilts:
Their Story and How to Make Them

Applique quilt with the name "Fancy Know-Nothing" inscribed on it.
Collection of the Indiana State Museum

I wonder if there were more Know Nothing's Fancy quilts out there.

Songwriter Howard Paul's 1857 song Uncle Sam pictured a young
American in a patchwork jacket. 
The song from his musical Patchwork boasts that the U.S.
could beat Russia, Prussia, Belgium etc.

The Know-Nothings had many names. They began as a secret society The Order of the Star Spangled Banner opposed to foreigners and immigration. When asked if one belonged a member was required  to say- "I Know Nothing," which is where one name came from. A code name for members was Sam.

"Uncle Sam's Youngest Son, Citizen Know Nothing."
The sheet music covers are from the Library of Congress.

Border from a quilt dated 1854

The original Order of the Star Spangled Banner's
slogan was "America for the Americans."

Another intriguing pattern popular in the 1840s and '50s is the design
we call Star Spangled Banner, an elaborate Feathered Star.

The name comes from a quilt in the collection of the Shelburne Museum,
which has a verse from the National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner quilted into it.


Here's an 1850 reference to a "star spangled quilt" by Mrs. M Bowers
of Baltimore who showed it at the Maryland Institute Fair that year.

We have no idea if her quilt looked like the familiar pattern. And it may be that the popular design referred merely to the popular song rather than a secret society.

But I don't think we should underestimate the effect of
the Know Nothings on the country in the two decades before the Civil War.

Eagle block in Benoni Pearce's album quilt, dated 1850.
Smithsonian Institution Collection

Know Nothing Polka

From Stark County, Ohio



4 comments:

Wendy Caton Reed said...

I've seen that "Star Spangled" quilt at the Shelburne and would never have to connect it with the Know Nothings. Thanks for another great history lesson.

Lady Locust said...

I love this bit of knowledge which I neither learned in school nor college. It's the kind of history that had an impact but is for some reason hushed. Thank you for sharing.

Laura Lane said...

I have been intrigued with the Eagle that has his head down and is clutching an American flag in his beak. Any idea where that particular pose came from?

Janie said...

Thanks Barbara for more history and insight.
Very encouraging.
I don't always comment but I like what you're doing here.