QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tottenville Sisters #2: A Second & Third Rising Sun

Quilt inscribed:
 "Mary Ann Dubois John Dubois October the 6 1835." 
Staten Island Historical Society Collection.
The photo is from a 1938 magazine article by Florence Peto.


In yesterday's post I considered the question of who made the quilt in the collection of the National Museum of American Art/Smithsonian.

Here is an almost identical quilt.

Watercolor of the corner of the Dubois quilt
by John Oster.
Index of American Design

Note the row of simple stars in the second Totten family quilt, which is in the collection of New York's Staten Island Historical Society. The Totten sisters seem to have been born on Long Island and moved to southern Staten Island when they were young. After that they didn't go far. So we know where the quilts were made.

Who made them? We have four New York sisters, Elizabeth, Rachel, Mary and Letitia Totten, born in the 1770's and 1780s and four quilts (more confident about the number of sisters than quilts.)


When the quiltmakers lived there the community was also called Bentley Manor in Westfield township. If you blow up the 1859 map you can see why the name was legally changed to Tottenville in the 1880s. There are a lotta Tottens and some of the property owners are women. I see a Mary and a Rachel listed.

Center of the Smithsonian's quilt initialed BT

The Totten's affluence is reflected in these elegant quilts. Wealth came from shipping and real estate. Father Gilbert Totten was what we would call a developer. He was also a slave owner. Slavery was legal until 1827 in New York, when the sisters were well into middle age. They may have had enslaved servants too.

Center of the DuBois quilt
Both stars have a 9x9 layout= 81 diamonds in each arm.

Aimee Newell in her book The Needlework of Aging Women tells us Mary Ann Johnson Dubois was born in 1807. The date on the quilt October 6, 1835 was her wedding day. "Family tradition holds that this quilt was a wedding gift for her."

The Dubois quilt is a rectangle with two pieced borders of stars.

Mary Ann Johnson Dubois was a niece of Mary Totten Williams and Elizabeth Totten Cole, a daughter of one of their sisters. Both sisters Rachel and Letitia married men named Johnson. The Totten sisters' mother Mary was born a Butler so there are lots of Butlers in the family too. And then there are the Drakes.

One or more of the quilts seem to have descended in Rachel Butler's family to Ella Butler who talked to quilt historian and collector Florence Peto in the 1930s. Peto wrote about this quilt in American Home magazine in July, 1938.
"The Bride's Quilt of Mary Ann Dubois--signed, dated 1835, and patterned after famous original conception of the Star of Bethlehem or Rising Sun design created in 1810 by Mary Totten of Staten Island.."
Collection of the Staten Island Historical Society
John Totten (1771-1847) with drafting tools.
He was one of the sisters' three brothers.

Unknown Totten family member by John Bradley
 who painted portraits between 1832 & 1847 in New York.
Collection of the Staten Island Historical Society.

Peto and Butler assumed the quilt with the star borders was made for the 1835 wedding, a copy of  the earlier quilt in the Smithsonian.  Could it have been an earlier quilt dedicated to the bride and groom at the time of the wedding? Could the BT quilt have been made at the same time?

Smithsonian's BT quilt with birds along the edge blocks
has been attributed to 1810 or so.


The caption above from Peto's book says:
"Index of American Design. A multicolored patchwork and applique quilt of chintz and calcio, with 'Star of Bethlehem' center. It was made about 1812 by the Drake family of Staten Island. The pieced quilts of this category show a real sense of design and craftsmanship...."
Richmond Town is the Staten Island museum's historic building restoration. A recent newspaper article about a quilt show there indicated the museum has two similar star quilts attributed to the Totten family.
"Richmond Town owns two Tottens, both made in the 1830s and both sewn and pieced in the popular Star of Bethlehem design, surrounded by 'leaves with wandering vines with flowers.' The more elaborate of the two adds birds to the vines and flowers surrounding its central star."


The quilt on the left has appliqued stars where the birds are in the sister quilt.
Apparently the Staten Island museum has a third very similar quilt, also with birds.

At least one of the Staten Island museum's quilt was acquired in 1938, the same year the Smithsonian's quilt was donated by Marvel Mildred Matthes of Staten Island. A 1938 issue of the Staten Island Historian tells us:
"Probably the most attractive addition to the collections is the gift of a rising sun quilt, one of the famous 'Totten' quilts. Another mention: "Mrs. Carl Kingsley donated many family relics, including a splendid early quilt."

Another difference is in the borders. 
Both have an outer border of a triple lozenge shape. 
The Smithsonian's frames the vine border with bowknot and swags
 while the DuBois quilt repeats that lozenge border.

Peto may have been repeating Ella Butler's belief that the Smithsonian's quilt initialed BT was the first quilt (1810) and this one the second (1835), patterned after an original conception. Although the BT quilt seems a little more graceful in design (those two pieced star borders were an awkward addition) I see no difference in fabric, techniques or design style to make us think one is significantly earlier than the other.

Both combine applique cut from chintz with
 calico leaves in conventional applique. The Smithsonian's
has cut-out chintz vases on the sides, conventional vase in the corners.

In Peto's references to the Dubois quilt she credited the owner as Miss Ella Butler. The ownership trail on these quilts is quite difficult to figure out (Tottens, Johnson, Drakes, Butlers, Matthes, Kingsleys). And I have given up.

I also have no idea who made these quilts beyond "members of the Totten family."
Print this out at 200% and get started on your own version.

Or see if you can find Rita Verroca's pattern.
 Here's a reproduction she's been working on.
Tomorrow: A Fourth Totten Family Quilt

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