Saturday, June 27, 2020

Sophia Coltrane: A Quilt & A House

Medallion quilt attributed to Sophia McGee Coltrane (1783-1882)
76” x 80”

The North Carolina project documented this medallion, brought in by one of Sophia’s many descendants.

The bedcover shows style characteristics of an early quilt, likely made before 1820. Patchwork design is typical of the time--- medallion format, simple patchwork, large-scale prints. That center design (14" square)  has been a popular pattern for two hundred years. We would probably call it a Sunflower.

Borders are the basic shapes, square, circle and triangle. The border of circles is not common but is seen in a few early quilts. 

See posts on the border designs here:

Fabrics: Limited colors of blues and browns (although some browns might have once been more colorful). Toiles and the reddish-brown foulard print in the central design are rather limited in print style and dyes. The maker may have had a good deal of each fabric but not much variety. Border shapes are cut from monochrome prints in blue and brown, toiles.

Outer borders

Reverse of a quilt dated 1804

Monochrome prints with classical, literary or country imagery were quite popular for decorating. Many scenic designs were made in France (toiles de Jouy), printed with large copper plates.

But England soon copied the style of scenic landscapes with roller prints.
The roller-printed repeat would then be about 15 inches from cow nose to cow nose.

It looks like Sophia's blue prints are more like this roller-printed floral, probably English prints,
which gives us a little more help in dating: After 1800 when Sophia was in her 20s, but before 1840.

Sophia McGee Coltrane (1783-1882)
She lived to be 99.

It's certainly one of the oldest quilts the North Carolina project recorded. If it was indeed made between 1800 and 1820 near Asheboro in what is now Randolph County in central North Carolina , it would be an landmark North Carolina quilt, but it's also possible it is a Maryland quilt..

Map from the application for a 
Local Landmark Designation for Sophia's house

Sophia lived north of  the town of Asheboro, about 50 miles southwest of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Both her quilt and her home have survived the centuries.

She was born in 1783 in Dorchester County in Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Rebecca Busick & Samuel Newton McGee. That year her father is listed as owning two 100 acre-parcels in Maryland but he seems to have owned North Carolina land too as he sold some of it when Sophia was about ten. The McGees may have visited North Carolina and made connections. Sophia married Daniel Coltrane of Randolph County, North Carolina on July 29th, 1808 when they were both in their mid-twenties. 

Did Sophia (and her family) make this quilt in anticipation of her 1808 marriage? The fabrics could easily be that early and so could the style. If so, it would be a very old quilt indeed---even for more sophisticated Maryland..

This medallion by Mary Eby dated 1803 on the quilt is the earliest quilt documented by the Maryland project. See it in their book A Maryland Album by Gloria Seaman Allen and Nancy Gibson Tuckhorn.

Sophia's quilt is similar in several ways to the 1803 quilt
 in medallion format, narrow range of colors in similar shades and 
borders of squares pieced on point.

The William Coltrane House
William deeded his house to son Daniel in 1811.

Because the William Coltrane house has survived (William was Sophia's father-in-law) we can learn a lot more about Sophia from the Local Landmark architectural application, which tells us:
"The William Coltrane House, built between 1785 and 1800, is the oldest known frame house still standing in Randolph County....Coltrane, a Scottish émigré, was a prosperous farmer, one of the county’s early leading citizens, and patriarch of a prominent family that remained in the residence well into the 20th Century."

Jazz-icon John Coltrane about 1930

The Coltranes owned slaves and it is interesting that the most famous Coltrane, saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967) was born about 50 miles south of this house, perhaps a descendant of people owned by Sophia's husband's family. His grandfather, another William Coltrane, was born about 1860.

Interior woodwork was quite elegant
 William Coltrane "built his well-appointed farmhouse between 1785 and 1800 (probably closer to the former) on 400 acres granted to him by the State of North Carolina in 1783. By the time of his death in 1814, he owned at least 2,800 acres of land in Randolph, Rowan and Orange counties, making him one of the largest landowners not just in Randolph County but in the Piedmont as well. 
Sophia's husband Daniel's tombstone.
He was a man of substance.
"William’s son Daniel carried on successfully his father’s footsteps. On Daniel’s death in 1835, he held over 1,500 acres of land and his estate was valued at $9,960.  
Daniel must have been married before as he brought two sons, David Branson Coltrane born in 1795 and John born in 1802, to the 1808 marriage. He and Sophia had eight more children after 1809, including a second David born soon after his half-brother died in 1815.

Flame grained mahogany door

When he was about 50 Daniel bought a grist mill on the Deep River. He and his sons ran the mill until November, 1835 when he was caught in the machinery, thrown into the mill pond and drowned, leaving Sophia with children ranging from about ten to grown boys who took over the mill. David (1816-1884) inherited the house.

Son Jesse in front of the Coltrane Mill, which has been covered by a reservoir.
He and brother David ran the family mill.

Sophia was dependent on her boys for the rest of her long life. She died in 1882 while living with son Jesse Franklin Coltrane (1821-1916) and his family.
MESDA collection

A walnut corner cupboard similar to this one by
local craftsman Henry Macy was once built into the house.

We cannot guess whether Sophia's quilt was made in Maryland before her 1808 wedding or in North Carolina or after. It certainly has the look of a quilt made in Tidewater Virginia or Maryland's Eastern Shore region, but Sophia could easily have carried that taste with her to North Carolina.

Similar style in a quilt top attributed to 
Martha Washington Dandridge Halyburton, Virginia, about 1805

Collection of the Ladies' Mt. Vernon Association

Read about the family home:
 L. McKay Whatley Jr., Randolph County Historic Landmark Preservation Commission 

See Sophia's grave:

Top attributed to Frances Washington Ball, Virginia
Ladies' Mt. Vernon Association


  1. I love seeing the old houses - wonderful that it still survives. Thank you for the article - very interesting. Lovely quilts too.

  2. What a story she had! Sadly, owning slaves would have been typical for the time, though it is hard to reconcile today. I see the name Orpah, which is from the Biblical story of Ruth. The famous Oprah Winfrey's name comes from that but her Mom spelled it wrong by mistake. (At least that's the story she has told.) I do love seeing a quilt and hearing details of the family. What a sad ending for Sophia's husband when he husband died in that tragic workplace accident. It must have been a terrible time for the entire family. Thanks so much for sharing the fascinating history with us.

  3. I love reading the stories you find, and love the beautiful quilt... great inspiration for a squirrel!