Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Drake Family Bible Quilt


76" x 71", estimated date 1900-1910
In the 1980s the Kentucky project recorded this four-block Bible
quilt as having been made by a member of the Drake family in Thomaston, Georgia.
Update: This photo is flipped so the letters are not reversed. They are reversed,

See the project record here at the Quilt Index:

Detail shows the prints in navy blue & claret red, two very popular
styles for quilts about 1900-1925.
(The photo is not backwards---the letters A & E for Adam & Eve are.)

Two blocks, a Garden of Eden scene and a Crucifixion scene
 are repeated. Each looks to be about 30".

The Kentucky project showed it in their 1992 exhibit Always There - The African American Presence in American Quilts, curated by Cuesta Benberry.

Cuesta Ray Benberry (1923-2007)

Since then the quilt has returned to Georgia, purchased by the High Museum in Atlanta in 1995.

Their photo can be enlarged quite a bit to see details.

It's too bad we don't know which woman or women in the Drake family had a hand in this remarkable piece but a little genealogical research reveals many possible candidates among the African-American residents of Thomaston, Georgia, which is about 60 miles south of Atlanta.

Thomaston is the county seat of Upson County in 
the Georgia Piedmont, with a pre-Civil-War economy
based on cotton.
The 1910 census shows us many women named Drake in the
African-American households. Amanda Drake at 54 headed a house
full of women: 6 daughters and 2 granddaughters.
Down the alley Mary Drake, 42, is another possibility.

The Old Mill Cemetery has graves for numerous Drakes who were
living about 1900. The 1860 census shows 217 enslaved Black people
and no free people of color.

Caroline Drake (1842-1916)
We can guess the older Drakes might once have been bondspeople held by the white Drake family in town, headed by Dr. John Calvin Drake (1814-1898)

David E. Paterson has done an economic study of Thomaston. " Slavery, Slaves, and Cash in a Georgia Village, 1825–1865" in The Journal of Southern History (V 75, #4, 11-2009).

He mentions Martin, one of the "Mr. Drake's boys" in 1854.

The 1870 census shows the large household of the now retired Dr. Drake. Near
the bottom: Two Black domestic servants, one 50-year-old Cynthia Drake.
The census that year counts 630 people in Thomaston.

The quilt is remarkable but we can look at it in the context of Southern religion and a nationwide fashion for pictorial and textual quilts inspired by the Christian Bible.

Most notably the crucifixion scenes in the Harriet Powers Quilt in
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

Harriet Powers in 1901

Harriett and husband Armistead Powers in the 1900 census

Harriett Powers (1837-1910) lived near Athens in Clarke County, 100 miles from Thomaston. Did a Drake woman meet Harriett Powers or see her quilts?

One was displayed at the Cotton States Exposition in 1895
and received quite a bit of press.

Pattern sketch in the Chicago Interocean newspaper
December 1, 1895

This Powers quilt is now in the National Museum of American History.

Powers was very proud of these quilts and probably displayed them elsewhere at
smaller Georgia venues---inspiring others we can hope.

Scripture quilts and text quilts were another reflection
of religious expression. This one was also on display at
the 1895 Cottons States Expo, also in the building that
held the African-American exhibits.

More about the 1895 Cotton States Exhibition:

Other kinds of Bible tale quilts were popular: Noah's Ark.

Garden of Eden - Our pattern is long out of print:


  1. Thanks for including the Quilt Index KID number. I was able to update the owner information you provided.

  2. Are you sure the detail photos with the backward letters, of the first quilt aren't reversed? They sure do seem like they are compared to the first photo of the whole quilt. Either way, it got me to look a lot closer at the quilt trying to figure it out.

  3. Or, having had experience in tutoring children in reading and writing, the reversal of particular letters may indicate that the piece may have had some level of dyslexia.

    1. I taught reading too (and am a bit dyslexic myself). That flipping of pattern pieces over can be quite confusing.