Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Who is Sylvia?


Johnson County Museum
Detail of Sylvia Queen's Garden of Eden quilt

Sylvia Queen is credited with creating an unusual floral applique
quilt. She also seems to have created herself.

See posts about her Garden of Eden quilts here:

The earliest record I've been able to find of "Sylvia Queen" is the 1880 census in LaPorte County, Indiana, in the town of Kankakee up by Lake Michigan about 20 miles west of South Bend. She is living alone at age 77, a "housekeeper," the standard occupation for women in the censuses of the time (employed or keeping house for herself?) She told the census taker she was born about 1803 in Connecticut of Connecticut born-parents.

Connecticut with her early 19th-century Puritan naming practices was home to more Prudences and Patiences than Sylvias, but her literate parents may have been influenced by Shakespeare's character in Two Gentlemen of Verona: "Who is Sylvia? What Is She, That All the Swains Commend Her?"

Soon after being counted in Indiana Sylvia moved to Olathe, Kansas near Kansas City, Missouri. She may have had relatives there, although finding her Kansas family is difficult as they are step relatives. The Marvin family is mentioned in her obituary when she died in 1896 a few days short of her 93rd birthday.

Sylvia also had relatives in the Edwin & Susan Sanford family who lived with her on Olathe's Lula (Loula) Street. Susan M. Hattery Sanford (1848-1945) was likely her step-grand-daughter. Susan and Edwin were from the community of Troy, Ohio in Geauga County, where Sylvia lived when her quilt made the newspapers in 1860.

Olathe about the time Sylvia lived there from 1881 until 1896
Sylvia seems to have made many friends in Kansas who celebrated her birthdays
with gifts & flowers. Sylvia, a poet, entertained them with her verses.

Sylvia had married Susan's grandfather William Quinn (1786-1862) in the late 1840s after the death of his first wife by whom he had several children. Susan, born about that time, seems to have seen her grandfather's new wife as important enough in her life that she was the one who cared for Sylvia in her old age.

Before her marriage Sylvia Walker paid taxes on her cow and sheep in Parkman, Geauga County in the late 1840s.
Parkman, Ohio in the 1880s

Records from Family Search

William Quinn, born in Ireland, was a farmer in Geauga County, Ohio after having owned a rope manufactory for a while. His biography in the county history book mentions his marriage to Mrs. S.S. Walker. After marrying William she became Mrs. S. S. Quinn, a name that evolved into Sylvia S. Queen. William died at the age of 76 during the early years of the Civil War. Sylvia Queen moved west to Indiana.

Detail from the quilt in the Johnson County Museum
in Overland Park, Kansas

Only his first wife is mentioned at William's findagrave site.

Sylvia's Midwest
Sylvia's move when widowed may have been because her only(?) child
Faber M. Walker (1829-1916) lived in Benton Harbor, 
Michigan, about 40 miles north of Kankakee.

Faber Walker was born in 1829 when Sylvia was about 26, married (perhaps) to Ephram Walker (1795-?) 

Ephram or Ephraim, a brickmaker in Livingston County, New York. The same guy?

In New York's 1855 census Ephram was married to a Mary Ann Walker, about 12 years younger than Sylvia. Their eldest was daughter Augusta,19, indicating they'd been together since about 1835, when Faber was six years old. Sylvia may have been married twice, first to Ephram Walker of New York---a marriage that ended in divorce in the early 1830s, then to William Quinn of Ohio. Faber looks like her only biological son.

Detail from the Smithsonian's quilt attributed to Sylvia Queen

Sylvia also had a niece Laura Marvin Hildreth (1836-1901) who remained in New York. Olathe society notes tell us that Laura Hildreth came to visit her aunt in the 1890s. Laura's family home was Gloversville, New York in Fulton County.

We've sketched out Sylvia's peripatetic life and name changes. She is rather elusive, as perhaps she hoped to be. Tomorrow we'll look at more Garden of Eden quilts.

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