Saturday, April 14, 2018

Tottenville Sisters #4: Dating the Quilts

How old are these Totten Family quilts?  Florence Peto and family member Ella Butler recorded a chronology in the 1930s. According to that:

The Smithsonian's with the initials BT was about 1812.

Charlotte Winter's watercolor from the WPA Index of American Design
The Farmers' Museum's Sunflower was older.

John Oster's watercolor from the WPA Index of American Design
The Staten Island Historical Society's is dated 1835.

All we have to go on here are watercolors and photographs. We have far more visual information about the quilt with the initials BT at the Smithsonian than we do about the Mary Ann Dubois quilt at the Staten Island Historical Society or the sunflower quilt. We can't really compare the actual prints but we can compare print style and I have to say I think these quilts were all made at roughly the same time.

The red and green above are two common fabrics in all three quilts.

The blues looks to be blue blotch-ground chintzes.

Reds: Turkey red grounds and several stripes and plaids

All from the same period. But what period?
Based on the fabrics: 
I'd say a transition between chintz fashion and calico fashion.

The two star quilts (and there is supposed to be a third) must have taken years to applique.

Pattern is a good dating clue here. I wrote about the sunflower yesterday.

Here's one dated 1832.

I doubt the Totten sunflower was made much earlier than the stars.

Irene Schaefer's watercolor of the BT quilt
at the Smithsonian.

The Rising Sun or Star of Bethlehem pieced design in the center doesn't appear until the early 19th century. Both star quilts feature stars pieced of a 9x9 grid of diamonds, 81 diamonds in each arm. The earliest date-inscribed similar design is in the collection of the Delaware Historical Society

"Catherine Collins Hur Work August the 7 1806."
Quilts dated in the first years
of the 19th century are rather scarce. 

The next date-inscribed large star in my picture files is 1835
the same year that is on the Dubois star. 

Made by Zerviah Miner of Litchfield, Connecticut, 1835.
Collection Madison Historical Society 

Detail of the Miner quilt also with 81 diamonds per point 
and pieced of reds and yellow small-scale prints

I have two block-style star quilts in the files dated 1839.

By Sarah Kyle, 1839. DAR Museum Collection

1839. From Julia's inventory at
Pique Trouver.

This is definitely a style that makes good use
of the newly fashionable Turkey reds.

BT- Smithsonian
The are dating it to the 1830s now.

The applique pattern is also a style characteristic. The Totten stars feature florals cut from chintz and leaves and buds cut from calicoes, an unusual combination.

The Smithsonian has another quilt dated 1818 with similar style in the medallion center.
Note the larger chintz florals and blue calico leaves.

Quilt dated "1818 Ann Dagg.s"

Dated 1837-38 by 
Adeline Wineberger Lusby in the Smithsonian
Cut-out chintz ranges from about 1775 to 1865.
Not much help.

Patchwork pattern tells us that the quilts could be as early as 1800 but much more likely to date from after 1825. 

The Dubois quilt dated 1835 may be the best indicator of date. 

Betsey Totten's marriage record 1795

But the problem with this late date is that Betsey Totten (BT on the Smithsonian's quilt) was only BT until 1795 when she married William Cole and became BC. I can't believe these quilts were made as early as the time of Betsey's marriage.

Who made the quilts?
The Totten sisters of Tottenville.

Letitia Totten Johnson is an unlikely candidate as she died in 1833 at 50.

The most likely candidate is Elizabeth Totten Cole  (1772-1860). 

Richmond County Bible Records
Betsey lived quite a long life,
dying at almost 90 years old.

But then there's Mary Totten Polhemus Williams(1781-1861) who lived a little longer than her sister and mentioned a Rising Sun spread in her will. Rachel's a possibility. Rachel Totten Johnson Butler (1778-1858) only lived to be 80. The quilts seem to have descended in the Butler family.

Have I solved any of the Tottenville puzzle? I doubt it.
If I were writing a caption for one of the quilts it might say:
One of at least four quilts attributed to the Totten Family of Staten Island, sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century. Four Totten sisters Elizabeth, Mary, Rachel and Letitia were born in the 1770s and '80s and lived into the mid-nineteeth century. One quilt is dated 1835 and they all may date to that time.
Recent quilt inspired by the Totten Rising Sun
at the Smithsonian and another applique. 
See the green lozenge shapes in the last border.
My notes just say Laura and Sandy. Know who made this one?

Laura Franchini and Sandi McMillan made the recent masterpiece. Thanks to commenters for the detective work. And for the suggestion that a Totten sister in law may have made the BT quilt. More Tottens!


  1. The solids in the applique might be chintz, as well, like the matching white backgrounds often were solid chintz. In Anna Catharine Hummel Markey Garnhart's eagle quilts, her solids (she used a lot of a very nice, stable iggreen) were glazed and look like heavier fabric than calico. She also used the same expensive chintz fabrics over and over again in over 10+ quilts. I would imagine (just guessing) that in her case, she somehow purchased or was given a large quantity of the floral chintz and related fabrics at one time for her stash and then she made the quilts over several years, intending to make the same pattern in the same luxury fabrics for several family members. Perhaps family members were asking for them.

    Do you think the Tottens could have done this as well?

    This was a great series. Thank you.

  2. Fascinating research and beautiful quilts. Did the sons survive? Perhaps BT is one of the son's wives. They would have been considered Totten women after their marriage.

  3. A google imaage search on that last quilt labeled "Laura and Sandy" turned up the same image on the Nebraska State Quilt Guild's web site. It was one of their raffle quilts.


    They don't give any more details, but that's a start!


  4. The Nebraska State quilt Guild's raffle quilt was made by Laura Franchini and Sandi McMillan. I think it may have been 2007. It was such a popular piece that the raffle tickets were all purchased by NSQG members. It won awards at several of the big shows.

  5. Beautiful quilts and fun investigating.
    I like Suzanne's idea that perhaps family members were asking for them, I
    would be asking for one of those quilts too!