Monday, September 7, 2020

Lucy Hatch Whitfield's Unusual Quilt

Quilt attributed to Lucy Hatch Whitfield (1805-1873)
 Mississippi Department of Archives & History

There are not many one-of-a-kind quilts but this one in the collection of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History in Jackson appears to be in a category all by itself. 

2017 Exhibit Stories Unfolded

It's unusual because it's a combination of two styles, rather organic cut-out chintz cut for
formal conventional applique. The conventional applique design is not uncommon,
it's a repeat based on 8 mirror-image design units.

It was once in the collection of Susan Price Miller's family linked to her great-great-great
grandmother who lived in Mississippi. Five cousins, descendants of Lucy Hatch Whitfield, generously donated it. 

The basic pattern is one Marie Webster called a Conventional Rose, often termed a Rose of Sharon or a Whig Rose. The design with simple symmetries is usually done in red and green calicoes or solid colors and often seen in the 1840-1870 period either as applique, piecing or a combination of techniques.

But the Mississippi quilt, which may be earlier, is appliqued of chintz-scale florals with the
centers fussy-cut from this print with a calla lily, auricula (primrose) and other blooms.

Victoria & Albert Museum Collection

The print was quite popular with applique artists in the U.S. about 1820-1845. This colorway has a printed ground, a fancy machine ground.

International Quilt Museum Collection: Gift of Susan Price Miller

So does this one but it seems to be the second version: fewer flowers, different repeat. As Susan writes:
"There were two versions of this print, not counting possible variations in the ground. I had a length of chintz now at the International Quilt Museum that appears to be a cheaper knock-off. The bouquets are closer together, the former long-stemmed vertical flowers lie horizontally unrelated to the rest of the design, and some of the small details are in different locations or absent."   
The background print, a lattice

Blooms cut from other prints are scattered between
the large roses.

What you might consider the sashing cornerstones are
filled with a repetitive motif.

I recognize the arborescent floral with
a gnarly tree branch, this version from my collection.

(Wish I still had yardage with the brown ground)

Years ago Terry Thompson and I did a repro print for our Lewis & Clark collection from Moda.
The selvage says 1800-1830, which is probably when the fabric was printed but we see it lagging
in quilts here about 10 or 20 years.

The fussy-cutting for the formal shapes is interesting.
She has confined the chintz into repetitious, unrelated pattern,
something we might do today---but you don't see much of that
in the 1830-1850 period when this piece was probably stitched.

Here's a similar idea...
Cut out chinz motifs surrounding a star of diamonds.

Barely apparent in the cover quilt on Ladies' Circle Patchwork Quilts' Mississippi issue
July, 1989

Lucy Eliza Hatch (1805-1871)

Susan Price Miller sent some portraits from a family history book Whitfield, Bryan, Smith & Related Families, source of several stories here. See links at bottom of page.

More about Lucy & her family

Susan, a talented researcher, found much about her ancestor, recorded in Mary Elizabeth Johnson's book Mississippi Quilts. Lucy Eliza Hatch was born in North Carolina and like many of her generation lived in several Southern states as the U.S. expanded west in the early 19th century. After school in Alabama she married Benjamin Whitfield in August, 1821 when she was 16 years old and he about 21. Her mother had died and she took over the care of her siblings.

In 1824 the couple and young sons Benjamin and William moved to Hinds County, Mississippi to the new community that eventually was named Pocohantas. The earliest records of Benjamin and Lucy living there are two 1828 children's graves in the family cemetery on their land. They lost three young children in 1828 and 1829, William, Edmond & Narcissa. Fevers and early childhood illnesses must have run rampant. By 1834 she had given birth to 9 children; three were alive. Of their 12 children only three seem to have survived her.

His extended Whitfield family who had intermarried with her Hatch family are also listed as early pioneers of the Mississippi frontier.

Hinds County was frontier when
Lucy moved there in the 1820s. 
Mississippi had become a state in 1817.
Their land was about 10 miles north of Jackson, which
was founded in 1821 as the state's capital.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has a photo
of their home 
Magnolia, built about 1830.

"When finally completed there stood a log house covered with wide clapboards, the main portion reaching up two stories. several rooms extending themselves to the sides, porches stretching across front and rear, and the whole surrounded by magnolia trees and a lawn of twenty acres. The place was appropriately named Magnolia."
It may be a "substantial home"but it is not the luxurious plantation of our imaginations. It must have been a substantial farm, however, at one point the Whitfield's listed 140 slaves.

Benjamin Whitfield is a difficult person to characterize. He was influential in the development of the Baptist school Mississippi College in Jackson and he also seems to have been involved in many lawsuits over property and slaves. He advertised and sold numbers of slaves (see some ads below listing the people by their names). The family biography tells us he was devoted to the South and an ardent secessionist. His rationale: "He believed slavery to be God’s method of Christianizing the negro."

Chapel at Mississippi College built right before the Civil War

Their son Theodore (1834-1894) recalled Lucy's daily activities at Magnolia, which sound much like those of the typical plantation mistress who had servants in slavery to comb her hair and set her fires. Yet her days were busy supervising cloth and clothing production, the gardens, the kitchens and marketing for the larder. She---like the typical antebellum plantation wife---did not live a life of leisure.  

He remembered her as an energetic and domineering woman who "would scold and punish until it seemed a reign of terror." Lucy's free time was filled with her own needlework---which could include this quilt. She netted curtains, made carpets and insisted that slaves make quilts in spare time.

Son in Law Richard Griffith (1814-1862) 
Brigadier General Griffith died in 
Seven Days Battle of Richmond.
(Susan says this photo from an online auction
 does not do him justice)

Her family believes that enslaved seamstresses stitched this quilt in preparation for daughter Sallie Ann Whitfield's (1825-1902) marriage to Richard Griffith in 1848. The date---late for a quilt of these chintzes---may explain the unusual look of the wedding quilt. Conventional applique had replaced the fashion for chintzes; here we have a combination of old and new styles.

Lucy's husband Benjamin Whitfield advertised 46
 enslaved people for sale in 1837.

Three years later he was involved in the sale of 19 men, women and children.
Above are their names.

In the 1930s a W.P.A. interviewer talked to Louvenia Hatch Huff  (1868-? ) whose parents Jacob and Simpson Hatch had been slaves in the extended Whitfield and Hatch families. See the short transcript here on pages 349 & 350:

See more about the calla lily print at these posts:

And more about the Hatches and Whitfields here:
Whitfield, Bryan, Smith & Related Families by Emma Morehead & Dr. Theodore Marshall Whitfield:


  1. Thank you so much, Barbara, for your informative post on this beautiful and atypical chintz quilt. We are very grateful to the Price family for donating the quilt to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and to Susan Price Miller for generously sharing her research. Visitors to the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson had the opportunity to view this special quilt in the inaugural exhibit there, Stories Unfolded: An Exhibit of Mississippi Quilts.
    Mary Lohrenz, exhibition curator, Stories Unfolded, MDAH

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