Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Ella Maria Deacon's Quilt & The Hicksite Quakers


Art Institute of Chicago Collection
Quilt dated 1841-1842

In 1841 a large group of related people in Burlington County, New Jersey and Philadelphia did a rather innovative thing---they contributed their names, affections and sewing skills (and perhaps some cash if they had no sewing skills) to make an album quilt, converting the popular idea of a bound autograph album to a bedcovering.

Bound albums were standard gift items from family members and suitors.

Paper album book published in 1841

The recipient of their stitched efforts was Ella Maria Deacon (1811-1894), a single woman about 30 years old. The occasion for the gift is unknown. The caption at the Art Institute reads: "The quilt may have served as a farewell gift on the eve of the recipient’s marriage and ensuing move."

But Ella never married and she never left Burlington County, common events associated with album quilts as gifts.

Several signatures are from Rancocas (misspelled on the 1806 map) and more
from Mount Holly. The large river, the border between Pennsylvania
and New Jersey, is the Delaware River. This area was one of the most
populous in the U.S. in the 1840s.

Many Deacons farmed in Westampton Township
The railroad was built in the 1830s

Mt Holly News, October 2 1894

When she died there in 1894 Charles H. Deacon, perhaps her nephew born the year the quilt was begun, administered her estate. Was her beautiful gift in the inventory?

The quilt is 104" x 107" with 85 blocks arranged in 13 diagonal rows across, sashed with a neatly cut narrow stripe with green calico triangles to finish it square.

Fabrics are primary colors, Turkey reds, chrome yellows and overdyed greens with pinks and blues and browns as accents. These blocks and the setting seem to define the style that persisted for decades.

The Rancocus Friends' Meeting House

Who were these people from Mount Holly and Rancocas who contributed to one of the earliest album quilts? Many were Friends or Quakers; many seem to be part of Ella's large extended family.

Photos available online are too small to read the inscriptions but the Art Institute has transcribed them in this order: Right to left; column 1) bottom to top; Column 2 ) top to bottom, etc.

So the first blocks begin at the bottom right....
with the green star  block # 1 in a row of seven.
1) Martha Haines / Rancocas / N. Jersey; (2) Sarah A. Warner / 1842; (3) Ann Whoades / 1842; (4) Charles Kemble / Philadelphia; (5) Martha H. Coles / 1841; (6) Lydia R. Kemble / 1841; (7) Sarah Elizabet Horner / 1842;

The second row has  6 blocks. The key begins at the top with block 8:
(8) Elizabeth B. Deacon / 1842; (9) Mary Anna Deacon; (10) Anne Marie Coles / Gloucester; (11) 4 Mo 14th 1842 / Albert[a?] Haines; (12) H Middleton / 1842; (13) Samuel Wells / Rancocas / New Jersey / 1842
Mary Anna Deacon, Block 9

Many Deacon relatives signed the quilt. Most like Ella were born early in the 19th century, in
their 30s or 40s when the quilt was made. Not the young women we often see following the
fashion in other later album quilts.

For detail photos I am grateful to Gay Bomers of Sentimental Stitches who patterned these blocks for 21 months beginning in 2019.

#10 Anne Marie Coles / Gloucester

Block 11, a rectangular rose, is signed
Albert[a?] Haines and dated in Quaker fashion:
 "4 Mo 14th 1842"
(April 14, 1842)
Albert or Alberta was probably a relative, an in-law.
No record though among the 106 Haineses in the Mount Holly Cemetery.

Also thanks to the blogger at Journey of a Quilt Lover who took pictures when the quilt was displayed four years ago.

These people came early to Burlington County and they stayed, intermarrying among their faith and their cousins to create an intricate web of genealogy. Many are buried in the Friends' Burial Ground in Mount Holly. Ella who is probably buried there cannot yet be found. 

More on the Deacons and quilts:

In 1809 Quaker Sarah Thomson kept a journal. On July 20th she complained about the summer tick invasion: 
"Ticks by thousands scratched all night run over to see Sally Deacons bed quilts but the best of all was brought me a quart bowl full of huckle berrys and milk quite a treat."
Deacons and quilts going back to 1809.

A few weeks earlier Sarah had been "invited to a quilting frolic 20 round the frame looked at them a little while and come home went to bed and had a nap."

That's a lot of quilters whether it's 1810 or today.

Quilts clearly were low on Sarah's list of interests. She seems to have had a migraine: "Most crazy pain in my face staid out too long in the night air dose it up with Garlic." But she accepted "a fine ride  in Judg Cranes carriage...rode up to see Mr Deacons country seat fine prospect but nothing else to recommend it."

She liked the prospect---the view--- but did not care for the house, which may be one of the Deacon houses still standing. We'd have to agree with her; neither house has little to recommend it architecturally.

Deacon House, Elbow Lane Road near Deacons Station, 
Mount Holly-Burlington Road, Burlington Twp., Begun 1744.

Sarah spent a lot of time with the Deacons. On the Fourth of July:
"Spent the afternoon at Deacons, Mrs Deacon a fine old woman one of her daughters very hansome had a dance in the evening."
We don't know which Deacons she visited. Ella was born two years after that summer.

(15) Memorys Tribute / S.A.H. Deacon / 1842

Row 3---starting at the bottom:
 (14) John S. Horner, Jr. / Springfield / N Jersey; (15) Memorys Tribute / S.A.H. Deacon / 1842; (16) This little emblem of ____ / I'll give my youthful friend to thee / And often in some lonely hour / Use them and think on me / Lydia Ann Horner; (17) Oft in tender recollection / Call to mind thine absent friend / Cherish for her that affection / Which I trust will never end / Martha Buzby / 8 Mo. 20th 1841; (18) Sarah Foster / Mount Holly; (19) William Deacon; (20) S. W. Coles;

Block #17: 
"Oft in tender recollection
Call to mind thine absent friend 
Cherish for her that affection 
Which I trust will never end 
Martha Buzby 
8 Mo. 20th 1841"

This may be Martha Buzby Taylor (1810-1878.) Martha Buzby married Thomas Taylor, Jr. November 8, 1843.

A Buzby house on the Rancocas River

Several Buzbys signed the quilt. 

Gay Bomers who has done a reproduction pattern for the quilt tells us: 
"Ella Maria Deacon was born Dec 27, 1810 and died on June 30, 1894. I've spent countless hours down the genealogy rabbit hole and can't locate any solid information about Ella. I believe she was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Mount Holly, NJ. She died in Burlington, NJ and was buried by Perinchief Funeral Home in Mount Holly but I don't know which cemetery and cemetery searches have proven futile. I haven't been able to find any birth or marriage information either. The one census clue I had from 1870 showed Ella living in the household of William G Deacon but the presumed spouse for William is Sarah Deacon which I also believe is true. Giving up for the moment..."

Barbara Baker's version of Gay's pattern

Catalog from the 1986 exhibit

In 1986 Jessica Nicholl curated an exhibit of Delaware Valley album quilts looking at the Orthodox-Hicksite Separation of 1827, which splintered the Religious Society of Friends. She noted the "Orthodox...tended to be an urban economic elite, advocated a formal region that emphasized belief rather than behavior....The Hicksites, followers of Elias Hicks remained more conservative in behavior and tended to be more rural."

Quaker meeting with a woman speaking

Seventy percent of the Quakers in the Delaware Valley joined the Hicksite sect. Of the quilts Nicholl discussed, only one was made by the Orthodox group. It does seem obvious that Hicksites are the source of the album sampler tradition. Nicholl's analysis: 
"The group...fixed upon signature quilts as a way of countering the disruptive forces that were weakening their networks of social interdependence."
She notes but does not picture the earliest quilt in the style, a sawtooth cotton quilt dated 1841 with a block from Elizabeth A. Hays of Burlington New Jersey
"Friendship's purposes preserved
May this forever be
And as a mirror it will serve
To show thy friends to thee."

Looking at Ella Maria's quilt we can make a couple of observations:

Meeting house in Mount Holly, mid-20th-century

The Hicksite Quakers in the Delaware Valley were certainly important in the genesis of the album/sampler style.

Label in 2018

We should not jump to the conclusion that every recipient of an album quilt was either leaving town or getting married. Ella Maria did neither. 

Time to change the caption.


  1. I've been working on this quilt thru a BOM program. It is slow but steady for me...learning lots and just love the overall design. Thanks for the extra history on it...makes the quilt that more special!

  2. Hi, I am trying to figure out a drunkards path butterfly design quilt and I saw mention of one in your book which is apparently on page 403. I don't know if this is from the current edition or a past one so I was hoping that I could ask before I go ahead and buy the book as I am in NZ and shipping is expensive here now! Can you please let me know if that is still in the book? The place I found reference to you is this: https://www.pinterest.nz/pin/butterflies-top-done--326933254172876991/

  3. We know where her grave is but the gravestone is overturned. We hope to get permission to right the stone and clean it