1897 Signature Quilt by Sheila Antworth Lafferty
On July 5, 2012, I received an email from Julie, a person unknown to me, with the subject line, “Found a Friendship RedWork Quilt from 1897 with some of your family names”.Like most people today, I normally do not open email messages from unknown sources. However, this time I decided to open the message since I am a family historian who is always interested in discovering something new about my Maine and Canadian relatives.
One day while shopping in a Flagstaff Arizona Goodwill Outlet Store, Julie found a 1897 “Redwork Quilt” or signature quilt with the names of 61 women embroidered on white cotton squares in red thread. Based on a quick study of the quilt, one could see that the quilt was made by women from the Mars Hill / Blaine Maine area in support of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Ladies Aid Society. Most of these types of quilts were made as fundraisers for local churches and other community organizations. As a quilter, Julie knew she had found something special as soon as she saw it. She regularly visited thrift stores in her area looking for vintage jewelry to resell on eBay.
Using a search engine, Julie searched for information about the names and locations written on the quilt and stumbled upon my website, Diaries of Robert Murphy Fulton, Mars Hill Maine (https://fultondiaries.wordpress.com) .
The surnames Blanchard, Jones and Cox appeared on both the website and the quilt so she decided to contact me to see if I would be interested in her discovery.
The website, Diaries of Robert Murphy Fulton, was created in 2006 using the transcriptions of farm journals/ diaries of Robert M Fulton, b. 1816- d.1897. Rodney Fulton, great great grandson of Robert Fulton, owned one journal of Robert Fulton and transcribed it into a digital document . He then continued to transcribe seven more diaries, one owned by another relative and six owned by the Walter T A Hansen Memorial Library in Mars Hill. The diaries covered the years 1886, 1889, 1891, 1892, 1893, 1895, 1896 and 1897. The Diaries website was created so anyone could read them and get a feel of what life was like for the people living in central Aroostook County, Maine in the late 1800s. I was inspired by another diary website, Diary of an 1892 Farmer’s Wife, http://1892farmwife.blogspot.com/ . The farmer’s wife was Josephine Johnson Jordan of Caribou, Maine. Little did I know that someone in Arizona would reach out to me six years later about an 1897 quilt because she found surnames on the quilt matching those in the online diaries.
Immediately after opening the email, I replied and told Julie the quilt was a great discovery. I asked if she could email me a photo of the quilt so I could see the names and if I could share the quilt information and photo on the Diaries website. Julie sent a few photos of the quilt which I enlarged on the computer to see the names it included. Could it include someone from my family- a Fulton, Blackden, or Cookson? Within a couple of days, I was able to compile a cursory list of the womens’ names. Julie was impressed – and understood that I had a serious interest in purchasing the quilt.Meanwhile, I learned Julie was sharing information about the quilt with a former officemate with Blanchard family connections in Ontario, Canada. The pressure was on! Was the quilt going to stay with its new owner in Arizona, go to Ontario or to a family historian/ reference librarian in Connecticut?
Armed with photos and access to genealogy websites, ancestry.com and familysearch.org, I started researching the names and places that were visible in the photos. By July 10, 2012, Julie agreed to sell the quilt to me for $100 and shipping. The sale was made! The funds were sent via Paypal and the quilt was on its way to Connecticut.
I posted information about the quilt and the list of names as written on the Fulton Diaries website and a brief history of its travels from Maine to Arizona to Connecticut. Around the same time, I was corresponding with Steve Hitchcock about shared family connections and learned there was a new historical society in Mars Hill. I decided if none of the names on the quilt were directly related to me, I would sell it to a historical society in Aroostook County if there was interest. It became a summer project as I researched each name to figure out who they were and how each person was connected to each other. An entry on the site was created for each name with information about the woman, her maiden name, married name and spouse, her children, and dates of birth, marriage and deaths accompanied by a close up photo of the quilt block.
In early August, the Central Aroostook Historical Society decided to purchase the quilt from me for the same price I paid for it. The quilt was going home. I continue to research each name on the quilt and post updates on the Fulton Diaries website. Photographs of the women and families are welcome. Please contact me, Sheila Antworth Lafferty at email@example.com if you have additional information about the quilt and its signatories.
See the list of names and find out if you have a relative’s name on the quilt.