Members of the First Reform Churches of Fishkill and Hopewell
Made in Dutchess County, New York, United States
83 1/2 x 84 1/2 in. (212.1 x 214.6 cm)
Gift of Miss Eliza Polhemus Cobb, 1952
Not on view
Album quilts were extremely popular in the mid-nineteenth century and were made in every part of the country. They often commemorated a particular event such as a birth, marriage, retirement, or leave-taking. Sometimes, however, this type of quilt was made purely to acknowledge and give expression to the bonds of friendship that linked those who contributed to them. Although the signatures of individual makers do appear on some of the blocks, neither dates nor place names appear on this quilt. It is thought to have been made in southeastern New York State because the unusual names found on the quilt match those found in the towns of Fishkill and Hopewell in Dutchess County. Some of the makers' names were found in the records of the Dutch First Reformed churches for these towns. Stylistically, the quilt could be dated between 1840 and 1870. Nevertheless, a date of about 1855–60 at the earliest seems most likely because, although the rest of the quilt is handstitched, the white cotton edge binding has been sewn to the quilt by machine. A sewing machine would only have become available to the makers around 1860.
This boldly graphic Album quilt, in the shades of green and red most favored by mid-nineteenth-century quiltmakers, is one of the most visually delightful quilts in our collection. Album, or Signature quilts, as they were sometimes called, were extremely popular in the middle of the nineteenth century and were made in every part of the country. They often commemorated a particular event such as a birth, marriage, retirement, or leave-taking. Sometimes, however, this type of quilt was made purely to acknowledge and give expression to the bonds of friendship that linked those who contributed to them.
Although the signatures of individual makers do appear on some of its blocks, neither dates nor place names appear on this quilt. Without that information, it was difficult to determine where the piece, which has been in the Museum's collection for more than thirty-five years, was made. Recently, however, a scholar recognized that a number of the names signed are those of Dutch families who settled in the southeastern portion of New York State. An examination of the New York State Census of 1850 revealed that all the somewhat unusual last names signed on our quilt could be found in Dutchess County, New York, and, even more specifically, clustered around the town of Fishkill. The records of the Dutch First Reformed churches for Fishkill and neighboring Hopewell reinforced the conclusion that this work was made in Dutchess County. Two of the signers are actually named in the records: Susan Adriana Monfort (block 2E) was born on December 11, 1811, to Stephen Monfort and Aletta Adriance Monfort and was baptized at the church in Hopewell, and Harriet E. Monfort (1803—1875; block 4B) gave birth to many children, the first in 1828, who were baptized at the same church. The family names of all the other signers turned up time and time again in church records. And gravestone inscriptions in the Fishkill cemetery show that members of the Van Wyck (block 5E) and Rapalje (block 3C) families often married each other.
On the basis of purely stylistic criteria, the quilt could be dated anywhere between 1840 and 1870. Nevertheless, a date of about 1855-60 at the earliest seems most likely, because although the rest of it is hand stitched, the white cotton edge binding has been sewn to the quilt by machine. A sewing machine would probably have been unavailable to the makers before about 1860. The binding could have been added at a later date, but judging from the way the fabrics have aged, it appears to have been stitched at the same time as the rest of the quilt.
For a utilitarian job such as attaching binding, the sewing machine was considered the answer to a prayer. In November 1860, about the time this quilt was made, "Godey's Lady's Book" extolled the virtues of the new machine:
The Sewing Machine should be here named as the complement of the art of needlework. It, the machine, will do all the drudgeries of sewing, thus leaving time for the perfecting of the beautiful in woman's handiwork. We have dealt often on this wonderful invention, and wish it were possible to interest all our readers in this new romance of needle-work, where aid more potent than any ever suggested by fairydom and all elfs of fancy, is so easily obtained that we wonder any woman who has a family to make clothing for can do without a Sewing Machine. A writer in the "New York Observer" said of the Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine: "It is the one we use, and an institution we shall never dispense with so long as the Union endures." The Union may be dissolved, but the sewing machine will be used as long as civilization continues (p. 463).
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Inscription: signed in ink on individual blocks: Miss Sarah Pollock, Mrs. Humphrey, Elizabeth Boice, Maria Husted, Susan Adriana Monfort, Miss Malinda Brewer, Miss Jane Rapalje, Mrs. E. Bogardus, H.E. Monfort, A. [?], Mrs. Thos. Adriance, Miss Annie [?] Clapp, Elizabeth Van Wyck