Sunday, July 20, 2014

Civil War Quilt

Civil War Quilt

Patricia L. Cummings

We took a trip to Montpelier, Vermont this past week and one of our stops was at the Vermont Historical Society. I hoped, beforehand, that a quilt with which I am enchanted might be on display. I was not disappointed. The quilt is one that was made and donated to the Vermont branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. A few years ago, I made a reproduction of the quilt with the help of a purchased pattern devised by Donald Beld who since then has co-written a book about Civil War Quilts with Pamela Weeks. I relied on my own method of making the design and the inkings were wrought in Pigma Pen. I had the resources on hand to correct some of the inscriptions. Then and now, spelling is often a challenge. Here is a photo of the quilt I made and the additional stand-on-its-own cloth photo of the maker of the quilt, Caroline ("Carrie") Fairbanks, Brandon, Vermont procured from a great-great grandson.

Reproduction Quilt (made by Patricia Cummings) of the Civil War Quilt made by Caroline Fairbanks
 for the U.S. Sanitary Commission  /  photo by James Cummings

The quilt is very important because it is one of only a few original Sanitary Commission quilts still in existence. This quilt was made by me, Patricia Cummings, in Spring 2011. The original quilt re-used pieces of a brown calico dress that she recycled for this purpose and it the white background appears to be recycled sheeting.

Alternate quilt blocks contain religious inscriptions from Biblical sources that were inked on with permanent ink in the maker's own hand writing script. The "new" quilt is inked by Patricia Cummings but the placement of verses is changed, in part due to faulty information provided at the time of the quilt's making, and in part because I had not seen the quilt in person but relied on the reports of others. No matter. The quilt was made as a tribute to Caroline and her efforts. 

Caroline married Luke B. Fairbanks, a Union soldier, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1862 when he was on leave after being shot in the arm. The quilt was not made for him but rather, it was given to the commission to distribute to anyone in need. The exact date the quilt was made is not known.

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you,
Do good to those that hate you,
And pray for those which despitefully
Use you and persecute you.

It is heartbreaking to realize that an estimated 250,000 quilts were made and distributed over a four year period and less than 10 of those given to the U.S. Sanitary Commission have been identified so far. Every able-bodied man marched off to war and or exited the north by train to join the fight. Fairbanks and his five brothers were no exception.

According to Donald Beld, this is the only known surviving soldier's quilt made by just one person working alone that was donated to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Many quilt were the result of attendance at quilting bees. Presumably, the comfort of being with other women in the same predicament was an important part of the bee. 

The Fairbanks quilt is now owned by the Vermont Historical Society and was acquired when a museum in Pennsylvania decided to de-accession it. As always, it was fun for me to be in contact with a relative when searching for more information about this quilt and its maker, and to be sent family photos by him. 
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