Wednesday, August 27, 2014



Patricia L. Cummings

Stories. We all love them. We all repeat them and find them a fascinating link that reveals human behavior. We often repeat stories that tell a cautionary tale. Often, we do not know or cannot prove that a story is true or not, especially ones from the distant past outside of our experience and our own life spans.

Personal Experience with Stories

As an observer of human behavior, I love stories, especially funny ones. Stories can also be upsetting when they are not truthful. Someone, okay...a close relative who either does not know me well or chooses to just make up her own version of my life has repeated constantly that I live in Boston (never did); and that I possess a master's degree in Spanish (at one time I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in Spanish but did not follow that path, opting for building a family instead. The thing is...the story could be true! I had majored in Spanish, lived in Spain, and had earned 48 credits in Spanish when only 32 were needed, and graduated with honors, in Spanish, and in general! The story seems to ring true that I might have pursued an additional degree.

Challenge to Researchers

You can imagine how difficult it is for researchers to find out whether or not something really happened. As stories go, they can become more and more embellished as they are repeated again and again. Oral history is important but cannot be totally relied upon.

The Mayflower v. the Angel Gabriel

When studying a quilt that reportedly came from the Old World to the New World in 1635, lots of conflicting "facts" emerge. The quilt was called "The Mayflower Quilt" yet, it did not arrive on "The Mayflower" ship. I tried my best to piece together the pieces of the puzzle as they emerged about this quilt that is now owned by a museum. The style of the wholecloth quilt appears to be one called trapunto and I was told that it was an "indigo style" quilt. I assured the owners that indigo is the color of a thread, not a quilt style. They are not quilt specialists and clearly were relying on written provenance records in the museum.

Pemiquid Lighthouse and Museum that set high above Pemiquid Harbor. They are
                  administured by the U.S. Coast Guard. The park itself, a state park, is accessible by admission

Wrong Location

Only after we had gone to Maine to take photographs of the area where the quilt is reported to have been carried ashore did we learn that the location we assumed had been the correct one was not. The area is 3-4 miles south of Pemiquid Point. The galleon that brought the quilt and members of the Cogswell family (and others) was named Angel Gabriel. The year was 1635 and the great ship was headed from Bristol, England to a land area called Bristol (in what is now the state of Maine). After the galleon was anchored in Pemiquid Harbor, the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 came up the coast from Narragansett, Rhode Island, smashing the ship to smithereens. A few crew hands and cattle were lost but the terrified pilgrims who had already been transported ashore via canoes and rowboats  met with an horrifying act of Nature.

More Questions

There is much more to know. We have only a story upon which to rely, one passed by family lore. Was the quilt truly aboard the Angel Gabriel? Was it made in England or was it an import from an Italian or French atelier? Was the quilt owned by the Cogswell family? If the story is fictional, why was it made up? Oh, I can think of many other questions to which there are no ready answers.

Women's Work

Textiles, often the work of women, are so common, their story is often lost, the same questions that I ask in my research: Who made the item, why was it made, when was it made, and how did it come to be passed along over many years. Often, too, textiles are procured outside of family hands when it is time to downsize or someone decides they have owned a quilt or other textile long enough. As a quilt historian, I try to save the "facts," a problem that is elusive when no clear facts are there to find.

Spin a Tale / Life is but a Dream

We can only enjoy what "seems" to be true. The value of any story, as I have learned, is its reflection on human activity. Yes, to a degree, stories belong to the "dreamers." As a Spanish writer, Calderon,   once wrote, "Life is a dream."

Wrong Location

Only after the article I published was in print did I learn that the two markers at Pemiquid Point, placed by family members, are not physically-located correctly. The Point is not where the pilgrims came ashore but it is the only location where permission could be obtained to place the two plaques. An old fort south of that area is flat and has a beach area which was suitable for the disembarking adventurers who sought religious freedom and monetary gain in the New World.

The Quilter magazine - Out of Business

I wrote about the quilt and showed photos of it in a recent article in The Quilter magazine. As an update for those who do not know, the magazine, owned by All-American Crafts Publishing, Inc., is now out of business as of 8-8-2014, having declared bankruptcy.

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