Wednesday, November 23, 2011
When I opened the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Quilts & Coverlets (1990), I was amazed and delighted to see that two coverlets were donated in 1984 by two of my distant cousins. Reading further, I was equally surprised to see that the author, Amelia Peck (then Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts) had stated, “Although a West Virginia family owned our double cloth coverlet . . . , this work is atypical of West Virginia coverlets, which are usually overshot woven; it actually looks more like the type commonly found in New York” [p. 138].
The coverlets were given in memory of the donors’ grandparents, Festus and Rebecca (née Cunningham) Parrish, by Margaret and Richard Parrish, who were children of Festus and Rebecca’s only child, Richard B. Parrish. In the course of my genealogical research in Monongalia and Marion Counties, West Virginia, I had learned that Margaret and Richard (of Marion County, both now deceased) were my relations because I share ancestry with their grandmother Rebecca.
Ms. Peck noted further, concerning the second coverlet, “Determining where this coverlet, and another that also belonged to the Parrishes and came to the Museum with it. . . were manufactured is a somewhat confusing matter. According to family history, the coverlets belonged to either Rebecca’s or Festus’s parents. Festus’s family settled in West Virginia in the 1780s, and Rebecca’s family seem to have been early West Virginians as well. According to their grandson, one of the coverlet’s donors, the only time the couple traveled was when they went to Wheeling, West Virginia, for their honeymoon in 1865. Our blue and white geometric double cloth coverlet . . . looks very much like coverlets woven in New York and the coverlet illustrated here bears a strong resemblance to pieces woven in Indiana. West Virginia coverlets in the middle of the nineteenth century were more likely to be of the overshot type, usually made in the home. How did Festus and Rebecca come into the possession of two professionally woven coverlets that bear no resemblance to the type of coverlet generally made at the time in West Virginia?”
I wrote to Ms. Peck, asking how she knew what kinds of coverlets had been woven in West Virginia, and why she doubted there were professional coverlet weavers in West Virginia. Her response was that she had seen no studies on the subject and no mention of any such weavers.
I had previously looked at the estate inventory and personal-property sale bill of Rebecca’s father, Richard Cunningham, dated 1851. It included “19 quilts coverlids and sheets.” They were kept by Rebecca’s mother Mary, who lived until 1895. It would have been in keeping with tradition for Mary to distribute such goods to her seven children as they married. While the exact chain of ownership has not been found, it seems most likely that Rebecca’s mother gave her the coverlets when Rebecca (1846-1938) married Festus Parrish (1840-1938) on October 26, 1865 [Marion Co., WV Marriage Register C:28]. It is also possible that this same Rebecca Parrish bought one of several coverlets sold at the Marion Co. estate sale of her maternal aunt, Elizabeth (Cunningham) Hess, in 1881 -- but this Elizabeth had a daughter, also named Rebecca, who had married William Parrish, brother of Festus. Which Rebecca Parrish attended that sale is uncertain (more likely the daughter than the niece), but this could be one of the coverlets donated to the Museum.
In any case, there is no reason to question donor Richard Parrish’s statement that the Museum’s coverlets had belonged to Festus and Rebecca.
I am glad to note that most of Ms Peck’s misinformation was corrected in the revised edition of the book (2007).
Determining who exactly wove the Cunningham-Parrish family coverlets is still not possible. This is because there were numerous professional weavers and some certain coverlet producers in the vicinity at the time of Richard Cunningham’s death in 1851. For example, valuation of the estate of one Oliver Nay, made in January 1851, listed two “double coverlids Fine at the weavers,” valued at $18.00. Unfortunately the Nay estate accounts (listing payments to creditors) did not give details on what the payments were for, and no payments were for exactly the $18 valuation of these coverlets.
I had pursued research on weavers and coverlets in the north-central counties of West Virginia because I had discovered looms in the household inventories of some ancestors in WV and elsewhere. I discovered that another cousin had been a professional weaver who produced coverlets in Monongalia County. Monongalia and Marion Counties have been part of my focus.
Some Documented Weavers
The records for this area yield information on the coverlets and weavers only with a persistent approach. There are no nice tax lists that identify occupations, with ‘coverlid weaver’ assessed more than just ‘weaver.’ Neither did VA and WV identify the nature of all outbuildings in real estate assessments, so one cannot pick out the owners of ‘loom houses,’ as are occasionally found elsewhere. Coverlets with woven inscriptions have not been found in this part of WV, so far, and neither have any accounts books or pattern books of local weavers turned up.
But in VA and WV (West Virginia declared independence from Virginia in 1862), County Court records, wills and deeds may give occupations. The U. S. Census enumerations do, too, beginning in 1850. Weavers’ newspaper advertisements spell out their most popular products. Some estate inventories and sale bills for moveable personal property itemized looms and related items. Since there were many household looms in the vicinity, distinguishing professionals’ equipment requires evaluation of clues such as numbers of reeds, other equipment and quantities of wool, flax and cotton on hand.
These are some of the certain and probable coverlet-weavers I have identified in this part of WV. The map with red dates shows roughly where they were located.
1799--Thomas Meeks took an apprentice to learn the art and mystery of weaving, according to a County Court record. His will, probated in May 1826, with bequests to 16 children, does not mention weaving equipment. No estate inventory was filed. His son, Josiah Meeks, is probably the one whose 1838 advertisement as coverlet weaver in Howland, Trumbull Co, OH is noted in Heisey, et al., Checklist of Coverlet Weavers. Josiah was initial administrator on the estate of Michael Courtney in Trumbull Co. in November, 1842. He later lived in Vienna Twp, Trumbull Co., where he died in 1888. One coverlet with no date or name, but “Vienna” in the corner block, has been seen -- possibly this was a product of Josiah Meeks.
1809--William Linn’s estate inventory included a loom, 8 slays, warping bars and frame, 2 pairs of temples, pearts and spools, and cloth yardages.
1812--Ruth Bills, of Morgantown, was identified as a weaver during a County Court dispute with her landlord. In 1806 she and her husband filed an extraordinary “Separation Agreement,” where each disclaimed any right to the other’s income or responsibility for the other’s debts, but Ruth took full custody of and support of their children. A record of Ruth’s life after the rent dispute has not been found.
1817--James Bowlby was master of Rewbecca Haney, who at age 9 was indentured to Bowlby to age 18, to learn the art and mystery of weaving. James’ will was probated in 1842, but did not specify weaving equipment. No inventory of his estate was found.
1820--Josiah Moore’s “Coverlead weaveing loom and appuratus” were inventoried after his death, but not sold. His widow Malinda also kept 6 coverleads valued at $17 and 2 coverleads valued at $3. This family had just moved here from Fayette County, PA about 1817, so did not have time to produce many of the coverlets found in local records of the vicinity. Mrs. Moore and her children all moved to Henry County, Indiana between 1827 and 1831. Malinda died there in October, 1831. Extensive research in records of the family in Henry Co. did not uncover detailed weaving associations, but Malinda’s estate inventory and sale included a coverlet ‘bought’ by a daughter and two by a son-in-law, and reeds and spools purchased by a brother of the son-in-law.
1821--The Monongalia Herald, March 10, 1821 carried Michael Courtney's notice: “WEAVING. Michael Courtney respectfully informs his friends and the public in general, that he has commenced and intends carrying on the double and single Coverled and Damask weaving, in all its various branches, at Scott's Ferry, 3 miles from Morgantown. From his experience in this business, he flatters himself that he will be able to render general satisfaction to those who may favor him with their custom, in terms suited to the times.” It is not certain whether this Michael Courtney is the one who moved to Trumbull County, Ohio in 1838, where he died in 1842, or the one who advertised in 1831. The first Michael bought his home farm in Monongalia County in 1795. His first land record in Trumbull Co. stated he was from Monongalia Co., but his estate records in Trumbull Co. did not suggest a weaving association there except in the connection with Josiah Meeks.
1822--Stephen Gilbert’s estate inventory and sale bill included a loom, spools and a warping mill, 3 lots of weaving gears, loom rods, an 800 reed and 7 other reeds, a quill wheel, cut reel and swifts, as well as three spinning wheels and a hackel.
1831--John Lawlis (1812-1862) advertised in The Monongalian from March 5 through April 9, 1831, “Weaving in all its various branches, Double Coverlets of any figure that shall be required at $3.00 a pair. Single Coverlets, Table-linen, double and single Twill-flannel, Linen & Lindsey. . . .” This is my cousin. The loom and four reeds inventoried in his father’s estate in 1826 were sold outside the family. No documentation has been found about how John learned to weave. His advertisement makes clear that he was an all-around weaver. The 1850 U. S. Census enumeration gave John’s occupation as ‘weaver,’ but the enumeration for 1860 listed him as a farmer. After John’s death, his estate inventory listed a “Loom and appuratus” that were not sold, but no related equipment was mentioned. His widow kept the three coverlets that were inventoried. Estate records for his children do not document further weaving associations or mention the coverlets.
1831--Michael Courtney’s advertisement was repeated 6 times from August 27, 1831 in The Monongalian: “Double & Single Coverlet Weaving. The subscriber respectfully informs the public in general, that he still continues to carry on the above business in its various branches, at his former stand on Scott’s run. He has a variety of Coverlet and Diaper Figures, never exhibited in this country before. Coverlets wove in the best manner and on the shortest notice at three dollars per pair.”
The ‘weaver’ occupation of Michael Courtney (1786-1858) was also given in his 1850 US Census enumeration and in his death record. According to an affidavit he filed in Sept 1827 in Monongalia Co. Superior Court as an “Alien Report,” he was born in County Monaghan, Ireland, and emigrated to the U.S. from Canada in 1816. This Michael and wife Rebecca moved in the 1830s about 20 miles east, and in 1844 moved to the far southeast part of Monongalia County. No estate record was made at the time of Michael’s death, or after the deaths of his remarried widow or of her second husband.
1840--Robert Downs’ estate inventory made in 1843 included a loom and other equipment, 8 double coverlids valued at $40, 2 single coverlids valued at $4, 6 blankets worth $18, 21 yards carpeting worth $7.88.
1840s to ?--Barnes’ Woollen Mill, on the site of what is now called Chesapeake, was active in the 1840s and 1850s. While its products have not been documented so far (no advertisement found), it is possible that coverlets were produced here. The founder had moved to this vicinity from Fayette Co., Pennsylvania.
1850--John Courtney’s occupation as weaver, in the same neighborhood as John Lawlis and (formerly) Michael Courtney, was listed in his 1850 US Census enumeration. John (1770s-1856) was born in Ireland, son of Thomas and Isabella Courtney who also had lived in this area, according to his death record. He was listed in 1850 in the household of one John H. Courtney. No estate records listed property after this weaver’s death.
1850--Joseph Kramer, born about 1804 in VA or WV, was ‘weaver’ in Morgantown, Monongalia Co., according to his 1850 Census listing. Where he came from and where he went are unknown.
1850--Daniel H. Cox (1802-?) was a weaver living in Fairmont, Marion Co. according to the 1850 Census. The 1860 enumeration gives his occupation as ‘stone mason’. Possibly in 1850 he’d been working at Barnes’ Woollen Mill, which was nearby, upriver.
1850--Nathan P. Ingram (1820s-1890), born in Loudoun Co., Virginia, was ‘ Coverlead weaver’ in Fairview in 1870, and ‘weaver’ in the enumerations for 1850 and 1860. This occupation is also given in birth records of his children born in 1860 and 1863.
1851--Unidentified coverlet weaver in western Marion Co., according to Oliver Nay’s estate inventory, mentioned above.
1860--This year’s Census lists two young women weavers, who lived close to each other in southern Marion County. Mathilda Floyd (ca. 1823-?), had married cooper Calvin Hayhurst in 1845. What became of her and her husband is unknown. Helen Morgan (ca. 1829-?) was daughter of Thomas and Hannah Morgan. The last known record of Helen is her 1870 enumeration as ‘seamstress.’ In 1860 these women lived within 2 miles of Barnes’ Mill; it is possible they were employed there.
1860--James L. McDonough (ca. 1820-?) was a ‘coverlet weaver’ in this Census (with surname mangled), across the Monongahela River from Morgantown. His occupation was ‘coverled weaver’ in the 1857 birth record for a daughter. His household in 1860 was two away from John H. Courtney’s, where weaver John Courtney had lived in 1850. Possibly McDonough was using the Courtney loom. After John H. Courtney’s death in 1876, his estate inventory listed a loom and fixtures valued at $1, but no related equipment was detailed.
Documented West Virginia Coverlets
The Parrish family coverlets and newspaper notices show us that coverlets were produced both on multiple-harness looms and by means of automated patterning devices.
Many coverlets were listed in estate inventories and a few recorded wills, but rarely described. A “yarn coverlid” was appraised in one estate list, and there are listings for a “blue coverlid.” Just one inventory listed a “tape loom” that could have made fringe for coverlets.
The map with blue numbers shows how many coverlets were found in estate records and their time frames, by general areas where their owners lived within the two target Counties. The summary does not include the listings that appear to be for whole-cloth quilts, such as “worsted” and “linsey” coverlets.
Don’t you wish for a time machine, and to attend some of the estate sales? For now, we have to be grateful to Richard and Margaret Parrish for their gifts to the Metropolitan Museum, and to the Museum and Amelia Peck for visually documenting two types of coverlets that were woven in this area.