Friday, 12 June 2015

Margaret Vought (c. 1785-1860) (52 Ancestors Week 24) Theme: "Heirloom"

The suggested theme this week is "Heirloom: What heirloom do you treasure? Who gave it to you? What heirloom do you wish you had?"

Not having been blessed with a trunk full of actual family heirlooms, I do have a whole attic full of imaginary ones. A piece of colonial furniture made by one or other of my Plymouth Colony ancestors Kenelm Winslow or John Alden, the American Civil War discharge certificate for my 2X great grandfather George Garner Wescott or my great grandmother Mary-Jane Wescott's hand-made pale green silk wedding dress come to mind. But given the timing of this week's theme, the heirloom I really wish I had right now is one of the quilts made by my 4X great grandmother Margaret (sometimes called "Abba") Vought. To understand why this would be my wish, it might help to know that:
  • I  have been sewing since I was a preschooler and quilting/creating fibre art about as long as I've been doing genealogy - and am passionate about both.
  • Until my mother's DNA results were posted last month, I didn't know of Margaret's existence. Margaret is the daughter of Henry Christian Vought, the subject of another recent story on this blog. If you have read that story, you may recall my excitement at being able to open up this branch of the family tree via DNA.
  • It is only within the past couple of weeks that Liane Fenimore (my 4th cousin 1X removed) provided me with copies of Margaret's will and estate inventory making me aware of Margaret's quilts.

Margaret's Quilts

Margaret's estate inventory was taken after her death in 1860. It consists of 3 pages and most of the items seem to be clothing, linens and bedding. Included in the list are the following items that caught my attention:
  • Brown full moon pattern quilt
  • Brown goose tracks quilt
  • Kites and diamonds quilt
  • Irish chain quilt
  • Blue quilt
  • Album quilt
  • Churn dash quilt
  • Sawteeth quilt
I do believe that Margaret was a quilter like her 4X great-granddaughter. Oh, what I wouldn't give to see one of those quilts! Or even a picture of one of those quilts. Sigh.

Portion of Inventory of Margaret's Estate

Being a fabric-loving person, it struck me that the next-best thing I could do was to attempt to recreate, if not all 8 entire quilts, at least several of the blocks, a sort of do-it-yourself heirloom project. Trips to the local public library and online searches have enabled me to find patterns for most of these blocks and given me a crash course in quilt and fabric history.

Sample Goose Tracks Block
Sample Churn Dash Block

Although Margaret had two brown quilts listed, don't think for a moment that her quilts would have been dull. Fabric colours from the era were apparently quite intense and quilts would have used a lot of Prussian blues and pale blues, Turkey and brownish reds, brilliant yellows, deep yellow greens and forest greens. Prints would have included squiggles, teardrops and bubble shapes, plaids, ombres, leafy and floral designs.

My hand-pieced Saw Teeth Block

Most of the blocks in her quilts are geometric blocks, using squares, rectangles and triangles. Margaret would have measured and cut her pieces using a simple ruler and scissors - none of the fancy rotary cutters and special measuring grids available to today's quilters.

Although not included in the list of Margaret's quilts, the log cabin quilt was popular at the time. The basic block usually starts with a red square at the centre symbolizing the fire in the hearth of the home.
Log Cabin quilt by Mary-Jane Wescott 1919
The darker rectangular strips on one side of the block stand for the shady north side of the cabin and the lighter strips on the other side the sunny southern side. An example of the log cabin pattern is this quilt made by Margaret's great granddaughter Mary-Jane Wescott for her daughter's wedding in 1919. (No, sadly, I don't have this quilt either.)

I have been hand-piecing my sample blocks since that is undoubtedly what Margaret would have done; sewing machines were only beginning to come into common household use very late in her life and there is no sewing machine listed in her estate inventory. Although there was a foot spinning wheel listed in her inventory, there was no quilt frame listed. Probably when it was time to layer and back the pieced top and stitch the layers together Margaret's friends would have helped her at a quilting bee. When it comes time for me to join my replica blocks into some sort of finished quilt or art quilt piece, I will most certainly hand quilt the final project. Perhaps I will elicit the help of some of my quilting friends to quilt a few stitches, just to add to the authenticity of my do-it-yourself heirloom.

Margaret's Album quilt was one of her most valuable ones. During the period 1830-1860 when Margaret would likely have been making these quilts, the album or Baltimore album quilt was one of the most famous. Using many appliqued floral wreaths, monuments, ships and animals, each block would be an individual work of art. Sometimes album quilts were made by several women, especially if one of them was moving away during this time of westward expansion in the United States. Each woman would sign her block or personalize it in some way so that when all were combined the album quilt became a collection of memories of old friends.

Not Margaret's Album Quilt - Image provided courtesy Denver Art Museum:
Elizabeth Sanford Jennings Hopkins (1824–1904), Album Quilt, Port Jefferson, New York, 1840s–50s. Hand pieced and appliqu├ęd cotton and silk; silk , cotton, and linen embroidery; pen and ink; hand quilted with raised work (trapunto). Denver Art Museum Neusteter Textile Collection: Funds from Mrs. Irene Littledale Downs, Mrs. August Kern, and Mrs. Alexander Girard by exchange, 2007.38

As an aside, it is interesting to see the valuation given to Margaret's quilts, ranging from 10 cents to $1. Although it is almost impossible to determine with any accuracy what that would be worth in today's currency, one estimate is that $1 would be about equivalent to $23 today; a labourer's wage in those days would be about 90 cents per day, land cost between $3-$5 per acre. Quilters today like to complain that the price charged for a hand made quilt at best covers the cost of materials and doesn't allow much, if anything, for the quilter's labour (which could take days if not weeks or months of work). It doesn't sound as if quilts were accorded much monetary value in 1860 either. No doubt they were, however, an important part of a household's possessions for both usefulness and beauty. (And I would value one of Margaret's quilts far beyond any gold or silver!)
Sample Irish Chain Block

So where did Margaret's quilts go? From her will, we know that her land in Huron, Wayne County, NY was left to son Jerry Barton. Each of her five daughters was to receive the sum of $10 and 1/5 of her household furniture, beds and bedding. It is probable that the quilts were divided among the daughters, with each receiving at least one. It is possible for quilts from this period to survive to the present day, but there is no way of knowing if any of Margaret's have survived in any of the daughters' families.

Margaret's Life

Margaret was the only daughter of Henry Christian Vought and his wife Rebecca Nelson. She was born about 1785 in Peekskill, Westchester County, NY and grew up in a family with four brothers.

She was married under the name of Abba C. Voack on 23 April 1804 in Yorktown, Westchester County, NY to Isaac Barton. The couple had 6 children: 5 daughters (including my 3X great grandmother Catherine Barton) and one son.

She died of palsy at the age of 76 on 10 April 1860 in Huron, Wayne County, New York, three years after her husband Isaac. They are buried in the Huron Cemetery.

Tombstone for Margaret (Vought) Barton
Photo courtesy Liane Fenimore 

Huron Evergreen Cemetery
Photo courtesy Liane Fenimore


  • Fenimore, Liane, email correspondence and scanned documents received May and June 2015 resulting from DNA match through FamilytreeDNA, including copies of the will and inventory of Margaret (Vought) Barton
  • Trestain, Eileen Jahnke, "Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1800-1960", American Quilter's Society: 1998
  • Conroy, Mary, "300 Years of Canada's Quilts", Griffin House Toronto: 1976

Final Thoughts

Growing up with tales of barn-raising bees and quilting bees, it never once crossed my mind that 21st century DNA technology would one day enable me to discover a 4X great grandmother and learn about her quilts. Even without having them as heirlooms, I feel as if really do possess them on some level.

And finally: my hand-pieced "Full Moon" block. No longer a commonly used block, I've drafted the pattern from a photograph of a block by that name. So far I've been unable to find an example of the "Kites and Diamonds" block but the search continues. Any leads would be appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post, Joanne. Although I am not a quilter,my husband and I both had relatives and ancestors who were. I know you would enjoy this story about a historic project of my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother and what I learned about my ancestors' activities from it.

    (If your blog does not allow links in comments, you can go to Ancestors in and search for "crazy quilt"