Whig Rose with Swag Border Quilt
Exquisite workmanship and raised stuffwork are strongly associated with antebellum Kentucky quilts. Until fairly recently, such finely stitched quilts made in the South were typically attributed as the work of the mistress of the household. In truth many were made by female slaves with specialized sewing skills who worked in the home rather than the fields. The Whig Rose and Swag Border Quilt was made on the Russellville, Kentucky, plantation known as “The Knob,” home of Mr. and Mrs. Marmaduke Beckwith Morton. Had it not survived with careful documentation, the quilt, no doubt, would have been ascribed to Mrs. Morton. However, a handwritten label pinned to the back by a descendant in 1933 affirms that it was, in fact, stitched by female slaves of the household.
Two other quilts with remarkably similar quilting motifs survive from the plantation. These were made by Ellen Morton (c. 1826–?), who was noted for her sewing skills, possibly with her younger sister, Margaret (c. 1833–1880), who was known for her cooking. Their mother, “Aunt Eve,” raised the Morton children and is affectionately remembered in family histories. The Federal Slave Schedule of 1850 lists sixteen people between the ages of six and sixty as enslaved members of the Morton household. After emancipation, Ellen remained at the Knob, where she tended Mr. Morton until his death, in 1887, at the age of ninety-one. In the Federal census of 1870 she is listed as the wife of Mason Littlejohn, forty-four years of age, and her occupation was keeping house.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Whig Rose with Swag Border Quilt,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.