The Anna Tuels Quilt in the Wadsworth Atheneum

ISSN 2167-8812

Open Inquiry Archive

Vol. 1, No. 8 (2012)

The Anna Tuels Quilt in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT:  Stylistic, Technical, and Historical Considerations


Lilian H. Zirpolo

In 2008-2009 the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, hosted an exhibition titled Who Was Anna Tuels? Quilt Stories, 1750-1900.[Note 1]  The exhibition centered on the Anna Tuels Quilt (Fig. 1—[click on second figure within link])* in the museum’s permanent collection, and focused on quilts with an ownership history.  The bits of information available on these and other quilts can often reveal much about the women who created them, the occasions that prompted the making of the quilts, and the history of the patterns and textiles they used.  This essay attempts to employ some of those bits of information to reconstruct the circumstances of the making of the Anna Tuels Quilt and place it within its historical context.  It also seeks to answer the question posed by the Wadsworth Atheneum curators—who was Anna Tuels?—and to reveal the identity of the quilt’s maker.

Visual Aspects

The Anna Tuels Quilt is the earliest surviving medallion patchwork quilt to have been created in the United States. The curators of the Wadsworth Atheneum have assumed that it was produced in Maine, where it was found, though, as will be discussed below, it was most likely created in Marshfield, Massachusetts.  The quilt measures 86 x 81 inches, roughly the size of a double bed. A circular pieced medallion enclosed in a square is in the center, a pattern that many see as a precursor to the Dresden Plate block that was highly popular in the 1920s and 1930s.  An appliquéd heart punctuates each of the square’s corners, while an appliquéd inscription surrounds the medallion.  It reads, “Anna Tuels her bed quilt given to her by her mother in the year Au 23, 1785.”  The rest of the quilt features patchwork squares, each created by sewing together four equilateral triangles of light and dark colored fabrics.  This pattern is called the Yankee Puzzle, today also known as the Hourglass or Bowtie square.  More appliquéd hearts are seen at each corner of the quilt’s pieced section.  A sizable border in solid pink quilted in an elaborate feathered vine motif adds the final touch.[2]  That the border is made of a solid fabric allows for the quilted stitches to be seen quite clearly.  Wool plaid blanketing serves as the backing, which might have been woven by the quilter herself since in New England weaving was a common activity among women.[3]

That the Anna Tuels Quilt includes the recipient’s name is significant.  In the eighteenth century, laws prevented married women from owning property.[4]  It was not until the following century that statutes were passed allowing married women to control the profits of their own labor and their real and personal properties.  At this time, women were also granted the right to sign contracts, participate in lawsuits, and draw their own wills.[5] Stitching or appliquéing a woman’s name or initials onto quilts at a time when these laws were nonexistent was a way for her to mark these items as her own.  The only things women could claim as theirs were linens and household articles, such as bridal chests, tableware, and silver. Women’s names or initials, in fact, also figure on some of these other items.[6]

The medallion or frame-center patchwork quilt was a type that was very popular in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in both North America and Northern Europe. The earliest documented patchwork quilt in England (Fig. 2) is of this kind.  It dates to 1718 and is currently in the York Quilt Museum and Gallery in Peasholme Green (66 ½ x 73 inches).  The maker, who included her initials E.H. above the central medallion along with the date of execution, was more ambitious than the maker of the Anna Tuels Quilt in that her patchwork and appliqué work are more varied and complex.   Birds, hearts, flowers, deer, and other appliquéd creatures coexist with Yankee Puzzle, Four-Square, Nine-Square, Star, Square-in-a-Square, and Crisscross patterns.  The backing is also pieced, the scraps of fabrics sewn together in a haphazard way.  This quilt was owned by the Brown family of Aldbourne, Wiltshire, until 2000 when it was bought at auction by the York Quilt Museum and Gallery.

We also find medallion patchwork quilts in the Netherlands.  In the Openluchtmuseum in Arnhem is an example dated 1844 (80.31 x 79.1 inches, Fig. 3) created by Annechien Jans Kremer.[7]  Its central medallion consists of a pieced eight-pointed star, its center embroidered with Annechien’s initials (A.J.K.) and the date of the quilt’s execution. Yankee Puzzle squares fill the rest of the quilt top, while larger Yankee Puzzles set on point create the border.  The Openluchtmuseum site indicates that Annechien created the quilt on the occasion of her marriage. This, however, is incorrect since genealogical records indicate that she did not marry until 1849.  Her husband was Berend Menses Starke.[8]  Annechien was seventeen in 1844 and perhaps she created this quilt as part of her trousseau.  It was common practice among teenaged girls of the era to create quilts and other linens in preparation for their future marriage and establishment of a new home.

The North American colonies followed the tastes of Europe, and this is reflected in early eighteenth-century North American quilt production.  The 1726 quilt in the McCord Museum at McGill University in Montreal (81 ½ x 77 ½ inches, Fig. 4), the earliest dated quilt in North America though perhaps created in England, also features this medallion patchwork style.  The name of the maker is unknown, though her appliquéd initials I.N.and the 1726 date are present in a rectangular patch directly below the medallion.  This example is more closely related in style to the Anna Tuels Quilt in that the patchwork consists exclusively of Yankee Puzzle squares.  Here, too, a large border enframes the quilt.  This maker, however, left the layers unquilted.[9] The backing is composed of a large piece of striped cloth, with two strips added at the top and one square patch on the upper left side.  The striped fabric is then enframed by the same cloth used to create the border surrounding the quilt top.

An early nineteenth-century North American example is the Catharine Ann Penniman Bradford Quilt, currently in a private collection in Wisconsin. This quilt, which dates to 1825, includes a large embroidered vase and flowers as the central medallion.  The rest of the quilt is composed of Yankee Puzzle squares.  A T-shaped drop panel was added to accommodate the posts at the foot of early nineteenth-century beds.  Catharine was from Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts. She was born in 1778 to William Penniman, whose shipyard produced the frigate Confederacy for the U.S. government, and which became one of the main British targets during the War of 1812.  In 1793, Catharine married Charles Bradford, a Mayflower descendant whose great-grandfather was the first governor of Plymouth Colony.  She made the quilt for her daughter and namesake as a gift on the occasion of her wedding to Seraphim Masi that took place in 1825. [10]

Quilts were created for many different reasons, often as a rite of passage or to mark a major event in someone’s life.  Of the quilts discussed above, one was created by a young woman to add to her bridal chest for use in her future home after her marriage.  Another was made by a mother to give to her daughter as a wedding gift.  The Anna Tuels Quilt has been considered by some to be a quilt made to celebrate her marriage.  As we will see, this does not seem to have been the case.  Anna’s wedding did not take place until almost a decade later.

Origins of the Anna Tuels Quilt Medallion Patchwork Style

Colleen R. Callahan, Curator of Textiles at the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia, makes a compelling argument for tracing the origins of the medallion patchwork quilt type to palampores imported into Northern Europe from India (Fig. 5).[11]  Palampores are wholecloth chintz bedcovers that were manufactured in India for a Northern European market and which incorporated European and Asian printed motifs.  Tulips and roses often comingled with peacocks, elephants, and invented exotic animals.  The characteristic design of palampores was a central medallion surrounded by a flowered field, four large corner motifs visually related to the medallion, and a substantial border often filled with flowered and leafed vines.  These elements correspond, albeit loosely, to the elements within the medallion patchwork quilts.  The central medallion and hearts appliquéd onto the corners of the patchwork field in the Anna Tuels Quilt would correspond to the central and corner motifs seen in these Indian palampores, the Yankee Puzzle patchwork would relate to the busy floral fields surrounding the medallion, while the border, which is quilted with a feathered vine motif, would reflect the vines found in the wide borders of the Indian prototypes.

In some cases the central medallion featured compass motifs.  The York Quilt’s central medallion presents an eight-pointed star that is repeated at each of the corners in smaller dimensions.  This eight-pointed star is the same as those in surveyor’s compasses, also known as circumferentors, used to measure horizontal angles for cartographic purposes.  These instruments were commonly used in the eighteenth century and, in fact, one such instrument is featured in the Cyclopaedia published in London by Ephraim Chambers in 1728, along with an illustration (Fig. 6).[12]  The pattern that forms the medallion of the McCord Quilt stems from eighteenth century mariner’s compasses, several examples of which are preserved in the National Maritime Museum in London.[13]

The beginning of the eighteenth century had marked the end of the Age of Exploration when new trade routes were discovered and greater knowledge of the world was gained.  The resulting technological advances allowed the possibility of ease of travel by sea to different parts of the world, including the newly discovered lands. Seafaring and cartography were two commonplace occupations of the era, so it is not surprising that the instruments used in these tasks would serve as sources of inspiration for quilters.  It would also not be surprising to find that the makers of the quilts with these motifs might have been the wives of sailors.

Some of the appliqué motifs found in quilts of the era were taken from furniture design.  The York Museum Quilt features at each corner a tulip and vine motif that was quite common in carved European and American wood furniture.  The motif is seen as early as the seventeenth century in British oak coffers and mule chests.  It also appears in Hadley bridal chests, typical American creations made in Hadley, Massachusetts, and its vicinity in the late 1600s and early 1700s.  The roots of the patterns seen in the Hadley pieces are in British low-relief carved furnishings.[14]

Quilting Technique

The technique used by the maker of the Anna Tuels Quilt was English paper-piecing, also known as paper-template piecing or piecing-over-papers.  This technique entails the cutting of paper recycled from letters and discarded printed materials into triangles and other shapes and then wrapping and tacking pieces of fabric around them.  Once all of the patches are prepared in this manner, they are sewn together using a whipstitch (an overcast stitch) through the back folds of the fabrics.  The paper pieces of the eighteenth century quilts that utilized this technique would be left in place to provide stability.  This method has been a blessing in terms of conservation as the paper has protected the fabrics from extensive damage.  Also, the paper can sometimes provide clues as to the date of the quilt and on the quilter’s social station, education, and other such matters.

The paper templates are usually concealed due to the fact that the layers are quilted together to prevent shifting.  Since the McCord Museum Quilt was left unquilted by its anonymous maker, the museum’s textile curators were able to lift the backing during conservation work to study the paper fragments.  These were pieces cut from letters, a handwriting copybook, a Latin text, and a page with legal regulations pertaining to the production of malt.  What these fragments suggest is that the maker of the McCord Quilt was a woman of high standing who had access to Latin texts and therefore she was well-educated, and that her husband or father may have been involved in the lucrative business of brewing or distilling.

The York Museum Quilt was submitted to radiography.  Unfortunately, nothing was revealed in terms of the information the paper pieces might provide about the maker.  And the Anna Tuels Quilt has not been examined utilizing radiography techniques and, therefore, any clues offered by its paper templates remain hidden.

Clues Provided by the Fabrics

The fabrics used for the Anna Tuels quilt top are plain and patterned linens, corduroys, silks, and printed cottons.  The border is glazed wool. At the time when the quilt was created, fabrics were not as readily available as in later centuries, nor as affordable.  Eighteenth-century American quilters had to use fabrics that were either imported from England or taken from old clothes and bed linens.  For this reason, these quilts were made from several different fabric types, unlike most quilts of today which are usually created with cotton material.  Many of the eighteenth-century fabrics available to quilters were dress and upholstery fabrics.

The Anna Tuels quilt was pieced from a variety of cloths of these two sorts.  Some of these fabrics had rather unusual names, like callimanco, fleuret, and tapizadoe.[15]  Callimanco was a glazed worsted that was brightly colored and often decorated with stripes, birds, or flowers.  Fleuret was woven with wool warp and silk weft, and tapizadoe was a brilliantly colored worsted with polychrome brocaded flowers.  All three were produced in Norwich, England, though callimanco was also manufactured in London.[16]

These were costly fabrics that only the wealthy could afford and which were often the object of thievery.  In 1734, for example, Elizabeth and John Fulks walked into the store of Marcus Khul on Market Street, Philadelphia, and stole several items of clothing, some handkerchiefs, and a length of callimanco, described in the Pennsylvania Gazette as having “narrow stripes of red, green, blue, and two stripes of yellow.”[17]  This means that the maker of the Anna Tuels Quilt was from a well-to-do family as she could afford these costly imported textiles.[18]

Not only were these cloths shipped from England by merchants, but, in many instances, a wealthy family patriarch would travel to England on business and bring back a length of fabric for his wife or daughter.  The central medallion of the Catharine Ann Penniman Bradford Quilt, which is silk, was brought home from England by her husband, Charles Bradford.  The medallion may already have been embroidered with the flowers and vase motif when Charles purchased it.  This is suggested by the fact that the stitching is inconsistent with that found in the other panels and embroideries on the quilt.  Catharine, however, was sure to add her name to the medallion, directly below the vase.[19]

The Wadsworth Atheneum 2008-2009 exhibition included a Hexagon Mosaic Quilt created in 1794 by Sarah Ewalt Spencer, a resident of Bedford, Pennsylvania.  The quilt is the earliest hexagon mosaic quilt created in America, and the fabrics from which it was made include pieces from the maker’s wedding dress and dresses at one time owned by well-known women of her day, such as Martha Washington, Dolly Madison, and Elizabeth Schulyer Hamilton.[20]

The York Museum Quilt was pieced from over 120 dress fabric remnants, most showing signs of previous use.  The museum site indicates that the oldest fabric in the quilt dates from the 1640s, which means that the materials came from a stash the maker had either collected for a long time or which had been passed down to her by perhaps her mother or grandmother.  Quilt fabrics, then, could also be inherited, again indicating that they were luxury items.  This debunks the popular notion that patchwork quilts were made out of necessity by women of meager means.  Many of these quilts were made by well-to-do ladies, often to showcase their stitching abilities, to indicate their social status through the expensive materials included in the quilt, for decorative purposes, and as heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation.[21]

Who was Anna Tuels?

An Anna Tuels is recorded in the List of Mayflower Descendants compiled by George Ernest Bowman and now in the Marshfield, Massachusetts Vital Records Office.  She was born in Marshfield on 9 October 1759 to Barnard Tuels (dates unknown; b. ca. 1720-?) and Experience Taylor (b. 1722-?), likely the maker of Anna’s quilt.[22]  All that is known about Barnard is that he enlisted in 1776 in Marshfield as a private in Captain Joseph Stetson’s company.  He then re-enlisted in 1778 under Captain John Turner for service in Cambridge.[23] Experience was the great-great-granddaughter of Arthur Howland and Margaret Reed.  Her great-granduncle was John Howland who arrived in Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620.  Arthur arrived in America in the late 1620s or 1630s and, in 1647 he purchased an estate in Marshfield, establishing the family’s American roots there.[24]  Experience’s parents were Samuel Taylor and Elizabeth Carver, and she was named after her paternal grandmother, Experience Williamson.  She married Barnard at an unknown date and they had seven children.  The first, John, was born in 1747 and died two years later.  Sarah was born in 1749, Susanna in 1752, Charles in 1754, and Isaiah in 1757.  The dates of their deaths are unknown.  Anna was the sixth child born to the couple, and the youngest was Experience, who died in 1846.

According to the Halls of New England, Genealogical and Biographical, compiled by Rev. David B. Hall and published in Duanesburgh, New York in 1883, Anna married Captain Luke Hall (1767-1815) who was seven-and-a-half years her junior.  Their wedding took place in 1793.[25]  They had three children.  William was their firstborn; his birth and death dates are unknown, though couples then usually bore children soon after marriage and therefore, he may have been born in c. 1794 or 1795.  Luke and Samuel were born in 1797 and 1800, respectively.

Anna was thirty-four years old in 1793 and her husband was twenty-six.  On average, girls married between the ages of twenty and twenty-two, and husbands were usually four or five years older than their wives.[26]  The age of consent was twenty-one and men normally married at around the age of twenty-seven.[27]  After a woman reached her mid-twenties, spinsterhood became a real possibility and caused great unease among women.[28]  Also, it was customary for women to wait until their older siblings married.  Anna was Barnard and Experience’s sixth child.  Nothing is known about her siblings, except for her youngest sister, also named Experience (b. 1762), who married Daniel Walker in Marshfield in 1784.[29]  By then Anna was two months shy of twenty-five and her chances of finding a husband were slowly fading. Perhaps Barnard and Experience assented to their youngest daughter’s marriage before Anna’s to avoid ending up with two spinsters in the family.  This might also explain why Anna married a much younger man.  At thirty-four she was not left with many choices.

As most marriages of the time, Anna’s was most likely arranged.  Luke, like Anna, was a Mayflower descendant.  He was the great-great-great grandson of Edward Doty, who arrived in Plymouth on the Mayflower, and Faith Clarke, who came to America in 1634 on the ship Francis.  He was also related to Richard Warren and Elizabeth Walker, on his mother’s side, both of whom also arrived in America on the Mayflower.  Mayflower descendants preferred to marry within their own group to retain their social and economic stature. The Halls were indeed a family of wealth and high standing.  Little information exists on Luke Hall’s business activities.  It is known, however, that his sons were shipbuilders; they built thirty vessels between 1825 and 1840 at the White Ferry Shipyard in Marshfield.[30]

Another fact regarding the Hall family that is known is that in 1815, Luke took his youngest son Samuel, then fourteen, to Charleston, South Carolina, on a business trip.  Upon their return home, they passed through New York and both caught yellow fever.[31]  Luke died and was buried in Staten Island, and Samuel returned home after his recovery.  Anna Tuels lived until 1848.  She was laid to rest in the Cemetery at Marshfield Centre, this according to records compiled by Stanley W. Smith in 1906.[32]  At the cemetery, the younger Luke erected a monument to his parents that included the following inscription:

In Memory of


Who died on Staten Island,

June 28, 1815,

Aet. 48 years.


Luke Hall,

Died at East Boston,

July 20, 1848,

Aet 88 years.[33]

The Maker of the Anna Tuels Quilt 

If the Anna Tuels from Marshfield was in fact the first owner of the Wadsworth Atheneum quilt, then clearly, its maker was Experience Taylor.  Every piece of the puzzle fits.  The date of the quilt coincides with Anna and Experience’s dates.  These women were Mayflower descendants and affluent.  Therefore, Experience could afford the costly British fabrics with which the quilt was created.  We may never know Experience’s motive for making the quilt for her daughter.  However, we can safely say that, if these were in fact the women associated with the history of the quilt, then the quilt was not intended to commemorate Anna’s marriage, as some believe.  Quilts were then objects that took one or more years to make.  In view of this, the Anna Tuels Quilt is not only a magnificent example of late eighteenth-century craftsmanship, but also stands as testimony of the love of a mother for her daughter.  With every stitch Experience made while creating the quilt, she no doubt hoped for a long, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful life for Anna, and perhaps also a good husband.


About the author

Lilian H. Zirpolo is an independent art historian specializing in 17th-century art, with a concentration on art patronage and collecting in Rome. She is also an avid quilter and has been exploring the history of quilting for some time.  She received a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1994 and her publications include Ave Papa/Ave Papabile:  The Sacchetti Family, Their Art Patronage, and Political Aspirations (Centre of Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2005), The Historical Dictionary of Renaissance Art (Scarecrow Press, 2008), and The Historical Dictionary of Baroque Art and Architecture (Scarecrow Press,  2010).  She edited The Chapels of Italy, from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Centuries:  Art, Religion, Patronage, and Identity (WAPACC Organization, Text and Studies Series, 2010) and has published extensively on issues of art patronage and collecting in venues such as the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Augustinian Studies, Architectura, Explorations in Renaissance Culture, and the Woman’s Art Journal.  She is also a frequent reviewer in the Sixteenth Century Journal, Renaissance Quarterly, Art History, the Woman’s Art Journal, and Discoveries. She was also the Co-Editor/Co-Publisher of Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art, from 2000 to 2011. Contact her here.


* Please see “OIA Statement on image use in articles” (click here) for more information.


[1] I am grateful to Lynne Z. Bassett, guest curator of the Wadsworth Atheneum exhibition, for providing me with the text of the 2008-2009 exhibition labels that accompanied each quilt.  I also owe debt to Nancy Siegel for directing me to the proper sources relating to life in early America.

[2] In the eighteenth century, color dyes were extracted from plants.  The dye used to create pink fabrics came from madder, brazilwood, or annatto.  On eighteenth century dyes, see Robert Chenciner, Madder Red:  A History of Luxury and Trade, Abingdon, Oxon, Florence, KY, and New York:   RoutledgeCurzon, 2000; Rita J. Adrosko, Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing:  A Practical Guide with Over 150 Recipes, Mineola, NY:  Dover Publications, 1971.

[3] Bassett, 2008-2009 Who was Anna Tuels? exhibition labels.

[4] Laurel Tatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750, New York:  Vintage Books, 1991, 7.

[5] Law Library of Congress, “Married Women’s Property Laws,” awhhtml/awlaw3/property_law.html (retrieved 10 May 2012).  The site provides useful bibliography on the subject. 

[6] Lon Schleining and Randy O’Rourke, Treasure Chests:  The Legacy of Extraordinary Boxes, Newton, CT:  Taunton Press, 2003, 43, 45; Bassett, 2008-2009 Who was Anna Tuels? exhibition labels. 

[7] Quilters in Holland began making patchwork quilts at the end of the eighteenth century.  Janine Janniere, “A New World in the Old:  European Quilting Scholarship,” The Quilt Journal 1 no. 1 (1992): 6. 

[8] Th. P.E. Kreck, Stamboom Onnes-Boelema, Groningen:  Drukkerij van Denderen, 1986, Book II, 350a. 

[9] On the McCord Quilt, see Jacqueline Beaudoin-Ross, “An Early Eighteenth-Century Quilt in Montreal,” Canadian Art Review 4 no. 1 (1979-1980): 106-109.  The author discusses issues of dating and the probable British origin of the quilt.  In the same year of the McCord Quilt’s execution, Johathan Swift described the clothes created for Gulliver by 300 tailors in Chapter VI of Gulliver’s Travels as similar to “the patchwork made by the ladies in England, only that mine were all of a color.”  This shows that by this time, the patchwork quilting technique was a well-established craft in England.  Gulliver’s Travel can be read in the Project Gutenberg site at (retrieved 10 May 2012).

[10] The quilt is owned by Catharine’s descendant, Catharine Bradford Surridge Kollath of Waukesha County, Wisconsin.  Ellen Kort, Wisconsin Quilts:  History in the Stitches, 2d ed., rev. by Maggi McCormick Gordon, Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2008, 14-15.  Kort includes an illustration of the quilt (15) and a detail of its embroidered and crocheted border (14).

[11] Colleen R. Callahan, “A Quilt and Its Pieces,” The Metropolitan Museum Journal 19/20 (1986):  97-118. 

[12] Chambers’ Cyclopaedia can be searched at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center at (accessed 29 May 2012).

[13] See, for example, the c. 1750 mariner’s compass (Accession No. NAV0378) made by Jonathan Eade and the c. 1776 piece (Accession No. NAV0383) executed by George Adams, a leading supplier of instruments in England of the late eighteenth century.  A seventeenth century example is the c. 1650 mariner’s compass (NAV0463) of unknown origin.

[14] On Hadley bridal chests and their origin, see Schleining and O’Rourke, 45-47.  They include the photograph of one example with an almost identical pattern to those found at the corners of the York Museum Quilt (46, detail on 47). 

[15] Bassett, 2008-2009 Who was Anna Tuels? exhibition labels.

[16] On these textiles, see Florence M. Montgomery, Printed Textiles:  English and American Cottons and Linens 1700-1850, New York:  Viking Press, 1970; Florence M. Montgomery, Textiles in America 1650-1870, New York:  W.W. Norton, 1984; Florence Pettit, America’s Printed and Painted Fabrics 1600-1900, New York:  Hastings House, 1970.  For a list of manufacturers of these textiles in Norwich, see Great Industries of Great Britain, London, Paris, New York and Melbourne: Cassell and Co., 1884, 144. 

[17] In the Pennsylvania Gazette of 25 September 1734, in Kate Haulman, The Politics of Fashion in America, Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2011, 24.  Additionally, Callimanco was used for the fabrication of shoes, which were also the subject of thievery.  See, for example, Julia Cherry Spruill, Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies, New York:  W.W. Norton, 1971, 134, who lists runaway slaves recorded in various eighteenth-century gazettes as having stolen gowns, petticoats, stockings, hats, and callimanco shoes from their owners before their escape. 

[18] The cotton textiles in the quilt were most likely produced in Lancashire.  By the eighteenth century, raw cotton was being imported from the colonies into England and processed in Lancashire into cloth.  By the nineteenth century, Lancashire dominated the European cotton market.  On this topic, see Beverly Lemire, Fashion’s Favorite:  The Cotton Trade and the Consumer in Britain, 1660-1800, Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1991; Michael M. Edwards, The Growth of the British Cotton Trade, 1780-1815, Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 1969.

[19] Kort, 14-15.

[20] This is known because the quilt had tags attached to it labeling the provenance of certain pieces, believed to have been placed there by George Ross Scull, Sarah’s great-grandson.  Bassett, 2008-2009 Who was Anna Tuels? exhibition labels. 

[21] Annechien’s quilt in the Openluchtmuseum was executed exclusively with printed cotton fabrics. The backing is one length of solid red cotton.  This was possible because, by 1844, when the quilt was executed, raw cotton was being imported from the Dutch colonies to Holland and cotton fabrics were being produced locally.  Further, technical advances related to the processing of raw cotton and its manufacturing into cloth caused the price of cotton fabrics to plummet.

[22] Hortatory names like Hope, Mindwell, and Experience were quite common among Mayflower descendants.  Laurel Tatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun:  Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth.  New York:  Vintage Books, 2001, 431 n. 61.

[23] Sarah Hall Johnston, ed., Lineage Book, National Society of The Daughters of The American Revolution, vol. 39, Harrisburg, PA:  Telegraph Printing Co., 1914.

[24] Lysander Salmon Richards, History of Marshfield, vol. 1, Plymouth:  The Memorial Press, 1901, 17. 

[25] Lloyd Vernon Briggs, History of Shipbuilding on North River, Plymouth County, Massachusetts:  With Genealogies of the Shipbuilders, and Accounts of the Industries Upon its Tributaries, Boston:  Coburn Brothers, 1889, 355.

[26] Tatcher Ulrich, Good Wives, 6.

[27] Thomas L. Purvis, Colonial America to 1763, New York:  Facts on File, 1999, 292. 

[28] Catherine E. Kelly. In the New England Fashion:  Reshaping Women’s Lives in the Nineteenth Century, Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 1999, 115-16; Dorothy A. Mays, Women in Early America:  Struggle, Survival, and Freedom in a New World, Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-CLIO, 2004, 88.

[29] Frederic William Bailey, ed., Early Massachusetts Marriages Prior to 1800, Baltimore:  Genealogical Publishing, 1897, 48.

[30] Salmon Richards, 138.

[31] Duane Hamilton Hurd, ed., History of Plymouth County, Massachussetts with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men, Philadelphia, PA:  J. W. Lewis and Co., 1884, 1169-1170.

[32] Stanley W. Smith, “Gravestone Records in the Cemetery at Marshfield Centre, Mass.,” Mayflower Descendant 8 (1906):196-200.

[33] Marcia A. Thomas, Memorials of Marshfield and Guide Book to its Localities at Green Harbor, Boston:  Dutton and Wentworth, 1854, 80.


Text copyright 2012 Lilian H. Zirpolo


5 thoughts on “The Anna Tuels Quilt in the Wadsworth Atheneum

  1. I was the guest curator who shared the information about the Anna Tuels quilt with this author. I respectfully disagree with the author on a number of issues. First, her characterization that “the curators of the Wadsworth Atheneum have assumed that it was produced in Maine, where it was found,” is inaccurate. In the labels that I sent to Ms. Zirpolo, I stated that “The Tuels family possibly lived in Maine where this quilt was found (though the “Tuels” name is more common in eastern Massachusetts).” I also found in my research the “Anna Tuels” whom Ms. Zirpolo claims to be the recipient of this quilt (as have others)–but with no other evidence than a shared name, I don’t think that a scholar should leap to such a conclusion as she has done in this essay. The quilt is not made of “plain and patterned linen, corduroys, silks, and printed cottons,” as she states. It is made primarily of various worsteds (worsted being a long-staple wool–one example of which in this quilt is a corduroy). I also disagree with the statement that “Quilts were then objects that took one or more years to make.” In fact, quilts were completed in remarkably short time, as an analysis of period diaries reveals. I would refer Ms. Zirpolo to my essay, “‘…a dull business alone’: Cooperative Quilting in New England, 1750-1850.” Textiles in New England II: Four Centuries of Material Life. The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 1999. Boston University, 2001. And the final comment that I shall make is that I continue to believe that the Anna Tuels quilt was made in preparation for a marriage. I have done extensive research on quilts and quilting in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and the style of this quilt is absolutely consistent with marriage quilts from that period. I have postulated that the intended marriage in 1785 did not take place–accidents happen!–and that, if indeed the Anna Tuels noted on the quilt is the one from Marshfield, she got a second chance at love in 1793. Unfortunately, we will probably never know the real story. I regret that Ms. Zirpolo took her information only from the exhibition labels (which are necessarily terse) and did not discuss her research in greater depth with me.

    • I would like to thank Ms. Bassett for her comments on my essay, and respond to some of them. In my article, I clearly indicate that she graciously provided me with the text of the labels that accompanied the quilts in the 2008-2009 exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum. Contrary to her assertions, however, my research for this article was not solely based on the information on those labels. The footnotes that accompany my article include a good number of references to my source materials. Also, as a scholar I normally engage in research on my own and take sole responsibility for my scholarship. I was not aware that Ms. Bassett expected me to discuss my research with her before publishing the article, and doing so is not de rigueur in scholarship. Regarding my listing of the fabrics used in the making of the Anna Tuels Quilt, I obtained that information from an article written by Colleen R. Callahan, Curator Emeritus of Textiles at the Valentine Museum in Richmond Virginia, published in the Metropolitan Museum Journal in 1986 (the full reference is in my note no. 11 above). Callahan includes the Anna Tuels Quilt as her Figure No. 8 (p. 105) with a caption that provides the following description: “Top pieced from plain, striped, printed, and damask-patterned linens, corduroy, silks, printed cottons, final border of glazed wool…” I consider Metropolitan Museum publications to be reliable sources of information and therefore I had no reason to doubt that the information on the fabrics given by Callahan—a respected costume and textile historian trained at NYU and the Metropolitan Museum—was accurate. I don’t have an issue with Ms. Bassett disagreeing with my identification of Anna Tuels as the woman from Marshfield, MA. After all, scholarship is fueled by collegial debate. I would like to bring to her attention, however, that nowhere in my article do I state that I have the definitive answer on the identification of Anna Tuels and her mother, the quilt’s maker. I am simply proposing that these two women from Marshfield were the recipient and maker, respectively, and that the evidence points to that possibility. And whereas previously the Wadsworth Atheneum listed the Anna Tuels quilt as a marriage quilt, they now refer to it simply as a coverlet for lack of evidence as to its intended purpose. I have not been to the museum recently, but they have indicated in the past that the quilt was created in Maine, a notion embraced by a number of quilt experts, including Patsy and Myron Orlofsky (Quilts in America) and Carleton L. Safford and Robert Charles Bishop (America’s Quilts and Coverlets), to name but a couple of examples. Finally, though I realize that Ms. Bassett has evidence that quilts were created in “a remarkable short time,” I would like her to know that I am not only an art historian, but also an avid quilter. I have been quilting for close to forty years now and I know the work involved in piecing a quilt together and then quilting it by hand. To say that all women of the era worked at “a remarkable” speed to complete a quilt is a generalization that does not apply to every single case.

      Lilian H. Zirpolo, Ph.D.

  2. I did not mean to suggest that Ms. Zirpolo’s research was solely taken from the exhibit labels–that is obvious from the endnotes–what I meant was that I regretted that we didn’t have correspondence about the quilt, other than my providing the label copy. Further discussion could have cleared up confusion over contradictions between the label copy and other sources, avoiding the re-publication of old and incorrect information–such as that the museum assumes the quilt originated in Maine, or that it is made of linens, cottons, and silks. I am firm in my belief that the quilt was made for a marriage. I, too, do needlework of all sorts and am experienced at quilting–but I recognize that modern quilting practices are quite different from quilting two hundred years ago. If Ms. Zirpolo will read my essay (cited above), which is based on an analysis of 34 New England diaries from c. 1750 to 1850, she will find that the making of bed quilts (as opposed to making quilted clothing or repairing old bed quilts) in the late 18th century was often associated with setting up a young woman to go to housekeeping, and that it was accomplished very fast. In my study of over 100 whole-cloth quilts from the 1730s to the 1850s, in every case in which a date is worked on a quilt, it is associated with a marriage. Ms. Zirpolo states that marriages at the time (1790s) were generally arranged. I would direct her to Ellen K. Rothman’s book, _Hand and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America_ (1987), p. 25: “In the half-century after Independence, middle-class youths expected and experienced considerable autonomy in courtship.” Her statements that “Mayflower descendants preferred to marry within their own group to retain their social and economic stature” and that being a Mayflower descendent somehow assured financial success both receive no citation–because, in fact, no historian has ever asserted any correlation between Mayflower arrival and wealth in the late 18th century. I truly do not mean to be overly critical of Ms. Zirpolo’s work–it’s just that so much erroneous information has been published about this quilt and early American quilting in general, that I think it’s important to set the record straight whenever possible. Quilts and quiltmakers are generally not considered worthy of scholarly study, and I commend Ms. Zirpolo for thinking outside the academic box and trying her hand at discovering the identity of Anna Tuels. Perhaps if we all keep digging, someday we will find the answer.

    • Ms. Bassett has the right to disagree with the premise of my article. However, to state that every piece of information published on the Anna Tuels Quilt is misinformed and that only her statements are correct is implausible. In my article I explained clearly the process involved in creating the Anna Tuels Quilt. As I indicated, the maker used the English paper-piecing technique, which is still used today. It is a painstaking technique that involves cutting pieces of paper; tacking pieces of fabric onto each; sewing the pieces together; layering the quilt top, batting material, and baking; top stitching the whole quilt by hand; and then finishing off the edges. And this is a large quilt that includes applique work in the central medallion, which also entails several steps. To say that “old” quilting methods were faster than “new” ones is, moreover, inaccurate. If anything, modern quilting methods are faster because now there are tools available to facilitate the task, like rotary cutters, self-healing mats, and specialty rulers that allow for the accurate cutting of multiple pieces at once. Regarding the intermarriages between Mayflower descendants, Ernest Bowman’s records on the Mayflower descendants make clear that this was in fact the case. And regarding arranged marriages, please refer to my references in the footnotes on early life in America. As a final comment, as this will be my last response, I would like to state that I respect the scholarship of the sources I used, as do others, and I stand by my assertions, which are grounded in thorough, painstaking research.

      Lilian H. Zirpolo, Ph.D.

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