Discover Vintage America - JANUARY 2020

X marks the spot – Vansant family signature quilt -
Part two

The mystery X signature quilt that we covered in last month's column continues to be a puzzle while teaching important history lessons.

Detail of Vansant Quilt - Elizabeth Ellis, Matilda Richardson, D.W.B. Goodnow, and Phebe Myers.

The quilt was made in Bucks County, PA and more specifically, Middletown. I found many of the named people living there as documented on the 1850 Census. Note: while most of us would call it a signature quilt, the majority of the blocks were not actually signed by the person named. Mainly this is because on approximately 27 of the 36 name blocks, the name was applied to fabric with an inked "signature" stamp. The individual names were set in the stamps with small letters like those formerly used in setting type for a newspaper.

Some quilt scholars are now advocating the use of "name inscribed" quilts instead of signature quilts to describe these quilts. I think using both phrases together is a good practice to help explain how these quilts were made. Names were also applied by stencils and embroidery and even written by paid scriveners.

Last month, I shared some statistical analysis of the quilt; the most significant is the number of Vansants. Thirteen out of the 36 blocks with names bear the Vansant or Vanzant name. The quilt is from the Gerrett/ Garrett Vansant family (Vanzandt, VanSand, VanZant, etc.), which immigrated to America in 1652 from the Netherlands. Their roots in America date back almost 370 years!

Garrett was only eight when he arrived with his father in New Amsterdam, now Brooklyn, New York. They were definitely of hardy stock as the country was quite wild at that time. Before the end of that century, Garrett and his sons had bought significant acreage in Bucks County, PA and established homes there where the quilt was made prior to 1850. For more information on the family see www.vanzandtsociety.com

Vansant Family quilt, Bucks Co. PA. (Starley Quilt Collection)

Communities and sections of society were much more segmented and interrelated in the 1800s than today and it was fairly common for cousins and other relatives to marry. Often brothers from one family would each marry sisters from another family. This quilt has Vansants who became Hunters and Hunters who became Vansants, as well as Vansant/Hellings, Hunter/Hellings, Hellings/Hibbs; so closely related families were marrying.

Through genealogy and other historical research, I was able narrow the date the quilt was made to within five years: after 1844 and before March 1850. Matilda Hellings married William Harmon Richardson in 1844 and she is listed as Matilda Richardson on the quilt, so she signed or was named after her wedding. For the later date, Phebe Myers married Israel Allen Hibbs in September of 1849 and she is listed as Myers on the quilt. Israel is also named on the quilt. Additionally, in March of 1850, Rachel Ellis married Joseph C. Vansant and his sister Anna Elizabeth Vansant married Garrett Goodnow. Both Rachel and Anna are listed by their maiden names and their future husbands are also named on the quilt.

Perhaps, the quilt was made to commemorate one of these latter three marriages. It seems more plausible that it was made to celebrate the Ellis/Vansant or the Vansant/Goodnow wedding or perhaps both. There are several of Rachel Ellis's siblings on the quilt. Only one of Garrett's siblings, teenager D.W.B. (David Wesley Bartine) joined him on the quilt. Several siblings and the parents of Anna Elizabeth and Joseph C. Vansant are on the quilt. There are not other Myers or Hibbs immediate family on the quilt.

I will keep researching and will update you as more information is discovered on this interesting historical record. If anyone has additional insight to or connections with these families, I would love to hear from you.


Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at utahquiltappraiser.blogspot.com. Send your comments and quilt questions to SandraStarley@outlook.com

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