By: Marla R. Miller
In 2009, Historic Deerfield acquired an indigo blue wholecloth quilt, probably shalloon, associated in family tradition with Hadassah Chapin Ely (ca. 1767–1808) of Springfield and West Springfield, Massachusetts. Though little is known about the artifact, placing the ca. 1785 quilt in a series of contexts can provide insight into the object and the world in which it was created. This foray into “object biography” uses other quilts with comparable design features, advertising columns, probate court records, family wills and memory, and information about the political atmosphere during the era in which the quilt was likely fabricated to explore the maker’s access to materials, patterns of bedding ownership in the maker’s community, and the passage of this and other quilts over time through family hands. Taken together, these insights illuminate the creation and circulation of quilt designs in the Connecticut River Valley, the acquisition of wholecloth quilts in Federal Massachusetts, the disposition of quilts in probate documents, and the role of quilting as a collective endeavor during moments of political tension.