Feathered Star Quilt
8'6" x 7'7"
Quilting bee; Aratus Kent; Galena, IL
Mrs. Edward W. Barley, 1967
The harrowing winter of 1832 had finally ended. As spring arrived, so did something which the Kinzies had not enjoyed since their journey to Chicago in 1831. Reverend Aratus Kent and his wife traveled from Galena on a trip through the far-flung settlements of the Wisconsin frontier. Kent had arrived in Galena in 1829 after apparently requesting that the Home Mission Society send him where no one else would go. For John—who had experienced criticism for his efforts to establish a Protestant Sunday School in Prairie du Chien—and Juliette—who had been completely unaccustomed to the void of Religious instruction—this was a special development. Juliette writes, “For nearly three years had we lived here without the blessing of a public service of praise and thanksgiving. We regarded this commencement as an omen of better times, and our little ‘sewing society’ worked with renewed industry, to raise a fund which might be available hereafter, in securing the permanent services of a missionary.”
The sewing society to which Juliette refers was an established tradition in the eastern fringes of the frontier where the spread of revivalism had outpaced the ability of America’s denominations to furnish ministers. Following the Second Great Awakening, the famed and fabled “circuit rider” was the answer to this problem. Groups of women in the various settlements scattered across the eastern frontier would come together to socialize and sew items as a gesture of thanks to the traveling minister. This unique quilting bee tradition was adapted by groups in more settled areas for disbursement in gift packages to missionaries abroad. Today’s artifact ambassador is an 1825 feathered star pattern quilt made by an Ohio sewing society. It was given as a gift to a traveling missionary who was an ancestor of the donor. Embroidered in such a way so as not to distract from the quilt’s pattern are the faint words, “Missionary Quilt, Ohio Beauty 1825.”
Juliette’s words indicate that her particular group may have adapted this tradition to the special situation of a fort settlement. Her explanation of the society’s activities working toward a capacity to support a minister in the area probably means that the textiles they produced were sold for raising funds rather than as a gifts to the preacher. At a wilderness fort—where the inability or unwillingness to sew among most of its male inhabitants would have made tailoring and mending an invaluable commodity—this strategy would have been uniquely effective.
This Artifact Ambassador represents a time when homesickness was setting in for Juliette. The previous winter’s horrors and Kent’s arrival with a taste of what she had taken for granted in the East seemed to set the Kinzies on a trajectory to reconsider their future at Fort Winnebago. Our story will continue in mid-December!