1790 - 1795 Martha Soule's Crewel Embroidered and Pieced Quilt

In 1951 the donor informed the museum that she had a quilt made by her husband's great-great grandmother in 1792. A note attached to the quilt stated that it was made by Martha Babson Lane Soule of Freeport, Maine, and that "she spun and dyed the worsted and designed the pattern embroidered on it." The donor continued in her letter, "In going through some old correspondence we find that the mate to this quilt was donated to your Museum many years ago by my husband's great-aunt Mrs. Caroline Gordon." That quilt had been donated to the Museum in 1925, and more than twenty-five years later this quilt from the Soule family was also added to the Collection.
This quilt is both pieced and embroidered. The center panel, a 38-inch square, is embroidered in indigo-dyed wool, surrounded by a border pieced of 8-inch printed cotton squares and triangles, with a crewel embroidered outer border. Embroidery stitches include stem, cross, herringbone, seed, buttonhole, Roumanian, running, and couching. Considering the style of the quilt and the use of cotton 2-ply sewing and quilting threads in the construction indicate a date no earlier than the very-late-eighteenth century or probably early-nineteenth century.
The crewel embroidered pieces might have been from bed furniture of an earlier date. The center panel appears to be cut from a larger piece of embroidery; the top and side borders are also shortened; only the bottom border, with a large heart, is a complete design. The base fabrics for the embroidered sections and the lining are cotton and linen/cotton with a thin layer of carded cotton between them. The pieced inner border is composed of two fabrics; one resist-printed the other English copperplate printed ca 1775-1785. The chevron patterned quilting is done in a running stitch, 7 stitches per inch.
Martha Babson Lane was born December 22, 1772 in Freeport, Cumberland, Maine. The Lane family is listed among the settlers in that area of Maine as early as the 1650s. Martha married Moses Soule on May 25, 1793. Moses farmed in the Freeport, Maine area, and was a deacon in the church and a caulker by trade.
Martha and Moses Soule had eleven children, three of whom died within a few months of each other in 1807 at ages three, five and eight. Three other children, born later, were given their names; John/James Babson, Nancy and Jeannette.
One son, Gideon Lane Soule (1796-1879) was the first of his four brothers to attend Phillips Exeter Academy. He later became a professor at the Academy and for thirty-five years, from 1838 to 1873, served as a Principal. Under his able direction the Academy experienced increasing growth, prosperity and prestige.
The youngest son, John Babson Lane Soule (1815-1891), after attending the Academy, graduated from Bowdoin College. Although he completed law studies, he spent his life as a teacher, journalist and minister in Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois. He is noted for possibly being the originator of the popular slogan: "Go West, young man!" used in an editorial he wrote in 1851 for the Terre Haute Express which was later used by Horace Greeley so effectively in an 1865 New York Tribune editorial. Martha Babson Lane Soule died on December 20, 1837 and is buried in the Lane Cemetery near Freeport, Maine.
Currently not on view
date made
Soule, Martha Babson Lane
Physical Description
fabric, cotton, linen, linen/cotton (overall material)
thread, linen, wool, cotton (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 89 in x 91 in; 226 cm x 231 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Kendall B. Melcher
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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