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1853 - Yale Engine Company's Quilt

1853 - Yale Engine Company's Quilt

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The inscription found on this quilt identifies its origins. Within a wreath cut from a printed cotton chintz on one block is inked: “Ladies’ Donation / to the Fireman’s Fair / Yale Engine Co. No. 1 / South Reading / July 1853.” Quite likely a group of women devised the quilt making project to raise funds for the Yale Engine Company. A new engine house was erected in South Reading, Massachusetts, in 1853.
Two blocks in particular indicate the pride the community had in its ability to be prepared for fires. One has an appliquéd and embroidered fire engine marked “Yale 1.” The other block, all embroidered, has a ladder, hook, hose, the date "1853," and inscription: "Yale Engine Company No. 1 / South Reading." As reported in the Official Program of the Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Settlement and Incorporation of Ancient Redding” May 1894: “In 1852, by vote of the town, came a handsome new, double-decker fire-engine, resplendent in finish of rosewood and trimmings of polished brass.... The new machine was from Jeffers’ works at Pawtucket, R.I., and was named ‘Yale Engine, No. 1,’ in grateful recognition of a large gift... from Burrage Yale, Esq., whose tin pedler’s carts were for many years known all over New England." It was further reported that, "'The Yale’ distinguished herself in many fields, and saved much property from destruction. She is still [1894] retained by the town... and regarded with respect and appreciation."
All but five of the thirty 15½-inch blocks that comprise this quilt have geometric motifs made by cutting folded cloth. These were made from the same roller printed cotton fabric and appliquéd to a white ground. One block is pieced in a popular pattern, “Star of Bethlehem.” The inclusion of an American flag block contributes an element of patriotism. The blocks are joined in a quilt-as-you-go method. Each one is appliquéd, pieced or embroidered; then lined and quilted; bound with a narrow red-ground print; and finally, joined to make the quilt.
Burrage Yale, whose contributions to the community of South Reading, Massachusetts, were many, was born in Meriden, Connecticut, on March 27, 1781. At an early age he set out to help his family as a peddler of tinware. In 1800 he came to Reading, Massachusetts, and within a few years had settled there and founded a soon-thriving business manufacturing and dealing in tinware.
A man of strong convictions, he was profiled by Lilley Eaton in his 1874 Genealogical History of the Town of Reading. Burrage Yale was known as “polite, dignified, and hospitable, a friend and patron of education and liberal toward public improvement.” He was also “... a shrewd and accomplished business man.... accused of being proud, haughty and ambitious... unmerciful to his debtors.”
According to Eaton, “he once rendered himself so odious to a portion of the people... that on a certain night he was hung in effigy... and then consumed in a great funeral pyre, amid the shouts of the crowd; and... upon a board nailed high upon the oak, these words in epitaph: ‘This great and mighty lord, he is no more!’”
While Burrage Yale may not always have been gracious or generous, he apparently contributed a significant-enough sum to the fire fighting cause in his community that a fire engine, fire house and later an avenue bore his name. His wife, Sarah Boardman (1786-1844), was one of the early female teachers in South Reading. She was described by Lilley Eaton as “... a faithful teacher, and our memory of her in that capacity is most pleasant. In after-life she was ever a most worthy and valuable woman.” When Burrage Yale died September 5, 1860, the fully uniformed firefighters of the Yale Engine Company marched in his funeral procession.
This quilt, so carefully worked, is an example of efforts by women of South Reading, then a small rural New England town, to work together to provide for their community.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
place made
United States: Massachusetts, South Reading
Physical Description
fabric, cotton (overall material)
thread, cotton, silk (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 93 in x 78 in; 237 cm x 198 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Robert Stephens
Fire Fighting
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Cultures & Communities
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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