1850 Benoni Pearce's Album Quilt

1850 Benoni Pearce's Album Quilt

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This album quilt has the inscription "Benoni Pearce Pawling 1850" plainly appliquéd across the top. Whether to celebrate an engagement, announce his availability for marriage, or as a token of friendship it is not evident why this quilt so boldly bears the name, Benoni Pearce. It is known that album quilts were quite popular in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1850 family and friends in the Pawling, New York area joined together to create this example well expressed by one of the inscriptions: "This Humble Tribute I Present - My Friendship to Portray." The needlework, artistry and many inscriptions on the Benoni Pearce Album Quilt make it an important part of the collection.
The eighty-one distinctive blocks of the quilt represent a great many of the quilting techniques and patterns popular in the mid-nineteenth century. Fifty-eight blocks are appliquéd, thirteen are pieced, eight are pieced and appliquéd, one is reverse appliquéd and one is quilted and stuffed. It is constructed mainly of roller printed cottons. The motifs of each of the eighty-one quilt blocks differ, from basic pieced star patterns to free form designs such as a girl jumping rope, a deer or trees. Details on many of the blocks are added in ink or embroidery. The quilting patterns also represent a variety of styles with quilted symbols of hearts, flowers, and various geometric shapes found throughout the quilt.
The many contributors to this quilt have appliquéd, inked or embroidered their signatures to individual blocks, often adding dates, place names, relationship to quilt recipient Benoni Pearce, and even poems. One quilt block depicting a barren gnarled tree expresses the following sentiment:
"I am a broken aged tree
That long has stood the wind and rain
But now has come a cruel blast
And my last hold on earth is gone
No leaf of mine shall greet the spring
No Summers sun exalt my bloom
But I must lie before the storm
And others plant them in my room.
Presented by Your Aunt Anna Dodge."
("Lament For James, Earl of Glencairn," Robert Burns)
Other inscriptions express conventional sentiments. It is through the many dated inscriptions that some of the history of Benoni Pearce's Album Quilt has been established.
Benoni Pearce married Emma Stark in 1851, farmed in the Pawling, Dutchess County, New York, area, had two daughters and died in 1871. By 1873 his widow, Emma, had moved to Washington D.C. with their two daughters and was working as a clerk for the U.S. government, one of the early government girls. Emma Stark Pearce continued to live in Washington D.C. and worked in various government offices until her death in 1899 at age seventy. After she died the quilt remained with her daughter, Jessie, who never married. The other daughter, Augusta, apparently died at a young age. Jessie also lived in Washington D.C., kept boarders and was listed in the city directory as a china painter or artist until her own death in 1907. It was in Jessie's handwritten will that mention was made of "my album quilt...." probably the one that was eventually donated to the Museum in 1972 by descendants. According to the donors they felt that the Museum was better able to preserve and care for the quilt and that such a beautiful object, Benoni Pearce's Album Quilt, should be shared and valued.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Date made
Pearce, Benoni, friends of
Physical Description
fabric, cotton, silk (overall material)
thread, cotton, silk (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
appliqued (overall production method/technique)
overall: 104 in x 103 in; 264 cm x 262 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Adelaide Pearce Green and Mira Pearce Noyes Boorman.
Chronology: 1850-1859
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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