Best Quilt 1873

The Best Quilt is a treasure remaining from the Oneida Community.  It tells the story of women in 1873 who  wanted a rememberance of the Community and its life.

Quilting in the mid 1800’s seamstresses in Baltimore, Maryland began using pieces of cloth to “paint “ pictures on their quilt pieces.   The pieces were cut shapes such as a red apple, a green leaf or a brown twig.  The shapes were first drawn and cut from paper. The shapes, the layer of appliqué,  were sewn on to the quilt block.  This took quilting decoration beyond embroidery or drawing with ink.

The quilts often told stories and/or resembled a family album, they were each different.  The album quilt was not only functional for warmth but also held a historical moment in pictorial form for its makers and users.

During the same time period signature quilts were also made.  They were shaped quilt blocks with autographs of the quilters or others placed in each block.  The signature quilts were like a fabric autograph book. They are not to be confused with the Baltimore Album Quilt style.

Previously, quilts had conventional, symmetrical designs, often geometrical or floral.

The “Oneida Community Best Quilt”  is an album quilt, telling the story of the industry and life at the Oneida Community using appliqué, signatures and drawings for the blocks.     The “best” quilt came into being after the Oneida Community women were requested by Harriet A. Noyes to each contribute a quilt block ten and one half inches square.  Her letter sent from Wallingford in December of 1872 suggested that each one create a pattern of her own fancy and a wide degree of creativity was favored.

Charlotte A. Miller was a genius with the pencil and was in great demand as they set about designing and drawing the blocks.  Some men were involved because of their drafting knowledge and many women made their own patterns.  Charlotte Miller used India Ink  to write the signatures and to draw on many of the blocks.  In March of 1873 the blocks were completed and sent to Wallingford.

The best 45 blocks made up the “Best” Quilt and another 45 blocks became known as the “Second Best” Quilt.

Journey of the “Best” Quilt

The “Best” quilt was assembled and kept in Wallingford, CT from 1874 through 1879, when the Community ended.  Then it was kept at the Stone Cottage in Niagara Falls until 1895, Harriet Noyes’ death.

It was turned over to the Oneida Community Mansion House Historical Society in the early 1900’s.

The best recollection of the quilt coming out of storage is around 1987 when it was displayed in the “history room”.  It was rotated every six months or so with the “Second” Best Quilt.

In June 1991 a technical services grant was awarded to the OCMH by the Textile Workshop of NY Textile Conservancy. The purpose of the grant was to better care for the textile collection and to work with the Conservancy.

In November 2003 a grant was received from the Lower Hudson Conference of Historical Agencies and Museums (LHC).  $6,200 was awarded for the conservation and mounting of the 1873-74 block style signature Album Quilt made by the Community Members and given the name “Best Quilt”.  The work was performed by textile conservator Gwen Spicer.  The total cost of $7500 for the treatment, mounting and framing was provided by the grant.  It is now hung outside the office wall, west of the braiding exhibit.

Individual Block Makers

Charlotte Augusta Noyes Miller

Charlotte  Augusta Noyes, the youngest of nine children born to Hon. John Noyes and Polly Hayes, was born on March 2, 1819.  She became a believer in Perfectionism upon the conversion of her brother in 1834.  She married John Ransom Miller on September 7, 1841.  She was in the Putney Association from the beginning and joined the Oneida Association with her husband and three children on June 14, 1849.  The children were:  Tirzah Crawford Miller, born September 13, 1842; George Noyes Miller, born September 13 1845; and Helen Campbell Miller, born August 5, 1847.

She had artistic talent and perhaps taught sketching in the Community, as well as working as a silk partner.  When she was seventeen, she attended a superior school in Hartford, Conn.  This is where she studied with success and cultivated her taste for drawing, one of her greatest pleasures.  According to the March 24, 1873 Circular, Charlotte’s genius with the pencil was in great demand for designing and drawing.

Both her younger brother, George W. and W. A. Hinds worked in her husband’s mercantile store in Putney.  Hinds in later years described Charlotte as a person with “heart large enough to take in the whole family.  Everyone from the youngest to the oldest felt free to go to her for sympathy and counsel, sure of an appreciative ear.  Her waking hours, both day and night, are spent speaking of God’s goodness, and confessing his strength, faith, and courage in her”.

Her grandson, Kenneth Hayes Miller, became a very accomplished artist.

She drew the side edge quilt pieces of the “Best” Quilt and penned the signatures.  Often the best writer signed the quilt pieces for their creators.

Harriet Ann Holton Noyes  (H. A.N.  requested the quilt blocks)

Harriet Ann Holton was born in Westminister, Vermont on November 28. 1808 to John Holton and Harriet Richards.  Her father was a well educated and prosperous lawyer.  Her grandfather, Mark Richard, who adopted her when her parents died in 1821, was a former Congressman and Lieutenant Governor.  She was fastidiously raised with a good mind, a streak of independent thinking, and a strong religious background.  Converted in the revivals of 1831, she joined the Congregational Church in Westminister, Vermont in 1832.  She probably met Polly Hayes Noyes in Bible class there.  Three years later she received the doctrine of holiness through the testimony of Maria Clark and the writings of John Humphrey Noyes.  After a fairly short correspondence, she and J. H. Noyes were married on community principles on June 28, 1838 by Larkin G. Mead in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

Shortly thereafter, she and her new husband, the Noyes family and George and Mary Cragin began the Association at Putney which was the forerunner of the Oneida Community.  Love between Harriet and George Cragin, Sr. and John H. Noyes and Mary Cragin began the first practice of complex marriage.  While her husband came to New York in January of 1848, it was not until March 1, 1848 that Harriet arrived at Oneida.  While at Putney, she had given birth to her only child: Theodore Richards Noyes, born July 26, 1841.

During Community years she often visited Wallingford and was much in demand as a reader during the early bag-bee days.  To all appearances she accepted wholeheartedly the marriage principles of the Community.  At one time or another she felt feelings of love for both George Cragin Sr. and Erastus H. Hamilton.  At the same time she could congratulate the women who had Community children by her husband.

H. G. Allen attested to her “strong potent influence in Community affairs, earnest, God-fearing, self-sacrificing (and) unselfish.”

After the breakup she and John H. Noyes moved to the Stone Cottage at Niagara Falls, where she occupied the head of the table with her husband at her left.  She began the keeping of genealogical information,  the archives and wrote a history of Community printing.  She died nine years after husband on October 8, 1895 at the age of 86.


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