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Civil War Quilt Reveals Deepening Mystery

"For several weeks I had seen an old crazy quilt hanging in the window of Antiques, Crafts, Inc., 405 Piedmont Ave., Rockmart, GA 30152. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer and went in." Thus begins the first entry, dated February 11, 1995, in Diane Lockwood's journal recounting her odyssey with what she and her husband Jim would come to call the "Civil War Quilt." The quilt would eventually lead this California couple, with family connections in Georgia, to Civil War battlefields, the Atlanta Historical Society, and through these into the absorbing world of textile history and preservation -- as well as into the private lives of the family who produced the quilt.

Diane's account continues: "The note attached to the quilt read 'This crazy quilt goes back to the mid 1800s. It is lined with feed sacks from Atlanta. Made from men's clothing it is a treasure that can not be found today. Belong to the Crow family in Dallas, GA. Made by Hazel Crow's great grandmother. $125.00.'" Diane convinced the owner of the shop to remove the quilt from the window, where it had been fading. It had a rough-hewn quality, which Diane describes as follows: "The quilt does not have a batting inside and is very roughly done. It is made from several different weaves of brown wool and a few of grey wool. There are two small dark blue wool pieces. The stitching is large. The pieces are held together on the front with crude chicken track stitches. The stitching goes all the way through. It is not a thing of beauty or skill. It seems to have been made as a utilitarian quilt. . . just to keep someone warm."

Diane didn't buy the quilt that day, or for several weeks to follow. But it drew her repeatedly back to the shop, where she slowly elicited the story of the local family who owned the quilt out of the store owner, Miss Pauline: "Hazel and Sam Crow had lived in Dallas, GA. They were unable to have children so adopted a boy, David. David was very bright and played piano or organ as a child at church. He went on to get 2 or 3 degrees from college. At about age 35, he brutally murdered a manager at Home Depot. He was tried and convicted and is presently on death row in a Georgia prison. This was about 7 years ago.

"The murder and trial were too much for Hazel. She died. Sam had also died but I don't know when or why. Hazel was a big, husky red-headed woman. Miss Pauline claims to have been a good friend of Hazel. Miss Pauline is helping to sell off the Crow estate so legal fees can be paid. She said there were about 15 or 16 quilts that have been sold. This old crazy quilt was found in a trunk in the basement. Miss P claims that Hazel's great- grandmother made the quilt and had come from Chattanooga. Hazel's mother's name was Pearson. Miss P said that Sam and Hazel had lived on hwy 92, half-way to Douglasville near New Hope."

Eventually, in November 1994, the Lockwoods bought the quilt. Further visits to the shop after that didn't yield very much more information about the Crow family, except that Mrs. Crow's sister apparently still lived in the Dallas, Georgia area.

With the intention of doing more research in newspaper morgues and libraries, Diane and Jim coincidentally visited the Pickett's Mill Battlefield Historic Site in Dallas, a small town near Atlanta. Their tour guide, Karen, was so knowledgeable and full of details that it occurred to them that the historical staff at the park might be a good source of information about the quilt and its fabrics. In February of this year Diane called the park and asked Karen if they could bring the quilt to be examined. Karen was excited and mentioned that her boss Chuck was more experienced in textiles than she and would also like to have a look.

"Chuck laid the quilt over all his work on his desk so they could examine it," Diane wrote. "He was pretty closed-mouth about committing himself about stating that some of the fabrics might be Confederate and Union uniform scraps until he spotted the little patches of dark blue wool! He said that the blue was Union uniform fabric. He was most definite about this identification. He and Karen got a Union uniform jacket from the museum for comparison. The uniform was made from reproduction fabric in the same weave as the original fabric . . . it is called Federal Sack twill flannel. We could see that the weave was the same. Our little piece in the quilt had had all its flannel worn off and was severely moth-damaged. They also brought in the a Confederate jacket and pants for comparison. Our grey pieces looked similar but the immediate recognition as with the blue was not there. Both fabrics are twill. Chuck explained that there had been several fabric manufacturing mills in the south so not all uniform fabrics will be identical. Karen examined the heavier, brown "basket weave" fabric in the quilt and said it was 'shot with silk' and may have been a man's overcoat. Both he and Karen stated that the fabrics in the quilt were vegetable dyed.

"At this time, Chuck casually mentioned that his wife, Laura, is a textile historian and he'd like to call her to come and see the quilt. He called her. One of the office clerks drove him home to watch the kids so his wife could come. This action made me feel that the quilt was of historical value.

"While he was gone several of the office ladies came in and examined the quilt. I had mentioned the story of how I'd found the quilt. One of the ladies, Martha Jo Thompson, said that she had known Hazel, though not well. She knew who Hazel's sister was, too. She got on the phone with someone connected with New Hope church and came back with the information that the sister's name is Zephia Pierson (Pearson?) Mathews . . . and lives on the Buchannan highway. Hazel and Zephia's mother's name was Lydia Brintle Pearson who died in 1984 at age 96. Their grandmother's name was Millie Caroline Leveritt Brintle. She was married to Oliver Brintle. Turns out that Martha Jo is distantly related through the Brintles! Martha Jo also came up with a genealogy written out by Zephia in 1991.

"When I mentioned the part of Miss P's story that the great-grandmother (and quilt?) had come from Chattanooga, Chuck had explained that eastern Tennessee had Union loyalties that were stronger than Confederate loyalties. That may explain why there are patches of Federal uniform in the quilt.

"Laura arrived and could hardly contain her excitement. She thought that the quilt could have been made from a man's wardrobe after his death . . . [possibly] by the widow of a Civil War veteran. There is fabric from suit pants and jackets as well as from heavier garments like an outer jacket and an overcoat. She felt strongly that the fabrics were from the mid-1800s and whether the quilt was made then or in the late 1800s wasn't relevant to the historic value. Laura also felt that the binding may be silk. It has deteriorated badly. She speculated that the binding had been made from the suit jacket lining. Laura thought that maybe there was no batting because after the War, supplies of any kind were scarce."

An examination of the back of the quilt revealed that it was made not from feedsack but from fertilizer sacks from Atlanta. Diane's account describes the sacking: "The most legible sacking reads: '100 lbs., ADAIR AND MC CARTY (these letters are open block letters in black with the inside of each letter red.), A & M Old Reliable (this part is printed on a flag logo), trademark, 4-8-6, Manufactured by ?.D. Adair & McCarty Bros, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia, Mente-Savh.' The other sacking is very faded but some info can be made out: "100 lbs. Net, Swift's, Plant Food, 4-8-6, Guaranteed Analysis, Nitrogen 4.00%, Acid 8.00%, Potash 6.00%, Manufactured by Swift (?) Company, Atlanta, GA, 4-8-6.' The other Swift's sack still has some of the logo between 'Swift's' and 'Plant Food.' It appears to be a large red bull with the words "Red ??? Br???" (my guess is Red Bull Brand)."

Laura provided the Lockwoods with some references about conserving antique fabrics and recommended they take the quilt to be examined by Betsy Wayburn, Curator of Costumes and Textiles at the Atlanta History Center. When they called for an appointment, Betsy welcomed them and asked if Gordon Jones, Curator of Military Collections, could join them.

"Betsy and Gordon took us into a conference room and pushed together three tables on which to spread the quilt," Diane wrote of their meeting. "Both were professional and gentle handling the quilt. They examined it very closely. They felt that the two blue patches were U.S. military. The weave was consistent with the Federal sack flannel in the fatigue blouse worn in the Civil War. (Later we saw the statistic that 5.5 million of these fatigue blouses were made during the Civil War).

"Neither Betsy nor Gordon could be sure the grey fabric had been from a Confederate uniform. Gordon pointed out two patches that he was willing to say that if any were from a Confederate uniform, those two were it. (One is a long skinny piece; the other, on the other side of the quilt, appears to be part of a pocket flap). They are distinguished by cotton warp and wool fill. Gordon told us that there were many mills in The South producing fabric for uniforms and there would be some differences. Also, some of the fabric made for uniforms was also sold to civilians for domestic use. Technically, such fabric would be uniform fabric that was just never made into uniforms. Some of our grey is woven so tightly (double woven?) that the warp cannot be seen. Gordon couldn't tell if the warp is cotton (authentic) or wool (not uniform).

"Neither Betsy nor Gordon were willing to commit themselves but seemed to be excited about the quilt. To better understand what they thought, I asked if the quilt were something they would want in their museum. They both said, 'YES!.' From their reaction, we feel the quilt is of historical significance. I asked how they would display it. Betsy said that it might never 'go on display' but would be kept in their quilt collection and used by other textile historians as a learning tool. Gordon's department could use it in the Civil War displays and also for research on military fabrics."

During the process of authenticating the Civil War Quilt Diane and Jim learned a good deal about the preservation of textiles. The folks at the Atlanta History Center showed them the application of a product known as "crepeline" used to keep old fabrics from disintegrating. "Crepeline looks like a finely woven net fabric," Diane wrote. "It is made from silk and is available in varying shades and in quantity from Talas Conservation Materials in New York. Betsy suggested we use this product to protect the disintegrating silk binding on our quilt as well as on some of the moth-eaten patches.

"It comes in light, medium and dark colors but when placed on the item being repaired, it seems to disappear. A piece is cut to just larger than the spot to be protected, the edges pinned under and then, using silk mink thread (used by furriers in sewing pelts together) appliqued. Betsy said that the museum used Orvus soap when necessary on their fabrics."

After this visit, the Lockwoods returned to their home in Pollock Pines, California, taking the quilt with them. They intend to pursue its mysteries further as they have the time. "I thought I would go to the Dallas newspaper (The Dallas New Era), Diane wrote. "They have bound volumes of newspapers going back 7 years at the office. Older issues are on microfilm at the library. We have not yet gone to the library. It is my intention to get copies of Hazel's and Sam's obituaries and of David's trial."

In addition the Atlanta Historical Society staff recommended a way to pursue dating the quilt: "Gordon suggested that we go to the Atlanta library to research the names of the fertilizer companies printed on the back of the quilt. He thought we should start in 1880 and work back through the old city directories. If we could pinpoint the dates the name of the companies appeared and disappeared, we could more closely date the time the quilt could have been made."

In the meantime the Lockwoods are getting great pleasure from the quilt and the history and lore it has brought into their lives. Eventually, though, they plan to return it to Georgia. "The quilt really belongs in the south and I expect to return it after we enjoy it for a while," Diane writes.

To learn what finally happened to the Civil War Quilt, click here!

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