Discover Vintage America - APRIL 2020

Adventures in signature quilt dating: Part two

Last month I discussed a recent find of red and blue signature blocks and unfinished pieces found online. Some were dated circa 1848 with the location of Burlington County, NJ.

Nine blocks were signed or had names. I quickly found a definite connection between the names and the Broad Street United Methodist Church in Burlington. It was not at all surprising to me to find that members of a Methodist or Methodist Episcopalian church made the blocks. As a religious group, they are hands down the most prolific makers of signature quilts from the 1840s to the end of the century. Methodists were early adopters of the signature quilt phenomena as a way to preserve and honor friendships, family and faith.

Samuel Lincoln block along with period hymnal dated 1846, Burlington, New Jersey (Sandra Starley quilt collection)

Finding a strong link to a specific church through online records led to a research foray into Broad Street’s story. I discovered that it has an extremely long history dating from pre-Revolutionary War New Jersey to the present day, 250 years!

Two of the signers bear the surname Toy like Joseph Toy who was a co-founder of the Church in 1770. In fact, Broad Street has the honor of being the “first place in New Jersey in which Methodism was permanently established.” At the time, the quilt blocks were made, the church was known as The Methodist Episcopal Church in the City of Burlington.

In addition to the two blocks signed by Rachel Toy and John Toy, there are four blocks with Broomhead surnames, and three individual blocks for Elizabeth Louderback, Rachel A. Winner, and Samuel Lincoln. The Toy names were found in church records, as was one of the Broomheads and Miss Louderback. Research will continue to find connections between all of the named people.

Broomhead blocks dated 1849, Burlington, New Jersey
(Sandra Starley quilt collection)

The Broomhead blocks dated 1849 feature three single sisters, Sarah, Caroline Catharine and Mary Broomhead along with a poignant memorial block for their mother Mrs. Sarah Broomhead who had recently passed. I discovered that the Broomheads were emigrants from England. John and Sarah traveled by ship in 1820 to America along with five of their older children ranging in age from five to 13. Additional information was found about the Broomhead women through their wills and other documents. Their brother, John was a notable citizen of Burlington and featured in the 1921 Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography published by the American Historical Society.

It is always fascinating to see what research “rabbit holes” a quilt will take you down. On past signature quilts, I have learned about Quakers working with freed slaves to hunt whales in the 1840s (who knew), Quaker grape growing (viticulture) in Pennsylvania, anti-slavery efforts of Quaker and Congregational groups and much more.

Signature quilts often include sentiments or quotations from period poetry, biblical quotes, and hymns. Samuel Lincoln’s block from this set, dated 1846, has the following text:

“His stores are open all and free, To such as truly upright be.
Water and bread he’ll give for food, With all things else which he sees good.”

The text is from an unnamed English hymn used by a number of religious groups and dating back to 1794. Surprisingly, I was able to find a copy of the song in an 1851 hymnal from my own family. What a cool find. It is a joy to research and learn about history the fun way: through quilts.
I hope you will keep your eyes open for interesting and unusual quilt blocks and pieces of history. Please let me know if you have any quilt topics about which you would like to learn more.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

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