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Taylor, Mary Elizabeth Clayton Miller
Place Made:
Savannah Georgia United States of America
Date Made:
HOA: 99; WOA: 94
Accession Number:
MAKER: This chintz applique tree of life quilt was made by Mary Elizabeth Clayton Miller Taylor (1774-1846). A total of four surviving quilts made by Mary are known to survive. This is an extraordinary representation of 18th century quilts to be credited to one maker.

Mary Miller was the granddaughter of Charles Worth Blount (1722-1781) of Perquimans and Chowan Counties. The Blount family had ancestral claims to eastern North Carolina dating back to the 1600’s. The Blount’s were considered one of the most politically influential families in North Carolina in the 18th century. Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Worth Blount (1747-1831) married Scottish merchant Andrew Miller (1734-1784). At the outbreak of the American Revolution the Blount family was deeply involved, with Charles Worth Blount serving on the Committee of Safety and the Provincial Congress. His son-in-law, the Scottish merchant, could not reconcile to the American cause. Andrew Miller and his wife Elizabeth left North Carolina with their four young children and settled first in Bermuda, then on the island of Antigua. After the Revolution, their request to return to North Carolina was denied. They decided on Charleston, South Carolina instead. Naturalization records state that in February of 1781 Andrew Miller had “arrived in this town on a Brigatine of which he had purchased one half….now with a wife and three daughters, his fifth son has already taken the oath of Allegiance to the State of North Carolina, and his sixth son who is under age has been cruising in a Privateer belonging to that state for several months past.”

Mary Miller’s youg life had already been full of adventure. By the time her family reached Charleston, two more children were added to the Miller family, and Andrew’s health was failing. Andrew Miller died in Charleston in September of 1784. Documents from the North Carolina General Assembly record Elizabeth’s desperate plea for recovery of her lost assets to support her large family. A letter to her attorney describes their dire straits: “My dear Mr. Miller hied and left me with nine children and only two hundred pounds in goods, a little household furniture and three Negroes, one half of the goods went to pay expense of moving my family to this place, when I found I had nothing to expect from the Humanity of the people here, I hired out two of my Negroes and took in work, but that small pittance, I have been deprived of this these months, by sickness, my two youngest children are still very ill, part of my furniture I must sell, to pay the doctor’s bill.”

On the 6th of August 1786 a change of fortune occured. The widow, Elizabeth Miller, wed her husband’s former business partner, John McNair. The family moved to Statesburg, South Carolina in Sumter County – an area known for producing cotton. According to Elizabeth Miller McNair’s son, John McNair was responsible for the first cotton manufacture in South Carolina which was in production by 1790 where they produced “…huckabuck, fustian, corduroy, jeans, bed ticking, bed quilts, fugured and colored, plain white homespun and cotton stockings. Much cotton was spun for persons in this vicinity. Some long staple cotton was imported from the West Indies…” This was Mary’s home from the time she was twelve until she was married.

On May 7, 1799, twenty-five year old Mary Clayton Miller wed William Taylor (1769-1840) a Scottish immigrant like her father. After their marriage, Mary and William lived in Savannah, Georgia where they enjoyed success as well as prominence within the community. William Taylor was a cotton factor, stockowner in a steamboat company and president of the St. Anderw’s Society in Savannah – an organization that aided Scottish immigrants in America. Mary gave her time and money to organizations such as the Savannah Free School Society, the Bethesda Orphan House (for boys) and The Savannah Female Orphan Asylum. Portraits of William and Mary by John Wesley Jervis are exhibited in the Andrew Low house in Savannah.

The MESDA Collection is fortunate to hold two of the four chintz applique quilts made by Mary Miller Taylor in Savannah, Georgia. This is the earliest of the group and is inscribed “Alexdr M. Taylor July 1803”. This tree of life chintz applique quilt was made for her first born son Alexander (1800-1829) when he was only three yeard old. Large hawks (or eagles) are perched at the base of the appliqued tree filled with other birds, flora and fauna. Thought to be the earliest dated quilt from Georgia, it survives as one of the first examples of chintz applique from the southern Lowcountry.

RELATED OBJECTS: The Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia holds the second inscribed quilt made by Mary Taylor. Another tree of life chintz applique, this quilt was made twenty years after the first, for her grandson. Stitched at the base is “William Taylor From his Grand Mother 1824”. Mary’s son, Alexander, married Julia Clark from New Jersey and they had two sons, William being the first. This elaborate chintz quilt was quite the gift for a two-year-old!

Quilt historian, Barbara Brackman, recently discovered another quilt made by Mary Taylor in the collection of the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. Also dated 1824, this third chintz applique quilt is inscribed with ink, “Cornelia P. Clark from her Friend Mary C. Taylor 1824”. This quilt, instead of a tree of life motif, features chintz floral groups appliqued with floral borders enclosing the central design. This quilt is the only one inscribed with ink and not for a direct family member as the other three were. Mary’s ons, Alexander tragically died in 1829 leaving a widow and two young sons. Guardian records reveal that it is their mother Julia and her sister Cornelia Clark who were appointed Guardians of the two boys after the death of Mary’s son Alexander. Mary’s affectionate gift of a quilt to her son’s sister-in-law showed Cornelia’s close relationship with her sister’s family. Cornelia never married and died in 1836.

The fourth and last quilt in this collection dates 1832 and was made for grandson Alexander Clark Taylor (1825-1911), second son of Alexander and Julia. This quilt is in the MESDA Collection (acc.3064.2). It is similar to Cornelia’s quilt, with chintz motifs scattered around the center panel, however in addition to florals, this quilt boasts a lot of birds! Stitched near the center of the quilt is the inscription “A C Taylor from his Grand Mother 1832”.

The quilts of Mary C. Miller Taylor span thirty years and each is inscribed as a gift – a token of love and affection from a mother, a grandmother, and a friend. It is probable that many more quilts were made and given by Mary in her lifetime. However, when Mary’s husband William died in 1840, their household inventory included a modest “4 Bed Covers and 3 Quilts”.

Mary died in 1846 at the age of seventy-two. Her will included thoughtful and generous gifts to family members, children, grandchildren and friends. A codicil was added to her will stating “I leave my bed mattresses bedstead curtins [sic] counterpin to my adopted daughter Julia C. Goodwin”. Julia Clayton Goodwin (1831-1913) was her granddaughter by Mary’s daughter Elizabeth Ann Taylor Goodwin (1802-1882). It is unclear why she was singled out. Perhaps the fifteen-year-old Julia was a special favorite of Mary’s as she was her youngest granddaughter. Mary’s will included references to all of her living grandchildren, but refers to Julia as her adopted child and indulges her with quite a lot of additional gifts such as a writing desk, her work table, and a table with claw feet. She also entrusts her with the miniature of her deceased husband and provided for her future education and clothing.

It is the afterthought of the final bequest of Mary Taylor that is intriguing. Her suite of bedfurnishings – a bedstead, curtains, and counterpane are part of her most personal and intimate space. It is fitting that her final gift is that of a counterpane to her adopted daughter and granddaughter Julia Goodwin.

DESCRIPTION: Quilt appliqued with a tree of life design in the middle of the quilt with birds on the tree and at the bottom on either side. At bottom of main tree in cross stitch is a name and date. Outside border 5 1/2″, second border in diamond pattern 7 1/2″, third inside border 2″. Colors are pink, blue and browns.

For an image of the maker see Worsley, Stephen. Joseph-Pierre Picot de Limoelan de Cloriviere: A Portrait Miniaturist Revisited, JESDA Winter 2002, figure 27, page 45.

This quilt, along with Acc. 3064.2, descended in the family before coming into the MESDA Collection in 1979.
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Scholz