A total of four quilts made by Mary Taylor are known to survive and are held in museums from Savannah, Georgia to Lincoln, Nebraska. This is an extraordinary representation of surviving 18th century quilts by one maker.
Mary Elizabeth Clayton Miller was born in 1774 into one of North Carolina’s wealthiest and most politically influential planter families. She was the granddaughter of Charles Worth Blount (1722-1781) of Perquimans and Chowan Counties, North Carolina. Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Worth Blount (1747-1831) married Scottish merchant Andrew Miller (1734-1784). Charles Worth Blount was deeply invested in the American Revolution, while his son-in-law, a Scottish merchant with ties to English shipping, was not. Andrew Miller, his wife Elizabeth, and their children left North Carolina and settled first in Bermuda, then on the island of Antigua. After the Revolution, they were denied entry to North Carolina and settled in Charleston, South Carolina instead. Andrew Miller died in Charleston in September of 1784.
On the 6th of August 1786 Mary’s mother, Elizabeth, wed her husband’s former business partner, John McNair, and the family moved to Statesburg, South Carolina in Sumter County, a region known for its cotton production. According to Mary’s brother, his stepfather, John McNair was responsible for the first cotton manufacture in South Carolina. The 1790 census records that they enslaved nearly forty people on their plantation where, according to family recollection, they produced “…huckabuck, fustian, corduroy, jeans, bed ticking, bed quilts, figured and colored, plain white homespun and cotton stockings…” Mary lived in a world surrounded by textile production, a fact that might have influenced her affinity for textiles later in life.
On May 7, 1799, twenty-five-year-old Mary Clayton Miller wed William Taylor (1769-1840), a Scottish immigrant, like her father. The couple settled in Savannah. William was a cotton factor, stockowner in a steamboat company, and president of the St. Andrew’s Society in Savannah – an organization that aided Scottish immigrants in America. Mary was active in the Savannah Free School Society, the Bethesda Orphan House (for boys), and The Savannah Female Orphan Asylum.
And she quilted. Mary Taylor’s surviving quilts span four decades, each one inscribed as a gift, as a token of love and affection from a mother, a grandmother and a friend. Though just four survive, it is probable that she made and gave many more quilts during her lifetime. When Mary’s husband, William died in 1840, their household inventory included 4 Bed Covers and 3 Quilts. According to the 1820 census, eight people were enslaved in their household and it is quite likely that some of these individuals played a role in her quilts, particularly the more tedious processes involved in their manufacture. Enslaved individuals were certainly involved in the care and preservation of the finished bedcoverings.
The MESDA Collection is home to two of the four known chintz applique quilts made by Mary in Savannah, Georgia. The earliest quilt in the group (and the earliest known quilt from Georgia) is inscribed to “Alexdr M. Taylor July 1803”, her first born son.
The Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia holds the second known inscribed quilt made by Mary Taylor. Similar to the earliest one at MESDA, this quilt was made twenty years after the first. It is inscribed, “William Taylor From his Grand Mother 1824”.
Noted quilt historian, Barbara Brackman, discovered a previously unknown 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”. Cornelia P. Clark was Mary’s son, Alexander’s, sister-in-law. Following Alexander’s tragic death in 1829, his wife Julia and her sister Cornelia were appointed guardians of their two boys. Mary’s affectionate gift of a quilt to her son’s sister-in-law showed Cornelia’s close relationship with her sister’s family.
The quilt featured here (Acc.3064.2) is Mary’s last known surviving quilt and is dated 1832. Stitched near the center of the quilt is the inscription “A C Taylor from his Grand Mother 1832”. It was made for grandson Alexander Clark Taylor (1825-1911). It is similar to Cornelia’s quilt, but with a superabundance of chintz applique birds!
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 year before her death, Mary Taylor added a codicil to her detailed will – “I leave my bed mattresses bedstead curtins [sic] counterpin to my adopted daughter Julia C. Goodwin”. A late addition of Julia C. Goodwin to her will is interesting. Julia Clayton Goodwin (1831-1913) was Mary’s youngest granddaughter and perhaps a special favorite. While Mary’s will included references to all of her living grandchildren, it refers to Julia as her adopted child and indulges her with additional gifts such as a writing desk, her work table, and a table with claw feet. She also entrusted her wit the miniature of her deceased husband and provided for her future education and clothing. However, it is both the material nature and the apparent afterthought of this specific bequest that was most intriguing. Her suite of bed furnishings were a part of her most personal and intimate space. But they were also fabric, a media she engaged with throughout her life as a way of weaving connections between the generations of her family. She was, after all, a woman who spent a lifetime sharing her quilts with those that she loved. So perhaps her final codicil to her will was also Mary Miller Taylor’s final act of affection, the gift of her treasured bedding to a most special granddaughter.
DESCRIPTION: Cotton chintz appliqued, pieced, and quilted bedcover with appliqued fruit baskets, birds, and flowers. Appliqued areas applied with reverse buttonhole stitch in silk thread; edges of appliques are not turned under; central panel has double row cross hatch quilted pattern and is 49 7/8 high x 48 1/4 wide; overall quilting is straight parallel with some herringbone quilting. Printed border 7 1/2″ deep and second border has zigzag pattern; no mitred corners; Quilt is signed under middle applique. Ground is small printed flower pattern. Outside border is two different fabrics and is 7 1/4-8″ on three sides; top side is 4 7/8–5 1/8;
The border on this bedcover uses the technique of “strip-quilting”; the white band is 2 1/2″-2 3/4″ wide; the other bands are 3″- 3 1/4″ wide; there are six bands on 3 sides and four bands on the top. The backing is a brown print.
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.