Reconciliation Quilt

One quilt in particular illustrates the importance of research in shaping our understanding of quilts' place in history. Titled the “Reconciliation Quilt,” it was made by Lucinda Ward Honstain of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York in 1867. A block depicting former Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis reunited with his daughter, is the source of the name. In a gesture of reconciliation toward the Southern states, the presiding judge released Davis from prison on bail.  Father and daughter met again, in New York City, for the first time following the release.  Lucinda Ward Honstain may have read about the Davises’ reunion in the newspaper.

Lucinda’s quilt relates to the red and green appliqué quilt tradition and also stands apart from it because of its originality and subject matter. Lucinda’s quilt blocks are windows looking out upon vignettes of her life in Brooklyn. Among her appliqué designs she catalogued images of the people of the city and its racial, social, and economic diversity during the mid-1800s. She rendered white people engaged in their labor: a washer woman smoking a pipe (possibly an Irish woman as so many domestic employees were in New York at that time), an organ grinder, and a man driving a dry goods store’s vehicle. Among the African Americans at work are a shoeshine, an ice cream vendor and his cart, a man balancing a basket and a pail suspended from a stick across his shoulders, and a man tending a windmill.

Lucinda also peopled vignettes associated with the Civil War and its political effects. She illustrated the individual impact of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation in a block in which a Black man says to a white man, “Master I Am Free.”  She included soldiers and sailors in several blocks who may represent her Army officer husband, John B. Honstain, and sailor son-in-law, Hamilton Bingham who had married John and Lucinda’s only child, Emma.

As a middle-class, white woman during the mid-nineteenth century, gender norms made Lucinda’s home and children her primary responsibilities and areas of authority.  The wide block near the quilt’s center may illustrate two side-by-side town homes owned and occupied by the Honstains and Binghams on Leonard Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  Lucinda included domesticated cats in two blocks, a bird in a cage, and a dog emerging from its house. The young woman on horseback in one block may be Emma, who was known to have enjoyed horses.  And other blocks include a schoolhouse or church that Emma may have attended in the neighborhood. In addition, Lucinda sewed several whimsical folk designs of barnyard animals in trees, and fanciful stars and doodles that give us a window into Lucinda’s imagination.

[This entry was excerpted from: Jonathan Gregory, "The Reconciliation Quilt," in Patricia Crews and Carolyn Ducey, eds., American Quilts in the Industrial Age, 1760-1870 (University of Nebraska Press, 2018)]