Carroll County Illinois

Hannah Martin Sword and the White Quilt

Contributed by Linda Sword Johnson

All of the pre-1940 information on Hannah Martin Sword and her White Quilt came from letters written by her granddaughter Rosebud Sword McArthur in March 1940 to my Grandparents "Rob and Mary". Anything in italics a direct quote from the letters.

Hannah Martin Sword had made quilts before, and possibly after - but the whole cloth White Quilt was acknowledged to be her masterpiece - even as she was working on the Quilt. It was "an object of much desire". During 1864-65 she "quilted all day and had not moved her chair". For the final stitches she added her name and date on the quilt "Hannah Martin Sword 1865".

Since white quilts were usually Bridal gifts this wonderful quilt was very probably a wedding gift from Henry and Hannah Martin Sword to their son Martin and his bride Hannah Puterbaugh when they married in 1866. (Note: Yes Martin's first wife and his mother were both named Hannah and yes, this has led to major confusion. We even have a photo identified as Hannah Puterbaugh and someone in an earlier generation added "maker of the white quilt". The age of the woman and the style of the photo indicate she was not mis-identified and could not be Hannah Martin.)

Martin and Hannah Puterbaugh had one son, Harry. When Hannah Puterbaugh died in 1869 Martin gave most of her elaborate trousseau to her sisters but "not her wedding dress" (no record what happened to that dress) and "not the White Quilt". Martin then married Rosina Edwina Dilley: they had 3 children: Robert, Erl (this is the correct spelling) and Rosebud.

Martin and Hannah's son Harry married Allena Phelps and they did receive the quilt as "Harry told his Aunt Kate that he had the quilt in perfect conditio" (there had been family rumors that Martin and Rosina had let the 4 children "use it as a rug to play on").

Since Harry and Allena had no children the quilt was, at some time, passed to Robert as Harry's half-brother and the next oldest son.

The family moved to Pueblo, Colorado where Robert married first Alice Wellman - both Alice and their child died. In 1906 Robert married a second time, to Mary Eurata Wells (my Grandmother). Robert and Mary had four children: Elizabeth, Martin, Dorothy and Priscilla.

My father, Martin Wells Sword, was born in 1909 in Pueblo, CO. About 1914 the family moved to California when Robert was transferred by the railroad. Settling in the Santa Clara Valley (known to the world now as "Silicon Valley") Robert and Mary raised their four children. Note: Robert had two careers - 25 years with the railroad, mostly in CA; then 37 years with the California Prune and Apricot Growers Assoc. in San Jose; finally retiring at 80 years old.

My parents, Martin and Virginia, were married in October 1936 and sometime before 1940 Robert gave the White Quilt to them (even though Robert and Mary both lived until 1963; another indication the White Quilt was a marriage gift). Rosebud mentions in her March 1940 letter that they "are perfectly satisfied that Martin and his wife have the Quilt".

Looking at a family chart it is obvious that the White Quilt came down from oldest son to oldest son - why, I have no idea, but it must have been an idea that was instilled very strongly by Hannah Martin Sword in her son Martin Van Buren Sword. (Note: Martin died in 1902 from injuries sustained after falling from a tree he and his son were trimming.)

Since my parents had 2 daughters and my sister and I have no children our line is dying out. Dad died in 1967 and Mother was becoming more concerned about the future of the White Quilt - especially after it was shown two years in a row at the Folsom History Museum's annual quilt show (Folsom, CA - east of Sacramento and Gold Rush country). The second year was the Museum's 25th Anniversary Quilt Show and the quilts chosen were the "Best of the Best". The extraordinary stitching, workmanship and excellent condition of this 142 year old quilt were frequently mentioned.

The 3 of us - Mother, my sister and myself discussed the future of the White Quilt and decided the best solution would be a museum. After some research, visits (with and without the Quilt), more discussion and research we decided upon the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in San Jose, CA . Mother really wanted the Quilt to stay in the Santa Clara Valley where she and Dad were raised.

This is a major quilt and textile museum founded in 1977, holding international exhibitions, and celebrating their 30th Anniversary in 2007. In September 2005 they moved into their own newly renovated (and earthquake retrofitted) building. Obviously the White Quilt will not be on display all the time but will be available for research, study and will be shown during appropriate exhibitions, and more importantly, will be stored properly in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.

Rosebud Sword McArthur wrote in 1940 that the Quilt was "a marvelous piece of handwork - really a museum piece". I like to think that Rosebud would be pleased that the "Sword Quilt" is now in a museum.

NOTE: In her letters Rosebud mentions that "she has collected quite a bit of family information" so if there are any Sword/Dilley/McArthur descendants out there who have any of this material I would love to hear from you!!!!

Also, I am looking for photos of Henry and Hannah - if any exist. I have photos of Hannah Puterbaugh (Martin's first wife) and Martin Van Buren Sword if anyone is interested (although not in computer yet).

Linda Sword Johnson
Sacramento, CA

Description of the Sword Quilt:
Size 75 x 76 in, Cotton, 3 layers quilted white on white; 12 stitches per inch; excellent condition "extraordinary quilting".
Pattern: Bridal Wreath with parallel lines, feathers, vines, wreaths, and floral motifs.