Mary Silliman DAR Chapter Quilt

1909, Bridgeport, Connecticut 

List of names on the Quilt 

Mary Silliman DAR Quilt 1909.docx Mary Silliman DAR Quilt 1909.docx
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 This is the story of the amazing journey of a signature quilt made by members Mary Silliman Chapter of the DAR, Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Chapter was organized in 1895. By 1910, the organization quickly attained status as the largest chapter in Connecticut and New England, and the third largest chapter in the United States. During its first thirty-four years, through the diligent work and the benevolence of its members, the Chapter contributed over $16,500 in memorial, educational and philanthropic donations to state, national and international causes.

Mary Silliman Chapter DAR Founders’ Quilt.

“This represented painstaking work on the part of our members and was an article of appreciable value." [1]

  In 1909, Chapter members met for a quilting bee at the Stratford Hotel in Stratford, Connecticut. Squares of cream-colored satin were distributed and embroidered in gold, red and blue documenting their direct lineage to their Revolutionary War soldier in a multitude of script. Mrs. Harriet Louise Burroughs Torrey was Bridgeport’s Chapter Mother Regent when the quilt was made. Her son, notable Presidential portrait painter, Mr. George Torrey, painted his mother’s likeness in the quilt’s center square. Nearly fifteen hundred names are artfully embroidered on this quilt providing a vast genealogical record of three generations of Bridgeport women and their Revolutionary War ancestors. Many members inscribed their DAR Registration number to further authenticate their ancestry. The quilt was assembled with machine stitching and tied with blue and white embroidery thread fashioned into spiral rosettes. The backing was covered with “flag blue” satin.[2]

 In 1911, the Mary Silliman Chapter sent to quilt to Washington, D.C. presumably to be displayed in the newly opened, ornate rococo-style Connecticut Board Room. It returned to Connecticut to be stored for one hundred years in a long, tin suitcase in the attics of various Chapter members. Over the years, the Chapter made several unsuccessful attempts to donate the quilt to their National Museum in Washington.

Enter the Connecticut Quilt Search Project.

In the late 1990s, Maureen Gregoire and I, as representatives of the Connecticut Quilt Search Project, were invited to document quilts at the annual DAR State meeting held in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. The quilt’s caretaker at that time brought the quilt to be documented. As the next ten years passed, time and fate necessitated the quilt be passed on. Within this same time period, the Mary Silliman Chapter noted to be the largest chapter in the state and New England only one hundred years earlier was now reduced to only a few live members. In 2010, to maintain its status, it merged with the Sarah Rigg Humphreys Chapter of the DAR from Derby, Connecticut and stored it archives and the quilt in the Stratford Historical Society.

                         In Praise of Barbara Buxton and Alden O’Brien

In December 2010, I was presenting to the National Society Daughters of Colonial Wars in Woodbury, Connecticut. Barbara Buxton, the designated caretaker of the quilt, was in the audience. She shared the quilt’s current status and expressed concern about its future. The members of the Mary Silliman Chapter always retained hope the quilt would be accepted into the collection of the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. Years earlier, I sent photos of the quilt to my friend and the Museum’s curator, Alden O’Brien. I knew of her excitement for the quilt and its historic and genealogical significance. On a trip south in February, 2011, I had the great privilege to personally deliver the quilt into Alden’s welcoming and capable hands. With great enthusiasm, Alden quickly hailed the Museum genealogist and other members of the staff and hierarchy. Their excitement for this quilt was palpable and most heart-warming.

Historically, the state of Connecticut has always been a pass-through state. Many of you with ancestry in New England had relatives who once lived here. Considering the large number of names, there is a good chance you have relationship to someone inscribed on this quilt. After some conservation measures, I am certain the DAR Museum will be sharing this quilt. Please consider making a donation to the Museum for the express purpose of conserving this quilt. It will also be presented in my upcoming book “Quiltings, Frolicks and Bees: One Hundred Years of Signature Quilts.” Enjoy!

©Sue Reich. All rights reserved. Please seek permission to share this information.

[1] Mouat, Emilie. Connecticut State History of the Daughters of The American Revolution, Finlay Brothers, Hartford, CT 1929. Page 137

[2] Notes accompanying the Mary Silliman Chapter DAR Founders’ Quilt.