Saturday, July 11, 2015

Jane (Blakely) Stickle, quilter

© Kathy Duncan, 2015

The other day I decided to take a break from chaining floating four-patches to read the blogs in my feed. I didn't get any further than Kathleen Tracy's Sentimental Quilter. She had posted an update of her Dear Jane quilt, and those little blocks are so darned cute.

Then I started thinking about Jane as a person and not a quilt. I assumed that almost everything that can be known about her is known, but I decided to do a little research you do when you should be finishing up a stack of floating four-patches. I was off and running. I did find at least one piece of information that I believe is new, looked at a lot that is already known, and decided to put my own interpretation in play.

Here goes...this is Jane (Blakely) Stickle's life from a genealogist's point of view; I will try to translate the verbiage as I go along. For instance, standard practice is to put maiden names in parenthesis.

Jane (Blakely) Stickle's father Erastus Blakely died on 13 Jan 1831 in Shaftsbury, Bennington County, Vermont and was buried  in the Center Shaftsbury Cemetery. He was ill at the time he wrote his will, and his handwriting is shaky:

In his will , after his debts and funeral expenses were paid, he left his wife Sally in control of all of his real and personal property as long as she remained a widow. That is a pretty standard stipulation in old wills. Then he added that if Sally died before their daughter Jane reached the age of 17, the property would be divided among his children, but only when Jane reached the age of 17. This is a curious provision since Jane is not his youngest surviving child. Real estate equals land; personal property equals portable objects. Of the real estate, son Erastus would receive half, daughters Jane, a fourth; Sally Ann, an eighth; and Elmira Curtiss, an eighth. The purpose for leaving Erastus and Jane greater shares was so that the real estate could be used for their support and educations. Presumably,  Sarah Ann and Elmira had already received formal educations; therefore, their portions are smaller.

There was just one problem, Erastus Blakely's estate was insolvent. That means that the estate could not pay its debts or taxes or other expenses. It also means that the heirs are not allowed to inherit.

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A commission of claims was appointed to determine the estate's debts and assets. It turned out that Erastus was heavily in debt. A property inventory was completed that indicated Erastus had a large number of unfinished wagons and wagon parts. These wagons were immediately finished, at the expense of the estate (more debt), and offered for sale:

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Evidently, Erastus Blakely was in the wagon making trade. In addition to the wagon parts, he had a blacksmith shop, which he would have used in his trade. He had a lathe with which he could have made spokes. He could have made the ironwork in his blacksmith shop. Timber, iron, and coal are all assets in his estate. He also had a large number of wagon hubs that I believe he would have purchased. Many of his debts may have been from purchasing some ready made wagon parts. To strengthen the theory that he was a wagon maker, in 1822, Erastus ran the following advertisement, seeking to hire a journeyman wagon maker:

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The 1820 census for Erastus Blakely lists the following individuals:

Blakely, Erastus 10022 - 2301----4


1 male under 10 = Erastus Blakely Jr.
two males 16 - 25 = two unknown males
two males 26 - 44 = Erastus Blakely Sr. and one unknown male
two females under 10 = Jane Blakely and probably Sarah Ann Blakely
three females 10 - 15 = Caroline Blakely , Emily Blakely , and probably Elmira (Blakely) Curtiss
one female 26 - 44 = Sarah Blakely
four employed in manufacturing = Erastus Blakely Sr. and three unknowns, probably all hired men

It should be pointed out here that three years later, Caroline and Emily Blakely died within about a month of each other. 

The pay outs for Erastmus's estate mostly include interest on mortages as well as his tombstone, which cost $15. On 6 May 1834, Sarah Blakely petitioned the court for the remainder of the personal estate of her husband Erastmus Blakely, with the exception of a one horse wagon and a sulkey, which was granted to her. A sulkey was a light, two-wheel, horse drawn wagon. With any luck, she was able to retain her own quilts and dishes this way.

No where in the probate record is a pay out for the education of Jane and her brother Erastus, which would have at least appeared as a payment to a school or tutor. It seems reasonable to think that Jane's formal education ended at the age of 13. She had probably already had some formal education and may have then been tutored by her mother or older sisters. The theorem watercolor that she painted certainly suggests the type of education that young women at the time received at female academies.

There are, in fact, no individual pay outs for support of the individual family members, which I've seen in many other estates. 

At the time of Erastus Blakely's death, his son Erastus was only eleven years and would not have been able to help the family financially. One cannot help but wonder how the Blakely household fared during the ensuing years or how difficult their situation may have been.

By 1840 the household had dwindled to four people:

S. Blakely 00001 - 00001002

one male 20 - 29 = Erastus M. Blakely
one female 20 - 29 = Jane Blakely
two females 50 - 59 = Sarah Blakely and an unknown female
two people engaged in agriculture = Erastus M. Blakely and Jane Blakely?

Now for the BIG FIND, Jane's wedding record...

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Walter Stickles and Jane Blakely married on 29 October 1844 in Shaftsbury, Bennington County, Vermont. She was 27 at the time of her marriage, and this was her first marriage. Walter was 26, according to his tombstone. Notice that this would make Jane older than Walter although he is always older on the census records. This is a very late marriage for a woman in that time period. 

Next Jane appears on the 1850 census with W. P. Stickles, age 34; Jane herself, age 33;  her brother E. M. Blakely, age 31; Sarah Hall, age 34, who might be Jane's sister Sarah Ann; her mother, Sarah Blakely, age  68 or 69; and Addison Johnson, age 20. Several items in this census are interesting. First, E.M. Blakely's occupation is tailor. It may be that instead of receiving a formal education that he was apprenticed to a tailor. Some have theorized that Jane may have acquired her scraps for her quilt from her brother. That might account for why her blocks are so small - maybe she is frugally utilizing the tiniest pieces of fabric or maybe she only has access to tiny pieces. Certainly the years following her father's death would have taught her to be frugal. It is also possible that Jane and the other women in the household are sewing for E.M. Blakely although there are no occupations indicated for them. Of additional interest are the real estate valuations. A dollar amount in this column on the census always indicates land ownership. The real estate valuations are as follows: W.P. Stickle, $400; E.M. Blakely, $300; Sarah Blakely, $300. All three of them own land. Walter's land might be Jane's inheritance from her father. Since Erastmus Blakely's probate settlement does not mention a sale of his land and a sale notice does not seem to appear in the newspaper, it may be that Sarah Blakely and her children managed to hang on his land, which comprised 16 acres. The only way to determine that is to consult Bennington County, Vermont land deeds.

Much has been made of Jane Stickles appearance on the 1860 census in a household separate from Walter. Here is the important rule to remember about the U.S. census: it is a one day snapshot of households in the United States. One day. Just one day. In the case of the 1860 census that day was June 1, 1860. The census taker was told to enumerate all of the individuals living in household on June 1, 1860. When the census taker arrived at Walter and Jane's house on 6 June 1860, he was told that Jane was living in the household alone on 1 June 1860. Her occupation was given as a farmer. There is no real estate valuation. Did she not know the value of the land, or has something happened to their land? On 7 June 1860, the census taker was at brother Erastmus Blakely's household and was told that among others (including his mother Sarah Blakely), Walter Stickle was a resident of the household on 1 June 1860. This does not mean, as I have seen some say, that throughout the 1860s Jane lived alone on the farm and reunited with Walter in the 1870s. The census does not project where a person will reside until the next census is taken ten years later. Instead, it means that on 1 June 1860, Jane was in the household alone, and Walter was at her brother's house.  Given her poor health, it is doubtful that she was running a farm by herself. Besides that, what man leaves his wife and moves in with his brother-in-law and mother-in-law when he has other family members in the area? There are Stickle households around Erastmus Blakely's. What brother-in-law and mother-in-law would welcome him? If there was a martial separation, it seems more likely that Jane would have moved into her brother's house. It is much more probable that Walter is temporarily at his brother-in-law's to help him - maybe they are building a barn or mending a fence or building an addition to the house, or possibly they are weeding fields or planting. June is a busy time on a farm. It is also highly possible that Walter was back at home with Jane on 6 June 1860 when the census taker arrived, even though he would not have been enumerated in his own household. It is also possible that on 7 June 1860 when the census taker was at brother Erastmus's house that Erastmus was staying with Jane and Walter, helping them, and not even at home himself. 

Following the 1859 Bennington County Agricultural Society Fair, a report on the fair was run in the Bennington Banner with a report from each department. The report from the Ladies Department was scathing. The needlework was found to be wanting. The writer implied that the women of Bennington County had allowed themselves to "grow lax and negligent in this, the ornamental part of our display." Likewise, it was implied that they had "neglect[ed] [their] duty!" They were implored to make it their "highest pleasure to  beautify and adorn [their] homes...with bright and beautiful specimens of [their] own handiwork." Going further, they were admonished with this plea: "Wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, remember this, and at our next annual display, let it be said that your works praise you." 

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This challenge may have led Jane to create her now famous quilt. 

In 1863, Jane Stickle entered her quilt in the Fair of the Bennington County Agricultural Society, where she won the equivalent of a first place for her "best patched quilt." Best patched quilt is such an understatement. It makes me want to see all the best patched quilts of the period that contained thousands of pieces. Were they all as breath taking as Jane's? For her efforts, Jane won a $2 premium, the equivalent of $58.70 in 2015.

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Because her quilt consisted of  thousands of pieces, it warranted an additional mention in the newspaper:

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At the time Jane finished her quilt, she was 46 years old. Many have commented on how surprising it is to discover that she was an invalid. The term "invalid" in the 19th century was not necessarily used to mean someone who was permanently disabled. In reference to women, it often meant someone who was sickly or highly excitable. This article, however, explicitly states that she had been confined to her bed for a long time. At the age of 46, she was almost out of her childbearing years. Even though no children ever appear on the census with Jane and Walter, it is possible that Jane had experienced a series of miscarriages and stillbirths. These would be undocumented. They may have even had children who died in fancy - although there are no tombstones for them in the cemetery where Jane and Walter are buried. If she had a history of problem pregnancies, a pregnancy at age 45 to 46 might have confined Jane to bed. Since she did not die until 1896, she probably did not remain bedfast for the next 33 years although she may have remained in precarious health. There is nothing to suggest that she was consumptive, and if she was, she probably would not have lived for another 33 years. 

I find this article particularly important because it documents the label that Jane put on her quilt. This can be no other than the Dear Jane quilt we all know and love.

Jane's mother Sarah Blakely died on 17 March 1869 and was buried next to Jane's father in Center Shaftsbury Cemetery. 

By 1870, Walter and Jane are living next door to her brother Erastus M. Blakely. Walter's real estate is valued at $6,000 and Erastus's at $1,000. Originally, Erastus share of land would have been half of his father's estate or 8 acres. Of course, the real estate valuation includes the buildings on the land. However, it appears that Walter has continued to amass land while Erastus has not or not at the same rate. Of interest on this census is that the occupation for both Walter and Erastus is "farm laborer" in spite of the fact that they both own farms and that their neighbors are listed as "farmers" instead of "farm laborers." It seems evident that they are also hiring out as farm hands in addition to running their own farms. Walter and Jane have Flora Bump living with them and working as their servant.

Most accounts state that Walter was bankrupt by 1877. I found no notice of a bankruptcy in the newspapers, which was the norm in a bankruptcy proceeding. Clearly, his bankruptcy exists in other records. It would not be surprising at all if they had been forced into bankruptcy in 1877. A national depression began in 1873 and lasted until 1879. It was so severe that it was known as the Great Depression until the Great Depression of the 1930s came along. By 1877, if Walter had any mortgages or loans, and he might have if he continued his expansion, he would have been in financial trouble. Compounded by his declining health, he would not have been able to hang on. His brother-in-law, Erastus died in 1878 and may have been in poor health in 1877, so Walter may not have been able to depend on Erastus for help any more. 

By 1880, Walter and Jane were borders in another household. Walter was unemployed because of his rheumatism. When he died on 19 Feb 1883, his cause of death was "heart disease."

Jane Stickle died thirteen years later 2 March 1896. On her death certificate, the cause of death is dropsy. Dropsy was a nineteenth century term for edema caused by congestive heart failure or renal failure. It means that she would have experienced swelling in her legs. It is possible, then, that Jane had a heart condition that left her unable to do much that was physical. That would make it even more unlikely that she was operating a farm single handedly in 1860. 

Both Walter and Jane Stickle  are buried in Center Shaftsbury Cemetery, Bennington County, Vermont.

Had Jane lived for four more years, she would have appeared on the 1900 census. That census contained information on how many children a woman had given birth to and how many were still living. That would have answered some questions about Jane's childbearing. Equally, informative would be Walter and Jane's bible.

And this, doggone it, is why I don't get more quilting done...

Last updated on October 11, 2015.

Keywords: Jane Stickle, Jane Stickles,  W.P. Stickles, W.P. Stickle, Walter P. Stickle


  1. Kathy, i am so glad i visited your blog today. I was pleasantly surprised to discover your blog post about Jane (Blakely) Stickle. Since embarking on my personal 'Dear Jane' journey i'm always on the hunt for any info i can get my hands on about the little known, Jane Stickle. So, that's why i thoroughly enjoyed reading your informative post. "best patched quilt" sure is an understatement!!

    Thank you also for visiting my blog :)) cheers, Marian

    1. Marian, thank you for stopping by. When I started research Jane Stickle, I really did not expect to find out anything "new" about her. That has inspired me to research a couple of other people from the quilt and doll world that I will be posting on soonish. I found your blog through Patterson's blog and thoroughly enjoy your quilting and dolling adventures. There are not many folks who do both. ~~Kathy

  2. Thank you for this great research. Found it very interesting and informative.

    1. Lynn, thank you for your kind comments. Research is, unfortunately, my great obsession. I need to transfer a little of that quilting. ~~ Kathy