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Writer,Quilt maker,Folkartist, from Freestone County, Tx.


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Sunday, August 4, 2013

AS THE QUILT SPEAKS ....LISTEN !!! by Sherry A. Byrd

Talk ?....A quilt!...No Kidding....Quilts don't talk.....Do they????

Can a quilt talk? 

Can it tell stories of far away places? 

What If a quilt could speak...what subjects would it expound upon? 

What part of the world would it choose to to talk in detail about?

Who would it talk about?

What specific people or culture would it elaborate on?

What specific places and time periods would it choose to focus on in its narratives?

Would it speak  about triumphs, failures, hardships, persecutions endured...or would it expound on relationships, love, hate, sorrows, and disappointments and disagreements...

Would the geography noted be a part of the USA or some other distant part of this wonderful planet earth?

Have you ever, in your whole lifetime, heard of a "talking quilt."  Well, I have....and I have actually seen it with my own eyes, touched it with my own hands and heard its many tales of wonder, with my own ears of understanding.

No, the quilt did not speak to me with an audible voice like that of a human, but it  did have a voice....which visibly communicated stories to my ears and eyes of understanding. The voice stemmed from the visible presentation of historical information represented by embroidered names on it. Those embroidered names led me to some history books... which introduced me to the life stories of the people who owned those names while living here on earth, in Freestone County, Texas.   All this happened in a most unusual way.  Let me tell you this most intriguing tale.

At first I did not choose to hear the message that was being conveyed to me by means of this old textile.   I purposefully ignored it...but not for long, because the voice of curiosity was a compelling one. The message was a historical one.  The people whose names were listed on this quilt had made and lived history.  It was not to be ignored  and was established fact.  Here I was holding the results in my own two hands by means of an old tattered blue and white signature quilt.  Yes, the stories must be told for all to hear...and that is why I am writing this account.

The account begins with a county of people whose ancestors caught a disease called GTT or "Gone To Texas."  They migrated from many parts of the USA and sometimes even from other parts of the world from across "The Great Pond" called the Atlantic ocean....to the southern states of our nation.  Inevitably this group of pioneers ended up in  Texas and  then Freestone, county.  Some still have many descendants who live here till this very day.

The people came for various reasons, but mostly because they sought to make a better life for themselves and their families.  Some brought along African Americans with their immediate families,who were their property as slaves.  To some extant, many accomplished their goals of becoming successful in life....others did not. But all of them left behind a legacy and made their marks on the "Story of Texas" historical line.  (Please read about the town of Teague by following the two links below.)

Teague, Texas

(Brewer is the name of  Teague, Texas prior to the coming of the railroad.  Please read about its history and people.)


In the town of Teague....the citizens (c. 1947) created a blue and white signature quilt which listed the names of many of its citizens, prominent and not so prominent.  These individuals, businesses and their families lived in and around the city, itself.  

Before and after removal of red and white
protective cloth on each end of the quilt.

***A most Interesting article.....please read.

Why Quilts Matter

A lot of the sons, daughters, and relatives fought in the two world wars...so I am supposing that this quilt might have been what was sometimes called a Red Cross fundraising quilt...I don't know for certain ...but there is a very good chance that it was ....because a 1943 Teague Chronicle newspaper declares on its front page the headline, "Teague Exceeds Quota In Red Cross War Fund."  So it seems during the war years the citizens were very busy supporting war efforts thru fundraising.

W. R. Boyd, Jr. Photo , 1943, Teague Chronicle Newspaper.
One of their prominent citizens, W.R. Boyd, Jr. played a major role , in Washington, D.C., in the WWII efforts.  ( I will do a blog post about him and his family members later , as they have a complete block on this quilt consisting of only Boyd family members.  

By creating this signature quilt, the citizens were once again making their marks on the history of this area and the world because,the quilt, though tattered and torn when discovered, and barely hanging on to its identity and very existence, has opened the way to future generation to be able to travel back in time and meet a people who really lived and toiled to create what they felt was "Progress".

They had hopes, they had dreams, they had desires...and this old quilt documents the legacies by the embroidered names upon it which can be researched to reveal their individual and collective stories.  A lot of the stories are intertwining ones...one leading to the other and then overlapping because of marriages, births, etc.

W. R. Boyd, Jr.,  the very first mayor in Teague (1906), once admonished the citizens at a banquet that...

" Towns cannot be classed as so many buildings or so much brick, stone and mortar, but 'milestones in the march to progress', the result of the thoughts and actions of its responsive citizenship."

 October, 8, 1926
 ( Quoted from the History of Freestone County-Volume I, Story #146, pg.284)

In creating this signature quilt, the citizens of Teague proclaimed that they, as a town, were indeed no mere brick, stone and mortar....but were progressive human beings, with thoughts and actions that created true history on their "March to Progress".  They laid a firm foundation for the world to remember their accomplishments ...by creating this amazing folkart quilt.  It paved the way for their culture , history , as well as, their town, to be fully rediscovered and documented in the annals of historical time some 60+ years down the road from the year 1947.  


With the help of another amazing project (The Freestone County History Books, Vols. I and II),  the Internet ,and quilt research programs of today and other modern research tools available at present.....the stories of these people can be reconstructed down to very minute details...and its all because they took the time to have their names and those of their family members embroidered on this quilt.

For those who have not read my post of June, 2013, let me once again give you a run down on how this amazing signature quilt was rediscovered.....

One day while treasure hunting at a popular local salvage yard, I wandered into the deeper recesses and crevices of the old warehouses.  There I chanced upon a pile of old blankets and quilts, which at first seemed to be of no interest or value to most people, because they looked like a pile of dirty, dusty , discards with lots of spots and smelled of mildew....a quite irritating smell to some folks, especially if one has allergies to mold. The smell was awful.  But being the curious and investigative type that I am when it comes to treasure hunting, I proceeded to examine the pile.  Maybe...just maybe there might be some salvageable items here.  My instincts heightened as one old strip pieced jeans or work clothes, "Britches" quilt was pulled  from the pile.  This was just what I needed to continue work on my family tree quilt "HOMEGROWN".  I began to dig deeper....there appeared several old M-provisational style quilt tops.  I was now elated and convinced that this old pile that looked quite useless, was not as it seemed. There was gold in this small mountain of rags, but not even I realized how much was really there at the time.

I located the owner of the salvage yard and proceeded to bargain for the price on the complete pile of items.  My negotiation point was simple and straight forward...I would pay whatever price the owner wanted , as long as I could have a monthly payment plan.  Besides the items were beginning to mildew and they wouldn't do either of us any good if they were left to finish rotting and deteriorating.  He agreed, gave me a price and I made my down payment.  The owner and his helper loaded the whole lot onto the back of my old pickup truck and I drove away with my treasure.

Once home, I examined the pile closer and more thoroughly. Yes, there were many gems to be found. There was a gorgeous Sunbonnet Sue quilt and another quilt that captivated my attention was a blue and white cotton signature quilt.  It had approximately 600+ names on it when it was first made. Many were missing now.   I wondered who are these people?  Why was this quilt made?  But at last I was pressed for time, so I dismissed the idea of searching for the answers to these questions at present. The research would have to wait for a more convenient time.  Right now I had too much work to do washing, sanitizing and disinfecting all this smelly mess.  

The signature quilt was laid aside. It was dirty, but not too smelly, so its cleaning could be delayed a little longer.  I hung it on the clothesline to "air out".  But each time I passed it my eyes drifted to it momentarily....but I would not allow my mind to linger on the questions that kept trying to resurface.   I was just to busy to think about it now....

I spent several days patiently cleaning the rest of the items carefully so as not to inadvertantly destroy anything that might prove  useful.   After about 3-5 days of continous handwashing and sun drying approximately 50 items, I laid back to relax...but now my mind drifted to the old signature quilt, once again.   I jumped up, pulled it out from its nook and spread it onto the floor. It was still soiled and dirty. Yet now, because of the "airing out"...it did smell a lot better.  Yet now that I was finally examining it closer I was reluctant to wash it, because I noticed that several of the blocks on each end of the quilt were very fragile and deteriorated.  Someone had sewn a red and white cloth with dollar signs over the blocks ,on both ends of the quilt, to try and slow down the deteriorating process.
Its last owner must have really loved  and cherished this quilt to have tried to save it in this way.

Once again the questions came and this time I allowed them to surface.  Who are these people?   The question would not go away. So I plopped down on top of the quilt on my hands and knees oblivious of how dirty it was.  I began to examine and decipher names.  Some of them I recalled from my childhood.  There was a York, a Sneed, and over there was a Watson....a Keeton....a Johnson.  Quite a few of the names rang a bell because many of the African Americans classmates that I went to school with carried those names.  But somehow I felt this quilt was not made by African Americans.  I continued my examination.  I came across a block with the name Boyd.   There were no black schoolmates, that I could remember, who were named Boyd.   Boyd?...Boyd?...Boyd?   Yes, I remembered
the name dimly.  Weren't they white and wealthy?  This quilt must have some historical significance, if Mr. Boyd and his family were listed on it,... I thought to myself.

I reached for the Freestone County History Book, Vol.I that my grandfather had entrusted me with after the death of my grandmother.  I looked up the name Boyd.  Yes, there it was!  W. R. Boyd, Jr., first mayor of Teague, Texas.  This quilt had to have been made by someone who knew the people of the town of Teague quite  well....but who????...  ( Another question to be answered as research continues...)

After researching a few more names I was even more convinced of the conclusion that this quilt could be really important historically.

Now the question changed to Why  this quilt was created...I had to find out...but how?

Meanwhile, the quilt had to be cleaned and stabilized as much as possible to limit any further deterioration.  I thrust myself into the project with enthusiasm.  First, I removed the old stabilizing cloth so I could better view the names under it. 

 Then I covered the complete surface with can/can netting....(the kind with the little holes that you can see thru and that was used in the 1950s to make stiff under garments,for girls dresses and full skirts, to make them stand out beautifully.  Can /can is still used a lot by Country Western Dancers.)   

Last I vacuumed it thoroughly to take out as much dirt as possible.  This method of cleaning allowed me to clean with no further damage to the fragile areas.

Photos were taken....before and after.  The quilt was looking much, much better and the smell was quite improved too.  Amazing what a thorough cleaning can accomplish.

I now decided  to copy the names onto paper to make them more convenient for researching.....then I wouldn't  have to keep getting on my hands and knees to read and decipher them.   I  now tried to systematically research them individually in the Freestone County History Books Volume I and II.   Many names were located and turned out to be white citizens who lived in and around Teague, Tx.  Some places were Dew, Wortham,  Simsboro, and even the county seat, Fairfield.

Many interesting and intriguing family histories were revealed through this method of research.  The history and background of Freestone County and the people who pioneered and settled it began to come alive to me like I had never seen or known it in all my days of living.  I was really awed by the revelations.  In school I had loved history.  It was my favorite subject...but now here I was being introduced to Texas history with a different twist.  This was historical details of the people and families I and my family members knew personally in our everyday lives.  This history was in my own backyard....these people were all legacy makers ....History was not just something to read about....it was something these citizens , their families, my family and I were all experiencing in our past, present, and creating for future generations to come.  This old quilt was documented proof to those truths.

And so you see, that is how I came to hear a quilt "Speak" or "Talk" to me. 
And soon you too will begin to experience and hear the voice of this quilt and its many tales of wonder, as I share Freestone Countys' history and peoples via the pages of this blog.  Be sure to visit often to accompany me on this wonderful journey and please feel free to become a follower of this blog. 

You won't want to miss out on the future fun ....It's going to be amazing.  You'll experience local history like you've never experienced it before...ENJOY!!!





For creating two amazing volumes of  Freestone County History
that preserves and documents our local Legacies.
You are to be highly congratulated.

Who are they?  Let's allow them to speak for themselves.....

".....The Freestone County Historical Commission is the agency charged with the responsibility of surveying, marking and preserving the county's heritage and is to be engaged in numerous activities and projects in behalf of the county's history.  

Freestone County Historical Commission in accordance with article 6145.1 of Vernon's Texas Civil Statues purpose , shall be to preserve, protect, and promote history within the county and to the end shall :

(a) conduct continuing programs of historical markers recommendations and placements in accordance with the State Historical Commission requirements:

(b) make recommendations to the County Commission Court for property acquisition, real and personal, which is of historical significance.

(c) accept, whenever feasible, artifacts and other museum paraphenalia in the name of the FCHC or the County Commissioners; and:

(d) support, whenever possible, the programs of the Texas Historical Commission....."

In making a special effort in January of l978, the members of the Freestone Historical Commission began a project of compiling and publishing a History of Freestone County and its people.  The 789 page book was the first book written solely for the purpose of documenting Freestone County History....

(a)  (It was a) major project to preserve Freestone County's Heritage....

*( A second volume was soon to follow in 1989.)
These  two history books can be viewed at local libraries in Fairfield, Teague, and Mexia or contact the Freestone County Museum for further details.


The Freestone County Historical Commission has been active in various activities. Microfilming the Teague Chronicle newspapers from 1906, along with the Fairfield Recorder from 1885 through 1983 and the Wortham Journal from 1928 through 1965 and placing these films in the Freestone County Historical Museum.

An additional film of the Teague Chronicle was made for the Teague Railroad Museum in 1986....


So if you are trying to track down local Freestone County history on your family, try some of these sources....they are chock full of Freestone county historical details and there just maybe ones you have been looking to retrieve in connection with your personal family research.....

These sources have done a FANTASTIC job of preserving  details of  local county history and heritage. They are to be applauded.

Some sources for research in Freestone County, Texas

*Mary Moody Northern Library, Fairfield, Texas
*Teague Public Library, Teague, Texas
*Mexia Public Library
* Freestone County Genealogical Society
*Freestone County Historical Museum
*Burleston-Rock Island Railroad Museum, Teague, Texas

The Trinity and Brazos Valley Railroad Depot a...
The Trinity and Brazos Valley Railroad Depot and Office Building located at 208 S 3rd Ave, Teague, Texas, United States. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 21, 1979. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sherry Ann

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