|Quilted Tributes to President William Henry Harrison
Patricia L. Cummings
William Henry Harrison, (1773-1841), the 9th president of the United States, served as the first governor of Indiana and was a
distinguished military leader, defeating Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, at Tippecanoe Creek in 1811, and serving in the War of
1812. More quilts and quilt blocks, in both geometric and appliqué designs, have been made to honor him than any other
American president, living or deceased.
In addition to some wonderful quilts held in museums, two other remarkable quilts made circa 1840 are in the hands of private
collectors. One is called the "William Henry Harrison Bandanna Quilt," the center of which is a bandanna image of Harrison on
horseback. A second quilt, the "William Henry Harrison Pinwheel Quilt," is pieced, and contains pictorial, campaign chintz,
roller-printed fabrics. Both quilts appear in the exhibition catalog: The Fabric of Persuasion: Two Hundred Years of Political
Quilts (Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2000), published in conjunction with an exhibit of the same
name, curated by G. Julie Powell, historian of political textiles.
To know more about Harrison's life is to better understand the symbolism of some of the textiles devoted to him. Son of an
affluent Virginia plantation owner, Harrison could have boasted of his fine education and high social standing, especially during
the presidential campaign of 1840 when his opponent, incumbent Democrat, Martin Van Buren, sought to make Harrison
appear less than high class. Cleverly, Harrison capitalized on the idea and presented himself as the "common man" candidate, a
position that won the hearts and votes of the American people. He won the presidency by a margin of 234 to 60 in the
Electoral College and was the last Whig party candidate to capture the presidency.
Baltimore Album Quilts Feature Harrison Log Cabin Blocks
The "Harrison Log Cabin" appliqué block, seems to be a graphic representation that is related to a published statement about
William Henry Harrison during that campaign. A newspaper editor and friend of President Van Buren had written this:
Give him (Harrison) a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit
for the remainder of his days in a log cabin and study moral philosophy. Note that the emphasis on hard cider was in direct
contrast to the aristocratic, champagne sipping habits of Van Buren.
A Harrison block re-created by Patricia Cummings. Note the folkloric theme of the block: log cabin, raccoons, cider barrel,
The black and white statement was memorable enough that it may have been the precipitating factor for the creation of some
similar, charming quilt blocks that were featured in a number of Baltimore Album quilts from that era. One of these tributes
titled, "Harrison Log Cabin," is a signature quilt block made for David Henry Crowl by his mother, Mary Celia Hiss Crowl, and
four of his sisters. At the present time, that quilt is in the custodial care of the Maryland Historical Society.
The folk art theme of the block is carried out by the depiction of a log cabin, a barrel of hard cider, and the inclusion of two
over-sized raccoons whose size is proportionately inaccurate to the overall scale of the design. The prominent stars, and the
unusual choice of print cloth used in their construction, contribute to the sentiment of simplicity that the block seems to
Another important part of the design is the latch string on the door. G. Julie Powell joins other historians who concur that the
latch string feature could be interpreted as a symbol related to Harrison's campaign promise that his door would always be
open to veterans, a promise that most likely preceded the "Open Door Policy" of a later time.
Battle Leads to More Quilt Block Tributes
After having been privately tutored at home, Harrison studied at Hampden-Sydney College in the late 1780s. While he did not
complete his course work there, he later studied medicine for a total of two years, in Richmond and Philadelphia. In 1701, in a
reversal of career plans, he joined the Army, with the rank of Ensign, and was instrumental in opening up frontier areas of
Ohio for settlement.
In 1801, he was appointed as governor of Indiana, a post he served for 12 years. The negotiation of treaties with the Indians
became one of Harrison's prime responsibilities. The agreements that he secured resulted in three million acres of new land
being settled. Each tribe was given a monthly allotment in exchange for ceding their land. However, the Native Americans
continued to have strong feelings about the loss of their hunting grounds and Indian raids became an ongoing problem.
At dawn, on November 7, 1811, almost 1,000 soldiers, under the leadership of Harrison, were subjected to a surprise attack
near the confluence of Tippecanoe Creek and the Wabash River in Indiana. Led by "The Prophet," brother of Chief Tecumseh,
a famous Shawnee Indian leader, the encounter left 200 of Harrison's men killed or wounded. Two of Harrison's nicknames,
"Old Tippecanoe," or just "Old T," for short stem from this "Battle of Tippecanoe." Harrison was also tagged with the title of
"Frontier Indian Fighter."
"Tippecanoe," a very simple pieced block is composed entirely of triangles. Ladies Art Company first published it as Pattern
#89. This block can be seen in The Perfect Patchwork Primer by Beth Gutcheon, (New York: David McKay. Co, 1973), and
it is easily constructed, using the paper piecing method. More commonly known as "Crossed Canoes," the block has been
published with a variety of other names
"Old Tippecanoe" block, Ladies Art Company, Pattern No. 194. In three other published sources, this pattern is also called
Broken Dishes. Here the block is seen in a round quilt hoop, constructed by Patricia Cummings. No pattern available.
"Old Tippecanoe," another pieced quilt block, features 32 equal-sized triangles. The success of the block relies on the
contrasts of light and dark fabrics. The block's name recalls both Harrison's nickname, and the Tippecanoe battle. First
published in 1895 by Ladies Art Company, as Pattern #194, the block is yet another example of a posthumous tribute.
A Presidential Campaign of Slogans
The Grolier Encyclopedia cites the 1840 campaign as having been "a spectacle of slogan and slander." The words, "Tyler,
Too," the second part of the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too," refers to Harrison's running mate, John Tyler, who became
president in 1842, when Harrison unexpectedly died.
During the 1840 campaign, devoid of any real platforms, Harrison relied heavily on his military successes, which no doubt
garnered the veteran vote. He attacked Van Buren, saying that he had caused the financial panic of 1847, and he blamed him
for the country's economic depression that followed.
In spite of the rivalry of these two opponents, history itself tells the story of how well-loved President Harrison was, as a
candidate and throughout his life. The many variations of the "Harrison Rose" block are all beautiful and poignant reminders of
a fallen leader's popularity in his own time.
More "Harrison Rose" Blocks
Ladies Art Company published the "Harrison Rose," as Pattern #187. This block has a center that is like the traditional Hickory
Leaf block which is the repeated block design in the "William Henry Harrison Bandanna Quilt" mentioned earlier. This block
variation has additional stemmed rose designs that extend into each of the four corners of the block. This pieced an appliquéd
block configuration is the most dissimilar of any of the blocks that carry the name, "Harrison Rose."
"Harrison Rose" block, Ladies Art Company, Pattern No. 187
In Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them by Marie D. Webster, Figure 49, shows the image of a "Harrison Rose" quilt,
from circa 1840. On the next page, figure 50 provides a close-up view, in which the hand quilting can be viewed as well. The
whole quilt is unusual because half of the blocks face in one direction and the other half of the blocks head the opposite way.
Detail of Harrison Rose quilt featured in Marie Webster's book, Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them. photo courtesy of
Rosalind W. Perry.
This is the same block design that is shown in The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America, by Carrie Hall and Rose
Kretsinger, quilt historians of the same time period as Webster. For this article, I have re-created an example of this block,
based upon a color photo of an antique block that is included in the Carrie Hall Blocks book by Bettina Havig.
Harrison Rose reproduction block by Patricia, now part of a larger quilt, still in the process of being hand-quilted
The Chicago Tribune's quilt columnist, Nancy Cabot, published a block named, "Harrison Rose," in the 1930s. Her block
design has four major differences. The rose has no divided ellipses that must be pieced before they can be joined to the center
by circular piecing. Second, the block faces left. Third, the rose leaves are free-floating and not attached to the stem. Fourth,
the leaves are sharply pointed on both ends.
"Harrison Rose" block design by Nancy Cabot
Yet another interesting variation of the "Harrison Rose" quilt is included in Quilting as a Hobby by Dorothy Brightbill, (Bonanza
Books, 1963). She calls this design, "one of the most beautiful of pieced quilt patterns." She may have misunderstood the
techniques used because most patterns of this kind are not only pieced but also appliquéd. The motifs on the "Harrison Rose"
quilt, seen in her book, are placed in a more vertically upright position, in on-point settings. They have no leaves, but there is
one broad stem which tapers downward, ending in a point.
Beautiful Formal Tribute Quilt
An elaborate appliqué quilt, entitled the "Harrison Rose Urn" quilt resides in the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village of
Dearborn, Michigan. This formal style quilt with its nine large repeat blocks of flowers and urns was made to honor President
Harrison around 1860. The quilt maker, Susan Noakes McCord, lived in McCordsville, Indiana and produced other stunning
appliqué quilts during her lifetime.
The red, green, and white colors of this quilt are typical of mid-nineteenth century. Curiously each of the four quilt borders
have a different floral motif. This makes the quilt distinctive in appearance. In Red and Green: An Appliqué Tradition (That
Patchwork Place, 1990), there is a full page photo of the quilt. The book's author states that the unusual borders of this quilt
make it appear as though the quilt maker wanted to avoid turning any corners. Dover Publications offers a set of "McCord
Quilts" postcards, one of which is an isolated portion of this particular quilt.
There is one other pieced quilt block that consists of many triangles. Mystery surrounds whether the block was originally
intended to honor William Henry Harrison or his grandson, President Benjamin Harrison who was first elected to office in
1889. This is the only grandfather/grandson team to have served as presidents.
Harrison quilt block, possibly made for Benjamin Harrison
"Harrison" quilt block, possibly made to honor President Benjamin Harrison, William Henry Harrison's grandson who also
served as president. Background fabric hand-dyed by Patti Ives.
An example of the block "Harrison" is shown here. That was the name given to the block when it was published in the Dakota
Farmer in 1929. The following year, the same design was published as "Harrison Rose," by the Rural New Yorker. Upon third
publication in the 1940s, Famous Features called it, "The Harrison Quilt."
Short Lived Presidency for Harrison
Upon winning the election, Harrison had stood outside in the winter snow of 1841 to deliver an inaugural address for one hour
and forty-five minutes. Notably, this speech was one of the most lengthy addresses of its kind ... ever! One month later, a
cold having turned to pneumonia, William Henry Harrison became the first president of the United States to have died while in
Father of Ten Children
In 1795, Harrison had married a judge's daughter, overriding his objections to the union. Anna Symmes was only 19 years old
when she gave her hand in marriage to a man who was three years older than she. Together, they raised 10 children.
By the time that Harrison became president, Anna was already 65 years old. Like the wives of many presidents, she chose not
to accompany him to Washington, D.C. Wanting peace in her days, she asked her widowed daughter-in-law to go to the
capitol to serve as hostess in her stead. Jane Irwin Harrison agreed, but due to the ensuing death of the president, her duties
lasted only one month.
Quilters Help to Record History
The many quilt blocks that were designed and made to celebrate the life of William Henry Harrison cannot help to draw our
attention to his life and accomplishments. Political textiles help us to understand American history by encouraging us to seek
their roots and examine the context in which they were created. These political quilted tributes cannot help but enliven a
patriotic spirit and a sense of pride in those leaders, like William Henry Harrison, who served their country well.
Patricia L. Cummings, Concord, NH is a quilt historian, a free-lance writer, and an EGA certified master craftsman in quilting
(2000). Portions of this article appeared in The Quilter magazine in March 2004.
That article resulted in a 2008 quilt block contest challenge and exhibit at Grouseland Mansion, President Harrison's former
residence in Indiana. There were 138 entries that now are held in the collection of the museum. See award winners in the
March 2009 issue of The Quilter.
Copyright 2004. Patricia and James Cummings. Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, NH. firstname.lastname@example.org