Elizabeth Russell Rourke donated this quilt to the Arlington Historical society 150 after her great grandfather Jason Russell was killed at his home by British troops on April 19th, 1775 in Arlington. Jason Russell’s grandson (also named Jason Russell) moved his family to Stafford, Connecticut following the American Revolution. This line of the family stayed in Stafford, as well as just across the state line in Wales, Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Russell Rourke lived. Unfortunately, though the family tree is rife with girls and women whose name begins with A, and many sets of cousins have the surname Bemis, no one living in 1848 with the initials AB has yet been discovered in the family tree. In fact, AB could be something other than initials too – the possibilities are endless and mysterious.
The quilt is beautiful, bright and lively, as well as very small. At just about two feet by four feet it may have been purely decorative. Small quilts were sometimes made to hang on a wall, drape over the sofa, or decorate another surface in the house. Since the quilt also shows very few signs of wear and tear, and the stitches on the quilt are not very tight, the quilt was very likely more for decoration than for warmth or sleeping.
The swirling leaves, flowers, hearts and clovers, as well as the house, have been cut out of different types of thick wool. These pieces are woven or felted into soft and thick flat fabric, and then stitched onto the cream colored flannel backing with a method called ‘applique’. The abstract natural scene surrounds the small house, making a pastoral scene such as the origins of the Jason Russell House, or the town of Wales in 1848.
The Rourke quilt has a visual tie to the Jason Russell House, and Arlington History. Look closely at the central motif of the quilt. A small house with a central chimney and a central door are framed by windows on either side, with 5 windows above. It is the same exact architecture of the Jason Russell House! This style of house can also be seen all across New England, built from the 17th through the 19th century. In fact, the Wales Public Library, built in 1865 is also the same style. Whoever AB was, it is likely that this house existed in her everyday life, or perhaps in paintings or drawings, and the flora and fauna included surrounded them for inspiration.