Some years ago the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts, purchased a white quilt, hand-embroidered in red. Each of the 72 blocks on this quilt features a symbol related to Craft, Scottish Rite and York Rite Freemasonry. White quilts decorated with red embroidery were part of a fashion for household textiles decorated with simple red stitching, sometimes called “redwork,” that enjoyed popularity from the late 1800s through the 1920s. Many needleworkers participating in the trend used commercially-produced patterns, stencils and transfers for their redwork projects. This quilt is different; the designs of the Masonic symbols were original, not taken from a purchased pattern. The quilt also bears an unusual inscription, “Drawn and designed by F. R. Bunker, worked by C. A. Milliken 1908.” This combination of out-of-the-ordinary elements suggested this quilt had an interesting history to uncover.
The quilt descended in the sellers’ family and had, at one time, belonged to Carlton H. Smallidge (1898-1932) of Winter Harbor, Maine, near Bar Harbor. Carlton was only ten when this quilt was made and many years away from being a Freemason. His father, however, belonged to Winter Harbor Lodge No. 192. Records at the Grand Lodge of Maine show that Hilliard G. Smallidge (1867-1926) was initiated into the lodge in 1897 and that he held a number of offices there, including Worshipful Master in 1903. It is possible that this quilt may have been a delayed gift created to mark Hilliard’s term as master or to celebrate another occasion in his Masonic career.
But who made this quilt for Hilliard? Intriguingly, the inscription on this quilt shows that it was a joint project. Perusal of census, marriage and other records helped identify the collaborators. Celestia Alberta Milliken was Hilliard’s sister. A laundress who also lived in Winter Harbor, Celestia “worked” the quilt, meaning she embroidered the quilt’s blocks and pieced them together. Freeland Rosebrook Bunker (1845-1909), a mariner and merchant, helped found the Masonic lodge at Winter Harbor and served as its first master. He was also likely related to Celestia and Hilliard. Freeland’s membership record at the Grand Lodge of Maine noted that he was involved in the York and Scottish Rites and the range of symbols depicted on the quilt point to Freeland’s familiarity with those orders. Freeland also left a diary, now part of the collection of the Winter Harbor Historical Society. In late 1907 he noted a few instances of spending time drawing emblems for the quilt, like this entry in December when he “Staid about home. Worked some on designs for a Masonic Quilt.” A few months later Celestia had transformed Freeland’s designs into the images on the quilt. Her and Freeland’s labor on the project was likely motivated by affection and family ties. These same bonds helped ensure the quilt’s preservation. Though it was displayed on special occasions, the quilt was never used. It passed from Hilliard to Carlton and onto the following generation before coming to the Museum where it will be preserved and interpreted for years to come.
Masonic Quilt, 1908. Celestia A. Milliken (b. 1853) and Freeland R. Bunker (1845-1909), Winter Harbor, Maine, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2001.060. Photograph by David Bohl.
Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Exhibitions, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts