Susan Sylvester's 1903 Redwork Signature Hemmed Top

Susan Sylvester
Detail Images





Susan Sylvester's 1903 Redwork Signature Hemmed Top

Redwork Embroidery on muslin

This Redwork quilt top was made on Deer Isle ME by a member of a Deer Isle family, has inscriptions by people from Deer Isle, and is owned on Deer Isle. Two settlements are represented in 16 inscriptions, Sunset and Green's Landing. The rest of the 45 blocks have an unknown connection to the island and no obvious connection to each other, the intriguing mystery of this item.

Sylvester, Susan Eva (Dunham) (1856-1925)

Quiltmaker Notes
The hemmed top was found at the Sunset home of Susan Eva (Dunham) Sylvester (1856-1925), great-grandmother of the present owner Linda (Sylvester) Billings. Linda inherited the quilt top from her paternal grandmother Vida (Brown) Sylvester (1888-1977) who found it in her mother-in-law Susan’s house "when Vida was living there." Linda doesn't know what years Vida lived in the house. Vida grew up on Eagle Island, for which Sylvester's Cove is the mailboat harbor and Sunset is the post office. Vida believed that the quilt top was made by Susan Sylvester.

Susan E. Dunham and Edmund F. Sylvester married between 1872, when his first wife died along with their first child, and 1877. Edmund (1850-1924) was a great-grandson of 1788 settler Edmund Sylvester and a son of Benjamin J. & Ann (Coombs) Sylvester who built a substantial house for a large family at the head of Sylvester Cove, Sunset, in 1856. Ann came from the island of Vinalhaven. The Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society has a quilt by Ann and also blocks by Edmund's sisters Martha and Kate. Making quilts continued in subsequent generations of Sylvesters to the present. Benjamin's Aunt Salome(Sylvester) Sellers (1800-1909) whose house in Sunset is the location of the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society was another well-known quiltmaker at this time.

Susan and Edmund F. Sylvester had four children, Frank L. (1876-1896) who drowned at age 19, Linda's grandfather Lewis W. Sylvester (1881-1935), Mildred (1884-1954), and Amy (1888-1937).

Susan probably did not grow up in Sunset. In both the 1870 Census and the 1910 Register, her father Stephen Dow Dunham was a fisherman in Green's Landing/Stonington. Several early settlers of Deer Isle in 1766 and 1767 were men named Dunham and Dow. In 1870 when Susan was about 14, her father, her mother Lydia A. (Allen) Dunham, three brothers and two sisters are listed in addition to Susan in the household. Surviving Susan in 1925 were one brother Edmond Dunham, and two sisters Mrs. C. L. Knowlton, and Mrs. Courtney Eaton (Abbie).

Sometime after the 1880 Map of Deer Isle was made, Susan and Edmund moved into a newly-built house at the corner of Sunset’s main road and the road to Sylvester Cove and Dunham's Point. At this intersection, on the NW corner, Susan and her husband ran a small store in a building next to their house. Across the road on the SW corner was the elementary school and beyond it the Sunset Chapel, 1885. On the east side of the main road was a library built in 1902. A photo of the store, labeled "about 1892," shows another house north of it on the west side of the road, but not yet the store of John R. Johnson that was built immediately north by 1898. Susan's store building can be seen today (2009) since it was later attached as the back ell of the house. In the 1910 Register of Deer Isle, Edmund is listed as a carpenter.

Susan dated her block Feb 10, 1903, the latest date on the hemmed top, when she was about 47 years old. Her daughters signed blocks at ages 15 and 18.

Time Period

After Feb 10, 1903. Before 1925.

Date Information
Blocks were dated by each maker from Nov 18,1890, to March 8, 1892, a period of a little over one year, plus one more block from Sep 18, 1902, and three from Feb 10, 1903. The quilt was finished an unknown time after the last blocks were made in 1903, but before Susan's death in 1925.

City Made
Deer Isle

County Made

US State Made

Other Location Made
Sunset (village), called Southwest Harbor before the post office opened in 1886. The village and the town are located on the island of Deer Isle in East Penobscot Bay.

Country Made
United States

Purpose or function
Autograph or friendship

History Notes
Linda Billings inherited the quilt top from her paternal grandmother Vida (Brown) Sylvester (1888-1977), who found it in her mother-in-law Susan E. (Dunham) Sylvester’s house "when Vida was living there." Linda doesn't know when Vida lived in the house. When Susan died at age 70 in 9 Aug 1925, her obituary says she was living with her daughter Millie Colby in Sunset. Edmund had died the previous year. In a report in 1932 and in 1936, Susan's sister Abbie Eaton's daughter Angie Mae (1888-after 1935) who married widower Alfred Dunham in 1913 was living in Edmund & Susan's former house.

We don't know whether or not the blocks before 1903 had been initially collected by someone else. For example, more of the island blockmakers in the earlier years are related to Susan's younger sister Abbie (Dunham) Eaton's husband Courtney, but the
local names were neighbors anyway in the small village of Sunset where Susan lived and kept store. Green's Landings names might be friends she and Abbie grew up with.

Sunset is a village and post office in the town of Deer Isle on the island of Deer Isle. Green's Landing, 5 miles away by road, was another settlement within the town of Deer Isle until the southern third of the island seceded in 1897 during the boomtime of the granite quarries to be the separate town of Stonington.

Related Material
1. Photo of the Edmund F. Sylvester store, Sunset, about 1892. (at the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society)

2. Photo of Ann Smith's house July 1997 showing the Sylvester store as the back ell. (Susan E. Seater)

3. Obituary of Susan (Dunham) Sylvester, 1925

4. Newspaper clipping of Golden Wedding Anniversary of Abbie & Courtney Eaton, 1936.

5. Google satellite images of Deer Isle and of Sunset with my annotation.


Inscriptions, Listed Alphabetically by Last Name:
16 Names from the island of Deer Isle ME:

Etta M. Davis
Greens Landing Maine
March 19th 1891

Abbie A. Eaton
Sunset Maine
March 13th 1891

Angie May Eaton
Sunset Maine
Mar 30th 1891

Clara Eaton
Sunset ME
Feb 10, 1903

F. Eaton
Sunset ME
March 20th 1891

Grace Eaton
Sunset ME
Feb 10, 1903

Susan G. Eaton
Sunset Maine
Mar 13th 1891

Addie E. Gross
Greens Landing Maine
Mar 12 189_
Yours in Friendship

Mrs. Flora C. Smith
Green's Landing Maine
Feb 19, 1892

- Hattie Stinson

-Lois Stinson
Ap 30 91

Amy A. Sylvester
Sunset ME
Feb 10, 1903

Mildred Sylvester
Sunset ME
Sep 18, 1902

Susan E. Sylvester
Sunset ME
Feb 10, 1903

Josie C. Ferry (?)(Torrey, probably)
Greens Landing Maine
March 12/91
Remember Me

Alice R. Thurlow
Greens Landing Maine
Dec 8 1891

-These 2 names were found in Deer Isle and
Stonington in the 1910 Registry so are listed here even though no town was given on the block.
29 Names not on Deer Isle, alphabetically
-Quarter block instead of a full block

M C Bagley
Central Falls RI
Mar 9, 1891


Kate M. Clark
Santa Barbara Cal

Cora Curtis
Bartonville Texas
Feb 7th 1891


-Sullette Darden
Darden Springs Texas
Jan 27th, 1891

Eula L. Dixon
Snow Camp NC
Sept 29, 1891

March the 8

-Millard Ford
Troy Ala
Feb 14 1891
God is Love
Remember me kindly in this marns(?)

Mrs. Z. Fuller
Spencer Mass
Sept 3 1891

Milly Glendening
New Hampton (?) ME
Jan 20, 1891

-Anna O. Gray
157 Pond St
Providence RI
Dec 25 1890

-Mrs. Ella Haswell
Hoosick Falls New York
Jan 1, 1891

Mrs. Lillian A. Hatch
Hartland VT
Sep 24 1891

Ida E C Marshall
Port Clyde ME
Aug 19 1891

-Martia D. Miller
Newbern Tenn
Nov 18, 1890
[Background is a handkerchief]

-Aunt Minerva
Augusta ME

-Ida C. Nichols
Freestown (?)
Sonoma Co CA

-Mrs. A M Prouty
Bondville Vermont
Feb 10 1891

Mrs. Helen C. Sax
Fiskatown (?) Greene Co
NY Jan 24th 1891

Lou Jennie Shields
Riverville Virginia
Jan 1st 1891

Feb 16 1892

Alida J. Thomas-Ridmyer
Cook County Minnesota
Jan 12= 1891

-Mrs. M. Nettie Thorp
Sauquoit NY
Jan 8, 1891

Mrs. S. M. Tower
Spencer Mass
Sep 3 1891

-Sarah C. Wilkinson
Circleville New York
Dec 25 1890

-Miss Mattie Williams
"Oak Cliff"
Dallas Co Texas
Jan 30, 1891

Mrs L. C. Woodbury
Spencer Mass

-Julie L. Wooddin
Drayton Ontario
Feb 4th 1891
Names by date, where given, with state:
For this list I used the name Stonington, which replaced Green's Landing in 1897.

11-18-1890 -Miller TN
12-25-1890 Gray RI
12-25-1890 -Wilkinson NY

01-01-1891 Haswell NY
01-01-1891 Shields VA
01-08-1891 -Thorp NY
01-12-1891 Thomas-Ridmyer MN
01-20-1891 Glendening New Hampton ME
01-24-1891 Sax NY
01-27-1891 -Darden TX
01-30-1891 -Williams TX
02-04-1891 -Wooddin Ontario, Canada
02-07-1891 Curtis TX
02-10-1891 -Prouty VT
02-14-1891 Ford AL
03-09-1891 Bagley RI
03-12-1891 Ferry/Torrey Stonington ME
03-12-189? Gross Stonington ME
03-13-1891 Eaton Sunset ME
03-13-1891 Eaton Sunset ME
03-19-1891 Davis Stonington ME
03-20-1891 Eaton Sunset ME
03-30-1891 Eaton Sunset ME
04-30-1891 Stinson Stonington ME
08-19-1891 Marshall Port Clyde ME
09-03-1891 Fuller MA
09-03-1891 Tower MA
09-24-1891 Hatch VT
09-29-1891 Dixon NC
12-08-1891 Thurlow Stonington ME

02-16-1892 T.
02-19-1892 Smith Stonington ME
03-08-1892 F.

09-18-1902 Sylvester Sunset ME

02-10-1903 Eaton Sunset ME
02-10-1903 Eaton Sunset ME
02-10-1903 Sylvester Sunset ME
02-10-1903 Sylvester Sunset ME

Inscription Date
See previous box

Type of Inscription

Other Type
Sentiment (5): "Remember Me", "Friendship", "Yours in Friendship", "God is Love", "Remember me kindly in this marns(?)"


Inscription Location
on block

Research Notes
On each block is a name, date, and place in red cotton floss in outline stitch. There are 14 Deer Isle names from Sunset and Green’s Landing (Stonington after 1897) which are mostly recognizable as relatives, 6 names or initials with no place given (of which I found 2 on the island in 1910), and 25 names from 23 other towns in the USA and Canada that have no known connection to Deer Isle. Total of 45 names.

The Sunset Blockmakers:

Susan E. Sylvester: Susan Eva (Dunham) Sylvester(1856-1925), the quiltmaker, age 47. She was married to Edmund F. Sylvester of Sunset.

Mildred Sylvester: A. Mildred "Millie" (Sylvester) Colby (1884-1954), Susan's older daughter, age 18. She married fisherman Miller E. Colby (1879-1966) and lived in Sunset.

Amy A. Sylvester: Susan's daughter (1888-1937), age 14. She married Frank D. McVeigh (1885-1956) and they lived at Sylvester Cove in the house built by her grandfather Benjamin Jordan Sylvester.

Abbie A. Eaton: Abbie Ada (Dunham) Eaton (April 13, 1864 - 1953): a younger sister of Susan, age 27. She grew up in Green's Landing. She was married to George Courtney Eaton (1862-1943) who was grandson of 1767 settler Jonathan Eaton who built Edgewood Farm, Sunset, in 1789. In 1892 he was a quarryman, so he probably was living in Green's Landing near the quarries. He was known as a stonemason. See the newspaper clipping of their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1936. In 1910, Courtney was listed as farmer and blacksmith, Sunset, on Sylvester Cove.

Angie Mae Eaton: Mae (Eaton) Dunham (1888-after 1935), age 3, oldest child of Abbie & Courtney Eaton, so a niece of Susan the quiltmaker. Mae married widower Alfred Dunham in 1913. Later he worked for Stephen Knowlton at The Firs summer hotel in Sunset on Sylvester Cove Road. In 1932 and 1936 they were living in Susan's former house in Sunset. Mae Dunham and her mother A. A. Eaton appear in a photo in 1935 of the Sunset women's group, the Martha Washington Benevolence Society, when "the Marthas" celebrated their 100th anniversary.

Susan Eaton: Susan C. (Pressey) Eaton (1836-1891), age 55, Abbie Eaton’s mother-in-law, died two months after the date on her block. Incidentally, two of Susan Pressey’s sisters married two of Courtney’s older brothers. Both Pressey and Eaton families were neighbors in Sunset.

F. Eaton: Probably Florence (Eaton) Allen, Courtney Eaton's much younger sister, born Dec 1875, so about age 16. She married John W. Allen, listed in 1910 as a blacksmith and garage man in Sedgwick ME.
F. Eaton could have been Courtney Eaton's much older brother Fletcher Eaton but the floral motif makes this identification seem unlikely to me. Fletcher Eaton's complete name is Jasper Newton Fletcher Eaton (1853-1926). In 1910 he was a laborer in Sunset with 5 children.

Clara Eaton: Clara Emma “Cad” Barter from Isle Au Haut (b 1849/50), Abbie’s husband’s brother Fletcher Eaton's wife. This is certainly the Clara Eaton who embroidered a block for Susan Sylvester in 1903, about age 53. When Clara Barter was about 11 years old in 1860, she made a friendship pieced block for H01-003, another quilt I documented, for Edmund Sylvester's sisters Kate and Martha Sylvester.

Grace Eaton: Grace Lee Eaton (Jan 1875-April 1940), age 28. Fletcher and Cad Eaton’s daughter Grace was single for over fifty years before she married widower Lemuel Pickering. Grace's younger sister Nina Belle (Eaton) Philbrook lived in the family house at Salmon Point by Sylvester Cove.

The Green's Landing Blockmakers:

Etta M. Davis: I found her in the 1910 Register married to George H. Knowlton, merchant of Tea Hill in Stonington. They had two children Beatrice and Ralph C. (p.205, 218). She is listed in 1910 as a daughter of Zina (Lunt) Davis, married to Young on Highland Ave, sister of Robert Davis, general work, William Davis, cook in East Eddington ME, Gertrude Young married to Peter Gray, mariner, on Highland Ave, and Ora Young married to Alex Dalzell, stonecutter on Highland Ave.

Addie E. Gross and Josie C. Ferry: In the 1910 Register (p. 212) in Stonington Addie E. (Carter) Terrey Gross was married to fisherman George Gross, living on Main St. The household was listed with 3 living children: Clifford Terrey, quarryman, Stonington, Josephine Terrey Stanley, Swan’s Island, and Edward Gross, quarryman, Stonington. Josie C. Ferry was not listed on Deer Island in 1910, but Addie’s daughter by her first husband is probably her and we interpreted the name incorrectly during transcription.

Flora Smith: Mrs. Flora C. Smith is listed in the 1910 Register (p. 227, 206) as the daughter of Irena (Petty) Dunham of Main St, Stonington, and sister of Delia E. (Dunham) Hutchison. Flora has two young children and is married to Frank J. Smith, stonecutter, Main St., Stonington. She could be related to Susan and Abbie through the Dunham family of their father.

Hattie Stinson and Lois Stinson: Hattie L. (Stinson) Bray (Mrs. Charles T. Bray) of South Deer Isle with 2 young children and also her mother Lois (Allen) Stinson are listed in the 1910 Register, p. 229. Mrs. Stinson has the same maiden name as Susan and Abbie’s mother Lydia (Allen) Dunham. I haven’t yet found if they are related, but Lois and her husband Jonathan are listed on the D.I. Road in Stonington, the same as the Dunhams that year.

Alice R. Thurlow: In the 1910 Register, some nineteen years after she signed a block, there was no Alice R. Thurlow listed in the Thurlow families of Deer Isle or Stonington.

Blockmakers from other places:

Aunt Minerva lived in Augusta ME, two blockmakers lived elsewhere in Maine, and the rest lived in other states and Canada.

Linda Billings, the owner of Susan Sylvester's quilt top, does not recognize any of the names not from Sunset. I have found possible connections for most of the Deer Isle names, but I do not know whether the off-islanders are relatives or friends of any local blockmakers or whether there is a connection with summer visitors to the island. No one familiar with island history to whom I have shown the names and places has recognized any.

I speculate that the off-islanders are members of a common national organization or subscribers to a women's magazine or a chain letter. I hope that someone reading this record will be able to shed light on what brought these redwork blocks together from all over the United States in about a year around 1891.


Layout Format
Block pattern

75 inches

75 inches


Fabric Types

Fabric categories

Unique Fabrics
one block appears to be a handkerchief


Piecing Techniques
Hand Piecing
Machine Piecing

Embellishment Techniques

Design or Pattern: 36 square blocks, Set straight, Sashed, 1 Border.

Description of block: White solid muslin block embroidered with red cotton floss in outline stitch ["Redwork"]. Most squares have a commercially designed flower or similar illustration, the name, city and state of the maker, and a date. Several squares are divided into four quarter squares, each by a different maker not from the same town. The names are in script, in different handwritings. A few squares have no design other than the script; a few have phrases of friendship.

Description and measurement of quilt design:
Number of design blocks: 6 x 6 = 36
Measurements of block: 9 3/4 inches x 9 3/4inches
Sashing: 3 1/4 inches wide
Borders: 3 1/4 inches wide

Piecing Thread: White Cotton
Piecing Note: The blocks are sashed horizontally by hand and then the vertical strips are sashed, bordered, and joined mostly by machine.

Embroidery: The design within each block is done with outline stitch. The seams of the block, the seams of the horizontal sashing, and the seams of the border are covered with herringbone stitch.

No back, no batting, no quilting.
Very good condition when I saw it in 1997, suitable for hanging for an exhibit.
No evidence of repair or alteration.

Pattern Sources

Brackman Number

Design Notes
The quiltmaker was presented with 45 blocks of two different initial sizes. She skillfully arranged them so that she used the smaller ones in units of 4 to make a full-size block or she added muslin to all sides to make a full-size block to achieve a total of 36 full-size blocks which she could arrange six by six to make a square quilt top. She then covered her seams with red floss herringbone stitch to add additional interest to the quilt top.

She treated the edges the same. They were brought over twice from the front to the back and edgestitched very close to the fold by machine with very small stitches.

The back, with the underside of the embroidery was left as is.


Submitted by
Susan E. Seater

North Carolina

Linda S. Billings, from her, July 2009.

Accession Number
Seater Deer Isle Quilt Project B02-001

Susan E. Seater

Copyright Access

Copyright Holder
Susan E. Seater


Photo Credit
Susan E. Seater


Signature Quilt Pilot Project

Signature Quilt Project Public Submission

Finished quilt

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