Quilt gifted to intriguing Spofford man in 1851 briefly comes home
CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Humphrey Gelutia Albee was a dentist, a Spofford resident, and -- in all likelihood -- a bit of a local heartthrob.
At least that is what's suggested by the quilt a group of women gave to him in 1851.
Albee, born in 1812, grew up to be a prominent figure in town but caught the attention of several local ladies when he was still unmarried at the age of 40. With Albee's lovelife seemingly going nowhere, many area women collaborated to make a fabric quilt, with handwritten messages, and give it to him.
The quilt, now owned by Nancy Basler, Albee's great-great-granddaughter, had a short-lived homecoming Thursday at Chesterfield Town Hall. Basler and her husband Peter drove the quilt from their home in Kingston to Albee's old hometown and displayed at town hall at the invitation of Cornelia Jenness, president of the Chesterfield Historical Society.
"It brings the names to real people. I can almost see the people, the women sitting here doing it," Jenness said.
Nancy Basler said her ancestor was clearly well-liked and appeared to be the male equivalent of an "old maid," though he is still shrouded in some mystery. She said the messages inscribed on the fabric are very personal -- and one might say even downright risqué for the time period. Eunice E. White, of Chesterfield, wrote:
"When under this quilt you chance to lay
May some pretty lady your partner be."
Another note reads:
"Why not have courage and get you a wife
I am sure you must lead a lonely life
There are a dozen smart girls all waiting for thee
If you do not believe, then just ask me."
It seems as though these women had a bit of a crush on Albee -- which simply makes it more ironic that the dates marked next to most of the messages are a few days before Albee's wedding. Basler said an announcement in an area newspaper states Albee married Eliza Sanderson, 31, on Dec. 17, 1851.
"Either they didn't know, and he kept it a secret or maybe they did, in fact, know. We don't know," she said Thursday morning. The quilt looks right at home in the historic ambiance of Chesterfield Town Hall, which was coincidentally built the same year the quilt was given to Albee. The public event was advertised by the historical society and a few people stopped in to take a gander. Town Administrator Rick Carrier stopped by to check on the new curtains purchased for the hall's stage and seemed intrigued when told of the quilt's story.
"Holy smokes," he said when told its age. It is approximately 94-by-92-inches in size.
Basler told the Reformer Albee lived an interesting life, though it was not without tragedy. She said Sanderson died at in 1854, just three years after the wedding, at the age of 31. It is possible she succumbed to complications of childbirth, but that has never been confirmed. But Sanderson had her own message for Ablee on the quilt.
"With this you see remember me
And bear me in your mind for I am true a friend to you
As true a friend as you will find."
Carol Poitras, of the New Hampshire Quilt Documentation Project, which has documented nearly 3,000 quilts around the state in the past 10 years, said it seems Albee became an invalid after his wife's death and died in 1881. But Poitras, who attended Thursday's public event, said Albee's life travels through time by way of the large blanket that has remained in his family, and she said that is what quilt enthusiasts thrive on.
"I love signature quilts because they actually have people's names. They hopefully have dates and things and it's like solving a mystery -- to try to find anything out," she said. "It brings history closer to you and makes you part of history. It makes you feel like you're there at that time."
Basler told the Reformer the quilt -- which has always been called "The Wedding Quilt" in her family due to the story behind it -- was going back to Kingston with her after a couple of hours. She said storing it safely can be tricky, and she keeps it in wrapped in cotton sheets. She said it must avoid contact with wood and stay in stable temperatures.
"It's in pretty good shape. It was evaluated at very good condition for one of that era, though the fabric is starting to let go," she said. "But I think it's held up remarkably well."
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.
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