Jewett Washington Curtis, a career soldier in the U.S. Army, pieced this brilliantly-colored wool bedcover. Its geometric design incorporates the dates “1889” and “1893.” Each corner has a 44-star flag. The central focus, a star, is flanked by five borders on each side and two mirror-image borders at the top and bottom. The entire quilt is pieced of 7/8-inch diamonds consisting of plain- and twill-weave wool. The still-vibrant colors contribute to the overall effect. Needlework was encouraged in the military as an activity for either relieving boredom in lonely postings or as part of physical therapy during hospital stays.
Jewett Washington Curtis was born in Vermont, on March 7, 1847. In 1862, at the age of 14, he enlisted as a musician in Company K, 104th Regiment New York Infantry for a term of three years. He was hospitalized for a short time at Gettysburg in July 1863. He returned to his unit and was discharged in 1865 near Petersburg, Virginia. About five years later, in 1870, he re-enlisted at age 23 in Company B, 11th Regiment U.S. Infantry. Other than a few years between 1886 and 1889, Jewett served in the U.S. military with various units until his retirement in 1899. He died on March 20, 1927 in Walcott, New York.
In a 1922 letter from the State Soldiers Home in Orting, Washington, where Jewett was then living, he summarized his military career. “I enlisted on 8th of March 1862 was assigned to Co K 104th Voll. Infantry as a drummer. Served 3 years was discharged on the 8th day of March 1865 at Pellerburg [Petersburg], Va. I enlisted in the Regular ? Army in 1870 served 24 years was retired from the regular ? Army in 1899 my retired pay as a sergeant is 46 50/100 a month. I am not allowed a pension while on the retired list. Will you please inform me what I will have to do (?) that I may be entitled to a Civil War pension . . . . I have been in two Indian engagements The Souix [Sioux] War in 1877 and the Nes [Nez] Perce War of the same year.” He was unable to apply for a pension based on Civil War service while he was on the retired list.
On June 16, 1895, while he was still serving in the military, Jewett married Mary Putnam (1876-1904) in Mill Plain, Washington. Clark Edward Curtis was born on March 22, 1896, two other children died young. According to the family, after his mother died in 1904, Clark lived with various relatives and wasn’t close to his father. He too at the age of 14 set out on his own and eventually joined the army in World War I. Clark didn’t keep in touch with his father, but when Jewett died he received a trunk with his father's things. This quilt was among the belongings in the trunk. It was assumed by the family that the quilt was made in Skagway, Alaska, one of the places that Jewett was stationed during his career. According to military records, Jewett spent several months in 1885 and 1891 in hospital for rheumatism, and 1892-1893 recovering from a finger amputation. He may have learned needlework skills while convalescing.
At the time of donation, Clark E. Curtis wrote: “It is a eight foot by eight foot blanket . . . . My father Mr. Jewett W. Curtis made it; on the top of the blanket is the date he started 1889, and at the other end is the date he finished 1893. It is all hand stitched with over 400,000 stitches in it . . . . This blanket has been in several state fairs and won many ribbons. . . . I do remember, however, the Portland [Oregon, 1905 Louis and Clark Centennial Exposition] and Seattle [Washington, Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition] World Fairs, where it won first place ribbons, at which time I was just a very small child. . . . I would like to get my father’s hand made blanket where it belongs, in an institution for all to enjoy.” Jewett Washington’s precisely pieced and prize-winning bedcover is a stunning example of needlework done by a man.