How do you show your political views? Do you have bumpers stickers on your car? Or maybe you put up lawn signs to support political candidates or ballot propositions? The act of expressing your views publically through objects is nothing new. The mediums through which we express ourselves, however, have changed over time.

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Coverlet, 1848, cotton and wool, 87″ x 76.5″. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, N0004.2001.

This coverlet from Beekman in Dutchess County, New York, has a surprise message woven into its design. Amongst the stylish Rococo Revival roses and floral arrangements, popular motifs at the time, is a political statement. If you direct your eyes to the coverlet’s border you will see the inscription “Mary Jones,” followed by “Victory in Beekman AD 1848.” The name most likely refers to the woman who commissioned the piece from a professional weaver and the date, 1848, when it was woven. The second portion of the inscription is a bit unusual though, and here’s where things get interesting!

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Coverlet, 1848, cotton and wool, 87″ x 76.5″. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, N0004.2001.

According to oral tradition that surrounds the coverlet, the phrase “Victory in Beekman” refers to events of the Anti-Rent War in New York State. After the American Revolution, inhabitants of the newly formed nation were looking to cash in on  promises of freedom and equality established by the Founding Fathers. They hoped to make the dream of owning their own land and profiting from their own labor a reality. They ran into resistance, however, when they attempted to free themselves of leases established long ago by wealthy landlords. This semi-Manorial system of land tenure went on until farmers began protesting in the late 1830s and 1840s. These Antirenters banded together and refused to pay rent. Some extreme members of the group even dressed in costume as Native Americans and terrorized landlords. In 1845 the state called in its militia, but public opinion sided with the protesters and in 1846 a new state constitution banned such feudal tenures.

Much of this activity took place in Delaware County, which neighbors Dutchess County where the coverlet was made. Protests took place throughout the Hudson Valley, however, and the group even formed its own Antirenters political party. It is not far fetched then to assume that Mary Jones of Beekman may have been somehow involved with the party and hoped to commemorate its victories in her own home by commissioning the coverlet.

All across the state, women like Mary Jones were ordering fancy and figured coverlets from an expanding network of weavers. The arrival of the jacquard mechanism from Europe two decades earlier allowed for weavers to incorporate more ornate and precise designs into woven coverlets. Many New York women commissioned pieces with patriotic imagery, including the widespread use of the American eagle. The phrase “Victory in Beekman” takes this generalized national pride a step further in referencing specific events and makes the coverlet unique. Jones clearly felt strong pride in not only her country, but in the political views she held. She used this coverlet as an outlet to show others just what side of the Anti-Rent fight she was on.

So the next time you state your opinion via a bumper sticker think of Mary Jones and her coverlet and remember that you are taking part in a long tradition of political expression!

-B. Schline, CGP’14

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For further reading on coverlets or the Anti-Rent War check out:

Anderson, Clarita. American Coverlets and their Weavers : Coverlets from the Collection of Foster and Muriel McCarl. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002.

Heisey, John. A Checklist of American Coverlet Weavers. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1978.

Kubik, Dorothy. A Free Soil — A Free People: The Anti-Rent War in Delaware County, New York. Fleischmanns, N.Y. : Purple Mountain Press, 1997.

McCurdy, Charles W. The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839–1865.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Images from the Fenimore Art Museum/New York State Historical Association and the Farmer’s Museum collection include fine art, folk art, photography, Native American Indian art,  and farm related objects. Images of objects in the collections are available for scholarly or commercial publication, personal reproduction or research. Photographic images must be requested through the Rights and Reproductions Department.

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