Wednesday, February 01, 2006

 

From shipwreck to stitches: calico from Spartan in quilt at Historical Society

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The Block Island Times
By Ben Hruska
January 28, 2006



Myrtis Clayton’s calico quilt.

One of the unique objects I recently located with the help of old accession records, during the winter cataloging project at the Block Island Historical Society, is a quilt that tells a number of stories.

During a foggy spring night in 1905, the vessel Spartan set sail for Philadelphia from Fall River, Mass. As it had for centuries, Block Island proved unforgiving to a disoriented captain, and on this night, the Spartan ran aground on the east side of the island, south of the Spring House.

Rocks punctured the steel ship’s hull and waterlogged the cargo, which included calico. Islanders recall salvagers swimming ashore with the wet fabric, and laying it out on the hill behind the present-day Historical Society, which became known as Calico Hill.

Myrtis Clayton, born Myrtis Millikin, made a green-and-yellow quilt from some of the calico from the Spartan . The quilt, pictured here to the left, has a “Devil’s Puzzle” pattern, and is made of alternating small triangles and six-sided elongated polygons. The pattern also contains small polka dots on the 75-inch-by-81-inch quilt.


A postcard showing the Spartan and
calico taken from the wreck.
Photo courtesy of Robert M. Downie

Myrtis had another tragic connection to island shipwrecks: her brother Stanley died as a passenger on the Larchmont , which sank off Sandy Point in 1907.

Myrtis was the last of her family to be born on Block Island. She attended grade school on the island, and later earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees in Economics from Brown University. There she met and married Thomas Clayton, a banker in Providence.

As Myrtis Clayton, she remained an active member of the Block Island community, including the Block Island Historical Society. They lived in the Captain Nathaniel Willis Homestead. After Myrtis’s death, her family donated the quilt to the Society in 1955.

The Clayton family still owns a house on the island. Nelson Clayton, the grandson of Myrtis, is in the appraising business, and has agreed to assist the Block Island Historical Society with his knowledge of antiques. He will lend his expert eye to help evaluate some of the unique and valuable pieces in the collection, thereby continuing a Clayton family pattern of helping the island preserve its history.

If anyone knows any first-hand accounts of the wreck of the Spartan , we’d love to document them. Please call Ben at 466-2481.


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