In 1845, John L. O’Sullivan, editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, wrote that it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” “Manifest Destiny” became a catchphrase for American expansionism, which was virtually completed by the time this quilt in the form of a map of the United States was made. By 1886, the date embroidered in Roman numerals along the border between Oregon and Washington, America “stretched from sea to shining sea,” anticipating Katherine Lee Bates’s 1895 anthem. The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are highlighted in blue fabric with embroidery, and Texas is distinguished from the rest of the country by the inclusion of a prominent yellow star. Additional embroidered elements appear on Colorado, Wyoming, Illinois, and Iowa. However, the sparseness of embroidery in a needlework era distinguished by its abundance of surface embellishments suggests that the textile may never have been completed.
Instructions for right-angle piecing—the Y-shaped pattern that is used for the background of this quilt—were published in late-nineteenth-century English and American sources. The design was suggested for small projects, such as throw pillows, rather than for large-scale projects like this quilt. Although this map is an unusual treatment in the show quilt idiom, there is long precedence for depictions of maps on fabric—in the early nineteenth century, young women stitched sampler maps and three-dimensional fabric globes as part of their geography lessons. Few examples of pieced quilts in the form of maps exist today, however.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Map Quilt," in American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 350.