While the precise name of an individual’s quilt pattern was seldom recorded in the nineteenth century, Mary Totten left no doubt about the name she gave this quilt or its importance to her when she prepared her will, circa 1860. “First, after all my lawful debts are paid and discharged, I give and bequeath to Rachel Mary Drake, daughter of William Drake, deceased, my large spread called the Rising Sun.” (Florence Peto in her book <I> Historic Quilts </I>). More than 75 years later, the “Rising Sun” quilt was brought to the Smithsonian in 1938 by the donor, Marvel Matthes. She had been presented with this magnificent quilt by her godmother, Ellen Totten Butler.
The “Rising Sun” (also referred to at times as "Star of Bethlehem") pieced pattern in the center of the quilt is an eight-pointed star measuring 76 inches across. It contains 648 diamond-shaped pieces made of eleven different roller-printed cottons arranged concentrically by color. Appliquéd between the points of the star are elaborate vases of flowers and birds, combining floral glazed chintzes with some of the same fabrics used in the star. A matching floral vine runs around the four sides of the quilt between a swag-and-bow border on the inside, and a chain along the outer edge. The appliquéd flower stems, vine, swags, bows, and chain are only 3/32-inch wide. The star and border appliqué are outline-quilted, with additional small floral motif quilting in the open spaces in the border. The initials “B T” (unclear) are embroidered in red silk cross-stitch next to one of the corner vases.
Mary Totten, daughter of Gilbert Totten (1740-1819) and Mary Butler (1739-1832), was born in 1781 in Staten Island, New York. Mary was one of eight siblings. In the late eighteenth century, members of the Totten family bought land in the Staten Island area. About 1840 the area purchased by Gilbert, Mary’s father, became known as Tottenville. The economy revolved around oyster fishing, shipbuilding and repair, and farming. Mary married late in life, in her forties, first to Rev. Joseph Polhemus (1762-1827), and, after his death, to Matthew Williams (1780-1836). Mary had no children of her own and her “Rising Sun” quilt was willed to her grandniece when she died in 1861.
At the time of donation, 1938, the "Rising Sun" quilt was noted as made by Mary Betsy Totten or in another note Betsy Totten. In subsequent references either Mary Totten, Mary (Betsy) Totten, or Betsy Totten have been ascribed as the maker of the quilt. Mary did have a sister Elizabeth Totten Cole (1772 - 1860).
Mary "Betsy" Totten's “Rising Sun”quilt is an important example of design and workmanship in the Collection. The fabrics chosen to create this quilt were reproduced in the late twentieth century for the inspiration of contemporary quilters. Other Totten family quilts are in the collections of the Staten Island Historical Society, and another in Cooperstown, New York.