Described by the donor as a silk quilt with embroidery pieced together from scraps of material imported form Europe to make fancy dresses, circa 1855. This quilt, which even then was admired as something special, was always displayed draped over the back of a sofa in the big house on the Owen Plantation. According to the family story, when the Union army came through the area, soldiers confiscated most of the food and valuables despite the mistress burying everything in an attempt to conceal them. The incident and devastation of the plantation disturbed and distracted the mistress, who no longer paid attention to the things going on around her in the big house and on the plantation. The slaves, including Kissie (age 8), began to leave in the wake of the Union army. Kissie took the quilt with her because it was beautiful, so much work had gone into it, and it served as a reminder of her birthplace.
Kissie Gary (1858-1945) was enslaved on the Owen Plantation in Columbia, South Carolina. She was born into slavery, belonging to a family whose big house was located near the Saluda River, located ten miles upstream from Columbia, South Carolina. Aaron and Phyllis Owens were her parents; Gene, Jack, Wash, Tempa, Neice, Dolly, and Classie (Clara) were her siblings. Kissie along with other slave girls began quilting, handsewing, and working the looms as early as 5 years old. Four or five slave girls, as young as five or six, would work together in a big room, helping with quilting, weaving, and sewing clothes.
Kissie was wed to Wylie Young; they had several children. Upon the death of Wylie, Kissie married George Martin Gary. Kissie and George moved their family to Newberry County and contracted to purchase a 500 acre farm. The family prospered with six mules, two riding horses, and a bountiful crop. When George offered a cash payment for the land, the contract was contested by family members. Consequently, the family moved and rented a farm owned by George Copeland from 1907-1910. In 1922, George died; the family moved to Washington, D.C.
The donor, Rhuedine G. Davis, is the grandaughter of Kissie Gary. Rhuedine's mother, Mary Bea, is the daughter of Kissie and George Gary.
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum