According to family information, this mid-nineteenth-century appliquéd quilt belonged to Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend of Charleston, South Carolina. The central focus of this quilt, a “Tree of Life” motif, is decorated with appliquéd peacocks and other birds. The branches, flowers, birds, and butterflies are cut from different block-printed cottons. An 8½-inch border is printed with several floral stripes on one piece of cloth. The overall diagonal grid quilting pattern is very closely worked at 13 stitches per inch.
Hephzibah (Hepzibah – Hepsaba – Hepsibah) Jenkins was the daughter of Capt. Daniel Jenkins, a Revolutionary War officer, and Hephzibah Frampton. She was born about 1780 in Charleston, South Carolina. Her mother died in childbirth, while her father was imprisoned by the British during the Revolutionary War. Before her death, Hephzibah’s mother seems to have arranged to have two trusted family slaves take Hephzibah to Edisto Island, a difficult journey at that time, to stay with the Townsend family. The little girl grew up at Bleak Hall, the Townsend family home on Edisto Island. Sometime before 1801 she married Daniel Townsend (1759-1842) and they raised a large family on the island. Hephzibah was said to have been beautiful, and gifted with a brilliant mind, a strong will, and a sense of justice.
During her stay on Edisto Island, Hephzibah was inspired by the preaching of Richard Furman, an influential Baptist minister who led the church from 1787 to 1825. He was well known for his leadership, promotion of education, and mission work in South Carolina and elsewhere. After becoming a Baptist in 1807, Hephzibah utilized her talents and organizational abilities to found, in 1811, the first mission society in South Carolina, the Wadmalaw and Edisto Female Mite Society. Their fund raising efforts succeeded, and $122.50 was contributed to the missionary fund in 1812, motivating women to organize societies in other Baptist churches. A few years later, about 1815, this society was responsible for building tabby ovens made from a mixture of sand, lime, oyster shells, and water. There the women baked bread and pastries which were sold to raise money to support mission work and build a church.
Hephzibah is also credited with founding the Edisto Island Baptist Church, which was constructed in 1818. While Baptists had worshipped on Edisto Island from the late seventheenth century, it was Hephzibah whose efforts built the first Baptist church on the island. She died in 1847 and is buried in the church cemetery.
Initially, the Edisto Island Baptist Church accommodated both the island’s white planters and their enslaved African Americans. During the Civil War the building was occupied by Union troops. After the war, when most of the plantation families left, it was turned over to the black membership and continues to this day as an African American church. Both the ovens and the church foundation were made of tabby, an early building material consisting of sand, lime, oyster shells, and water. The Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend Tabby Oven Ruins and the Edisto Island Baptist Church are both on the National Register of Historic Places.