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Civil War coverlet

Kansas coverlet woven 
by Henry Adolph

Weaving coverlets using a hand-powered Jacquard loom became something of a rarity following the Civil War. This Kansas example dates from 1866.

Coverlets were quite popular from the 1830s on, but after the Civil War (1861-1865) industrial growth and mechanization made it unprofitable for the independent weaver to make a living. Most efforts to do so were short-lived. One of the last of these weavers, Henry Adolph (also spelled Adolf), lived for a time at the town of Clinton in Douglas County, Kansas.

Henry Adolph

Born February 18, 1815, in the French province of Alsace, Henry Adolph immigrated to the United States around 1838.  He first settled in Montgomery County, Ohio, but moved shortly afterwards to Cambridge City, Indiana. His was a nearly continuous resettlement westward. By 1849 he was in Noblesville, Indiana, then to Mahaska County, Iowa, by 1855, followed by a stay in Greene County, Missouri, and on to Douglas County, Kansas, by 1866.

Adolph made coverlets throughout his travels, apparently making a good living at it. Perhaps in the young state of Kansas he found a market for his coverlets while fellow weavers elsewhere were giving up their looms and moving on to other professions. 

The loom Adolph used was an example of one refined by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, a French weaver who perfected an attachment that controlled the design of the coverlet. This was done through a series of cards punched with holes that activated the harnesses of the loom. These cards resembled the keypunch cards of the 20th century. They allowed for more complicated designs (birds, animals, and flowers, for example) and replaced geometric designs. Elaborate borders could be made to contrast with the general field.

A feature of these coverlets were the corner blocks, which often became the weaver's trademark. A name could be found there, or perhaps a design that became the weaver's identification. The customer's name might also be included, and almost always the year the coverlet was made.

Henry Adolph had two brothers, Charles and George, also weavers. Like Henry, the brothers wove coverlets in Indiana, but there is no evidence they produced coverlets elsewhere. Charles lived much of his life after the Civil War in Centropolis, Kansas, where he wove carpets. George is more of a mystery; he seems to have spent less time weaving than his brothers, and probably never lived in Kansas. According to family tradition, George and two other men were killed by bushwhackers in Missouri during the Civil War, their supplies stolen and their wagons and bodies burned.

Adolph continued his weaving in Douglas County until the end of the 1870s. By 1880 he was back in Greene County, Missouri, at Walnut Grove, where he died February 14, 1907, a few days short of his 92nd birthday. He may have been weaving coverlets as well as carpets until a few years before his death.

The Kansas Historical Society has five Henry Adolph coverlets in its collection, two made in Hamilton County, Indiana (1850 and 1853), and three in Douglas County, Kansas (two in 1866, one in 1876.) One of the 1866 coverlets is seen here; it was donated to the society in 1971 by Ruth Wyland, whose family had lived in Douglas County. The 1876 coverlet can be seen in the main gallery of the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Civil War coverlet

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1998

Date Modified: May 2018

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.