“I have in my possession a quilt that was presented to my great-grandfather, Bernard Nadal, by the female members of his congregation when he was a minister . . . . It seems to me that it should be in a museum as the workmanship is exquisite . . . .” wrote Miss Constance Dawson in 1983 when the quilt top was donated to the Smithsonian.
The Ladies of the Columbia Street Methodist Church congregation presented this “Baltimore Album” quilt top to Rev. Bernard H. Nadal in 1847. He had been a pastor at the church in Baltimore between 1845 and 1846 and left to attend Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1848.
“Album” or “friendship” quilts were popular in the mid-nineteenth century. The complex appliquéd blocks, typical of the Baltimore style, as well as signatures, poems, and drawings that grace this quilt top express the high regard the women must have had for Reverend Nadal.
Variations of baskets, wreaths, vases, and floral designs are appliquéd on 17-inch blocks. An appliquéd flowering vine on the 9-inch border frames the twenty-five blocks on this quilt top which has neither filling nor lining. All of the blocks have embroidered or inked details and a name with often an additional poem and drawing. Almost all of the drawings, seemingly done by the same hand, are of a bird, generally a dove, with a ribbon or book sometimes on a monument or urn. These are motifs frequently found on “album” or “friendship” quilts in the mid-nineteenth century. A red Bible dated “1847” in the quilt’s center is inscribed: “To Rev. Bernard H. Nadal. Baltimore.” An inked drawing of a dove with a ribbon containing the name “Susan M. Shillingburg” is above the Bible and the inscription:
“Accept my gift affection brings
Though poor the offering be
It flows from Friendship purest spring
A tribute let it be.”
Probably presented as a farewell gift, the inscriptions on this quilt top express friendship, good fortune in the future, and the wish to “forget me not.”
Bernard H. Nadal was born in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1812. His father, from Bayonne, France, was said to have freed all his slaves and possibly influenced Bernard, who later had a reputation as a strong antislavery advocate and was an admirer of Lincoln.
Bernard Nadal apprenticed as a saddler for four years but joined the ministry in 1835 at age 23. It was noted that he rode his circuit using a saddle he had made. He served churches in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1841. In 1855 he became a professor of ethics and English literature at Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw University) and remained there for three years before returning to pastorates in Washington, New Haven and Brooklyn.
In 1867 Nadal became Professor of Historical Theology at Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey. He married Sarah Jane Mays and they had nine children. His career was cut short in 1870, when he died after a short illness at his home in Madison, New Jersey. In addition to many lectures, addresses, sermons, and newspaper editorials that were “continually pouring from his tireless pen,” he wrote The New Life Dawning, and other Discourses of Bernard H. Nadal published in 1873. He was described by colleagues as a person who “enjoyed that peculiar popularity among his students which belongs only to the teacher who possesses the heart to enter deeply into sympathy with young men, and also the power to inspire them with his own devotion to earnest work.” He must have made a similar impression on the women whose album quilt top indicates their high esteem for his work.