Olive Duke Norton Barton May's Quilt
(probably made circa 1875)
This quilt was made by Olive Duke Norton Barton May.  Olive was born in Monroe County, Georgia on September 16, 1824.  She married William Berry Norton on December 31, 1843.  After having five children together, (Charles Berry, Kinsey, Nazareth, Margaret, and William Green) William Berry Norton passed away in May 1853.  In 1859, Olive applied for and received a land grant in Marion County, Alabama where she and the children had moved along with her father, mother, brothers and sisters. As head of household, she paid $24.94 for 199 and 48/100 acres of land.  This land is located near what is now Detroit, Lamar County, AL.

Sometime before 1860 (possibly before leaving Georgia), Olive also lost both of her daughters, Kinsey and Margaret.  In January 1862, she married Washington Barton who owned a farm in what is now Lamar County.  With Olive's sons and Washington's son grown and fighting in the Civil War, they found themselves starting a new family together.  Their only child, Jefferson Duke Barton, was born on March 16, 1863.  Sadly, when the baby was only fifteen months old, Washington Barton died in June 1864.

No doubt the end of the Civil War was especially hard for Olive.  Her husband was dead. Her brothers and three oldest boys were off fighting.  At 39, Olive was left with a small child and no help on her farm.  According to my grandaunt Ruby Norton Reeves, "Grandma May" (as Olive was later called) told her about looking through the cracks of her log cabin into a side room and seeing a man stealing her meat. They had just killed a hog and the man stole all her meat.

Luckily, Charles Berry, Nazareth, and William all returned safely from the War Between the States.  Sometime before the 1870 census, Olive met and married Aaron May.  Like Olive, Aaron had also been widowed twice.  They are listed on the 1870 Sanford (as Lamar County was formerly known) Census as:
Aaron May , age 51, a farmer, born in Tennessee.  Real Estate value:  $850  Personal property: $475  Wife Olive, 45, born in the State of Georgia.  Others listed in the home are Sarah (May) age 18, Franklin (May) age 12, and Jefferson (Barton) age 7.

In Charles Berry Norton's letter written just days after Olive's death, he tells us a good bit about the life that Aaron and Olive had together.  He writes:

"Mr. May was a minister of the gospel in M. E. Church South, who later became a Congregationalist, and was the founder of the New Prospect Congregational Church of Sulligent Alabama. Sister Olive May, with her great heart of love and sympathy stood faithfully by this minister of God as his help-mate and companion till the summer of 1888, when the dear Lord called him home.  In this last state of widowhood sister May remained till her death."


"[S]he joined her last husband in the M. E. Church South, and after two years of faithful service in the Methodist Church, she and Mr. May changed their church relationship to the Congregational denomination where her Christian character, and service was very increasingly helpful. After the death of Mr. May in 1888, she went back to the Primitive Baptist church, because with them she was to be associated more than with others.  In all her life of service in those different denominations she never once showed the least prejudice toward those who didn't have membership in her branch of the Christian Church, but she demonstrated beyond all question that one could live a Christian life in any Christian denomination."

Charles Berry Norton cared for Olive in her later years.  He handled the responsibilities associated with Aaron's estate after Aaron passed away in 1888.  Because Aaron died without a will, there were several court proceedings and a bit of difficulty dispersing his property.  Reading the court proceedings and his letter, it is evident that Charles Berry Norton cared a great deal for his mother and tried to shield her and comfort her.  Olive passed away in 1905 and was buried next to Aaron May.

No one knows exactly when Olive made the quilt.  We do know that Olive gave it to Charles Berry.  In 1915, when  he died, Charles Berry passed the quilt and Olive's baby shoes to his son, Adney Ardlo Norton who cared for his father and mother at the end of their lives.  "Ad" Norton passed the quilt and the shoes to my grandfather, Will Norton, who in turn passed them to his children.  My mother has had the quilt more than 20 years.

What we do know is that the quilt must be more than 100 years old because Olive died June 11, 1905.  Olive was 80 when she passed away.  It's doubtful a woman of that age would have tackled the amount of handwork that this quilt demanded. 

"Sunburst" and sometimes "Starburst" are the names by which this overall design is sometimes referred.  An eight pointed star lies in the center of the design with diamonds fitted in between each of the eight points.  The difficulty of handpiecing this quilt can be truly appreciated when you count the number of diamonds in each octagonal design.  (It's 224). 

The quilt was probably made sometime after the Civil War because it doesn't seem like the work of a widowed young woman with at least three boys to care for.  She probably was making more practical quilts at that time and until the end of the Civil War would have continued to do so.  After her marriage to Aaron May, life became easier for Olive and her children were older.  It is probably in the years between 1870 and the turn of the century that Olive made the quilt.
There are no tears or loose seams although some slight discoloration has occurred.  Almost certainly, this quilt was Olive's "masterpiece".  It has been handled with care by each generation of our family and has not been used as a bed cover or "pallet quilt".  Family lore tells of the quilt surviving two fires.  These fires were not in the home of my grandfather Will Norton or great-grandfather Ad Norton.  If the fires took place, it must have been in either Olive's lifetime or Charles Berry's.
Graphics by Shawna