The presentation “An Enslaved Woman and her Dressmaker Daughter from Bath County, Virginia” is Sunday April 27

By Bonnie Ralston

Perlista Henry of West Warm Springs has quilts and textiles that were made by her great grandmother.   What makes them especially unique is their age, the fact that they were made by an African American woman and that they are still in her family.  Henry also knows the family history and has photographs of her family members.

“I happened to come across them in an old trunk about six years ago,” says Henry.  “One of them is made out of cottons and the textile expert, Madelyn Shaw, who just recently examined them said that a lot of them are men’s shirting materials and other black and white materials that women would have worn during the period they were made.  And they estimated the fabric dates to be between 1890 and 1910.  That one is my favorite quilt, because it’s been worn and then there’s a lot of history behind that quilt.  Now the second one that got the most attention is made out of a lot of silks.  Brightly colored silks, reds and other bright colors that I wouldn’t even have thought that were really readily available during that time.  And then there’s a third item, that’s a cotton knitted bedspread that was probably made around that time also.”

Henry’s great grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Morris Bolden, was a seamstress and she made clothes for her family as well as others in the community.  At the Old Dairy Heritage Festival last October, textile expert Kathleen Curtis Wilson was fascinated by what Henry showed her.   

“One of them that sort of fascinated me, when they got to really closely examine the material, there’s some yellow centers in some of the quilts,” says Henry.  “It’s probably about two inch squares.  And it shows how wasteful we’ve become now, because apparently she didn’t have enough to make a full two inch square.  So she pieced a little inch here, a little inch there until she got the size square that she needed.  And one of the squares, actually there’s some red material from the next line, she had maybe just like a half inch so she brought that piece up to make a full square.  Just looking at these fabrics it probably would have taken her maybe several years to put this quilt together.”

A presentation on Henry’s textiles entitled “An Enslaved Woman and her Dressmaker Daughter from Bath County, Virginia” will be held on Sunday, April 27 at 3pm at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church.  The church is located just off Route 39 in West Warm Springs.  The program will be presented by Kathleen Curtis Wilson, who is an Appalachian Textile Scholar and Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Fellow.

“All of this happened to come about because of my grandmother, Alice Fortune, who raised me,” says Henry. “She was Lizzie’s daughter.  But if it hadn’t been for the great memories that she had in her head that were passed down from generations, then I wouldn’t even have had a clue about the quilts or anything else about the family history.”

For more information on Sunday’s program, call Perlista Henry at 540-839-2506.


Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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