Of all the conspirators tried for Lincoln’s assassination, Michael O’Laughlen is probably the one that we know the least about. His 1867 death at Fort Jefferson cut his life to a short 27 years. The few things that we do know about him, come from the tireless research of Percy Martin, an original Boothie. The most complete account of his involvement in the Lincoln conspiracy is written by Mr. Martin and is featured in Edward Steers’ edited version of the Pitman trial transcript. While the details of his involvement are worthy of a post in and of themselves, such a post will have to wait for another day. This one will focus on a more minute (and odd) detail about this elusive conspirator’s life: his early quilting experience.
Michael O’Laughlen, Jr. (commonly spelled O’Laughlin) was born on June 3, 1840 in Baltimore. He was the youngest surviving son of Michael O’Laughlen, Sr. and Mary Anne Wehner. His mother, Mary Anne was born around 1812, and she was the daughter of Maria Bond and George Wehner. George died in 1814 leaving Maria a widow with at least two small children to fend for. Maria used her trade as a seamstress to bring in income. Later, in 1832, Maria Wehner married a widower, Rev. Samuel Williams. Samuel Williams was a Methodist minister and was around 23 years Maria’s senior. Still, it is clear that Maria loved her new husband dearly as did many others who attended the Exeter Street Methodist church he preached at. In 1846, Maria decided to create a present for her husband. She decided on an album quilt in honor of his many years of service to the church and Exeter street community. Maria organized many of her family and the neighbors to create, assemble, and sign their own applique squares to create a large, beautiful quilt. The final product took over a year, and consisted of 42 individual squares that measured 107 ½“ by 119 ½“.
Sadly, Rev. Williams never saw the finished product, as he died in April of 1847.
During the construction of the quilt, Maria Williams turned to her daughter Mary Anne to help her. By this time Mary Anne had married Michael O’Laughlen, Sr., had five children by him (two of which died in infancy), and buried him upon his sudden death in 1843. Mary, like her mother, adored her stepfather, Rev. Williams. In fact, she and Michael O’Laughlen, Sr. named their first boy Samuel Williams O’Laughlen in honor of the good reverend. She was more than happy to help her mother in creating a quilt in his honor. Of the forty two squares in the quilt, Mary provided two of them: one bearing a raccoon in a tree, and one with a bird on top of a bible. In addition, there are also four other applique squares from her children. The eldest child, Maria Catherine O’Laughlen, provided two squares; an elaborate cherry wreath and a multicolored cornucopia. Samuel Williams O’Laughlen provided a more basic cherry wreath. And finally, her youngest child, Michael O’Laughlen, provided a simple honeysuckle wreath:
Maria Williams died in 1863. The quilt was given to Mary Anne O’Laughlen who gave it to her now only living son, Samuel Williams O’Laughlen. It descended to his granddaughter, Carrie Serena O’Laughlen Wagner. She donated the quilt to the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1985. The Samuel Williams Quilt, as it is called, is considered a wonderful example of a quality “Baltimore album quilt”. As a fundraising project for the Baltimore Museum of Art, in 1999 the Baltimore Applique Society began the task of reproducing the quilt in its entirety. They traced, matched, and duplicated each design in detail. The reproduction quilt went on display next to the original and to various quilt shows around the country, before it was raffled off in 2004. Today, you can even buy the entire quilt 42 square pattern set through the Baltimore Museum of Art gift shop. Better yet, you can actually purchase a pack of four of the squares that includes the O’Laughlen brothers’ cherry and honeysuckle wreaths.
Now, truthfully, it is unlikely that Michael O’Laughlen, six or seven at the time, actually sewed his own square. In all likelihood, his and his brother’s squares were made by his mother who then attached their names to it. Nevertheless, it is interesting to know that there is an elaborate quilt in existence bearing an applique square credited to Michael O’Laughlen, the conspirator.