Susanna Austin - Notable Women Ancestors
QuiltSusanna Austin

This story was first published in The Families of Walbert Kennedy and Gwen Gibson, compiled by W. Dale Kennedy, published by W. Dale Kennedy dba Endor Crafts, © 1996 by W. Dale Kennedy, pages 41-43.

Susanna Austin was the first wife of Alva Harkins "Hark" Clenney. This story about Susanna comes from her daughter-in-law Lucinda Elizabeth "Lucindy" Jones. Lucindy told the story to her granddaughter Alice Mae Vera Duck, who told it to me, Alice's grandson.

The story is about the weaving of the counterpanes. Counterpane is an obsolete (15th century) word meaning bedspread. I have been able to augment Lucindy's story to explain how these heirlooms passed from the Clenney side of the family to the Kennedy side.

As Alice told the story with her clear memory of her grandmother's tale, "Susanna Austin was allowed to take the cotton left in a neighbor's field. She sat beside the fire and picked out the seeds by hand. She carded the lint and spun the thread.

"She didn't have a loom, so she toted the thread on foot to Aunt Kiz Eason's (Kissah "Kissiah" Temple) in Liberty to use her loom."

Susanna wove the counterpanes when she was sixteen, which would have been 1844; and there were three of record. The counterpanes were all woven by hand. One was all white, and two were elaborately coloured. Those two were white with brown, black and a violet red.

The colours were made from herb dyes. I remember that walnut shells were used for the black dye. As I recall, poke berries were used for the red. Alice said a bark of some kind was used for the brown.

The loom was set out of doors to take advantage of the coolness of the shade. Meanwhile, Kiz and Susanna had hung the pillows and other bedding on a line to air.

While Susanna sat at her loom, a caravan of Gypsies passed. Kiz and Susanna ran to the clothesline to bring in the bedding lest it be stolen. They ran into the house to hide, barring the doors behind them. They were terrified the Gypsies would stop, and they did.

"The Gypsies poured out of their wagons like a ants from a hill," Alice described, "and swarmed into the yard." They cut the cloth from the loom and stole it. "They made off with it," Alice said.

After the Gypsies had gone, Susanna returned to the loom, picked up the thread she had spun and died from waste cotton she had harvested (by "bringing in the sheaves," as it were) and cleaned and carded at her fire through the hard winter; and she began again to weave.

Susanna finished the counterpanes. Upon her death they passed to her son, (Henry) Walton Clenney. Alice explained, "Uncle Walton never married. He lived with his parents, Hark Clenney and Susanna Austin all their lives."

The story is continued by Dora Jewell Clenney: "In his old age he {Uncle Walton] became ill and was hospitalised. He was released from the hospital but was unable to take care of himself. After going all over the countryside looking for some friend to take him in [he was carried in an ambulance, Dora explained], he called on Tom Kennedy.

"Tom and his wife were not well either, but Tom took Uncle Walton in; and Tom's children took care of him until his death. Walton gave the three counterpanes to Tom's wife, and that was I," Dora Jewell said with practised telling as she proudly displayed the exquisite heirloom.

The white counterpane was given to Mary Norman, wife of Leo Jones, son of Eunice Duck, great-granddaughter of Susanna Austin. The one of the pair from the pattern stolen by the Gypsies - the counterpane I saw at the home of Dora Jewel Clenney in Decaturville, Tennessee, 9 July, 1973, - was in nearly perfect condition with the colours still clear, though no doubt dimmed by the ensuing 129 years.

Susanna Austin b. 5 May 1828, Henderson County, Tennessee; d. 24 May 1881 - buried Henderson County, Tennessee
daughter of Elizabeth Jackson and Morgan B. Austin
m. 1 February 1844 to Alva Harkins "Hark" Clenney

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