In 1996, the Wayne County Historical Society and the Alling Coverlet Museum, through a combined effort, published the book "Figured and Fancy: Weavers of Wayne County". Financial support for this project was also received from the Griffith-McLouth Foundation and the Augustus L. and Jennie D. Hoffman Foundation.

Written by Dr. Clarita S. Anderson, an authority on textiles at the University of Maryland, this volume celebrates Wayne County's rich history in the weaving industry. Wayne County was home to some of the best known and most thoroughly documented weavers of the 1800s.

A coverlet is "a loom-woven bedcovering usually made of natural and colored yarns, usually cotton and wool; it is essentially complete when removed from the loom..." The first figured and fancy coverlets in the United States were produced right here in New York State, and in addition to keeping their owners warm on a cold winter night, they reflected the American culture, and they often recorded historic events.

A coverlet is "a loom-woven bedcovering usually made of natural and colored yarns, usually cotton and wool; it is essentially complete when removed from the loom..." The first figured and fancy coverlets in the United States were produced right here in New York State, and in addition to keeping their owners warm on a cold winter night, they reflected the American culture, and they often recorded historic events.

There were thirteen weavers identified as living in Wayne County. The most notable and well-documented weaver of Wayne County was Ira Hadsell of Palmyra. Ira Hadsell was born March 16, 1813, in Marion, the son of Sarah Hadsell and William Cogswell.

Ira Hadsell led an interesting, if somewhat difficult life. He was "bound out" at the age of eight years. From age 14 through 26, Ira worked at various jobs until returning to Palmyra in 1839. Eventually, Ira went to work for James VanNess, another well-known weaver of Wayne County. Ira Hadsell had finally found his calling. During his lifetime, Hadsell wove over 1,180 coverlets, several of which may be seen on display at the Alling Coverlet Museum in Palmyra.

James VanNess was born February 25, 1811, in Clavarack, Columbia County, New York. He and his family arrived in Palmyra in 1841. In 1844, VanNess built a small shop on Vienna Street in the village of Palmyra where he carried on his weaving business until 1851. At that time, VanNess, his wife and two children moved to Michigan. An example of James VanNess' work, a double weave blue wool and natural cotton coverlet woven for Amanda Beech in 1850 can be seen at the Wayne County Museum in Lyons.

Daniel Conger purchased property in Wolcott in 1848 and began his weaving career in Wayne County shortly thereafter. Little is known about Daniel Conger's early life, other than the fact that he was born in Genoa, Cayuga County, about 1814.

Daniel Conger followed the weaving trade in Wayne County for about fifteen years. By 1865, his occupation in the New York State census was listed as "nurseryman". Perhaps the weaving trade was not as profitable as it had once been, or, perhaps, as Conger's health was failing, he had to give up his trade.

Conger was an active member of the Wolcott community. he served as coroner, was a charter member of the Grange and was an officer in the GAR Post No. 65 in Wolcott. Conger died in Wolcott on November 30, 1888. Several fine examples of his work are housed at the Wayne County Museum and the Alling Coverlet Museum.

Of the thirteen identified weavers of Wayne County, only one was a woman -- Catharine Byer of Huron. Catharine Byer came to Wayne County sometime in 1826 but was not listed in the Wayne County census as head of household until 1840. She was listed as a free, Black female between the ages of 36 - 54 and was living in Port Bay, as Huron was formerly known. Her occupation was given in the 1850 Federal census and the 1855 New York State census as "weaver".

Catharine Byer was admitted to the Wayne County Poor House on November 26, 1874, her age was listed as 105 years, and the reason "old age" was given. She died on August 22, 1876, and is buried in the Huron Evergreen Cemetery. No weavings by Catharine Byer have been identified as being in existence today.

These are only brief sketches of a few of the weavers of Wayne County. You may learn more about them and their weavings at the Wayne County Historical Society or the Alling Coverlet Museum.