A silk banner discovered in the attic of a Peconic store has given the Southold Historic Society a link to the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
The 55 1/2-inch tall by 44-inch wide artifact, nearly 154 years old, was initially used by Mattituck members of the Wide Awakes, a paramilitary campaign group affiliated with Lincoln's Republican Party during the 1860 campaign and known for its torchlight parades with banners supporting candidates.
The Mattituck banner was repurposed at the end of the war in 1865 to honor returning soldiers.
The historical society, which purchased the artifact from a local antiques dealer for several thousand dollars, is trying to raise $14,500 to have it conserved and framed for display.
"The banner is incredibly important and extremely rare," said Geoffrey Fleming, the society's executive director. "It is the only surviving Wide Awake banner from Long Island known to exist. It is the only 'locally made' banner known to exist."
The muslin Welcome Home panels sewn over the original banner make the artifact doubly rare. "Welcome Home banners from the end of the Civil War are also very rare -- and none are known to survive from Suffolk County other than this example," Fleming said.
During the 1860 campaign contested by four parties, The New York Herald estimated there were more than 400,000 members of Wide Awake groups across the country to support Lincoln and running mate Sen. Hannibal Hamlin of Maine.
"Members of these groups dressed in military style uniforms, often with cloak and cap, and carried 6-foot-long torches mounted with whale oil lamps that would be used in nighttime parades," Fleming said. "In addition, groups would carry aloft mounted banners -- either preprinted or those made locally -- that stated their support for the Republican ticket."
Fleming's research revealed that, in the Town of Southold, each hamlet appears to have had their own club. "This was not unusual," he said. "It was typical for chapters of the Wide Awakes to be established in smaller communities nearby larger metropolitan areas."
On the North Fork, Mattituck, Southold hamlet, Greenport and Orient all had chapters.
"We know from local newspapers that on the day before the election of 1860, the Wide Awake groups of the North Fork marched in a torchlight parade through Southold in support of Lincoln," Fleming said. The articles note that the Mattituck club marched in that parade "and obviously that banner was there."
The acquisition of the banner by the organization was prompted when "I visited a local dealer who said he had something that . . . we would probably be interested in," Fleming said. "He pulled out this banner and it had these two pieces of fabric on it that said 'Welcome Home' and 'Union Forever,' so I knew immediately that it was probably Civil War."
The rolled-up banner was found when the antique dealer cleared out the attic of an old store in Peconic.
"The silk is in remarkable condition. It is not brittle or falling apart," Fleming said.
The historical society sent the banner to the Textile Conservation Workshop in upstate South Salem for analysis and conservation. The experts there removed the overlying muslin panels to reveal the outlines of the original glued-on paper lettering. The four lines read: "LINCOLN & HAMLIN - MATTITUCK - WIDE AWAKE - CLUB."
If the society can raise the funds, the workshop would restore the original silk banner and the missing 1860 lettering would be replaced with reproduction green-gold fabric lettering.