A mystery solved in the textile collection

The Textile Collection at the National Museum of American History contains an embroidered picture of Charity based on a mezzotint engraving by P. Stampa. It was embroidered by Rachel Breck who was born July 22, 1792, to Joseph Hunt (1766-1801) and Abigail Kingsley (c1766 – 1846) Breck of Northampton, Massachusetts.

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“Charity,” stitched by Rachel Breck, 22 in x 18 in, TE*E388172, Image No. 81-5200

On the backboard of the frame is an inscription hand-written in ink: “Worked by Rachel Breck Hooker in 1810 in the 18th year of her age.” The date is then amended to 1803 and the age to 11, in pencil. The liner is backed with grey rag paper bearing the ink inscription: “Wrought by Mrs. Rachel Breck Hooker in 1810, the 18th year of her age.”

The mystery behind the two possible dates was recently solved when the museum acquired a sampler made by Rachel Breck at age 11. Her sampler is nearly identical to ones by Bathsheba Copeland and Emily Parsons, also from Northampton, Massachusetts. The uniqueness of these samplers is the long satin stitches completely covering the background.

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Rachel Breck’s sampler, 12 ¾ in x 13 ¾ in. Catalogue No. 2011.0256.01, Image No. AHB2012q00302

It was not uncommon for a young girl to make a sampler and then go on to make a more difficult silk embroidered picture. Rachel probably began her education in Northampton, where she made her sampler. She went on to receive more schooling at the Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts, approximately 17 miles north of Northampton. She attended three 12-week sessions beginning April 11, 1806. It is not known if she completed any needlework while at the Academy.

Her silk embroidered picture is nearly identical to one embroidered by Sarah Marshall now in the collection of the DAR Museum, that came with the information that it was stitched at the Misses Patten school in Hartford, Connecticut. Presumably her parents wanted to further her education and sent her at the age of 18 to attend school in Hartford. A wide range of subjects were taught at the Misses Patten’s School; the curriculum included “Latin, Greek, English, & French languages, grammatically – mercantile and common arithmetic – book-keeping – geography, with the use of globes and maps – lectures in astronomy and natural philosophy, writing, composition, drawing, painting, embroidery filligre [sic] & other ornamental work.”

In 1819 Rachel married George Hooker who was born in 1798 to John and Sarah (Dwight) Hooker of Northampton. He went to Yale, class of 1814, and was a physician who resided in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. They had eight children born between 1820 and 1833. Rachel died in 1879.

It is not known when her embroideries were separated, but her silk embroidered piece was purchased by collectors Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Greenwood who donated it to the United Sates National Museum in 1951. Her sampler was purchased by collector Richard Wormser (1898-1975) and recently acquired by the museum.

The two comprise the first example in the Textile Collection of a young girl’s earlier sampler and her later more technically advanced silk embroidery. Rachel Breck’s embroideries have once again been reunited.

There are 137 American samplers in the Textile Collection. The first was donated in 1886, the Margaret Dinsmoor sampler. The earliest dated sampler in the collection was made in 1735 by Lydia Dickman of Boston, Massachusetts. 51 samplers from the collection can be seen on our website. Watch for more to be added in the near future.

Sheryl De Jong is a volunteer in the Division of Home and Community Life’s Textile Collection at the National Museum of American History.

Posted at 10:10 am EDT in Women's History