The earliest known American sampler was made by Loara Standish of the Plymouth Colony about 1645. By the 1700s, samplers depicting alphabets and numerals were worked by young women to learn the basic needlework skills needed to operate the family household. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, schools or academies for well-to-do young women flourished, and more elaborate pieces with decorative motifs such as verses, flowers, houses, religious, pastoral, and/or mourning scenes were being stitched. The parents of these young women proudly displayed their embroideries as showpieces of their work, talent, and status.
In recent years, samplers have become important in museum collections as representations of early American female education. Many are signed, and some are inscribed with locations and the names of teachers and schools. The emergence of large numbers of these samplers has resulted in much research in diaries, account books, letters, newspaper ads, local histories, and published commentary that is helping to illuminate the lives of women in early America.
Many early samplers do not have the letters “J” and “U” in their alphabets because they were not part of the early Latin alphabet and so the letter “I” was used for “J” and the “V” for “U.” The letter “s” is often replaced with the printers “s” which looks like the modern f.
There are 137 American samplers in the Textile Collection. The first was donated in 1886, the Margaret Dinsmoor sampler. In the 1890s the Copp Collection was received and it contained two samplers—one by Esther Copp and the other by her great niece Phebe Esther Copp. (The Copp Collection is an extensive collection of 18th-and 19th- century household textiles, costume items, furniture, and other pieces belonging to the Copps, a prosperous but frugal Connecticut family.) The earliest dated sampler in the collection was made in 1735 by Lydia Dickman of Boston, Massachusetts.
"American Samplers - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- Block upper-case alphabet; letters colored alternately; no "J" or "U." Numbers 1 to 0. These rows, together with rows containing verse, all separated by narrow crossbands, including sawtooth and dentil patterns. Below verse, three wide crossbands: one of flowering plants, birds, and sheep or goats, and two wide geometric bands in patterns that appear often on eastern Massachusetts samplers, especially in Boston area. At bottom of sampler spies, from Canaan, wearing knee-breeches and flared coats, identified by letters "Ja" and "Ca" and flanked by trees, flowering plants, and small birds. Below them, 1 5/8" strip with geometric strawberry vine solidly worked in cross-stitch. Border of geometric flowering vine on top and two sides. Silk embroidery thread on linen ground. STITCHES: cross, satin, Algerian eye. THREAD COUNT: warp 38, weft 42/in.
- "When Stern Affliction Waves her Rod
My heart Confids in the my God
When Nature Shrinks Oppresd with woes
E en then in thee She finds Repose
Affliction flyes and hope returns
Her Lamp with brighter Splendor burns
Gay Love with all his Chearful Train
And Joy And peace are here again
- Molley Ruff[ss]ell
Ad 12 1776"
- Mary (Molley) was born on June 19, 1765, to Peter and Molly Russell of Bradford, Massachusetts. Her father was a distinguished shipbuilder. She married Ephraim Emery on September 17, 1785. He enlisted as a fifer on April 19, 1775, at the Lexington alarm, and entered the service in William Rogers's Company on April 27, 1775. Ephraim was in the assault on Stony Point and the battle of White Plains. After the war, in 1799, he was appointed captain in the United States Army, 14th Regiment, which was disbanded in 1800. He served successively as captain, brigade major, and inspector in the state militia. The couple had four children—Mary, John, Thomas, and Hannah.
- Mary died on March 3, 1843, in Newbury, Massachusetts.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- associated dates
- Russell, Molley
- ID Number
- accession number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center