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.
- Three block alphabets of 26 letters and numbers to 13; simple geometric crossbands separate these rows. Below verse, centered tree flanked by rose bushes and two framed texts. In verse, words colored alternately with name and date worked in black; in two framed texts, all lettering worked in black. Width of sampler full fabric width, selvedge to selvedge. Border of geometric strawberry-vine and cross-stitched zig-zag, with single rows of cross-stitch on all four sides. Silk embroidery thread on linen ground. STITCHES: cross, Algerian eye, long-armed cross, petit point, rice. THREAD COUNT: warp 28, weft 30/in.
- "Let the f[s]weet work of prayer and praif[s]e employ my
Youngef[s]t breath Thuf[s] im prepared for longer dayf[s] or
Fit for earlier death Phebe Ef[s]ther Copp aged 8 1822
- Better it is to be
of an humble Spirit
with the lowly
than to divide the
Spoil with the proud
- This work I did
To let you See
What care my
Parents took of me"
- Phebe Esther was born on November 9, 1813, to Samuel and Phoebe Haight Theall Copp in Stonington, Connecticut. The design of this sampler, made in 1822, when Phebe Esther was eight years old, is obviously based on a similar sampler made fifty-seven years earlier by her great-aunt Esther Copp. Phebe never married and died on February 3, 1837, in New York City. See Esther Copp's sampler.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- Copp, Phebe Esther
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center