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.
- In upper half of sampler, flanking verses, flowering plant with birds flying overhead, and lady and gentleman under tree. Man wears short flared coat and carries cane; lady wears elaborate hat, long-sleeved dress, and pantalettes, and carries small bag with long ribbon straps and what appears to be furled parasol. In lower half, large flat-roofed building with tall windows and columns. On flat roof recessed second story also flat-roofed but with large semicircular window. Building stands on lawn (or hill) flanked by trees, urns of flowers, and spotted dog. Border of geometric strawberry vine on all four sides. Silk embroidery thread on linen ground. STITCHES: cross, crosslet, queen, satin, double cross, four-sided, chain, stem. THREAD COUNT: warp 29, weft 31/in.
- "What iS the blooming fair
And tincture of the Skin
to Peace of mind from care
And harmony within
Sickness and age will blaSt
All outward charmeS away
Virtue will Sooth at last
in deathS tremendiouS day
- See the Kind Shepherd JeSuS StandS
with all engaging charmeS
Hark how he calls his tender lambs
And folds them in his arms
- Mary Harrison Aged Eleven Years
Alexandria July 1830"
- This may have been stitched by the Mary Harrison who was born about 1820, daughter of Reverend Elias Harrison. She married Joseph M. Newton as her second husband in 1858. Or it may have been stitched by the Mary Harrison who was born in 1818, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Carlin Harrison of Alexandria, Virginia, and who married Isaac Kell in 1841.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- Harrison, Mary
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center