The Samplers of West Cambridge

Doris Birmingham

Needlework samplers, employed as an educational tool and a measure of female accomplishment, make their first appearance in England in the early 16th Century. Thus, English Colonists in America must have imported the skills to keep the craft alive in their new home. However, given the rigors of daily life in those early days, time to do fancy needlework would have been extremely limited, so surviving examples of 17th Century Colonial samplers are rare, and, not surprisingly, they closely follow English models. Like the Society’s sampler made by Mary Richardson in 1765 (now on display in the Assembly Room) the earliest samplers are generally tall and narrow in proportion and worked in horizontal bands containing geometric patterns, highly stylized depictions of natural phenomena, and often an alphabet.  Generally crafted by young girls, samplers were used to teach practical needlework skills as well as decorative stitchery meant to enhance the beauty of clothing and domestic linens.  For many girls and their families, a completed sampler was a sign of accomplishment, proof not only of her domestic skills, but also a reflection of her refinement and suitability for marriage. 

While girls stitched samplers under their mothers’ supervision, probably from the earliest years of settlement, the craft flourished mostly between about 1790 and 1830, where it was employed as an educational tool in the small, informal private schools set up in many towns to provide basic education to the young. When public school education in Massachusetts became widespread in the 1830’s, the era of sampler-making came to an end.

While the primary goal behind the sampler was to provide instruction in needle-working, at the same time it would have aided in teaching very basic literacy.  From the beginning, most samplers included alphabets and numbers, a practice that continued throughout the sampler era. Many samplers were adorned only with letters and numbers arranged in horizontal bands and with no side margins.  These are known as  ‘marking’ samplers because they contained the stitches and lettering styles needed for crafting the identifying marks on clothing and linens (e.g. Susanna Adams; Mary S.W. Brooks, Caroline Harris Fiske).  Most of these early marking samplers probably were not intended for display but meant as aides memoires for the needleworker and were therefore stored safely for consultation when needed. 

By around 1720, pictorial features began to enliven girls’ samplers. One can appreciate how this might have provided additional motivation for a young girl striving for perfection as she suffered the tedium of mastering a multitude of intricate stitches.  A popular early subject, which is not represented in the Society’s collection, was the Temptation in the Garden of Eden in which a naked Adam and Eve are depicted on either side of a snake-bedecked tree and surrounded by a scattering of plants and animals. The couple is represented as either having already plucked, or preparing to pluck, the forbidden fruit.  The area above the scene would have followed tradition with its narrow horizontal bands containing the standard alphabets, numerals and repertoire of decorative motifs. 

The samplers in the Historical Society’s collection were made primarily between 1790-1830, and they played an important role in education of girls. Before the advent of public education in the 1830’s, children were taught in small private schools in large cities and in villages. Most of these schools were ephemeral in nature and in session for only short periods—about six weeks at a time—which children would have attended for a varying number of sessions. While some samplers may have been produced at home under the supervision of a girl’s female relative, many were completed in one of these schools, typically run by a widow or an unmarried woman in the community.

The youngest children in a New England town would have attended a ‘dame school,’ an informal gathering of children maintained by a local woman in her home or in a rented space.  Instruction was focused on the acquisition of basic literacy.  For older children, ages at least eight or ten, the academy provided a higher level of education. (In some regions such schools were called seminaries or institutes.)   Whether single sex or coeducational, many were presided over by a female instructor and like the dame schools, were in session for only a few weeks or months at a time.  Academy instruction was aimed at building on the basics, and, depending on the teacher’s preparation, might also include a smattering of classics, languages, geography, and science.  It would have been mainly at such institutions that children also would have potentially pursued more specialized studies:  for boys, surveying, navigation, and architectural drafting; for girls, music, dancing and needlework.  Most girls, under the close guidance of the teacher, probably would have at least attempted a sampler while at an academy.  The teacher would have been responsible for the design, which she might have created herself or possibly borrowed from a copybook or engraved print. Given the playfulness and charm of many samplers, it is hard to imagine that the girl did not have had a say in the choice of images.  Many samplers include pious or inspirational texts, which came from literary sources provided by the teacher but chosen by the girl (Lucy Hill, Hannah Balkcom, Ann Jane Cook).  The girl was always responsible for the actual stitching of the piece. The Society’s collection of samplers indicates that these children applied themselves to their  task with varying degrees of commitment. Some reveal loose threads where the project was abandoned; some are a bit crude in execution. The best of course are true works of art, and one can imagine the pride of the girl and her parents when such a sampler finally was framed and displayed on the parlor wall.          

Academy teachers often worked alone, so no matter their gender, they had to be able to teach an array of subjects.  This is demonstrated in the case of a Mrs. Gill, who presided over what appears to have been a coeducational academy in West Cambridge (now Arlington) in the years between 1800 and 1820.  She may have been married to a John Gill, who appears in the 1810 census (but not in those of either 1800 or 1820).  Her teaching is firmly documented through an 1810-1812 family record watercolor by Rebecca Tufts Fessenden, which appeared on the art market in 1988, and a large copybook , dated 1812, now at the Winterthur Museum, by Henry Whittemore, son of Amos Whittemore, the inventor.  Both items are inscribed: “Mrs. Gill’s Academy.”  Mrs. Gill is also documented by advertisements for her academy which ran in Boston’s Columbian Sentinel in March and April of 1811.  At least three other family tree renderings (two watercolors and one sampler) have been attributed to Mrs. Gill’s Academy by scholar Peter Benes.  In addition, a large, recently discovered watercolor displaying the family tree of the Lane family of West Cambridge, was probably also produced by a student of Mrs. Gill’s as it is almost a duplicate of the three watercolors published by Benes.

Rebecca Tufts Fessenden’s watercolor can be judged representative of Mrs. Gill’s teaching and of the characteristics of her students’ work. The central image is a family tree, on which hang the ‘fruits’ of the marriage of Rebecca’s parents, John Tufts (1770-1817) and Rebecca Cutler (b.1779).  Their first child, Rebecca Tufts (1799-1887) executed her genealogical water color on a large sheet of paper (26 ½” x 21 ¼”) It resides in an oval frame, its composition dominated by an elaborate and classicizing variant of the family tree motif.  The tree stands between two monumental columns draped with a yellow curtain; in the sky above flies a nearly transparent putto holding a swag.  The parents’ names are inscribed in rondels on the column bases, and below, as if pictured in the distance, is a weeping willow and an inscribed urn before which stands a woman holding an anchor representing the allegorical figure of Hope as the “anchor of the soul.”  Finally, at the bottom of the composition, in the ‘real world,’ is depicted a pastoral landscape populated by miniature cows and sheep.    The Lane family tree in the Society’s collection so closely resembles Rebecca’s watercolor as well as  the two other watercolors attributed to Mrs. Gill’s school that it is likely that it, too, belongs to the small number of known works attributable to her instruction.

In most instances, the teacher was the designer of the sampler—the girl merely followed her markings on the linen, utilizing the various stitches that she had mastered—the more the better, of course. In the case of Mrs. Gill, it is obvious from the examples we know, that she had a strong preference for classical motifs:  giant columns, rondels, swags, putti, and carved inscriptions.  These features stand out and may help to identify other of her students’ works.  Few teachers seem to have been as comfortable as she with such grand imagery, or with any imagery at all, in fact. Several of the samplers in this exhibition are mostly text, either in the form of an alphabet, numbers, or an inspirational poem. Some of these are enlivened by a vase of flowers or a floral border, as in, for example, the samplers stitched by  Lucy Hill Adams  (1817) and Letitia Whittemore (1809), but others contain little but text.   The most ambitious, pictorially speaking, are four samplers displaying the motif of a house flanked by trees and figures:  those by Eliza Ann Cutter (1817); Hannah Hall (c.1807); Martha Mary Williams Locke (1813); and Sarah (Sally) Frost (1798-1810).  At least 18 versions of this motif, all originating in Cambridge or surrounding communities, have been identified, leading scholars to speculate that all of the makers attended the same boarding school in the area around Cambridge.

The days of creative sampler making in ended largely by 1830 as education developed into a public rather than a private endeavor in New England and as it became possible to purchase commercially produced patterns for many kinds of needlework.  The samplers made late in the 18th Century and during the first quarter of the 19th C. in West Cambridge and its neighbors therefore represent the apogee of sampler-making in New England.  At the time they were completed, they were a source of pride for the girl and her family; today they charm us with their naivety and impress us with the remarkable skill of their young makers.  Finally, for the historian, they offer a glimpse into the history of women, childhood, and education in the early American Republic.

Catalog of Samplers in Collection

1909.1.13. Caroline Harris Fiske (1829-1848)
1909.1.16.   “                “       “        
Cotton on linen  12” x 11 ½”
West Cambridge, MA (both c. 1837-1840)
Gift of Carolyn Fiske Neal

Caroline was the daughter of Letitia Whittemore and Horatio Hancock Fiske, and the granddaughter of  the Reverend Thaddeus Fiske, minister of the First Parish Church in West Cambridge.  She married George B. Neal of Newton in 1846; they had no children.

Caroline completed two samplers, the first when she was eight years old and the second perhaps a year or two later.  The date (1832) at the bottom of the earlier piece (1909.1.16), is incorrect and appears to have been added by another hand. A more likely date would be 1837-38. This simple, but beautifully wrought sampler displays the alphabet and numbers surrounded by a narrow, minimally decorated border.  Caroline’s later piece is more elaborate:  the letters and the text are enclosed in a wide border marked by a fine zig zag line punctuated at regular intervals with flower buds.  The lower third of the work contains this poem:  Best use of riches/When wealth in virtuous hands is given/It Blesses like dews of Heaven/Like Heaven it hears the orphans cries/And wipes the tears from widows eyes

1909.1.14. Letitia Whittemore (1799-1891)
Silk on linen. 12” x 10”
West Cambridge, 1809
Gift of Caroline Fiske Neal

Although in poor condition, this sampler attests to Letitia’s careful attention to craftsmanship.  Like Lucy Hill, Letitia opted to concentrate on text rather than on imagery. Again like Lucy, Letitia enlivened her design with a narrow, precisely rendered border, here composed of red berries or flowers articulating the spaces around the undulating line that trace the margins of the piece.  Two inscriptions fill the lower third of the sampler.  The first reads:  Letitia Whittemore’s work  Wrought in the eleventh year of her age   West Cambridge September 20 AD 1809.  Below, Letitia stitched these wise words: Constant application leads to excellence/Youth well-instructed maketh age well/disposed

Letitia was the daughter of Amos Whittemore, the famous inventor, and Helen Weston.  She married Horatio Hancock Fiske of Boston in 1818.

1909.1.15. Eunice Daniels (1796/7-1845)
Silk on linen
Newton, MA c. 1805-1810
Gift of Caroline Fisk Neal

This sampler is unfinished—a loose thread hangs from the lower portion of the piece, where Eunice abandoned the project.  Except for the elaborate vase at the bottom, most of the space is consumed by alphabet and text, which reads: While rosy cheeks their bloom confess/And youth thy bosom warms/Let Virtue and let Knowledge dress/Thy mind in brighter charms. The border areas are interesting, as they are decorated with thistles, a rather unusual motif to come from the hand of a tender young lady. Did the prickly plant reflect Eunice’s mood as she worked on this project?

Eunice married Benjamin Neal of Newton in 1821 and died in Newton in 1845.

1909.4.1. Mary Richardson (1753-1814)
Silk on linen 20.5” x 8”
Cambridge, MA 1765
Gift of Martha Frost, 1909
(On display in Assembly Room)

Mary’s is the earliest sampler in the Society’s collection and in style it is typical of many 18th century samplers given its elongated proportions, narrow bands filled with text and variety of decorative patterns—all in keeping with English models.  The text reads Mary Richardson is my name/And with my needle I wrote the same/I was born in Cambridge June the 10 1753 and made this sampler March 1765 in the 12 year of my age.  When friends are gone and money spent Then learning is excellent.

Mary’s parents were Moses Richardson and Mary Prentice.  Her father died fighting the British in Cambridge on April 19, 1775; her husband, William Russell, was imprisoned for 33 months in England for his part in the Colonial rebellion.

1913.33.2  Martha Mary Williams Locke (1803-1888)
Silk on linen
Middlesex Co., MA, 1813
Gift of Burbank Family

Martha Mary made this sampler when she was ten years old to honor her mother, Mary Williams Locke, who had died in 1807 at age 25.  Her father was Daniel Locke, who was active in local  town affairs and who during the Revolution participated in the battle at Dorcester Heights.

With its emphasis on the house, this work resembles the Hall and Frost samplers in many respects, but it shows the influence of a different teacher. Unlike other samplers in the collection featuring the house motif, this richly embroidered piece devotes more space to text than to imagery. Above is the alphabet, rendered in three styles. A cartouche near the bottom reads Martha M.Ws Locks Work Wrought in the tenth year of her age.  West Cambridge August 8th 1813. Within the pictorial space, Martha added a poem:  The Fairest flower will soon decay/Its fragrance loose and splendid hew/So youth and beauty wears away/And vanishes in the morning dew. Differences aside, Martha’s piece is similar to others of its type with its inclusion of two trees, one heavily laden with fruit.  Two young women in white approach the house from the right, and they are balanced by two large pots of flowers on the left.  One distinguishing feature of Martha Mary’s work is her rendering of the house itself.  Rather than depicting a Federal-style structure fashionable in the early 19th Century, and seen on many samplers, Martha Mary chose to represent a house in the earlier Georgian style.  However, she gives it volume by placing it at an angle to the picture plane and shading the end wall.  Equally unusual is the working of the border.  The central area is immediately surrounded by the familiar sawtooth.  That, in turn, is surrounded by a wider frame filled with a chain of zigzags worked in dark thread.

In 1825 Martha Mary married James Russell II (1793-1859), and in 1826 she created a second work, a mourning piece in satin thread, again commemorating her mother, but rendered in the Neoclassical style popular in the period  (1913.33.1).

1925.2.5. Unknown maker
Silk on linen 14 x 5 ¾”
Place and date: Unknown
Gift of Elizabeth Russell Rourke
An unfinished marking sampler presenting the alphabet in four different styles. Normally the numbers from 1 to 0 would be included as well.  A “marking sampler” was intended to teach a girl both useful stitches and basic literacy so that she could “mark” clothing and household linens for identification. It did not contain pictorial content. 

1925.3.3. Lydia Adams (1797-1866)
Silk on Linen 18 ½ “ x 19”
West Cambridge, MA, 1807
Gift of Lydia A. Thompson

Lydia was ten years old when she finished this sampler of rather unusual design and very fine workmanship .  The sawtooth border, which other girls typically employed to enclose a tablet-like inner rectangle here frames the sampler at its outermost edges.  Lydia went to much effort with her alphabet and numbers, rendering them in several typefaces and placing them within narrow bands separated by lines of ornamental stitching.  At the bottom center is a cartouche playfully bound with a leafy wreath that reads “Lydia Adams/Work Wrought in the/tenth year of her age/West Cambridge October 11, 1807.” In the space below her alphabet, Lydia worked a popular verse:  “The fairest flower will soon decay/It’s fragrance loose and splendid hew/So youth and beauty wears away/And vanishes in the morning dew.

Lydia Adams was  the great granddaughter of Deacon Joseph Adams, who was urged by friends to hide from the British on April 19th because his surname raised associations with fiery patriot Samuel Adams.  Lydia’s father was John Adams (b.1771); her mother, Hannah Phelps (d. 1854).  She married Endor Estabrook in 1818.

1931.2.51A  Eliza E. Parker (1804- in Lexington; d. 1877)
1931.2.51B  Eliza E. Parker
Silk on linen (?) 13 ½” x 17 ½ (for 1931.2.51B, no measurement for 51A)
Middlesex Co., MA , 1818
Ida and Caira Robbins Estate

This is one of a large group of similar family tree samplers created in Middlesex County between 1800 and 1820.  Here, a rather compact and symmetrically drawn tree is shown bearing apples, representing each of the eight children of Eliza’s parents, Robert and Elizabeth Simmonds Parker of Lexington. As is often the case with this type of sampler, the tree is rooted in entwined hearts bearing the names of the parents, which are further linked by a tablet displaying the couples’ wedding date.  The tree, stitched in silvery green and white thread is encircled by a leafy wreath in the same colors.

Eliza worked a second sampler, also in 1818, which she marked Eliza E. Parker Lexington.  It seems to have been constructed from sections of an abandoned sampler.  Attached to it are two slips of paper expressing praise for Eliza’s schoolwork, by Ann A. Morrison, presumably the mistress of the academy where Eliza practiced her needlework. Eliza was to be the wife of Nathan Robbins, Jr. (1803-1888).

1940.4.1  Abigail Prescott Russell (1824-1914) 
Silk on linen.
Stafford, CT  1835
Gift of Mrs. H.A. and Ara G. Hovey

Abigail was the great granddaughter of Jason Russell, the patriot. She was born and lived in Stafford, Ct., where she married George Parsons.  Horizontal in orientation, her design is simple, consisting of three alphabets and a set of numbers.  Abby’s planning may have been little faulty.  Having no room for X, Y and Z, at the end of the second line, she made do by tucking in two rows of tiny x’s.  Abby’s needlework would have been colorful when it was new as she worked several letters on each line with (now faded) primary colors.

1952.4.1. Lucy Hill (1807-1861)
Silk on linen  18 ½” x 21 ¾” framed
West Cambridge, 1817
Gift of Henrietta Peppard

Like a number of samplers made around the same time in the Cambridge area, Lucy’s is mostly stitched text, composed of three alphabets and a four-stanza poem.*  The only pictorial elements are a small candelabra-like object and a tree on either side of the cartouche, which reads Lucy Hill’s work wrought in the tenth year of her age West Cambridge 1817. The most engaging feature of this sampler is its framing border composed of a continuous looping line accented with alternating abstract forms, perhaps meant to reference trees and bells. 

Lucy was the granddaughter of the Deacon Joseph Adams.  Her mother Ann was a newborn infant in her mother’s arms when the British invaded the Adams home on April 19, 1775.  Lucy married George S. Adams of Charlestown in 1832.

*The diamond and the ruby’s blaze/Shine with a milder finer flame/And more attract our love and praise/Than beauty’s self if lost to fame./But the soft tear in pity’s eye/Transcends the diamond’s brightest beams.  And the sweet blush of modesty/More beauteous than the ruby seems/The glowing gem the sparkling stone/May strike the sight with quick surprise/But truth and innocence and love/Can still engage the good and wise

O ye embark’d for pleasure shore/Restrain awhile the fluttering sail/At pity’s call retard the oar/Nor let her plaintive pleading fail/Religion what treasure untold/Resides in that heavenly word/More precious than silver or gold/Or all that this earth can afford.

Lucy Hill’s work wrought in the tenth year of her age/ West Cambridge 1817

1954.13.1. Ann Jane Cook (b. ca. 1804)
Silk on linen  16 ¾” x 12”
Made in England  1811
Gift of Edith Winn

Only eight years old when she finished this finely worked piece, Ann Jane employed mainly cross-stitch and French knots. Below the pious text,* the surface is filled with stylized plants arranged in strict symmetry.  This type of design, found in many New England samplers, seems to have been especially favored by younger girls.  It is signed near the bottom:  Ann Jane Cook her work finish’d In the eighth year of her age 1811.

The Society’s records indicate that Ann Jane was born in England, the daughter of Robert Cooke and Sarah Grace Smith, who immigrated to Belmont after 1818. They had a second daughter, Mary, who was born in London in 1818 and who married George W. Prentiss of West Cambridge.  Assuming Ann Jane is the older sister of Mary, and no record of her seems to exist other than this sampler, she may have died before the family immigrated. The style of the sampler is modeled on that of many English samplers

*Jesus/Permit thy gracious name to stand/As the first Effort  of an Infant hand/And while her fingers [on] this

sampler move/Engage her tender heart to seek their Love/With thy dear Children let her have a part/And write thy name itself upon her heart.  Ann Jane Cook Her Work Finished In the Eighth Year of her age 1811”

1969.3.1. Hannah K. Balkom (1807/08-1885)
Silk on linen  19 ½ x 19 ½”
Norfolk, MA (?) 1820
Gift of Maple Pond

This damaged sampler is dominated by text:  three different alphabets; a set of numbers; and three inscriptions:  1) Let heaven succeed our painful years/Let sin and sorrow cease/Let mercy wipe away our tears/And may our joys increase. 2) In prosperity friends are plenty/But in adversity they are not one in twenty. 3) Hannah K. Balkom/Sampler Made in the 12th year of her age/1820.  Only the margins contain ornament, consisting of  an undulating line connecting a series of tiny stylized rosebuds.

Born in Norton, MA, and died in Norfolk, MA,  Hannah was the daughter of Samuel Balkom and Abigail Keith.  She married Perez Foster (1797-1887). 

1992.15.1. Hannah Hall (1796-1878)
Silk on linen (?). 17 ½ x 22 ½”
Middlesex Co.,  MA, c. 1807
Gift of Edith Marie Carey

Inscribed:  Hannah Hall’s Sampler/ Wrought in the tenth year of her age.

Hannah Hall’s delightful piece prominently features a Federal style house set in a garden.  The house and its surroundings are enclosed in a narrow sawtooth frame.  Fruit-laden trees flank the house, and Hannah has added wispy clouds and a carpet of green grass.  She took special effort with the house itself:  the windows of its lower stories each have fifteen panes.  The overall design echoes that of at least 18 known samplers rendered by girls in Middlesex and Essex counties between 1790 and 1805. The obligatory alphabet and a poem are fitted into the central panel along with the house:   “Virtue dear friends neads no defence/ No arms but its own innocence/ Quivers and bows and poisoned darts/ Are only valued by guilty hearts.”  Both imagery and words are contained within a wide, three-sided border decorated with a zigzag line, tiny bouquets and birds.

Hannah was born in Bridgewater, the daughter of Ebenezer Hall and Esther Ruhamah Cutter.  She married Cyrus Cutter, of West Cambridge in 1818, and died in Arlington. 

2015.17.  Mary S.W. Brooks (b. ca. 1808-1892)
Silk on linen 18 x 10 framed
West Cambridge, 1818
Gift of Robert Fredieu

In a cartouche near the bottom Mary signed her sampler Mary S.W. Brooks wrought in the 10  year of her age West Cambridge October 1818.

Unusual in its horizontal format, this sampler was worked in rose and pink stitching on a cream-toned backing. The piece appears to be unfinished as suggested by an empty basket on the left, which surely was initially meant to be filled in order to balance the elaborately blooming one on the right.  A wavy line sprinkled with stylized flowers borders the sampler on three sides.

Mary was the daughter of Ebenezer Brooks of Medford and Elizabeth Whittemore of Cambridge.  She married Libbeus Leach of Braintree in 1822 and died in Newton.

2016.13. Sarah Ann Russell (1815-1880)
Silk on linen. Measurements
Brighton, Somerset, Maine, 1827
Gift of Marcelyn M. Cote

Like Abigail Russell, Sarah Ann was a great granddaughter of the patriot Jason Russell.  Her father Silas Russell was married to Deborah Foss; in 1831 Sarah Ann married Stephen F. Folsom.  Hers is a “marking sampler,” containing the alphabet arranged in bands, and stitched in blue, brown and tan.  Sarah Ann boldly embroidered her name at the bottom:  Sarahann Russell, aged 13.

2016.8.8. Sally (Sarah, Sara) Frost (1782-1848)
Silk on linen 13 ¼ x 10 ¾”
Middlesex Co., MA, c. 1793
Gift of Susanna Adams

Sally’s sampler shares important features with that of Hannah Hall (1992.15.1), and there are enough similarities between the two to suggest that they could have been made under the supervision of the same teacher, but if not, at least a widely known pattern.  Sally’s, however, is more elaborately conceived.  Prominently placed in the picture is a two and one half story Federal style house with its door colored a deep green.  Flanked by a pair of figures, the house stands on a grassy lawn:  on the left are a woman and a little girl beneath a leafy tree filled with black birds; on the right a couple stands holding hands in front of a leafless tree laden with fruit.  The upper portion of the scene contains three bands filled with an alphabet and numbers.  Each band is separated by wavy black lines possibly  meant to suggest clouds.  Below the house and garden scene is a cartouche with the inscription:  Sally Frost’s work wrought in the eleventh year of her age.  The central motif, like that in Hannah Hall’s work, is framed with a narrow green and white sawtooth band surrounded by wider band containing a zig zag line and a sprinkling of stylized flowers.

Sally was the daughter of Seth Frost and Sarah Hill.  She married James Winn in 1804. 

Lydia Prentiss (1771-1865)
Sarah Prentiss (1811-1897)
Silk on linen,  three squares framed as a group, each 7 ½” x 7 ½”
West Cambridge, MA
Lydia’s square c.1783;  Sarah’s squares c. 1823
Gift of Susanna Adams

Lydia  was the daughter of George Prentiss and Lydia Hill; she married Jonas Pierce and gave birth to twelve children.  Sarah was a granddaughter of George and Lydia, who married Albert Winn in 1837 and had five children, one of whom was Sarah Georgiana Winn, the creator of 2021.FIC.68.  Perhaps Lydia encouraged the younger women in her family to follow in her footsteps by employing the sampler to learn basic needlework skills.  Lydia’s name is inscribed on the square at the far right; Sarah’s, on the middle and left squares.  Each square announces that its maker was twelve years old.   

2016.8.37. Susanna Adams (1778-1860)
Silk on linen. Measurements?
West Cambridge, MA (1789?)
Collection of the Winn Estate

The date is partly obliterated in this very small sampler on which the three bottom lines are filled by the artist’s signature in large, uppercase letters:  SUSANNA ADAMS IS MY NAME.  Above, separated by thin, minimally ornamented lines, are the numbers 1-6 and an alphabet in both lower and upper case.

Susanna was the daughter of Capt. William Adams (1724-1787)  and Sara Hill (1750-1806). She grew up in the ancient Adams house in West Cambridge.  She married George Prentice (Prentiss)  in 1804 and gave birth to six children.

2020.6.2. Unknown maker
Silk on linen 8 3/4” x 8 ¼”
Place and date (?)
Gift of Charles Allen

An unfinished marking sampler containing two cursive alphabets in upper and lower case. The lower half of the fabric is unadorned.

2020.6.4. Eliza Ann Cutter (1809-1890)
Silk on linen 7 x 17 inches
Middlesex Co., MA, 1817
Gift of Charles Allen

In the lower quadrant Eliza stitched a three-story yellow house and to its left, two trees.  The upper half of this sampler is consumed by three upper case alphabets in differing styles.  Its elongated proportions and lack of a border is typical of 18th C. samplers, but Eliza’s depiction of a three-story Federal style house helps to support the early 19th C. dating.  The large, simple stitches and unadorned rendering of the scene suggest that 8 year-old Eliza had little patience with the tedium of needlework.

Eliza was the daughter of Ephraim Cutter and Deborah Locke Cutter. She married Henry Whittemore (1797-1860)  in 1828.  After his death, in 1864, she married Thomas Winship.

2021.FIC.68. Sarah Georgianna Winn (1842-1921)
Silk on linen Size?
West Cambridge (date?)

Stitched perhaps during her attendance at the Agassiz School for Young Women in Cambridge, this sampler may date from the 1850’s, long after sampler-making was central to a New England girl’s education.  Unfinished, the needlework occupies only the top half of the fabric where Sarah worked three alphabets, a set of numbers, and a simple stitched border. Vertical lines printed on the fabric may have helped her to keep her lines straight and to evenly space her letters.

Sarah Georgiana was the daughter of Albert Winn and Sarah Prentiss.  She never married and lived her entire life in the Winn family home on Summer Street,  West Cambridge.

This research was funded in part by grants from Freedom’s Way Heritage Area and the Grants Committee of Arlington Council for Arts & Culture (Arlington Cultural Council)