Textile treasures in the mansion

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

I love it when a museum artifact just catches your eye. You may have seen it before, but never really looked at it closely. All of a sudden, you notice it and a whole new area of interest opens up!

That happened to me a few nights ago, as I was skittering through the Stroud Room — the front parlor. Up on the wall my little eyes locked on two pieces of framed needlework. Reading the identification cards, I learned that although they looked quite different, they were both called samplers and were stitched, many years ago, by female members of the Stroud family. I wanted to know more about them, so I went to the library and climbed into the “S” (for “sampler”) file drawer to begin my research.

First of all, I learned that the Monroe County Historical Association has a collection of all kinds of textile artifacts as well as the samplers in the Stroud Room. Rather than chewing on them, as some of my ancestors may have done, I wanted to learn more and share some of the information I found.

Samplers were very popular in the 1700s and 1800s and most often the work of young women. During that time in Europe and in the American colonies, well-off boys went to school to learn mathematics, grammar, history, Greek, and Latin. Girls who were well-off went to school too, but they were taught domestic skills — things to help them be good wives and mothers.

Girls who couldn’t afford school might be taught by a relative or neighbor. One skill was sewing, so the girls could make clothes and household goods like sheets, pillowcases, and towels. Another skill was embroidery to decorate these items with patterns or pictures made of fancy stitches sewn directly onto cloth using cotton, linen, silk or wool thread. The designs might be pretty flowers, leaves, outdoor scenes, Bible verses, memorable sayings, monograms and names.

Making a sampler was a way for girls to learn and practice the decorative stitches and to create something that would become not only a keepsake, but also be a pattern book of stitches to consult for future embroidery.

What is known about samplers comes mostly from the actual pieces themselves. Unfortunately, not too many have survived. Looking at a sampler is like opening a history book. The stitches, colors, and images, while often dictated by the teacher or “school mistress” can reveal something about the life and times of the person who stitched them. If the stitchers included their name, they will always be remembered! If a sampler is also dated and the place where it was done included, we can learn even more.

The oldest sampler in the Stroud Room was stitched by Jemima Stroud, daughter of Col. Jacob Stroud. She included her name, the date (1809), and where she made it — at Westtown School (she stitched it “Weston”), a well-reputed Quaker School near Philadelphia. According to school records, she attended in 1809, but for only one month. Daniel, Jemima’s brother, sent several of his children to this school. The Stroud boys stayed longer than the girls — from 5 to 12 months.

Jemima’s sampler is plain and stitched with black silk and wool on yellowish-white linen. There are no flowers, trees, or fancy motifs on Jemima’s sampler, but there are six alphabets, A to Z, in different fonts along with two religious verses stitched on the linen bounded by a plain black line border.

The simple design reminds us something about the Stroud family: that Jemima and her brother Daniel chose to become Quakers and were proud to live as “plain folk.” Jemima was born in 1779, so I figured out that she was 30 years old when she completed her sampler.
I was puzzled, since most samplers are done by younger females. I squeaked this question to Agnes, one of the MCHA volunteers who is an expert on local history and needlework, and she answered that Jemima attended Westtown School at an older age because that was when she wanted to learn to live as a Quaker.

Sarah Stroud’s sampler is very fancy compared to Jemima’s. It includes five alphabets, lots of vine and floral borders, sprays of flowers and leaves and a saying, all stitched with polychrome silk on linen:

Give me a calm and thankful heart,
From every murmur free,
The blessings of thy grace impart,
And let me live to thee.

Sarah signed and dated her work 1839 but did not include any place name, which created new mysteries. Since Sarah was a popular name in many generations of the family, which Sarah was she? How was she related to Jacob Stroud?

I was able to confirm that Sarah B. Stroud, born in 1823, was Jacob’s granddaughter. Her father was Jacob’s first son, John, and her mother was Elizabeth DePuy. Now you can figure out how old she was when she stitched the sampler!

But where did Sarah learn to do such beautiful embroidery? Who was her teacher? Now I’m again feeling like a real history detective and anxious to find out more about samplers and other colonial textiles, as well as learn some embroidery stitches myself!blogEntryTopper