American Samplers

American Samplers

America is a land of immigrants, and sampler making traditions have traveled to this country in the heads, hearts, and hands of women from all parts of the world. Earliest, and most obvious, is the influence of English sampler making traditions. By the middle of the 18th century, however, uniquely American traditions had begun to emerge, in response to a more diverse group of immigrants and a developing sense of national identity. Regional differences also emerged, leading historians to document the distinguishing features of samplers from specific parts of the country, specific states, and even specific towns and schools. In this exhibit are examples of three influences on American girls' education, and thus their samplers: a specific teacher (Westfield Samplers); a national fashion (Family Record Samplers); and a religion (Quaker Samplers).

Anna Parker, 1811

Silk thread on linen
5" H x 4.5" W
Benton County Historical Society Collection

Anna Parker was born August 12, 1798 in Southborough, Massachusetts. She stitched her simple alphabet sampler in 1811 when she was 12 years old.

Dolly Parker, 1824

Silk thread on linen
15.5"x15.5"
Benton County Historical Society Collection

Dolly Parker was born February 5, 1814 in Southborough, Massachusetts. She stitched her sampler in 1824 when she was 10 years old. The donor indicated that Dolly may have owned or managed a store selling ladies' accessories prior to her death in 1838.

A chartpak for this sampler is available for sale from Eileen Cross.

Parker Family Samplers

It is rare to have more than one sampler from the same family. The Benton County Museum has the good fortune to own two samplers from the Benjamin Parker family of Southborough, MA, stitched by stepsisters Anna and Dolly Parker. The samplers were donated to the museum by descendants of Dolly's brother, having been in their possession for more than 125 years and traveled more than 3230 miles.

Captain Benjamin Parker and his family lived in Southborough, Massachusetts, a small rural town 28 miles directly west of Boston. Southborough was first settled in 1660 and officially incorporated in 1727. At the time that Anna and Dolly Parker stitched their samplers, the Southborough community was largely agricultural with most families living on a farm, including the Parkers. A variety of mill industries had begun to tap into tributaries of the Sudbury River, including Stony Brook that ran through Southborough. At first these mills were largely sawmills and gristmills. By the middle of the 19th century, however, the town was home to numerous manufacturing industries making plaster, shoes and boots, fabric for clothing, and woolen blankets.

In an early history of Southborough, Peter Fay (1888) described the "old brick school-house" he attended as a child and aspects of the education available to local boys and girls. He is often quite descriptive, even to the point of mentioning that the schoolroom windows only opened "three inches at the top". Peter Fay was born in 1807 and so undoubtedly knew both Anna and Dolly Parker and Dolly may have been one of the young girls dressed in "a sort of linsey-woolsey, some calico, but very light under-clothing" who would nonetheless "go through snow-drifts from two to three feet deep". Fay also describes the colorful characters chosen to teach in the local school, and some of the curriculum, but does not mention needlework instruction or the making of samplers. Fay deemed the educational circumstances somewhat "barbaric", as the building did not have either a woodshed or a "privy" until 1822.

The samplers stitched by Anna and Dolly Parker traveled to Oregon some time between 1910 and 1920 in the possession of their niece Ellen M. (Parker) Plympton, youngest daughter of Dolly's brother Blake Parker. The samplers were donated to the museum in the late 1960s by her daughters, Alice B. Plympton (b. 1887) and Ruth Whitcomb (b. 1889), along with many other family heirlooms.

Sampler by Sally Noble

Sally Noble, 1798

Materials: Silk on line"
Dimensions: 10" H x 8.75" W
Stitches: Cross, satin, stem
Collection of the Bush House Museum, Salem, Oregon

Sarah (Sally) Noble was born January 13, 1785, in Westfield, Massachusetts. Westfield is a small town in Hampden County in the Connecticut River Valley, approximately 10 miles directly west of Springfield, Massachusetts. From its founding in 1669 until 1725, Westfield was the westernmost settlement in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Sally was the sixth child of Asa and Rhoda (Fowler) Noble. Ancestors of both parents had been in the American colonies since the 1600s, and Sally's mother was descended from Peter Brown, a passenger on the Mayflower. During the American Revolution, Sally's father had served as a corporal.

Sally stitched her sampler in 1798 when she was 12 years old. Its major components include a single alphabet, the numbers 1-5, three stylized flower motifs, and a signature. On three sides there is a double border of satin stitches in a saw tooth pattern and flowers in a zigzag arcade. What is most unusual in this sampler is the way the entire background is covered in stitches, offering a high level of contrast and visual appeal. Sally's sampler is one of at least ten distinctive samplers stitched in Westfield toward the end of the 18th century. Their similarities strongly suggest they were stitched under the instruction of the same teacher.

On March 13, 1814, at the age of 29, Sally married Asahel Bush (b. 1788) son of Aaron and Martha (Judd) Bush, also of Westfield. Sally and Asahel remained in Westfield all their lives and had six children: Luke (b. 1814); Mary (b. 1816); Amelia (b. 1818); Seth (b. 1820); Asahel II (b. 1824); and Edmund (b. 1829). Sally died June 3, 1863 at the age of 78.

Their fifth child, Asahel Bush II traveled to Oregon in 1850 at the age of 26, settling in Salem by 1853. Asahel Bush II became a successful and wealthy publisher, banker, and politician. In 1878 he built and moved into a new 12-room home on Mission Street in Salem. He was a widower with four children, two of whom were in the East finishing their education. Bush's second daughter Sally, named for her grandmother, moved into the home after completing her education and remained there the rest of her life. She is remembered for her love of gardens, devotion to animals, and assistance to families in need. The Bush family home became the Bush House Museum in 1953. Sally Noble's sampler in on long-term loan to the museum from the estate of Samuel Bush, the great-great-great grandson of Asahel I and Sarah (Noble) Bush.