The Sampler Archive Project Kicks Off at the Delaware Historical Society

The Sampler Archive Project Team documenting Mary Tatnall’s sampler

So far, June is shaping up to be a busy month here at the Delaware Historical Society and we have started it on a high note with the kick off of the Sampler Archive Project here in Delaware. This project, a collaboration between the University of Delaware’s WinterthurProgram in American Material Culture, the University of Oregon, and the Sampler Consortium (an international organization of scholars dedicated to the study of samplers and embroideries), aims to locate and document American samplers in public and private collections and create a publicly accessible online database.  Information for the project is being gathered at a series of sampler id days to be held in each state, and (rather appropriately!) Delaware is once again first.  Not only is Delaware the first state to have its samplers documented for the project, the Delaware Historical Society served as the first host venue in the state.  It’s good to be first!

Our sampler documentation event, held at the Delaware History Museum, was a two-day affair.  One day was set aside for the project team to photograph and document the Delaware Historical Society’s sampler collection and the other was for the general public to bring in their own family samplers for inclusion in the project.  Both days were a great success, with thirty-seven of our samplers and twenty-six from the general public being added to the archive.  This was also a great opportunity for us to show off some of our Delaware treasures and share their stories with people who just love samplers.

Sampler by Mary Tatnall

A few stand-out examples from our collection include a 1755 sampler stitched by Mary Tatnall (1736-1809), the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Pennock Tatnall of Wilmington. She married William Marshall in 1757 and they went on to have a large family of eight children.  This sampler came to us from her great-great granddaughter.  Mary’s sampler is in a very good state of preservation and is carefully stitched with geometric floral designs and several short poems with instructive moral themes.

Sampler by Deborah Ferris

Another wonderful Wilmington sampler in our collection was stitched in 1783 by Deborah Ferris (1773-1844), the daughter of cabinetmaker Ziba and Edith Ferris. The Ferris family was prominent in Wilmington and in 1800 Deborah co-founded the Female Benevolent Society, a poor relief group that was one of the earliest charity organizations in the state.  Deborah’s sampler is quite an achievement for a ten-year-old, with nine separate blocks of text with biblical and morally instructive themes in addition to a family genealogy and her letters and numbers.

Sampler by Sally Truitt
Sampler by Margaret Wallace

Our collection also contains two interesting Kent County samplers. One of these pieces, stitched by M. Sarah (Sally) Truitt in 1795, really impressed the documenters with both its fine workmanship and excellent original condition. Sally Truitt (1780-1803) was the daughter of George and Margaret Hodgson Truitt of Camden. Her father was the 18th Governor of Delaware from 1808-11. Sally married James H. Fisher in 1801 and died in 1803, shortly after the birth of her second child.  Our other, somewhat plainer, Kent county sampler also hails from Camden, and was stitched in 1824 by Margaret Wallace, a young Quaker girl who learned her sewing skills at the Quaker Academy in the meetinghouse in Camden.

We are very proud to have been able to contribute to this project and look forward to seeing the Sampler Archive Project’s database up and running in early 2014. The project will also be holding additional documentation days in Kent and Sussex counties over the summer.   In the meantime, if you just can’t wait to discover more about our fascinating sampler collection, we invite you to visit our online catalogue.


One thought on “The Sampler Archive Project Kicks Off at the Delaware Historical Society

  1. The Sampler Archive Project’s Delaware Sampler ID Days could not have had a better venue for its very first documentation event than the Delaware Historical Society! Many thanks to all who brought samplers to the event, and who volunteered time for training and documentation (not to mention those who baked home-made goodies for the crew!) We stand in debt of the good-natured assistance and ideas from Jennifer Potts, Curator of Objects for the DHS staff. Jennifer helped work out all the little details that make an event like this work — and Jennifer also brought from storage all the fabulous DHS samplers for documentation and photography. Special thanks too for Facilities Associate Thomas Jones whose assistance also helped make the day a success (we certainly did appreciate having all those tables to work on, Thomas and Jen!) — Pat Keller

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