This Month in Delaware…

Mary Tatnall sampler
Sampler by Mary Tatnall (DHS collection, gift of Mary Marshall Johnson)

Mary Tatnall marries William Marshall at Wilmington Friends Meeting on August 25, 1757. Both the Tatnalls and Marshalls were prominent local families with a long history in the area. Mary Tatnall (1736-1809) was the eldest child of Edward and Elizabeth (Pennock) Tatnall. Her father had come to Darby, Pennsylvania from Leicestershire, England with his widowed mother in 1725 and eventually settled in Wilmington. Mary’s younger brother, Joseph Tatnall (1740-1813), would go on to become a wealthy and powerful miller, merchant, banker, and key player in the development of Brandywine Village, an early industrial complex on the Brandywine River.  Mary’s husband, William Marshall (1735-1808), the son of William and Elizabeth (Hunt) Marshall of Stanton, also came from a prominent milling family that had been in the area since the late 1600s. William and Mary (Tatnall) Marshall settled in Wilmington and had eight children.

Before marriage and family, however, Mary Tatnall did what most young girls of her time did as part of her overall education: she completed a sampler, which is now part of our collections.  This sampler, the third oldest in our collection, dates to 1755, when Mary was nineteen years old.  Worked in wool on linen, Mary’s design consists of a series of verses separated by bands of stylized geometric and floral motifs that were typical of the period.  The sampler would have shown off her needlework skills, but the choice of verses is also an interesting reflection on the maker herself.

The main verse, embroidered at the top in blue, was originally penned by Thomas Ellwood (1639-1714), an English religious writer, friend of the poet John Milton, and convert to the Quaker faith who had endured persecution for his beliefs: “That mine eye might closed / be to what becomes me not to / see that deafness might possess / mine ear to what concerns me / not to hear that truth my tongue / might always ty from ever speaking foolishly.”

Below the central floral band, Mary Tatnall has excerpted some lines from the hymn Behold the Sons, the Heirs of God by Isaac Watts (1674-1748): “Were we not born for Heavenly joys and shall / we stoop to earthly toys should we be fond of / gay attire which children love and fools admire.” The remaining two verses, “Beauty is a flower that fadeth away but virtue is / a jewel that will never decay” and “When I am dead and buried and all my bones are rotten /When this you see remember me lest I should be forgotten,” appear to be variations on standard aphorisms. Working together, the verses present a picture of a well educated Quaker girl who also possessed the favored qualities of piety, modesty, and general good moral character. The sampler was donated to the Society in 1960 by Mary Tatnall’s great, great granddaughter.


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