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1809 Map Sampler

Sampler embroidered by Cecilia Lewis at a boarding school in 1809.
(Museum object #1984.294.1)

Cecilia Lewis of Flushing, New York made this map sampler when she was a school girl of eighteen. On her embroidered map of the United States she carefully documented the states and large bodies of water, as well as the "wilderness" to the west which she identified by the names of the Native Americans who lived there. Eventually she would move to Wisconsin, which according to her map was the land of Chippewas and Outagamies. When she moved, Cecilia brought the sampler she made as a young woman with her, probably as a memento of the life she left behind.

From the seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century girls between the ages of 8 and 13 created samplers as a way to learn the many different stitches and decorative embellishments they would later need as their family's seamstresses. This skill was an important one to master, and schools for young women usually included it in their curriculum. Parents would then have the finished masterpieces framed and hung on the parlor walls, supposedly to advertise the girl's abilities to potential suitors. Cecilia's unusually advanced age made it possible for her to create a sophisticated piece with luxurious materials and challenging subject matter, expertly illustrating her well-trained and superior talent with needle and thread.

Cecilia had been born January 12, 1791 in Flushing on Long Island, the child of Francis and Elizabeth Lewis. Relatively prosperous, the Lewises could afford to give their daughter a good education, and they did so by sending her to a boarding school up the Hudson River at Pleasant Valley, near Poughkeepsie. Three women, Ann Shipley, Phoebe Shipley and Agnes Dean, ran the school, which they had opened in 1803. On June 1 of that year, the women placed an advertisement in the Poughkeepsie & Constitutional Republican announcing that pupils would be offered instruction in "most kind of Needle Work..." including "working maps" (i.e. maps "worked" or embroidered). Like many other teachers of this time, the Shipleys and Dean probably found map samplers an excellent way to teach both geography and needlework in combination.

Map samplers from the Boarding School at Pleasant Valley that survive today are fairly distinctive and share many of the same characteristics. Specifically these maps worked on ivory silk have their states or countries outlined in couched silk chenille, lettering done in hair-fine black silk thread, bodies of water tinged with blue paint, and a cartouche in one corner with the maker's name and the date. All of these features can be found on the Lewis sampler.

Cecilia met her future husband Samuel Carman, a physician, while attending school at Pleasant Valley and the couple married on March 3, 1818. The Carmans moved to Madison, Wisconsin with two daughters, Sarah and Cecilia, and son, Foreman, sometime between 1850, when United States census recorded them living in Ridgeway, New York, and 1854, when they appeared on the membership list for Madison's First Congregational Church.

The value of this particular sampler cannot be judged solely by the technical skill of the young Cecilia Lewis, but also by the apparent value to the Carman family. Cecilia lived only a short while in Madison, passing away on December 12, 1855. Yet her sampler meant enough to the family to be passed down through three generations in Madison until the great-granddaughter of Cecilia (Lewis) Carman, Alice (Palmer) Washington, graciously donated this exceptional treasure to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1984.

[Sources: Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery, Volume II (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), pp. 312-316; correspondence between Patty Carman and WHS Museum staff, February 2008.]


Posted on June 14, 2007

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