J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Clues to a Lost Sampler

Boston 1775 reader Judy Cataldo alerted our vast editorial staff to this post at Independent Needlework News, challenging people to find a particular sampler. Heather wrote:

Cynthia Cotten states in her Afterword that Abbie in Stitches was inspired by the story of Patty Polk, whom I wrote about recently in a similar vein, and whom she first read about in a 1921 book by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe called American Samplers which, “…mentioned a sampler stitched around 1800 that said, ‘Patty Polk did this and she hated every stitch she did in it. She loves to read much more.’” Cynthia, too, was, “intrigued by this girl’s outspokenness at a time when most samplers dealt seriously, and often depressingly, with duty and death.”

Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, Cynthia also says, “Nobody I contacted knew the whereabouts of this sampler. Today, many people doubt its existence, saying it might just be a needlework legend.” I choose to believe in certain fairy tales, and if this is one of them, then so be it.

But I have a challenge for you … Help me locate Patty Polk’s sampler. If it ever existed, then it is out there somewhere in some lucky collector’s hands. Let’s find it! Post anything you know about her sampler here!

Here’s what I could find about the Patty Polk sampler. The appendix to American Samplers listed it this way:
Polk, Patty. [Cir. 1800. Kent County, Md.] 10 yrs. 16" x 16". Stem-stitch. Large garland of pinks, roses, passion flowers, nasturtiums, and green leaves; in center, a white tomb with “GW” on it, surrounded by forget-me-nots. “Patty Polk did this and she hated every stitch she did in it. She loves to read much more.”

Mrs. Frederic Tyson
The “GW” on the tomb would appear to refer to the death of George Washington in late 1799, hence the estimated date. That book was published by the Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America, which had solicited information about samplers from antiquarians all over America.

Various Google archives of materials from the Daughters of the American Revolution offer clues to “Mrs. Frederic Tyson” and how she might have known of the sampler. She was Florence McIntyre Tyson, active in the Maryland chapter. According to the D.A.R.’s American Monthly Magazine, she was living at 251 Preston Street West in Baltimore in 1906. Tyson’s mother was Martha E. Polk, and may thus have been related to Patty Polk. Tyson also supplied the description of another sampler credited to Martha Surburough Polk; Patty was a common nickname for Martha.

However, Tyson is also linked to a famously misleading historical document. In 1898, the D.A.R. magazine identified her as the current owner of the earliest copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration, supposedly a source for the Declaration of Independence but actually created decades later out of hazy memories and hopefulness. Thus, Tyson may not have been the best judge of genuine early American artifacts.


Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that after sharing the information that no such sampler has been able to be documented and giving the link to the blog you quoted, that another person popped up to say she was *sure* she had seen said sampler and the original person looking for it posted how pleased she was with that information. Amazing how documentation is overridden by “I think I’ve seen…”

Chole White said...

Ms. Cataldo,

I would suggest that your paraphrase of the discussion on the 18th C. woman's list is not fully accurate. Nowhere was documentation overridden in favor of "I think".

Honestly, since I was the one to start the conversation, and am the one who thinks she saw the piece in a book, I feel a little attacked by the accusation. As can be plainly seen, I strive to document everything that I do. To be accused of setting aside that same documentation feels like a blatant slap in the face.

As it so happens, I am currently re-requesting the over two dozen inter-library loan books that I read in the past month, in hopes of being able to narrow down where I might have seen this piece and settle my own memory. Until then, my 8 year old will be learning to cross stitch by reproducing a piece currently in the Old Sturbridge Village Museum collection, such a reproduction is what I intended when I asked about the "Patty Polk" sampler.

Honestly, though, I do feel a bit disappointed that is entry did not include any new information other than what I had already found in my own web search. I guess you really can't get everything handed to you.

Most sincerely,

Chole Black