Mary Lancaster,

Mary Lancaster,

Westtown School Darning Sampler,
Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1815

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sampler size: 10¾” square • framed size: 14¼” • price: $5600

Highly distinctive and appealing Quaker samplers were made at the Westtown School in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which was founded as a Friends boarding school in 1799 and is still thriving today, located on the same historic campus. Thousands of Quaker children were educated there in the early years of the 19th century. For many years, female students followed practically the same curriculum as male students with the addition of needlework lessons, which were taught for two weeks of a six week period. The various types of Westtown School samplers are marking, extract verse, motif, intricate geometric medallion and darning. Mary Lancaster’s darning sampler is a fine and classic example, with seven carefully worked patterned squares. Darning was an exercise in utilitarian sewing –replicating specific weave patterns to repair clothing and household textiles, which were quite valuable at that time. The center square, as is generally the case on Westtown darning samplers, simulates knitting while the other six squares are patterns that were taught at Westtown, and which have been identified by textile conservator, Virginia Jarvis Whelan.

We are all fortunate to be able to turn tothe excellent book,Threads of Useful Learning Westtown School Samplers (Westtown School, West Chester, Pennsylvania, 2015), the definitive book about Westtown School samplers, written by Mary Uhl Brooks, the long-term Westtown School archivist. Regarding Mary Lancaster specifically, Mrs. Brooks informs us that she was admitted to the school on January 4, 1815 at age 18, as scholar #1315 and remained there for a year.

Mary was born on January 19, 1796 to Thomas and Ann (Knowles) Lancaster who were married in 1782 at Falls Monthly Meeting, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1782. The Lancaster Family: A History of Thomas and Phebe Lancaster of Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Their Descendants from 1711 to 1902 by Harry Fred Lancaster (Indiana, 1902) chronicles this family. Mary was their fourth child; her younger sister, Letitia Lancaster (born 1799) attended Westtown School, as well.

A month after Mary completed her education at Westtown, she married Charles Foulke Jenkins (1793-1867). He was a prominent merchant in Gwynedd who also held many positions of leadership in the area: director of public schools, secretary of the Bethlehem turnpike, director of the Bank of Montgomery County and of the Montgomery Mutual Fire Insurance Company. They became the parents of seven children. Mary died in 1876 and is buried at the Gwynedd Friends Cemetery.

The sampler was worked in linen and silk on linen and is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in a figured maple frame with a black painted outer bead. 

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