Map of France, Silk Embroidery
Newport, Rhode Island, 1795
An extremely fine and rare silk embroidery made in Newport, Rhode Island, this is entitled, “New Map of France.” It has been highly regarded since 1921 when it was documented and illustrated as Plate XXIX in American Samplers by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eve Johnston Coe, published by The Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America (Boston, 1921).
The maker, Frances Brenton, was born in Newport in 1767, the daughter of Benjamin and Rachael (Cooke) Brenton. Information about this map and its maker are also included in American Colonial Women and Their Art: A Chronological Encyclopedia by Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Rowman & Littlefield (2018), which provides much information about the silk embroidery and Miss Brenton. The date was misread as 1775 in both of these publications; we are certain that it’s actually 1795. When published in American Samplers (1921), it was in the collection of Mrs. Thomas A. Lawton of Rhode Island, a highly respected collector of samplers and silk embroideries, about whom Betty Ring wrote.
Much information about the Brenton family was published in Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, vol III, (Providence: Marshall, Brown & Co, 1825). Frances’ great-great-grandfather, William Brenton (1600-1674), emigrated from Hammersmith, England and was in America by 1634. Brenton owned extensive tracts of land on Rhode Island in Narragansett and other places. He was President of the Colony in 1660-1, Deputy Governor in 1663 and then from 1666 to 1668, served as Governor. Brenton Point State Park in Newport was named for him.
Governor Brenton called the area "Hammersmith," a name which survives today with Hammersmith Farm, an estate on the point later owned by the family of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. She was raised there and her wedding reception to JFK was held there.
Frances Brenton made her silk embroidered map when she was 28 years old and an instructress at the time. She signed and dated it in the little banner along the very bottom, as part of the fine flowering vine that serves as a border. The map depicts 91 departments of France, consistent with those that existed in 1795. All of the lettering and outlines of the departments were executed in extremely fine stitches.
Writing in Let Virtue Be a Guide to Thee Needlework in the Education of Rhode Island Women 1730-1830 (The Rhode Island Historical Society, 1983), Betty Ring provides much information about the generations of the Brenton women of Newport, including Frances and her sisters, Rebecca, Eliza and Sarah. They were involved in teaching between 1793 and 1808. Frances was the eldest and was said to be, “the most beautiful and the most pious; she joined the Moravian church.” She would likely have been a teacher for a few of the early years, as she married in 1796. Betty Ring includes advertisements placed by the Brentons in the Newport Mercury, beginning in 1796.
Frances married a cousin, Captain Silas Brown, the year after she made this embroidery. He was the town clerk of Narragansett and a veteran of the assault on Canada. They had seven children and she died at age 55 in 1822. Many other published sources include information about Frances Brenton and her family, including Thomas Cooke of Rhode Island A Genealogy by Jane Fletcher Fisk (Boxford, Massachusetts, 1987). A substantial file of research and documentation accompanies the silk embroidery.
Worked in silk on silk, it is in excellent condition, conservation mounted into a modern, oval gold frame.
image of plate featuring Frances Brenton's silk embroidery from American Samplers
by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eve Johnston Coe,
published by The Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America (Boston, 1921)