This needlework sampler stitched by Hannah Richards Child in 1827 memorializes the family of Daniel and Rebecca Richards Child of West Roxbury and Newton, Massachusetts.
While most people are familiar with published family genealogies and manuscript lists of ancestors in musty family Bibles, genealogy also played a starring role in the decorative arts. One of the most interesting is the family record sampler, which first appeared in the late 18th century and reached its peak of popularity between 1820 and 1830, particularly in New England. Whereas girls of a previous generation might have expressed their family pride by stitching an elaborate coat of arms, as Sally Cobb Paine did in the 1760s, by the turn of the century, girls stitched records that were less formal and more focused on recording their own family unit. As Peter Benes notes, family unity in these records was demonstrated in a common and easily understood visual vocabulary, “by interlocking chains, by adjacent circles, by standing architectural structures, and by planted grids or ‘fields’ of names.”
Hannah Richards Child’s 1827 family record sampler contains elements of Benes’s formula. Strong twin pillars enclose the family’s names within, crowned with an arch and the phrase “Lo Children are an heritage of Gd,” from Psalms 127:3, which continues “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Hannah’s choice of psalm serves as both an affirmation of her strong religious faith and a loving tribute to her father. After her mother Rebecca died in 1826, Hannah—according to her own obituary—"had devoted herself assiduously to her surviving parent, consoling him under many trials, through which he has recently been called to pass, and directing his house with a degree of judgment, prudence, and affection that are seldom equalled.”
Within the pillars, Hannah recorded the names and birthdates for herself and her 11 siblings, although by the time she stitched her family register, three of her siblings and her mother had died. Two names are repeated on the list—Isaac and Hannah. At the time, child mortality was not uncommon and when a child died, the next child of the same sex would sometimes be named for his or her predecessor, often within the same year. This occurred twice in the Child family. The first Hannah was born in 1794 and stitched her own sampler in 1805, four years before her death in January of 1809 at the age of 14. Our sampler maker, born later that year, was christened Hannah, a name that proved unlucky for her as well. Four years after stitching this sampler, Hannah Richards Child met a tragic end and was glowingly eulogized in the 13 April 1831 edition of the Columbian Centinel:
Died, in Newton, on the 5th inst. Miss Hannah R. child, aged 22, youngest daughter of Mr. Daniel Child. The sudden death of this young woman, together with the distressing circumstances of it, has cast a gloom over the whole neighbourhood. To see one, thus lovely and excellent, at one moment in perfect health, and, at the next, torn from us by death in one of its most heart-rending forms, is truly distressing. In the afternoon of that day, her aged father left his home to be present at an examination of a neighbouring school. On his return, about five o’clock, finding her not in the house, and having waited a short time, in momentary expectation of her return he became alarmed. The neighbours were assembled, and search was made. At 8 o’clock in the evening, her remains were found at the bottom of the well, near the house. It appears that she had gone to the well for water; and that, in reaching over the curb, to lift out the bucket, she was precipitated to the bottom of the well, that was twenty-five feet deep, with fourteen feet of water. Medical aid was at hand, and every effort made to rekindle the spark of life; but it was quenched.
The scene presented by this event was heart-rending to those who witnessed it. For several years since the death of her mother, this affectionate daughter had devoted herself assiduously to her surviving parent, consoling him under many trials, through which he has recently been called to pass, and directing his house with a degree of judgment, prudence, and affection that are seldom equalled. To see this old man, in the increasing alarm for his daughter’s safety, in the apprehension for her fate, that became more dreadful with every moment’s delay, and the yet evident fear to know the worst, and at last in the agonies of despair, when he saw that she was dead, must have touched every heart that was not itself dead to feeling. To her father no blow could be more painful, to her brother and sisters none more severe—by the circle—the large circle—of her friends, none more sensibly felt. The void that this death has left in society will not be easily filled. But all her friends have the consolations that spring from their religious convictions and hopes, and the beauty and excellence of her character. We bow before the mysterious movements of God’s holy providence, and hope and trust that such as may have been influenced by her example to follow in her steps, may hereafter be united with her in the rewards which have been graciously set before our hopes, as motives to virtue, in the gospel in which the deceased trusted till her death, and which she adorned in her life.
The samplers worked by both Hannah Child and Hannah Richard Child were given to the Massachusetts Historical Society along with the papers of their brother John Richards Child.
The Society also holds the papers of their brother Daniel Franklin Child.
The MHS also owns a family record sampler by Sally Whitcomb of Randolph, Mass., ca. 1809.
Benes, Peter. “Decorated New England Family Registers, 1770 to 1850,” in The Art of Family: Genealogical Artifacts in New England Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002.
Child, Elias. Genealogy of the Child, Childs and Childe Families Utica, N.Y.: Curtiss & Childs, 1881.
Huber, Stephen and Carol Huber. Samplers: How to Compare and Value London: Octopus Publishing Group, 2002.
Ring, Betty. Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework 1650-1850 New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.