A highly regarded group of samplers was made under the instruction of Elizabeth Passmore, a teacher in East Goshen Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Worked in the 1820s, these are large, praiseworthy samplers, beautifully designed and executed with great skill. Many different stitches and techniques were employed by these makers and some of their samplers retain their original, extravagant silk ribbon borders with rosette corners. Betty Ring, writing in Girlhood Embroidery, Vol. II, (Knopf, New York, 1993) describes the Passmore School samplers and illustrates as figure 442 one made by Mary H. Garrett, also in 1820. Mary and our Sarah James must have been classmates and their stellar samplers are greatly similar. Mrs. Ring refers to our Sarah H. James sampler specifically and knew of it from an early publication, American Needlework, by Georgiana Brown Harbeson (Bonanza Books, New York, 1938), where it was illustrated opposite page 52. The sampler was then in the well-respected collection of Mrs. Francis Brinton, and the published description of it is flattering and extensive, providing the basis for information about Elizabeth Passmore as a teacher.
One of the most notable characteristics of samplers made at the school is that within the listing of names of family members, the names of those who were deceased at the time were worked in white stiches with individually stitched black surrounds; this seems to have originated with the Passmore School. The overall composition and specifically the hilly lawn with a willow tree at center and French-knotted lambs, rabbits and large berry bushes are also signatures of this instructress. Some of the samplermakers who attended Miss Passmore’s school surrounded their inscriptions with a fine wreath of grape bunches and leaves and Sarah James’ version is particularly good. In her writings, Mrs. Harbeson describes this sampler as “an ambitious work in a jolly and decorative sampler.” We have handled other Passmore School samplers in the past and are delighted to be able to offer this outstanding example.
Born on July 2, 1805, Sarah was the daughter of Aaron and Mary (Mercer) James, residents of Westtown, Chester County. As stitched on her sampler, her grandparents were Caleb and Mary James and Thomas and Jane Mercer. Sarah was one of eleven children, five of whom had died by 1820, as we can tell from their names on her sampler.
Sarah married Francis James (different families) on September 7, 1826 and they lived in West Chester. Francis James (1799-1886) was a lawyer, elected in 1834 to the State Senate, later serving as well in Congress. In History of Chester County, Pennsylvania with Genealogical and Biographical Sketches, by Futhey and Cope (Philadelphia, 1881), Francis James was noted for his strong anti-slavery position and described as, “a venerable gentleman, dignified, courteous, and modest.” Portraits painted of Sarah and Francis James by C. Burton and by John F. Francis are in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society. Sarah and Francis had one child, a daughter Anna M. James. Sarah died in 1870 and Francis in 1886.
Worked in silk on linen and retaining its original fine silk ribbon edging, the sampler is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in a mahogany frame.