Rebaccah Claypoole, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1739
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1739
Philadelphia, in the second quarter of the 18th century, was a city coming into its own, with prosperous craftsmen, sea captains, merchants and their families living in brick houses nearby the Delaware River. Additionally, education was important to this population. Benjamin Franklin, when writing about the 1730s, said that it had been the time “to cultivate the finer arts, and improve the common stock of knowledge." Girls as well as boys were educated, and needlework was an important part of the girls’ curriculum.
There exist a number of samplers, all exhibiting extremely fine composition and execution, known to have been worked by daughters of the city’s prominent citizens in the second quarter of the 18th century. Some of these girls attended the well-known schools of Elizabeth and Ann Marsh. Research is currently being conducted into the equally outstanding samplers made at schools other than those of the Marsh mother and daughter, and one very small group to emerge includes our extraordinary sampler made by Rebaccah Claypoole. In both verse and inscription, the maker informs us that she worked this sampler in 1739 when she was nine years old, in Philadelphia. The verse, worked inside the rectangular frame near the bottom, is a classic one in which the samplermaker identifies her country as England and her city as Philadelphia. The inscription below that, worked in pale beige silk, reads, “RC her sampler aged 9 years 1739.”
Much of the very fine needlework and specific designs of the motifs, bands and borders is greatly similar to that of Elizabeth Marsh school samplers, but the inclusion of the Spies of Canaan, the two figures holding a huge bunch of grapes, would not likely appear on samplers worked under Elizabeth Marsh, who was a Quaker. Our Claypoole sampler shares many characteristics, including the Spies of Canaan, with a sampler made by Cathrine Parry, also in Philadelphia and in 1739 (a photo of this is in the archives of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts).
The Claypoole family in Pennsylvania originated with James Claypoole who was born in England in 1634 and lived much of his life in London, a prominent and successful merchant. The Claypoole Family in America, vol. I (Indiana, PA, 1971) quotes a 1952 article written about James Claypoole, stating that he was a Quaker and one of William Penn’s largest backers, purchasing 5000 acres of land directly from Penn. Claypoole, with his wife and children, sailed to Philadelphia on the ship Concord, arriving on October 6, 1683. The next spring the first brick house in the city was built for the Claypoole family. Rebaccah Claypoole is a great-granddaughter of James Claypoole, born on July 1, 1730, as the oldest child of George and Hannah Claypoole. George Claypoole (1706-1770) was one of the city’s most significant and successful cabinetmakers, and the furniture produced in his cabinet shop is greatly revered today.
At some point between generations, the Claypoole family left the Quaker church, and when Rebaccah married in 1752 it was at Christ Church, the prominent Episcopalian church established in Philadelphia in 1695. Her husband was William Fisher Conwell who was born circa 1732 in Lewestown, Delaware. The family seems to have lived in South Carolina and Delaware.
The sampler was worked in silk on fine wool and is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in an 18th century frame.