Woodbridge Family Register Sampler,
East Hartford, Connecticut, circa 1768
The 2010 exhibition at the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family 1740-1840, curated by Susan P. Schoelwer, then the Historical Society’s director, was an outstanding one. It was comprehensive and scholarly, as well as an impressive visual treat. The accompanying book of the same title is highly important and will set the standard for many years to come. The published synopsis of the book states, “Connecticut women have long been noted for their creation of colorful and distinctive needlework, including samplers and family registers, bed rugs and memorial pictures, crewel-embroidered bed hangings and garments, silk-embroidered pictures of classical or religious scenes, quilted petticoats and bedcovers, and whitework dresses and linens. This volume offers the first regional study, encompassing the full range of needle arts produced prior to 1840. Seventy entries showcase more than one hundred fascinating examples--many never before published--from the Connecticut Historical Society's extensive collection of this early American art form.”
A small, solidly stitched family register sampler made by Mary Bidwell circa 1762 is the earliest sampler chosen by Dr. Schoelwer and published as figure 17 in this book. Writing about the Bidwell sampler, Dr. Schoelwer states, “This example of a needlework family register pre-dates, by over a decade, the earliest previously recorded American example (from the Olmstead family, also from the eastern section of Hartford). It was not until after the Revolutionary War that needlework family registers appeared with any regularity, and the real boom in popularity didn’t occur until the 1820s. By 1765, some founding families could count as many as seven generations in Connecticut, and they were proud to record and display their places in that lineage.”
Our Woodbridge family sampler, a recent discovery, displays precisely the same features as the Mary Bidwell example – many letter-perfect lines of uppercase text surrounded by a chain-like, geometric border with all of the ground fabric covered in tight cross-stitches. The samplermakers seem to have used the rhythmic stating of family information to perfect their skill in the needle arts.
The Woodbridge family in America began when Oxford educated Rev. John Woodbridge (1613-1691) arrived in 1634. Five years later he married Mercy Dudley, daughter of Thomas Dudley, Governor of Massachusetts Colony. His great-grandson was Russell Woodbridge, born 1719, as stitched on the first line of this sampler. Russell Woodbridge lived in East Hartford, Connecticut where the family had lived since his father, Rev. Samuel Woodbridge (1683-1746), was ordained as the first minister of the East Hartford Church in 1705, shortly after he matriculated from Harvard College in 1701. Many published sources provide information about the family. Russell was a Representative to the General Assembly and considered a very prominent citizen. He married Anna Olmsted in 1741 and they became the parents of nine children, as indicated on this sampler. It was most likely either Lucretia (born 1753) or Mary (born 1755) who made this sampler. Interestingly, the family descended from royalty in Europe, both Henry I, King of France, and Edward III, King of England, as published in various sources including Americans of Royal Descent Collection of Genealogies Showing the Lineal Descent from Kings of Some American Families by Charles H. Browning (Baltimore, 1986). We are pleased to have acquired this rare sampler that brings to light the story of the Woodbridge family.
Worked in silk on linen, the sampler is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in a fine period frame.