Mary Ann Downing,

Mary Ann Downing,

Uwchlan Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1832

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sampler size: 18” x 21¼” • framed size: 23¼” x 26½” • sold

The 1830s was a decade in which many well-educated young Chester County needleworkers worked large beautifully composed samplers with strong Quaker motifs and other distinctive characteristics. Some of the regional traits that appear on these samplers are stylized floral sprays, block letter alphabets, octagonal surround with pairs of birds and aphorisms such as, “An Emblem of Love,” and the initials of family members, all surrounded by elaborate border vines including a centered bellflower. Mary Ann Downing’s sampler is an excellent example of this type, closely resembling two samplers made by the Walker sisters and in the collection of Chester County Historical Society. The scale is generous and the workmanship is fine throughout.

The Downing family, Quakers from England, settled in Chester County by 1691 and founded Downingtown, which remains an historic town with log structures and an early Friends meetinghouse. Mary Ann was born there in 1822, the last of the six children of a farmer, Joseph Downing, and his wife Elizabeth (Beitler) Downing. Sadly, Joseph died six months before the birth of Mary Ann and Elizabeth later remarried Benjamin Riter, a weaver. According to Quaker records, Mary Ann married Morgan Rees Lewis (1814-1894), also a Quaker from Chester County, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1845, when she was 23. 

During the 1840s the extended family, which included Mary Ann’s mother, step-father, many siblings as well as Mary Ann and her husband, joined the Mormon Church, then a fledgling religion attracting many converts, and they removed to Nauvoo, Illinois, to join the utopian Mormon community that had been established by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other church leaders. By 1845, the population of Nauvoo was over 11,000 with many industrious craftsmen and hard-working citizens contributing to this flourishing town on the frontier. Mary Ann and Morgan became the parents of 8 children and the family remained in Nauvoo, where Morgan was recorded as an elder in the Mormon Church in 1871. Mary Ann died there in 1875 and is buried in the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds. 

Her sampler remained in Nauvoo where it descended in her family for over a century and a half. With its classic Quaker origins and later Mormon history, this sampler tells a fascinating story. 

Worked in silk on linen, the sampler is in excellent condition and has been conservation mounted in its fine original mahogany veneer frame.

(Photo of gravesite)




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