Polley Bowman,

Polley Bowman,

Billerica or Bedford,
Massachusetts, circa 1791

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sampler size: 12½” x 7½” • framed size: 14¾” x 9¾” • sold

This wonderful sampler offers strong appeal on many levels – the maker identified it with her specific birthdate and age, the needlework is excellent with the back of the sampler (see image below) absolutely as neat and pristine as the front, and the band format is enhanced by a pictorial register at the bottom. Most unusual is the very specific inclusion of the Spies of Canaan, from an Old Testament biblical story; they are Caleb and Joshua, as identified by their initials (the letter “I” was used in the 18th century for the letter “J”).

The sampler is inscribed, “Polley Bowman born December the 17 1779 aged 11 years.” The Bowman family in America began with Nathaniel Bowman (1605-1681), who emigrated to the Massachusetts colony from England in 1630, settling initially in Watertown then removing to Cambridge with his wife Hannah Smith in 1651. Six generations later, Polley was born, as she stitched on December 17, 1779, according to History of Billerica Massachusetts with a Genealogical Register by Rev. Henry A. Hazen (A. Williams and Co. Boston, 1883). Her birth was also published in Bedford Births, vital records. She was the third of eight children of Abel and Lucy (Needham) Bowman. Abel (1747-1822) and Lucy (1751-1826) were married in 1775, in Bedford, Massachusetts. Some records show that Polley died on February 28, 1826.

Throughout the 18th century, many samplermakers in northern Europe included depictions of the Spies of Canaan on their samplers - Caleb and Joshua who were sent to the promised land and returned carrying a bunch of grapes between them. While Polley depicted them in their classic posture, they are without the grapes. Interestingly, the Spies of Canaan appear only very rarely on American samplers.

The sampler was worked in silk on linen and remains in excellent condition, retaining its original color. It has been conservation mounted into a fine early frame with yellow paint and finish.

(image of the reverse)

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