Three Samplers: Nancy Graves, Dated 1828, Emily Carter, Dated 1900 and Abbie Ann Carswell, Dated 1857
Three Samplers: Nancy Graves, Dated 1828, Emily Carter, Dated 1900 and Abbie Ann Carswell, Dated 1857




Three Samplers: Nancy Graves, Dated 1828, Emily Carter, Dated 1900 and Abbie Ann Carswell, Dated 1857
The first, a rare needlework sampler, Nancy Graces (Ku-To-Yi) (b. 1817), Cherokee Mission, Dwight, Arkansas, dated 1828. Worked with silk threads on linen in cross-stitches. Inscribed: Let western girls This sampler view/And viewing let them copy too/Learn well to mark the way thats/good/The path to glory and to God/Whatsoever/thy handfinde/th to do do it with/thy might Eccl/Remember thy/Creator in the/days of thy/youth Eccl 12 Wrought by/Nancy Graves/Cherokee Mission School Dwight/Arkansas july. 9./For Mr. Kingsbury. 1828. Schoolmistress: Missionary Ellen Stetson (b. 1783). Some darkening of linen and minor fading. 14 by 14 inches. (24 threads to the inch). The second, a sampler by Emily Carter, dated June 22nd 1900, age 13. 8 by 12 inches. Together with a rare needlework sampler by Abbie Ann Carswell (b. 1845), San Francisco, California, dated 1857. Worked in silk threads on cotton or coarse linen, interwoven with blue warp threads in cross-stitches.  Inscribed: Abbie Ann Carswell nine yrs/old. San Francisco Cal. Union St./Dec 4. 1857. To my Grandma. Done at the Union Street School, at Montgomery and Union Streets, San Francisco. 5 by 14 5/8  inches. (24 threads to the inch). 3 pieces.
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Nancy Graves- The Raymonds, Brimfield, Massachusetts


According to Mary Jaene's research, Nancy Graves' sampler is the earliest surviving Native American sampler yet to be identified.

Exhibited and Literature: LACMA, pp. 149-153, fig. 70; p. 154, fig. 7

As early samplers provide insight into the education for young girls of New England, so this rare sampler establishes without question the existence of schools for girls of American Indian heritage in the southwestern region of the young United States. Dated 1828, it was worked by Nancy Graves at the Cherokee Mission School in Dwight, Arkansas, making it the earliest surviving American Indian sampler yet to be identified. The existence of Nancy's needlework allows us to focus on an aspect of women's education generally overlooked by historians, namely the mission school and missionary schoolmistress, who, in this instance, dedicated at least six years of her life to the welfare and instruction of young Cherokee girls.1 Through her relatively modest, though carefully worked, sampler, Nancy has issued a challenge to her western comrades, "Let western girls This sampler view/And viewing let them copy too." Such was the intent, to promote this wholly foreign schoolgirl art from within a society more accustomed to an entirely different array of crafts. It is, in fact, rather astonishing that the art of inscribing alphabet letters with silk floss on a linen ground ever reached this geographically isolated part of the country. Shortly before 1819, Tol-on-tus-ky,2 chief of the Arkansas Cherokees, visited the well-established mission at Brainard, Georgia. He was immensely impressed by the accomplishments of the missionaries and determined that a settlement and school would vastly improve the lives of his own people, who lived on Illinois Bayou near present-day Russellville.3 Under the direction of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, two ministers of the Congregational Church, Cephas Washburn, from Vermont, and Alfred Finney, his brother-in-law, accompanied by their wives and two young children, left their homes on November 19, 1819. Traveling by wagon, encountering illness and hardship, within a year they had selected a location for the mission, to be named Dwight,4 and succeeded in opening the first school established in Arkansas Terri to ry. 5 The settlement grew rapidly, with a mill dam, grist mill, saw mill, and smokehouse. School instruction began long before the school buildings existed. The only accurate likeness that remains of the village was drawn by missionary Asa Hitchcock, in 1824 (see above).6 The settlement was soon joined by two more competent missionaries, James Orr and Jacob Hitchcock of Massachusetts, and in December 1821, Ellen Stetson, Nancy Brown, and Asa Hitchcock arrived. It was Ellen Stetson who became the schoolmistress, assuming the role of teacher and mother to the Indian girls committed to her care.7 She was one of eleven children born to Thomas and Elizabeth Cook Stetson, of Kingston, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.8 The children were boarded within the compound, taught not only academic subjects but the religious principles of the missionaries. Washburn's plan was to prepare the minds of the children gradually so they would learn to be pleased with industrious habits and active life. By 1822, fifty children were enrolled in classes. Two years later, there were seventy-five or eighty-five students in the mission school, which had acquired a wide reputation for a high quality of instruction.9 The plan for the education of girls included "spinning, weaving, sewing and the various kinds of labor in a well-regulated family."10 Before 1825, missionary teachers at Brainard had introduced marking on linen, that is, samplermaking, as an established branch of the educational program. The following letter was written by Nancy Taylor, one of fourteen students, 11 to an Indian mission pen pal: Having been requested by my Teacher ~Iiss Sawyer, I take my pen to address you. I have been informed that you were one of her scholars, & that you worked a sampler with a very fine border around it. I am learning to mark now, I have not finished marking yet. I was born near Highwassee in a log cabin, & the large tall trees shaded our dweling. But now we live near the Chiccamogga River. There was some bushes. I went under them to cry. But mother would not take me home. And now I do not care about going home. Friday evening all the girls go to bathe. Where we go to bathe is a very pretty place. It is shady-Miss Sawyer sits on a log to see how we swim. The path which leads to the water where we go to bathe on the side is thick with berries. Saturday after washing and ironing and taking a little rest we four girls went to pick black berries for Miss Sawyer and our selvs.12 While reporting on the schools in the summer of 1827, Samuel Worcester wrote to Jeremiah Evarts in Brainard, indicating that a young woman described as being of "half blood" had been registered to enter Dwight Mission school, October 25, 1826. Her name was Ku-to-yi, or Nancy Graves. She was placed in the school's fifth class.13 Convinced that a teacher must possess boundless patience to be an instructor of "children of the forest," Washburn emphasized that teachers must be industrious, noting "every hour not usefully employed is simply thrown away."14 Schoolmistress Ellen Stetson complied by preparing a remarkably detailed and historically important document, a personal characterization of each child under her tutelage (see page 153). At a time when such accounts were seldom recorded, she has listed the names of Nancy's classmates, their dispositions and personalities, ages, the length of time in attendance, and the particular curriculum offered each child. Faced, at times, with parental indifference and students who were naturally unaccustomed to the classroom setting, her impressions are nonetheless filled with hope and promise. The document contributes valuable information, previously unavailable, on these early mission schools. 15 Sister Stetson writes that Nancy Graves was eleven years of age, attending classes half a day, studying reading, spelling, writing, and geography. She is described as being "a good scholar and very amiable. In many accounts the most promising girl in the school." Little is known of Nancy Graves's ancestry, but an anonymous and meticulously detailed journal of the Dwight mission, now in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, reveals the existence of a Thomas Graves who was half-Cherokee and may have been Nancy's father. Described as "an infamous character," Graves was a Cherokee delegate and attended the treaty negotiations in Washington City when it was decided to relocate the tribe to new lands west of Fort Smith, Oklahoma.l6 In order to compensate the tribe for their buildings, roads, and industriously cultivated land, it was necessary for Washburn to give an account of their value. In a letter to the Secretary of War, January 26, 1829, he described the school for girls as being two buildings, one, thirty by twenty-six feet, with four rooms, and a gallery occupied by the girls and the teacher, at $550, the other a framed house, twenty by twenty-four feet, accommodating the classroom, described as being well furnished, at $500. He sadly deplored the fact that the schools would have to close, recognizing that the dedicated work performed by the teaching staff would soon come to nought. 17 It seems necessary to consider the circumstances surrounding the survival of the sampler itself. This, in fact, may be attributed to inspiration alone, for across the bottom of the needlework, in fading cross-stitches, Nancy was instructed to inscribe the words "For Mr. Kingsbury." With this inscription, the sampler became more than an alphabet sampler; it was transformed into a presentation piece-a gift bequeathed to Cyrus Kingsbury of Massachusetts, the first missionary to arrive in Brainard in 1816, and a man greatly admired by the Cherokee Nation.18 When the tribe was forced to move to Oklahoma, it seems possible the sampler was given to one of the retiring missionaries after the mission was abandoned. This token of affection for the beloved Mr. Kingsbury was then carefully glazed and framed probably in Massachusetts. We are exceedingly fortunate that this particular embroidery survived, for it gives us a rare opportunity to study an important, truly American schoolgirl sampler of great historic significance, from a region of our country where education for women has remained largely unexplored.


1. Records reveal that Ellen Stetson arrived at Dwight in 1821; see Dorsey D. Jones, "Cephas Washburn and His Work in Arkansas," Arkansas Historical Quarterly vol. 3, no. 2 (Summer 1944): 131. The latest date recorded on the "teacher's report" appears to be 1827. It is possible that Stetson remained in Dwight, Arkansas, until the tribe, under a new treaty, moved to Fort Smith, Oklahoma, 1828; she may have traveled with them to the new settlement. . 

2. Tol-on-tus-ky is used in some references, Tahlontuskee in others.

3. John L. Ferguson and J. H. Atkinson, Historic Arkansas (Little Rock: Arkansas History Commission, 1966),57-59. 

4. Named in honor of Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University. Dwight deplored the neglect of female education, suggesting it was "high time that women should be considered less as pretty and more as rational and immortal beings" (Ring, Let Virtue Be a Guide to Thee, 7). He felt that children ought to be wise, virtuous, and useful. His strong opinions on education echoed those voiced in 1787 by Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia. Dwight died in 1817. 

5. G. R. Turrentine, Dwight Mission (unpublished manuscript; Arkansas Valley Historical Papers, Russellville, April, 1962) no. 25: 2, 3. See also Jones, "Cephas Washburn," 127, 128. Weak with fever, the missionaries arrived to find ChiefTol-on-tus-ky dead. They at first received a cool reception, but when the Indians understood the nature of their mission, they responded with great enthusiasm, and both missionaries were obliged to stand while each member of the tribe, including the women, greeted them and made them welcome. Turrentine suggests that this was the first PTA meeting ever held in Pope County.

6. Jones, "Cephas Washburn," 130, 132. See also Turrentine, Dwight Mission, 5. 

7. Jones, "Cephas Washburn," 131. Schoolmistress Stetson's name appears under number nineteen on the Dwight plot map. 

8. Family Archive Records, Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT. 

9. Jones, "Cephas Washburn," 130-133. 

10. Ibid., 131. 

11. Dwight il1ission Papers, no. 349 (Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, 1\IA). The girls named in the letter are Nancy Reece, Almira, Eleaner North, Sally Quaqua, Margaret McDonald, Catharine Spear, 1\Iindwel W. Gould, Polly C. Quagua, Lucy A. Cam pel, Sally Reece, Ann Busby, Lucy McPherson, and Lydia Huntly, along with the writer, Nancy Taylor. 

12. Ibid. Miss Sawyer sent the letter to her superior, July 25, 1825, with the following notation: "I send this that you may see for yourself what the girls are doing at Brainard. The little girl, who wrote this is twelve years old-began to write last October." 

13. Dwight Mission Papers, no. 349, and correspondence from 1\felanie Wisner, Houghton Library, Harvard University, February 28,1984. I am indebted to 1\ls. Wisner for her dedicated assistance in interpreting these papers for the research on Nancy Graves. 

14. Jones, "Cephas Washburn," 131, 132. 

15. Dwight Mission Papers, no. 349. 

16. John Lewis Ferguson, "William E. Woodruff and the Territory of Arkansas: 1819-1836" (unpublished manuscript; Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, April 1960), 120, f. 20. Ferguson writes that Graves, who was part-Indian, murdered an Osage woman, with whom he was living, and her child in a "drunken frolick." Legally outside the jurisdiction of federal courts, he was released and compensated in the amount of twelve hundred dollars. "Bro. W.," whose impressions and travels are mentioned in the journal (possibly Samuel Worcester), divulges he had "free conversation with him [Graves] and that he has always been sorry for his crime and that he should not have committed [it] had he not been intoxicated." On a hunting expedition with Graves and several other men one of his sons was captured and killed by members of the Osage tribe, who were recognized by impressions left by the unusually stitched soles of their moccasins. The bloodstained prints left little doubt that his son had been killed. The angry men were stilled by Graves's quiet words and judicious behavior. 

17. Turrentine, "Dwight Mission," 7-9. 

18. Jones, "Cephas Washburn," 125.  



By the middle of the nineteenth century, sampler making was a lost art. Elegant pictorial stitchery on linen, the hallmark of the fashionable boarding school for girls, had become a thing of the past. Even hand sewing, or plain work, was losing ground to the increasingly popular sewing machine. Public schooling for women was widespread, and elementary education was now within reach of most levels of society, even in the far western regions of the United States. This sampler worked by Abbie Ann Carswell in San Francisco in 1857 was part of her needlework instruction at the Union Street School, a public institution located near the intersection of Montgomery and Union streets. Abbie was taught by several public teachers, Lizzie and Kate Kennedy, Hannah Marks, Sarah Loring, L. H. Morgan, E. S. Comyns, and Elizabeth Turner. In 1859, there were 231 children in attendance at the Union Street School, known as a public or common school. Sewing was not listed as part of the curriculum.1 Abbie has dedicated her sampler to her grandmother, who probably did not live in California. Worked on coarse linen, it was woven with a blue warp thread at every tenth row. During this period canvas marked in this practical manner facilitated the counting of threads, a method used for working the colored, paper-charted, ornamental embroidery called Berlin Work. Stylishly fashionable, decorative and garishly colored, Berlin Work was most often stitched with commercially dyed wool threads.2 Abbie Ann Carswell, one of two daughters of John D. Carswell and Mary Ann Stewart, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1845.3 Sometime before 1860, John Carswell, a printer, moved his family to San Francisco, where Mary kept a boarding house at 20 Sansom, on Telegraph Hill, near the Union Street School.4 Abbie Ann Carswell married Herbert Baldwin of Sacramento on July 30, 1868, in the Green Street Chapel in San Francisco.5 


1. San Francisco Municipal Common School Report, 1859-1860,64-66, and Common School Report, 1861-1862,205. With 980 registered students, the average daily attendance at Union School in 1861 was 510, "occasioned by the severe rains of our winter season and by the the very prevalent practice of parents retaining their children at home or in their places of business, to aid them in their work." 

2. S. F. A. Caulfield and Blanche C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework (London: L. Upcott Gill, 1882),89. 

3. Marriage Records, New Hampshire, 1844. See also Federal Census, Concord, New Hampshire, 1850. 

4. San Francisco City Directory, 1869. See also Federal Census, San Francisco, 1860. 

5. San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, July 31,1868, in the Records of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 169.