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Smallwood, Mary
Place Made:
Midway Liberty County Georgia
Date Made:
silk on linen
Unframed: HOA 15-5/8″; WOA 13-1/2″
Framed: HOA 20-5/16″ WOA 18-1/4″
Accession Number:
MAKER: Mary Smallwood was born in December of 1761 in Midway, Georgia. Her birth, marriage and death are recorded on her sampler and confirmed through the records of Midway Congregational Church. The church recorded that Mary was baptized on January 10, 1762 and that her parents were Matthew Smallwood (c.1724-1772) and Rebecca Sumner (c.1740-<1779). Through her father’s line, Mary’s ancestor arrived on the first ship sent by the Lords Proprietors, "the Carolina", to Charles Town, arriving in 1670. The first Matthew Smallwood (c.1649-1691) to arrive was an indentured servant who quickly elevated his status to planter by 1674. His son, also named Matthew (c.1680-1727), was a well-known merchant and Indian Trader who was scalped near Fort King George in St. John’s Parish, Georgia. It was his son and Mary Smallwood’s father, also named Matthew (c.1724-1772), who purchased land in Georgia and became a part of the Midway Congregational Church. He married Rebecca Sumner in 1760. The Sumner family could claim a lineage among the earliest in America. Mary's Puritan ancestor, Henry Way (1583-1667), from Dorset, England, sailed with his family in 1630 aboard the Mary and John and was an original settler of Dorchester, Massachusetts. By 1695, members of the Way and Sumner families, along with other New England Puritans, decided to relocate to a new settlement seventeen miles outside of Charles Town, South Carolina, which they named, appropriately, Dorchester. By 1750 it became apparent that Dorchester’s land holdings had become too small for their expanding commercial rice production. After Georgia remitted their ban on slavery, the Dorchester Puritans quickly applied for and were granted more than thirty thousand acres of land in St. John’s Parish, Georgia. This small, united congregation relocated their community to Midway, Georgia. Among the original settlers of Midway were members of the Smallwood family and a young Rebecca Sumner. Mary Smallwood is the only known surviving child of Matthew and Rebecca. In August of 1778, at sixteen years old, Mary married Captain Elijah Lewis. It is significant to note that their marriage began during a turbulent time in the midst of the Revolutionary War. The British had a keen interest in the Midway settlement. Two of the three men who signed the Declaration of Independence for Georgia – Button Gwinnett (1735-1777) and Dr. Lyman Hall (1724-1790) – attended the Midway Church. The Battle of Midway Church was fought just a few months after Mary and Elijah’s marriage. On November 27, 1778, the British burned the church, and residents in the area were forced from their homes. Mary Smallwood’s story concludes with black thread on her sampler: “and died 18 of October 1791”. Church records confirm that date. There is no evidence that Mary and Elijah had any surviving children, and it is unknown who completed the account of Mary’s life in silk thread. FORM: Mary Smallwood’s sampler is a rare example of a Ten Commandments, or Tablet Sampler made in the South. Ten Commandment Samplers were depictions of the tablets that Moses delivered to the Israelites as described in the book of Exodus. Also called, the Decalogue, these ten statements are the basic principles of the Lord’s covenant with Israel. Usually worked by young girls with Anglican backgrounds, the origin of tablet samplers can be traced back to England. English tablet samplers are often ornate and intricately stitched examples which typically feature the fundamental catechisms of faith – the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed. These fundamental catechisms were important to the service of infant baptism found in the Anglican church. From the Book of Common Prayer – In the Ministration of Public Baptism of Infants to be Used in the Church, it reads: “And that he may know these things the better, ye shall call upon him to hear Sermons, and chiefly ye shall provide, that he may learn the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health…” Architectural details of early Anglican churches also provide inspiration for these testaments of faith. Plaques or tablets displaying the Ten Commandments were often situated behind the altar and commonly incorporated the Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed. English pattern books such as Batty Langley’s “The City and Country Builders and Workman’s Treasury of Design” published in 1741, depicted the Ten Commandments displayed behind the altar and were influential design sources in England as well as America. These architectural tablets existed in many of the early lowcountry South Carolina Anglican churches in and around Charleston, South Carolina including St. Philip’s Church, St. James in Goose Creek, and St. Andrews Parish Church. DESCRIPTION: Needlework sampler featuring the Ten Commandments in poem form, taken from “A Guide to the English Tongue in Two Parts” by English schoolmaster Rev. Thomas Dyche first published in 1709. The sampler consists of two-ply twisted silk thread on balanced plain weave linen. Stitches: counted cross over 2 x 2 threads, edges turned under twice and hemstitched. The border has a flower and vine or strawberry variation design enclosing two octagonal tablets stitched in blue, cream and brown silk threads. Along the bottom are two stitched buildings (one incomplete) and five stick-like trees. Hearts are stitched between the two tablets. Enclosed within the octagonal tablets the following is stitched: The ten Commandments/I/Adore no other Gods but only me/II/worship not God by anything you see/III/Revere jehovahs name swear not in vain/IV/Let Sabbaths be a rest for beasts and men/V/Honour thy parents to prolong thy days/VI/Thou shalt not kill nor murdring [sic] quarrels raise/VII/Adultery shun in chastity delight/mary smallwood was married to Elijah Lewis 4 of August 1778 And died 18 of October 1791. RELATED OBJECTS: Embroidered Tablet Sampler by Sarah Jones (1756-1804), dated July 1763. Collection of the Telfair Museum of Art, Acc. 1971.4. The Sarah Jones tablet sampler is the earliest known needlework sampler from Georgia. It shares many of the same characteristics as the Mary Smallwood sampler including octagonal tablets enclosing the same Ten Commandments in Verse by Thomas Dyche, the same flower and vine border, and the same unusual stick-like trees.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund