HISTORY: This family record sampler is the earliest documented Quaker needlework from the South. Most likely made by Eliza M. Ricks (1788-1850) between 1802 and 1805, it clearly states the geneology of the family of Robert Ricks (1746-1831) and his wife, Ann Pretlow Ricks (1758-1814). This well documented family were prominent members of the Black Water and later, the Western Branch Monthly Meeting in Southampton County, Virginia. With other Quaker children from southeastern Virginia, Eliza Ricks attended from 1801 to 1802 the Southern Boarding School, a Quaker school in Kent County, Delaware. The Ricks family register sampler closely resembles many of the samplers made at the Southern Boarding School, however it is inscribed “Richmond Academy.” Eliza and her younger sister, Ann, probaby attended this school in Richmond after 1802.
On May 14, 1807, Eliza Ricks married James Wilson, a non-Quaker and slave owner who lived at Mantura Plantation in Surry County, near Bacon’s Castle. For this she was disowned by the Quakers, but not her family. The Wilsons are listed in the 1820 census for Surry County, Virginia, owning 40 slaves, and 56 slaves in 1830. They were both alive when the 1850 census was taken listing James, 74, and Eliza M. Wilson, 68.
Eliza’s sister, Ann Ricks (1790-1850) married in 1813 James Winston (1791-1859), a son of Quakers George and Judith Winston of Richmond. George Winston was a well-known builder in Richmond and a strong opponent of slavery who trained several free black apprentices for the construction business.
This sampler is part of a distinctive tradition of needlework that came from Quaker communities and were prolific in the North, particularly in Pennsylvania. Quaker ideals produced an emphasis on family and separate education and because of this their schools and academies flourished.
This sampler may have been made in stages, with different dark brown and black silk threads used. The single adornment to this sampler is the simple sprig of flowers which is an identifiable Quaker motif. According to Betty Ring, “the most commonly found Quaker motifs are cross-stitched sprays or sprigs of flowers.”
In direct relationship to this sampler is the “Courtland Room” at MESDA. Built by master builder Edmond Godwin between 1803 and1810 for Eliza’s father, Robert Ricks, this woodwork occupied the northern first floor room of the house and is where Eliza’s needlework is displayed, depicting the names and geneology of the family that lived there.