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Cabell, Sarah Carrington
Place Made:
Nelson County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
silk on linen
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Sampler with a Greek key border, three undulating floral band patterns of different sizes, ten alphabet and three number sequences, a verse, and the bottom inscription, “Sarah Cabell wrought this Sampler in the tenth year of her Age. June 17th 1805.”

Highly unusual to this Virginia sampler are the ligatures seen at the end of the alphabets under the largest floral pattern band. Ligatures are two or more letters combined into one character – fi, fl, fh, fk. They were often stitched on samplers from Quaker schools in England and Ireland in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as the Ackworth School and the York School, and later at the Quaker Westtown School in Pennsylvania.

The verse: “What e’er your age would reap, your youth should sew. For the great seed time of your life is now.” Based on the Biblical principles of reaping and sowing, Sarah cleverly uses a play on words with the homonym, “sew/sow”.

MAKER: Sarah Carrington Cabell (1795-1831) was the youngest daughter of Colonel William Cabell, Jr. (1759-1822) and his wife, Anne Carrington (1760-1838), of Union Hill Plantation in Nelson County, Virginia. In 1826, Sarah married Dr. Thomas Massie (1783-1864).

TEACHER: The MESDA Object Database documents two closely related samplers made in 1803 by Cynthia Cloyd (1785-1830) of Rockbridge County, Virginia, and in 1813 by Elizabeth Hare Cabell (1803-1822), Sarah’s second cousin, at Liberty Hall Plantation in Nelson County, Virginia (see MESDA Object Database S-6334, S-8595). The common features among the three samplers suggest a needlework teacher who was active in Virginia from roughly 1800 to 1815. Surviving Cabell family papers document a woman named Sarah Douthat as the private teacher at Union Hill Plantation when Sarah Cabell’s sampler was stitched. Douthat had ties to Staunton, Virginia, and must have worked in neighboring Rockbridge County before coming to Union Hill. William Cabell, Jr. agreed to pay Douthat 30 pounds per year and his account with merchants S.W. and W.L. Venable on June 24, 1805 included payments for “Embraudry Silk,” just one week after Sarah’s sampler was completed.

Two 1805 and 1806 letters from Miss Sarah Douthat to Mrs. Margaret (Venable) Cabell (1782-1857) document exchanging bundles of silk thread with Union Hill and Liberty Hall, and by December of 1805 Douthat was engaged to teach four of Margaret’s younger sisters at Springfield Plantation, the Prince Edward County home of Margaret’s parents, Samuel Woodson Venable (1756-1821) and his wife, Mary Scott Carrington (1758-1837). By 1813, Margaret had apparently hired Douthat to teach her own daughter, the sampler maker Elizabeth Hare Cabell, at Liberty Hall Plantation.

The references in her letters to Staunton suggest that Sarah Douthat was probably related to Robert Douthat (1757-1818), an Irish-born merchant who served as a justice for Augusta County, a major in the local militia, and the postmaster of Staunton from 1792 to 1794. She also referred to Mrs. Gamble as her friend. Catherine (Grattan) Gamble (1751-1830) was the wife of Robert Gamble, a successful Staunton merchant who moved to Richmond in the 1790s, and their daughter Agnes Gamble (1783-1863) married Margaret’s brother-in-law, Governor William H. Cabell (1772-1853) on March 11, 1805.

RELATED OBJECTS: The Nelson County, Virginia, architecture featured in the Witmer Southern Needlework Gallery was the home of Sarah Cabell’s second cousin Mary Cabell Horsley (1783-1850) and her husband Micajah Pendleton (1758-1844).

Credit Line:
Gift of David and Anna Marie Witmer in honor of Daniel Ackermann