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Sampler

Artist/Maker:
Tait, Mary
Place Made:
Washington City District of Columbia United States of America
Date Made:
June 11, 1825
Medium:
silk on linen
Accession Number:
5986
Description:
MAKER: Mary Tait (1815-1891) was born in Scotland on August 3, 1815 to Alexander Tait (1780-1848) and his wife, Jane Affleck (1787-1874). The family migrated from Scotland to Washington, DC, where Alexander was listed in the 1822 city directory as a stonecutter living on the east side of New Jersey Avenue between A and B Streets, almost directly under the shadow of the rising Capitol Building. Mary completed her “Washington City, D.C.” sampler in June of 1825, shortly before her tenth birthday.

Mary Tait’s family was deeply involved in the construction of Washington, DC. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mary’s brother James A. Tait (1811-1895) was superintendent of stonework for the construction of the Treasury Building, as well as the inspector and receiver of materials for the U.S. Capitol under its supervising engineer, General Montgomery C. Meigs. In 1841, Mary wed Donald Stewart (1809-1855), who like her father and brother was a Scottish stone mason. After Donald’s death, the industrious Mary provided for her five children and elderly mother by keeping a “fancy store” in the District of Columbia.

An important aspect of this sampler group lies in the abundance of craftsmen’s daughters. Among the group are daughters of tailors, carpenters, block makers, and stone cutters. Living in close proximity to the Washington Navy Yard and Capitol Hill, these working-class girls enjoyed access to an advanced education.

Mary Tait’s family was deeply involved in the construction of Washington, DC. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mary’s brother James A. Tait (1811-1895) was superintendent of stonework for the construction of the Treasury Building, as well as the inspector and receiver of materials for the U.S. Capitol under its supervising engineer, General Montgomery C. Meigs. In 1841, Mary wed Donald Stewart (1809-1855), who like her father and brother was a Scottish stone mason. After Donald’s death, the industrious Mary provided for her five children and elderly mother by keeping a “fancy store” in the District of Columbia.

James A. Tait’s obituary provides a tantalizing clue to the school where Mary’s sampler might have been made. It notes that James attended “McCloud’s Academy,” a clear reference to John McLeod (c.1780-1855), an early D.C. educator who ran a school adjacent to the Washington Navy Yard and, later, on the corner of G and 10th Streets (see map). In 1821, McLeod advertised in the local newspaper that his new school included a female department that taught “Plain and ornamental Needle Work.” Given its close proximity to their house on Capitol Hill, Mary and her brother James easily might have attended the same school.

DESCRIPTION: Sampler with strawberry border; verse from “The Child’s Request” (1782) at top reads: “May my fond genius as I rise/ Seek the fair fount where knowledge lies/ On wings sublime trace heavens abode/ And learn my duty to my God”; flanked by flowers in baskets; below is maker’s information in an octagon “Mary Tait/ Aged 10 years/ Aug. 3rd 1825”; over a basket with flowers; flanked by flowering trees in urns; below is a two-story brick house with green picket fence, spade-shaped trees, birds, and stars; below house “Washington City DC June 11th 1825”

Credit Line:
Nancy C. James MESDA Purchase Fund