Part of a group of six related Virginia samplers with Quaker motifs, architectural structures and a prominent band of stitching resembling an Irish or Flame stitch, these samplers appear to be all worked under the tuition of one teacher. This group was originally identified and labeled by Kim Ivey, senior curator of textiles at Colonial Williamsburg, in her book In the Neatest Manner, the Making of the Virginia Sampler Tradition. While Quaker motifs such as octagonal medallions with vines and birds as well as prominent sprigs and sprays of flowers decorate the samplers, only one of the six girls who stitched these samplers was actually Quaker. The girls were predominantly from Isle of Wight and neighboring Nansemond Counties in southeast Virginia, lending the identification of the group as the South of the James River group. Also of interest (or perhaps coincidence) is the fact that all six girls had lost their fathers, and would have been considered orphans by the state.
Jane (Jenny) Jordan was born in 1792 in Isle of Wight County, Virginia to Thomas Jordan (1746-1801) and Polly Smith. Jane’s sampler was completed on July 20, 1808 when she would have been sixteen-years-old. Thomas Jordan died in 1801 and it is unclear whether or not her mother was still living at that time.
Stitched across the top of the sampler is “Jane Jordan’s Work July 20, 1808” with a stitched band of cross-stitch emulating a bold Irish stitch worked underneath. Seven rows of alphabets, alternating with decorative bands, fill the upper portion of the sampler, and below in two enclosed blocks are the inscriptions “Jane Jordan Daughter of Thomas and Mary Jordan was born March 22 1792” and the verse “Do you my Fair Endevour [sic] to possess An elegance of mind As well as dress.” A gabled three-story building occupies the lower center portion of the sampler flanked by a Quaker medallion with birds and a vine and a flowering strawberry sprig. Initials ND, EE, and SI (and another random I) are worked into the bottom portion. Initials are also worked into the alphabet bands, most likely identifying members of her family. “TJJJMJ” could be her half and full brothers, Thomas Jordan, Josiah Jordan and Matthias Jordan. It is unclear what became of Jane Jordan after 1808 as she has not been found in public records.
Related samplers stitched by teenagers Susan Caroline Riddick, Marcia Ricks Lawrence, Esther Shivers, Charlotte Godwin Flint, and 12 year-old Sarah Bruce Butt have been identified thus far. The Riddick, Flint, and Butt samplers are in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg and the Shivers sampler is in the collection of the Loudon County Museum in Leesburg, Virginia.
TEACHER: New research has revealed the teacher responsible for this group of samplers. Elizabeth Cowling Eley Moody was born c.1780 to Josiah Cowling (1739-1800) and Urania (Monro) Cowling (1739-1799). Her family estate was in Nansemond County. Elizabeth married Stephen Eley (c.1780-1805) from Isle of Wight County around 1800. By 1805, Stephen Eley had left Elizabeth a widow with three young daughters. Apparently, teaching became the means of support for Elizabeth and her family. The earliest identified sampler was by Susan Caroline Riddick in January of 1806, followed by Marcia Ricks Lawrence’s work and in 1808 the samplers of Esther Shivers and Jane Jordan. In the 1810 census, Elizabeth Eley is listed as head of household in Isle of Wight County. Two females under ten years old, most likely daughters Catharine and Nancy, (with Sally having died after 1806), two females between 26-44 years-old (Elizabeth and another teacher perhaps?) and 5 slaves.
Two more samplers survive from 1811, Charlotte Godwin Flint and Sarah Bruce Butt. The Sarah Butt sampler, as well as the earlier Jane Jordan example, each include the initials EE stitched prominently on their work. It was not uncommon to find initials of teachers included with family and friends. In fact, Sarah Butt includes classmate Charlotte Godwin Flint’s initials.
Guardian records from Isle of Wight County list Charlotte Driver purchasing “board and schooling at Mrs. Eley’s” as well as “32 hanks of silk”. Most convincing are the Isle of Wight Guardian records for sampler maker Charlotte G. Flint purchasing in 1811 (the year her sampler was completed) “22 hanks of silk” and “cash at school for necessaries” as well as “cash paid Elizabeth Moody for boarding and schooling”. In December of 1811, widow Elizabeth Eley married Ishmael Moody (1735-1828) of Isle of Wight County, Virginia.
This appears to be the end of Elizabeth’s professional career as no other samplers survive and she is not found mentioned in other records as teaching. In 1813 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Willis Josiah Cowling Moody, naming him after her father and brother. Tragically, Elizabeth’s story ends shortly after, with her death sometime in 1814. Documentation from January 2nd, 1815 shows Elizabeth Moody’s estate settled by her husband Ishmael Moody. Her surviving daughters, Catharine and Nancy, were cared for by their guardian and uncle, Josiah Cowling, a cabinetmaker by trade who relocated to Richmond, Virginia. By 1816 both girls moved to Richmond where they pursued their education in 1818 with Miss Euphania Ferguson. Miss Ferguson was a renowned teacher whose work survives through an 1818 pictorial needlework by Mary Ann Stetson (and Catharine and Nancy’s classmate) which is in the MESDA collection (acc.3569).