Society of Friends: A Pictorial Needlework School in Burlington County, New Jersey

Society of Friends: a Pictorial Needlework School in Burlington County, New Jersey by Leslie & Peter Warwick
by Leslie & Peter Warwick

Fig. 1: Ann Stockton, 1804. Silk and paper on linen, 16-1/2 x 16-1/2 inches. Courtesy, private collection
Fig. 1: Ann Stockton, 1804.
Silk and paper on linen, 16-1/2 x 16-1/2 inches.
Courtesy, private collection.
Among the earliest pictorial needlework from New Jersey is a group of six created in 1804 by girls who all lived in Burlington County: Ann Stockton (1793–1828) and Sarah Gaskill (1793–1875) were from Upper Springfield; Nancy Platt (1792–?) and Ann Folwell (1791–1850) were from Mansfield, next to Upper Springfield; Mary Antrim (1795–1884) was from Burlington City, and Mary Bowker (1795–1872) was from Northampton (now Mount Holly). Five of the six girls were members of the Society of Friends, who operated some of the few schools offering education for girls (both Friends and non-Friends) in New Jersey at the time.1

The hallmark of the needlework group is a depiction of a young lady with a paper face and bonnet, dressed in a gown and seated sidesaddle on her horse with a pet dog often by her side. The needleworks portray an ideal world of abundance and prosperity, with a three-story mansion framed by cedar trees and, in most of the works, a small farmhouse in the right foreground, with animals and large baskets of fruit and flowers on a front lawn. Some of these motifs appear in different arrangements in the various needleworks. A saw-tooth border frames the top and bottom of the works (Fig. 1).

Fig. 2: Ann Folwell, 1804. Silk and paper on linen, 18 x 12-1/2 inches. Initialed ”AF.” Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Fig. 2: Ann Folwell, 1804.
Silk and paper on linen, 18 x 12-1/2 inches.
Initialed ”AF.”
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Most of the motifs seen in early examples of Friends’ embroidery, such as cross-stitched animals, sprays of flowers, or a circular wreath enclosing an inscription, are missing. The precursors to the motifs seen in these needleworks, such as the house and the animals, flowers, and people on the lawn, come from samplers associated with the Philadelphia area from the Mary Coeleman Zeller school as early as 1789.2

Fig. 3: Mary Bowker, 1804. Silk and paper on linen, 16-1/2 x16-1/2 inches. Courtesy, Burlington County Historical Society
Fig. 3: Mary Bowker, 1804.
Silk and paper on linen, 16-1/2 x16-1/2 inches.
Courtesy, Burlington County Historical Society.
Each of the six needleworks is divided into three bands in a similar manner as in the birth records by the ”New Jersey Artist from Burlington County” working from the 1760s to 1806, indicating knowledge of the other’s design.3 The needleworks and birth records have a name in the top band, and people, flowers, and animals in the bottom band. The top band of the needleworks usually contains the girl’s name (or initials) and date. A three-story mansion with three window bays is usually framed by three to four cedar trees in front of a stone wall. In two cases there is a small two-story addition attached to the right side of the mansion (Fig. 2). The mansion is depicted at an angle showing the front and a gable end with a diamond window. Sometimes both gable ends are shown, with no regard for correct perspective. In three of the houses depicted there is a dormer window. The roof of each house has a fenced walkway between two chimneys.

The middle band of the needleworks contains a lawn with roosters, chickens, ducks, and sheep. White fences with gates border the lawn (sometimes placed in the bottom band instead). A large basket of strawberries, usually next to a weeping willow tree, and a basket of flowers are often seen in the middle or bottom bands. Mary Bowker’s work has a basket with both fruit and flowers (Fig. 3).4

The bottom band contains a young lady, wearing an elegant polka-dotted white gown, sitting on a horse, accompanied by her dog. A cow and sheep graze nearby. A small farmhouse framed by cedars and weeping willow trees is usually in the right corner. Sarah Gaskell made two samplers: a preliminary needlework with some of the motifs (Fig. 4) and a final work with most of the motifs (Fig. 5).
Fig. 4: Sarah Gaskill, 1804. Silk and paper on linen, 10-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches. Initialed ”SG.” Courtesy, private collection
Fig. 4: Sarah Gaskill, 1804.
Silk and paper on linen,
10-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches. Initialed ”SG.”
Courtesy, private collection.

Nancy Platt placed her mansion in the middle band instead of the top band, flanked by weeping willows instead of cedars. She placed her farmhouse in the top left corner instead of the bottom right corner; omitted the lawn in front of the mansion and all the farm animals except one cow; and added two young ladies in the top right corner. Nancy also moved her name and date to the middle band (Fig 6).5

All the needleworks are dated 1804 except for Mary Antrim’s, dated 1807 (Fig 7). Her name appears twice on a semicircular paper framed above the needlework. She appears to be dating her calligraphy and not her needlework, since the date is only on the paper. All the other needleworks have frames with an early molded profile while Mary’s frame appears to be made at a later date. It is likely that her needlework was made in 1804 and framed later.

Fig. 5: Sarah Gaskill, 1804. Silk and paper on linen, 16-3/4 x 17 inches. Courtesy, private collection.
Fig. 5: Sarah Gaskill, 1804.
Silk and paper on linen, 16-3/4 x 17 inches.
Courtesy, private collection.
The consistent style, motifs, and dates suggest that the needleworks were made under the supervision of one instructress in one school. In 1804 there were only three active Friends’ schools where the girls lived: Upper Springfield; Mansfield, which was under the direction of Upper Springfield from 1783 until 1812; and Burlington City. A shortage of teachers in Burlington County made education very erratic around 1800. The most likely school that all the girls attended was Upper Springfield, where Ann Stockton’s father, Samuel Stockton, and Sarah Gaskill’s grandfather, Thomas Gaskill, were on the standing committee for the school in 1788. These family connections make it very likely that Ann and Sarah attended the Friends School at Upper Springfield. Ann Folwell and Nancy Platt from the adjacent town of Mansfield, three miles away, also likely attended there as a needlework instructress would be employed at the main school in Upper Springfield.

Mary Antrim’s father, John Antrim, a weaver, would likely have wanted his daughter to be proficient in needlework skills. Assuming Upper Springfield had a needlework instructress, and that, due to staff shortages, there was no needlework instructress that year in Burlington City, it would have been the nearest option. Since Mary lived ten miles from Upper Springfield, she would likely have boarded with relatives, of whom she had several in the vicinity, or with local families.6 Boarding was evidently frequent in Upper Springfield as shown by the statement of fees in the Friends’ records, ”twelve shillings and six pence per quarter, exclusive of board.” Supposing Mary Bowker of Northampton, six miles from Upper Springfield, also attended the school, she would also have needed to board with a local family, but her father, Joseph Bowker, appears to have had ample resources as shown by his will and inventory.

Fig 6: Nancy Platt, 1804.  Silk and paper on linen, 17-1/4 x 17-1/4 inches.  Courtesy, Christie’s, New York, June 1991, Lot 64 on page 65.
Fig 6: Nancy Platt, 1804.
Silk and paper on linen, 17-1/4 x 17-1/4 inches.
Courtesy, Christie’s, New York, June 1991, Lot 64 on page 65.
More evidence to show that Upper Springfield was the school where the needleworks were made is provided by a birth record made by Jerusha Hooper (1795–1849) (Fig. 8). It is similar to birth records made by the New Jersey Artist from Burlington County but much less proficient, so it is likely she made it herself. Like the needleworks it is divided into three bands and has several of the same motifs. Jerusha likely attended the Friends School at Upper Springfield because her father, William Hooper, lived in Upper Springfield as shown by his service record in the New Jersey Militia in 1793, which lists his residence.7 The watermark on the paper she used for her birth record establishes that it was made in 1804 in Northampton, New Jersey, six miles away.8 She most likely made a watercolor birth record instead of a more expensive silk needlework because her family’s resources were very limited, as shown by the fact that when her father died in 1815, he left an estate of only about $100.9
Fig. 7: Mary Antrim, 1807.  Silk and paper on linen, 17 x 16-3/4 inches.  Courtesy, Sotheby’s, New York.
Fig. 7: Mary Antrim, 1807.
Silk and paper on linen, 17 x 16-3/4 inches.
Courtesy, Sotheby’s, New York

Westtown School, in Penn-sylvania, about forty miles from Upper Springfield, opened in 1799, and the only school in the area for secondary education for Friends, is the likely source for the needlework instructress at Upper Springfield. Charles Roberts, who attended Westtown from January 1, 1802, to January 1, 1803, was hired by the Friends School at Upper Springfield, for a year starting August 4, 1803, ”for a salary of $320...to teach spelling, reading, grammar, writing and arithmetic.” A needlework instructress would be needed to complement Roberts.

In Evesham, about fifteen miles southwest of Upper Springfield, the Friends school committee noted the importance of hiring a female who ”...might teach needlework and obviate the necessity of girls going from such schools, to others, to learn that art.” The most likely source for a needlework instructress was Westtown School, where the girls spent one third of their time in the sewing room. A recently discovered needlework (Fig. 9) is the earliest example from the Quaker Westtown School. Worked in 1804 by Sarah L. Taylor, it depicts the school behind a row of cedar trees with a lawn and a picket fence in the foreground enclosed in an oval vine. While the Westtown School building is not depicted in the Burlington needleworks, the motifs are clearly related and provide more evidence of transfer of design from Westtown to Upper Springfield.

Fig. 8: Birth record, Jerusha Hooper (b. 1795), 1804. Watercolor on paper, 7-7/8 x 9-1/2 inches. Courtesy, private collection.
Fig. 8: Birth record, Jerusha Hooper (b. 1795), 1804.
Watercolor on paper, 7-7/8 x 9-1/2 inches.
Courtesy, private collection.
The only students from Upper Springfield who entered Westtown School before 1804 were Ann Gaskill who entered the school in October 1800 and Lydia Bullock, in May 1803, both likely candidates because of their Upper Springfield connections. Ann Gaskill married Joseph Shinn in November 1803 and gave birth to her first child in August 1804, eliminating her as a possible needlework instructress. Lydia Bullock graduated from Westtown in about February 1804. Her father, Joseph Bullock, along with Samuel Stockton were on the committee to establish Upper Springfield schools; her two uncles, George and Anthony Bullock, were married to Ann Stockton’s maternal aunts, Edith and Hannah Wood. These connections make Lydia Bullock a likely candidate for the position of needlework instructress.10

Fig. 9: Sarah L. Taylor, 1804. Silk on linen, 9 x 12 inches. Photo courtesy, Stephen and Carol Huber.
Fig. 9: Sarah L. Taylor, 1804.
Silk on linen, 9 x 12 inches.
Photo courtesy, Stephen and Carol Huber.
Unfortunately, this style of needlework was on the school curriculum for only one year. After a visit to Westtown School, the Friends’ school visiting committee wrote on July 11, 1804, ”...the Girls have latterly got in to the practice of making very superfluous Needle Work...designed for the purpose of framing and Exhibiting as pictures. [A]s this kind of Employment appears to be contrary to the Rules adopted for the Government of the School and the original design of the Institution. The Visiting Committee are therefore Requested to Encourage the mistresses to use their Exertion to prevent such unnecessary works with the needle in the future.”11 The word of the decree spread quickly, with the result that the Westtown School and local Friends’ schools in New Jersey almost completely stopped making decorative samplers, only resuming nine years later when some needleworks were made at Evesham School with views of the Westtown School.12 Not until the mid-1820s did mansions, lawns, and animals reappear in numerous needleworks made by Friends in Burlington County, New Jersey.


Leslie and Peter Warwick are independent scholars and collectors specializing in nineteenth-century American folk art paintings, needlework, and stoneware.


1. All information about the Society of Friends’ school system is derived from Thomas Woody, Quaker Education in the Colony and State of New Jersey (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1923).

2. Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery, American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework 1650–1850, Vol. II, (New York: Knopf, 1993), 362, fig.384. Betty Ring notes that the sampler style introduced by the Zeller school ”...became a dominant style of the Delaware Valley with recognizable subgroups springing up in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

3. Leslie and Peter Warwick, ”The Birth Records of Burlington County, New Jersey,” in Antiques & Fine Art (Spring 2010): 176–185.

4. Mary Bowker’s needlework was stolen from the Burlington County Historical Society in October 2010.

5. The name and date have faded but were clearly visible in Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe, American Samplers (Princeton: The Pyne Press, 1973), Pl. LIX.

6. Mary Antrim’s relatives’ houses are shown on a wall map by K. Kuhn & J. D. Janner, 1858 Map of Upper Springfield located in the Burlington County Library.

7. James S. Norton, New Jersey in 1793 (1213 East 2100 South, Salt Lake City, Utah: 1973), 41.

8. Thomas L. Gravell and George Miller, A Catalog of American Watermarks, 1690–1835 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1991), 22.

9. See William Hooper’s inventory 12817C in the Burlington County Archives in Mount Holly.

10. Lydia Bullock married James Woodward and had a son, Alfred. Her husband died before 1850 as in the 1850 U. S. Census Lydia is living with Alfred, a physician in New Hanover, Burlington County, NJ.

11. In the Esther Duke Archives of Westtown School, Burlington County, N.J.

12. Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery, 476, fig. 531.

back to top