Family register samplers, like this example by Sarah A. Chalker, were a way of documenting and preserving family histories. They were frequently worked by schoolgirls as part of the later phase of their needlework education. The information in this sampler is organized in rows and framed by a scrolled arch and classical columns, revealing a neoclassical influence. Its green linsey-woolsey ground is a distinctive feature of works from Hartford County, Connecticut, and Essex County, Massachusetts.
Sarah was the oldest child of Sarah Andrus and Jesse Chalker, a Hartford hatter. Her needlework records the birth and marriage dates of her parents and the birth dates of her siblings, Jesse, Timothy, Hannah, and Julia. Also included are the birth and death dates of two brothers, both named Charles, who died as small children. Sarah had another sister, Hellon (b. 1835), who was not yet born when the sampler was completed.
In 1838, Sarah married Perez L. Smith, a tailor from Massachusetts. They lived in Hartford, where they resided with Sarah’s parents until their deaths (her father died between 1850 and 1852 and her mother died in 1855). The couple had at least five children: Sarah (b. 1843), Clarence (b. 1839, d. 1860?), Jesse (b. 1848, d. 1849), Jessa (b. 1850), and Henry (b. 1859). By 1870, Sarah and Perez had moved to Woodbury, Connecticut, with their youngest child, Henry. Sarah died in 1879 at the age of sixty, and was buried in her hometown of Hartford.
Jennifer N. Johnson holds a degree from the Parsons/Cooper Hewitt Master’s Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. While pursuing her studies, she completed a two-year fellowship researching the Cooper Hewitt’s American sampler collection. She is currently a Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in the American Decorative Arts department at Yale University Art Gallery.