Martha Butler’s 1729 sampler belongs to the earliest known group of Boston samplers, worked between 1724 and 1744. The style of the samplers evolved over time, but the majority of them feature Adam and Eve or the Garden of Eden, both important symbols of Puritan theology. Martha’s sampler is closely related to what is believed the oldest sampler from the group, worked by Mehetabel Done in 1724 (private collection). The pattern for these early examples seems to have originated from a 1654 English sampler now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Both its pictorial motifs – including Adam and Eve, a serpent entwined around the Tree of Knowledge, birds, frolicking animals, flowers, insects, and the sun – and its needlework techniques – such as the lacy, partly detached embroidery of Adam and Eve’s fig leaves – are strikingly similar to those of the Boston group. A later, related example from the Cooper-Hewitt’s collection, without the alphabets and verse, was made in 1734 by Ann Peartree. The schoolmistress responsible for these patterns is not known, but it is far from surprising that early eighteenth-century colonists would have been influenced by English traditions.
Although Martha Butler’s identity is uncertain, she was probably the daughter of Matthew Butler (b. 1684) and Sarah Asten (b. 1688) of Boston. The couple had several children, including a daughter named Martha, who was born on January 20, 1717. She may also have been the Martha Butler who married Peter Jenkins in Boston on September 9, 1742, and had at least two children, Peter (b. 1743) and Thomas (1745–1748).