Derby Sampler

Elizabeth (Derby) West (1762-1814) Sampler Reproduced

(Original at PEM Salem, MA)

Derby Sampler

Stitched by Nancy Pritoni

 Sampler pattern and text developed by Joanne Harvey. 

The Elizabeth Derby Sampler, in the Peabody Essex Museum, is a charming example of eighteen century school girl needlework. Elizabeth Derby was twelve years old when she worked the sampler in 1774. The sampler is of silk floss on linen and features a measuring floral border and horizontal bands of strawberries.  It is worked in Cross, Satin, Chain, Bullion Knots, Long and Short, New England Laid and Algerian Eye.  In addition to the alphabet, the sampler has two brief verses:  Idleness is the root of all evil” and “Modesty adorns the fair sex through life.”  Samplers were part of the formal curriculum taught by the school mistress to young girls in early America.  Sampler making provided instruction in plain and fancy needlework, artistic sensibility, moral instruction, and reinforced a woman’s domestic role in society.

Elizabeth Derby (1762-1814) was the oldest daughter of Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) and Elizabeth Crowninsheild Derby (1736-1799) of Salem, Massachusetts. Her father was an enterprising merchant who accumulated great wealth in international trading voyages to China, the Baltic and elsewhere. He was reported to be America’s first millionaire. In 1783 Elizabeth married merchant, Nathaniel West (1756-1851), who had served on privateer vessels during the American Revolution. As a young man, West had been employed by Elizabeth’s father and later became a successful merchant, making, commercial ventures to China and the East Indies.  The West’s had six children and built a lavishly decorated home, Oak Hill, in Danvers, just outside of Salem.

In October of 1801, the Reverend William Bentley visited the West’s at Oak Hill and recorded his impressions in his diary. “The house…is of two stories with four equal rooms.  The apartments are finished in a good order as any I have ever seen.  The furniture is rich but never violated the chastity of correct taste… The pictures were excellent. The Paper and Linen hangings were superb…” He also noted that Mrs. West was still practicing her needlework skills. He commenced about a bedroom: “The work of the room was finished by the needle of Mrs. West”.

Sadly, the West’s did not long enjoy their new home together. By 1803, Elizabeth Derby West had separated from her husband and in 1806 they divorced. Divorce was not commonly practiced in New England at that period and the bitter trial was publicized extensively. The West’s were granted divorce and Elizabeth retired to Oak Hill where she lived until her death in 1814 at age fifty-two.