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Mary H. Norton, Dukes, Martha s Vineyard, Massachusetts, 1823


This extremely rare and historically important Martha's Vineyard sampler was worked by Mary H. (Holmes) Norton, daughter of Freeman Norton and Mary Holmes, October the 4th 1823 and names Holmes Hole on Martha's Vineyard.

Besides naming Holmes Hole , which is a part of Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard and now called Vineyard Haven , it contains the bold rendition of the Quaker alphabet . . . the Roman, boxy uppercase alphabet which is an easily recognized clue to Quaker instruction. It also contains a row of ligatures which Mary Jaene Edmonds, in her book Samplers and Samplermakers, describes as characters consisting of two or more united letters . . . , another unique characteristic sometimes found on samplers made under Quaker instruction.  It was a kind of code by which Quakers identified themselves as fellow believers to other Quakers and meant Quakers could speak openly in that household.

The Indian name of Tisbury was Nobnocket which means dry land and was first referred to by the colonial settlers as Homes Hole from the Native Wamponoag word for old Man and Hole , meaning a sheltered inlet which it is, and is the main port of entry to Martha s Vineyard. By the 19th Century it was more commonly spelled Holmes Hole after John Holmes who settled the village in the 2nd half of the 17th Century.

The Norton family was a historic early settling family from the very founding of Martha's Vineyard along with the Mayhews, Dunhams, Crowells. During this period Quakers made up about half of the population of the Island and lived in peace along with the Indians and others who made the island their home. They had come to the island to escape the persecution for their beliefs, notably in Massachusetts. At least here on the island there was more tolerance for their beliefs and they were allowed to live in relative peace. They remained a strong presence until about the 2nd quarter of the 19th Century when internal disagreements within the sect weakened it and many Quakers left the Island and the sect.

Mary H. Norton, our samplermaker was born 8 Nov 1811 and worked this sampler when she was 12 years old.  She married Charles Cottle (also descended from another early founding family) in 1830 and between them had 10 children.  Charles is listed in the various censuses as a tanner, a miller and a grain merchant.

Mary's sampler, worked in a large format, is of an impressive size (23 inches x 24 inches) and utilizes a variety of stitches.  A  highly developed, wide floral border with a satin stitched inner sawtooth  border surrounds a squared off compartmentalized interior containing a wonderful two chimney Federal house that is flanked by four trees and surrounded by an ornate fence.


There are 5 alphabets, a numeric progression and the Quaker ligature in another of the compartments. Yet another compartment contains a verse stating that Knowledge and fame are gained not by surprise . . . They that would win must labor for the prize.  Mary signs her sampler Executed by Mary H. Norton, Holmes Hole, Oct 4th 1823 . And finally, the last compartment contains grapes with lush leaves and tendrils which shows the skill of the needle worker and provided more of a challenge than the counted cross stitches employed in the rest of the sampler.

Worked in silk on a light buff-colored linen background, the sampler remains in excellent condition and is conservation mounted into a molded walnut frame.


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