By Andrew Lang, Class of 2017

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Sampler, 1817, Catherine Franchot (1810-1832), silk on linen, H: 14.75 in x W: 8.75 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of George Munson and Nicholas Van Vranken Munson, N.0034.1960. Photograph by Richard Walker.

At first glance, the sampler of Catherine Franchot seems a rather ordinary piece, with a simple overall design, no visuals, and unfinished sections. Yet this piece—made right before Catherine turned seven—communicates Catherine’s early instruction in decorative needlework and the success achieved by her father Pascal that allowed him to provide this education. In this way, this simple piece symbolized the beginning of larger social aspirations for Catherine to achieve a successful marriage through skill in genteel feminine arts.

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Pascal Franchot, n.d.

The French-born Pascal Franchot immigrated to the United States in 1789 to escape the French Revolution. [1] Settling in Butternuts, New York, he opened a small merchant shop that financially prospered after he partnered with Volkert Van Rensselaer (his future brother-in-law) of the wealthy Van Rensselaer family. [2] With his growing wealth, Pascal looked to navigate his status as a French-Catholic immigrant in an Anglo-Protestant nation by communicating this success, both in aspiring to social positions (such as town justice) and creating social opportunities for his family. [3]

Such opportunities included providing all eight of his daughters with an education, teaching both practical sewing skills and the “decorative skills necessary to exhibit a proper level of gentility” in their handicrafts. [4] Samplers crafted in this tradition communicated one had the means to furnish such specialized schooling. Thus, while Catherine’s sampler was ascribed as “her example,” it was equally a demonstration of her father’s success and his own aspirations towards her continued social refinement to be well-suited for marriage.

Pascal’s aspirations for Catherine were shared by the girl’s uncle and aunt, Volkert and Joanna Van Rensselaer. A childless couple, Catherine became a “favorite” niece for them and spent significant time at their estate. [5] After the death of her mother in 1818 was largely raised by them, reflecting the more fluid familial boundaries of the period. [6] In this position, Catherine’s aunt and uncle came to hold the same social aspirations for their niece Pascal did, looking to bring her into the significant social circles of the prestigious Van Rensselaer name. [7]

Grave

Gravestone of Catherine Franchot.

However these aspirations, much like the sampler, would end unfinished: in 1832, Catherine died at twenty-two, having never married. She was buried under a grave dedicated by her aunt and uncle, reflecting the significant role they played in her upbringing, while her sampler appears to have been kept by her father and passed down to subsequent generations before being donated to New York State Historical Association in 1960. [8]

Now, two centuries after it was made, this sampler has assimilated to take on another use beyond displaying sewing skills or a family’s success and social aspirations for their daughter. Rather, this piece represents Catherine Franchot as her own person. While the sampler reflects the influence of her father, family, and period social expectations, it is also a piece of identity and ownership, placing Catherine in the larger historical record in a time of little documentation for women. The sampler is in fact “her example,” and though a small piece allows us to understand Catherine as an individual, and more than an image of aspirations.

 

[1] John Warner Brown, Stanislas Pascal Franchot: Immigrant (New York: Independently published by Nicholas Van Vranken Franchot, 1935), 23-25.

[2] Ibid, 62, 64-66.

[3] Ibid, 62-63, 77-81.

[4] Aimee E. Newell, “‘Tattered to Pieces’: Amy Fiske’s Sampler and the Changing Roles of Women in Antebellum New England,” in Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles, 1750-1950, eds. Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin (Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009), 55.

[5] Brown, 75.

[6] Brown, 74; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Hannah Barnard’s Cupboard: Female Property and Identity in Eighteenth-Century New England,” in Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America, eds. Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Teute (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 263-265.

[7] Brown, 66-68, 75.

[8] John T. Hart, “‘Catherine Franchot Her Example aged 8 years’: A Sampler’s Meaning,” Cooperstown Graduate Program, December 12, 2007.

 

Photo of Pascal Franchot. In John Warner Brown, Stanislas Pascal Franchot (New York: Independently published by Nicholas Van Vranken Franchot, 1935), cover page. Photograph by author.

Photograph of Catherine Franchot’s gravestone. Findagrave.com http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=101316594&Pipi=71577727 (accessed April 7, 2016). Photograph by Bob Thomas.

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