Researching a woman in history is a difficult task, especially if the woman you are looking for wasn’t particularly wealthy or well known. For many women the only record we have of them is their sampler. We use samplers to their fullest extent to give us information about one particular individual, and perhaps even some of their relatives. [1]

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Sampler, 1814, Rachel Keeler (1799-1884), Silk on Linen, H:7 x W: 9.75 in. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Mrs. William A. Hatch, F0003.1981. Photograph by Richard Walker.

Rachel Keeler was born July 31st, 1799 in Herkimer County, NY. She lived there for much of her life. She made her sampler when she was about 15 years old. For many girls samplers were a big project, it showed their skills with a needle and if they could complete some of the basic stitches required to mark clothing with initials or embellish home items. It was a record of their education, much like we now have report cards and transcripts to mark our education. Her mother, Rhoda, may have instructed her or perhaps a teacher, we don’t know for sure, but we know that Rachel had some education.

Rachel Keeler later married Abel Biggs, a farmer, and they lived and worked in Herkimer County.[2] We believe she had 6 children and of those six we know that at least 3 stayed in New York and that one made his was west to Iowa. Because we knew Rachel’s name we were able to find out more about her family and her children.

Rachel’s sampler seems to have stayed in New York. It may have been passed down from her to a daughter or granddaughter or even a niece. It may have been sold to a collector on the other side of the country and found its way back to New York, but now it resides in the collections of the New York State Historical Association. As time goes on we may learn more about Rachel and her family; genealogy is difficult as new information comes out slowly but in time we may learn more about Rachel, and the lives of her family members.

-Anna Romskog

[1] Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Ivan Gaskell, Sara J. Schechner, and Sarah Anne Carter, Tangible Things: Making History Through Objects (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 164.