After a more than 200-year absence, a rare and important silk-embroidered coat of arms has returned home to the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead in Windsor, Connecticut, thanks to the generosity of a descendant of its maker. Crafted in 1801 by Delia Ellsworth (1789-1840), the youngest daughter of Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807),1 while attending the Misses Patten school in Hartford, Connecticut, the needlework embroidery and its original frame are an extraordinarily well-documented example of Hartford schoolgirl art from the Federal period.
The Wolcott Arms, by Delia Ellsworth, 1801.
The subject of Delia’s embroidered needlework is “The Wolcott Arms,” the coat of arms of Connecticut’s renowned Wolcott family, and Delia’s initials “DE” are prominently stitched in script into the bottom of the embroidery. According to Ellsworth family tradition, Delia created the embroidery in honor of the family of her mother, Abigail Wolcott Ellsworth (1755/6-1818), daughter of Abigail Abbott and William Wolcott, nephew of Colonial Connecticut Governor Roger Wolcott.
The embroidery reflects many characteristic features that have been attributed to the Misses Patten painting and embroidery school for young ladies that operated in Hartford, Connecticut.2 “At the Patten school, pictorial subjects or coats of arms were often surmounted by a gold or silver raised-work eagle above a swagged garland suspended from spangled bow knots in the upper corners. The central motif was often partly encircled by palms or fronds with golden, bearded ears of wheat.” 3 The Patten school was operated by sisters Sarah (1761-1843), Ruth Jr. (1764-1850), and Mary (1769-1850) Patten, assisted by their mother, Ruth Wheelock Patten (1740-1831).4 The Patten school reportedly educated a large number of young ladies between 1785 and 1825.5 Based upon the above characteristics, a number of embroidered coats of arms and pictorial subjects have been attributed to the Patten school.6
The discovery by the authors of an invoice from Sarah Patten, dated January 5, 1802, at Hartford positively attributes Delia’s needlework to the Patten school.7 The invoice, addressed to Abigail Ellsworth, is for “instructing Miss Delia from May 27th to Nov. 23rd ” and “[t]o Drawing a Coat of Arms.” The drawing, made directly on the silk background of the embroidery, would have served as the design or template for Delia’s needlework. To the knowledge of the authors, this is the only known document from the Patten school associated with a particular needlework embroidery. It is noteworthy that the invoice directs payment to Sarah Patten rather than to the school, which suggests that the Patten sisters may at one time have been instructing—and charging—students on an individual rather than a collective basis. The discovery of the Sarah Patten invoice together with Delia’s embroidery now makes possible a definitive attribution to the Patten school of a group of needlework embroideries previously merely associated with the school.8
Copy of bill of sale dated March 13, 1801, from Aaron Chapin to Miss Ellsworth.
Copy of invoice dated January 5, 1802, from Sarah Patten to Abigail Ellsworth.
Detail of Aaron Chapin frame on The Wolcott Arms.
Detail of frame on portrait of Aaron Chapin.
In addition to the original Sarah Patten invoice for the Delia Ellsworth embroidery, the authors also discovered the original bill of sale for its frame. The bill of sale is from preeminent Hartford cabinetmaker Aaron Chapin (1753-1838) and addressed to “Miss Ellsworth,” for “1 Picture frame Gilt [sic] Glass,” and dated March 13, 1801, Hartford.9 Receipt of the amount due is acknowledged on the bill of sale by Aaron’s son Laertes (1778-1847). Aaron Chapin established his shop in Hartford in late 1783,10 and his shop was active until at least 1845, with his son Laertes assuming leadership of the shop in 1813.11
The fact that the frame was purchased before the embroidery was completed by Delia suggests that the frame was made available by the Patten school through an affiliation with Aaron Chapin as part of a framed embroidery “package.”12 This concept is supported by the Patten sisters’ brother William, who in 1845 wrote that “[t]he time in Miss Patten’s school was divided between study, painting, embroidery, and some needlework. Each young lady had a handsome framed piece on their return home, to present to their parents, as embroidery was considered an indispensable accomplishment in those days” (emphasis added).13 Any arrangement between the Patten school and the Aaron Chapin shop to furnish frames for school students was most likely not an exclusive one.
The frame to Delia’s embroidery contains applied composition ornaments that are almost identical (except for the incising) to the applied composition ornaments on the frames to portraits of Aaron and Mary King Chapin attributed to Joseph Steward and recently acquired by the Connecticut Historical Society.14 The documented frame to Delia’s embroidery now makes possible the strong attribution of similar frames to the Aaron Chapin shop.
Portrait of Aaron Chapin, attributed to Joseph Steward, 1800-10.
Portrait of Mary King Chapin, attributed to Joseph Steward, 1800-10.
Thomas Scott Williams (1777-1861), whom Delia married in 1812, served as the chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court from 1834 to 1847. Delia and Thomas are buried in Hartford’s Old North Cemetery. Delia and Thomas had no children, and Delia’s embroidery descended in the family of her older sister Frances (1786-1868). According to Rev. Henry R. Stiles, Delia was “a most conscientious, self-sacrificing, thoroughly excellent woman, who died mourned by all classes of the community.”15 Given the proximity in age between Delia and her sister Frances, it is possible that Frances also attended the Patten school and perhaps crafted a silk embroidery of the Ellsworth family coat of arms, which has yet to come to light. At the October 8, 1903, dedication ceremony of the opening to the public of the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead, a silk-embroidered coat of arms of the Ellsworth family was lent for the occasion by an Ellsworth descendant.16 While this embroidery was attributed at the time to Delia, since we now know that Delia embroidered the Wolcott family coat of arms, it is possible that her older sister Frances embroidered the Ellsworth family coat of arms. The present whereabouts of the embroidered Ellsworth family coat of arms is unknown.
The authors are actively engaged in a long-term study of central Connecticut River valley cabinetmakers working during the Federal period. Study subjects include Aaron Chapin, Lemuel Adams, Samuel Kneeland, John Porter, Aaron Colton, John I. Wells, Julius Barnard, Erastus Grant, and Daniel Clay. The authors are conducting in-depth archival research in addition to studying and evaluating objects. To assist them with this effort, they are seeking to examine furniture and other objects labeled or signed by any of the above cabinetmakers and account books, diaries, letters, and other manuscripts relating to any of the cabinetmakers or their customers. Anyone with access to these materials is asked to contact Christine Ritok at <[email protected]> or (413) 775-7209. All responses will remain confidential.
Oliver Ellsworth Homestead
The Oliver Ellsworth Homestead has been operated since 1903 as a museum by the Ellsworth Memorial Association, Inc., an affiliate of the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution. For more information about the Ellsworth Homestead, including how to arrange for a tour, please visit the website (www.ellsworthhomesteaddar.org). To learn more about the Daughters of the American Revolution in Connecticut, please visit the website (www.CTDAR.org).
Christina K. Vida is with the Virginia Historical Society and was formerly curator of the Windsor Historical Society of Windsor, Connecticut. Carol L. Loomis is an attorney and independent scholar. Christine Ritok is associate curator at Historic Deerfield. Kevin G. Ferrigno is vice president and general counsel of DATTCO, Inc. and chairs the Connecticut Historical Society Collections Steering Committee.
- Among other roles, prominent Windsor, Connecticut, resident Oliver Ellsworth was a member of the Continental Congress, played a significant role in the Revolutionary War as a member of Connecticut’s Committee of the Pay Table, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and contributed significantly as a framer of the United States Constitution, served as a United States senator from Connecticut, served as the third chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, and served as a special envoy to France from 1799 to early 1801. See Donna Holt Siemiatkoski, The Ancestors and Descendants of Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth and His Wife Abigail Wolcott (Ellsworth Memorial Association, Inc. and Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, Incorporated, 1992) (hereinafter, The Ancestors and Descendants).
- For a discussion of the Patten school, see William N. Hosley Jr., et al., The Great River: Art & Society of the Connecticut Valley, 1635-1820 (Wadsworth Atheneum, 1985), Cat. 372.
- Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. 203, (hereinafter, Girlhood Embroidery).
- Susan P. Schoelwer, Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art and Family, 1740-1840 (the Connecticut Historical Society, 2010), p. 110, (hereinafter, Connecticut Needlework).
- Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett, The Arts of Independence: The DAR Museum Collection (the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1985), pp. 82-83, (hereinafter, The Arts of Independence).
- See, e.g., Girlhood Embroidery, Figs. 235-37, Connecticut Needlework, Cats. 37 and 42, and The Arts of Independence, Cat. 71.
- The original invoice is included in the Oliver Ellsworth manuscript collection, the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut, Call No. 101400.
- See, e.g., note 6.
- The original bill of sale is among the Oliver Ellsworth papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
- Aaron Chapin advertisement dated December 4, 1783, published in the December 23, 1783, edition of the Connecticut Courant.
- Thomas P. Kugelman, Alice K. Kugelman, and Robert Lionetti, Connecticut Valley Furniture: Eliphalet Chapin and His Contemporaries, 1750-1800 (Hartford, CT: Connecticut Historical Society Museum, 2005) p. 356. For a discussion of the Aaron Chapin shop and some of its output, see pp. 356-70.
- In the alternative, it is possible that the Ellsworth family sought out Aaron Chapin directly to make the frame, given the existing relationship between Oliver Ellsworth and the Aaron Chapin shop. The Aaron Chapin shop made nine cherry urn-back chairs and a sofa for Ellsworth, which are the subject of a bill of sale from Aaron Chapin to Ellsworth dated November 8, 1791. The bill of sale is among the Oliver Ellsworth papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Six of the chairs and the sofa are in the collection of the Ellsworth Memorial Association’s Oliver Ellsworth Homestead, Windsor, Connecticut. Another chair from this set is in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut.
- As quoted in The Arts of Independence, pp. 82-83.
- Accession Nos. 2016.25.1 and 2016.25.2.
- As quoted in The Ancestors and Descendants, p. 21.
- The Ellsworth Homestead Past and Present (the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, 1907), p. 57.
Originally published in the December 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest