Available as a printed booklet and as a pdf download. Click HERE for the PDF download.
What a pretty sampler Elizabeth stitched when she was just ten years old. The young child finished her sampler on Wednesday, October 4, 1797 – some 226 years ago. It was such a long time ago.
At first glance, one might think that Elizabeth’s sampler was stitched in Norfolk due to the beautiful floral outer border and the lozenge-shaped inner border. Even the chosen verse was very popular on Norfolk samplers. Elizabeth’s sampler was actually stitched in the county of Essex, which is separated from Norfolk by the county of Suffolk. Elizabeth Fitch was born in 1787 at Helions Bumpstead in Essex. This small village is located near Haverhill, and it is where the Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire borders meet. What we are seeing in her sampler are whispers of Norfolk and Suffolk samplers.
Elizabeth was one of thirteen children born to Adam Fitch and his wife Mary, née Haiden, in 1787. The same year that Captain William Bligh set sail from Spithead, Hampshire for Tahiti on HMS Bounty and Captain Arthur Phillip left Portsmouth with the eleven ships of the First Fleet carrying around 700 convicts and at least 300 crew and guards to establish a penal colony in Australia. In 1787 Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp founded the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade with support from John Wesley, Josiah Wedgwood, and others.
Family history records reveal much about Elizabeth’s life. Her paternal grandfather, father, and oldest brother were butchers. Her grandfather’s will, written in the year she was born when he was “sick and weak in body but sound of memory”, reveals that he could not write as he signed his name with a cross and that he left a sizeable estate divided between his numerous children.
The 1841 census return records Elizabeth living with her oldest brother Samuel Fitch in Church Lane, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. The 1851 census return records more information. Samuel is now a retired butcher but Elizabeth at 64 years of age is working as a schoolmistress. Both are noted as unmarried. It appears that brother and sister were respected members of the community. However, not all was as it seems.
On September 8, 1816 Samuel Haiden Fitch the “base born son of Elizabeth Fitch, butcher’s daughter” was baptised at St Andrew’s Church in Helions Bumpstead. No father’s name was given. We were pleased to find that Samuel prospered and can be found in the 1851 census living with his wife, daughter, and two servants at 15 Middleton Road in Hackney, London. There are no other children that we can find being born to Elizabeth.
In the 1861 census we can find Elizabeth living at 2 Conquest Yard in Bishop’s Stortford. At 74 years of age, she was working as a governess. A younger sister, Phebe, was living with her and Samuel Haiden Fitch, her son. This is the only census where we can find Samuel living apart from his wife and children. In this census Elizabeth was claiming to be a widow!
Elizabeth Fitch died on March 1, 1867 at the grand age of 80 years. Probate records reveal that she was a spinster, her son Samuel Haiden Fitch was her sole executor, and that her estate was under £100.
Elizabeth has our respect. There were very few avenues open to unmarried mothers; they endured social handicaps and considerable economic hardships when they were unable to find work as a result of the double burden of shame and a dependent baby. The damage caused to their reputation often cut them adrift from the security of family and community. Elizabeth with the support of her family made a life for herself and her son, she did not live a life of victimhood.
Today, we remember her for her beautiful needlework.
Elizabeth’s sampler has been reproduced using a palette of 8 colours. The model was stitched using Soie 100.3 from Au Ver à Soie, and we have included conversions for Soie d’Alger and DMC.
Elizabeth executed her sampler predominantly with cross stitches laid over two threads of linen; only the verse has been worked in cross stitch over one thread of linen. However, within this booklet, we have included an additional graph where the verse has been charted in cross stitch over two threads.
The sampler is suitable for needleworkers of all levels of ability.
The reproduction of Elizabeth’s sampler has been a team effort. Her sampler has been painstakingly charted by Sandra Moffitt, her booklet produced by Nicola Parkman and Lisa Brown, and Suzanne Sirotti lovingly stitched the model. At the very core of Hands Across the Sea Samplers there is a team of needleworkers who are passionate about antique samplers and being able to share those samplers with you.