The word sampler is derived from the old French term ‘essamplaire’, meaning ‘an example’, referring to work that has been copied. Samplers were created to show off an individual’s embroidery work, and from the 18th century onwards became part of a young girl’s education.
In the Museum’s collection there are several samplers made by girls as young as eight years old, but we know little about them. This sampler was donated in 2019 and we are lucky to know much more about its maker and its history.
Margaret (or Peggy) James was born in Helston, Cornwall in 1791. She made the sampler at the age of 10 in 1802. In 1814 she married Joseph Besley Gribble, the son of a prosperous Barnstaple grocer. Joseph is most well-known for compiling the first history of the town ‘Memorials of Barnstaple’ which was published in 1830.
Since Peggy embroidered the sampler in 1802 it has travelled across the Atlantic and back. Family records show that in 1831 Peggy and Joseph emigrated to America with their first eight children, travelling from Liverpool to New York, and later to Pennsylvania and Louisiana before settling in Cleveland, Ohio. Eventually Peggy and Joseph had 12 children and the sampler was passed down through six generations of the Gribble family.
In 2019 the museum was contacted by a descendant of Peggy’s in Texas who was keen to return the sampler to Barnstaple. We accepted the donation, but its journey was more difficult than expected – the postal service sent it on a detour via Brazil!