…these elegant status symbols… were… unquestionably peculiar to the families of wealth and prominence and were probably the most costly embroideries undertaken by American schoolgirls.
-Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery, vol. 1, p. 75.
The earliest dated embroidered coat-of-arms made in America, this needlework is a remarkable window into eighteenth-century craftsmanship and female entrepreneurship. As indicated in the stitched text in the banners, its young seamstress, Rachel Leonard (1727-1805), rendered the arms of her English ancestors, the Fiennes family, for her father, Col. George Leonard (1698-1778) when she was thirteen years old in 1740. Betty Ring, the recognized authority on American needlework, noted that the appearance and content (a girl’s name and her father’s) of the stitched text is so closely related to two others dated 1745, that they all indicate the work of the same designer/instructor. Through surviving receipts, one of these, that by Katharine (Greene) Armory (1731-1777) (fig. 2), is known to have been made under the tutelage of Mrs. Susanna Condy (1686-1747). Born Susanna Hiller, Mrs. Condy was one of the leading seamstresses in Boston during the first half of the eighteenth century and is thought to have been the original designer of the famous “fishing woman pictures” (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (New York, 2001), pp. 149-150). She married Jeremiah Condy (d. 1744) in 1806 and as early as 1736, advertised her business of selling household textiles and supplying patterns in local newspapers. In 1738, she focused on the latter:
To be had at Mrs. Condy’s near the Old North-Meeting House: All sorts of beautiful Figures on Canvas for Tent Stick [sic]; the Patterns from London, but drawn by her much cheaper than English Drawing: All sorts of Canvas without Drawing; also Silk Shades, Slacks, Floss, Cruells of all Sorts, the best White Chapple Needles, and every Thing for all sorts of Work” (Boston News-Letter, 27 April 1738, p. 2).
She may have also been providing instruction at this time and in 1742, opened a school: “Mrs. Condy opens her School next Week, and Persons may be supplied with the Materials for the Works she teaches…” (Boston Evening-Post, 22 March 1742, p. 2). Dated 1740, Rachel Leonard’s work was wrought from one of Mrs. Condy’s patterns and perhaps executed under her instruction. After the death of her husband in 1742, Mrs. Condy must have relied heavily upon the income from her business and upon her own death, her estate papers revealed she was highly concerned that her daughter would have some economic independence. While her son was tasked with distributing the funds, Mrs. Condy stipulated that these should be given “into her [Mrs. Condy’s daughter’s] own proper Hands, and not into the Hands of her said Husband… for her sole & separate Use and her said Husband to have no medling with the same” (cited in Vivan Bruce Conger, “’If Widow, Both Housewife and Husband May Be’: Widows’ Testamentary Freedom in Colonial Massachusetts and Maryland,” in Women and Freedom in Early America, Larry Eldridge, ed. (New York, 1997), pp. 259-260).
Receipts relating to the coat-of-arms in fig. 2 indicate that Boston cabinetmaker William Price (1684-1771) supplied the frame for Katharine’s work. While the two frames differ in design, Price may very well have also crafted the frame for Rachel’s work offered here. Born and trained in London, Price arrived in Boston in 1714 where in addition to cabinetmaking, he sold a variety of goods including maps, prints, japanned work, picture varnishes, looking glasses, toys and musical instruments. His advertisements also indicate he made frames and examples include “…all Sorts of Picture-Frames made by William Price” (New-England Courant, 28 May 1722, p. 2), “..Carv’d Frames Gilt…” (Boston Gazette, 17 June 1728, p. 2) and “…Sells and Frames all sorts and sizes of the newest fashion’d Looking-Glasses” (Boston Gazette, 29 January 1733, p. 4). An organist, Price was also involved in several interior and exterior architectural projects at Boston’s Trinity Church and Christ Church. Just over a year before Rachel Leonard stitched her coat-of-arms, Price was hired by the trustees of Trinity Church to “Treat with a Carver about the Corinthian Capitals” indicating that his expertise was highly regarded (cited in Alan Miller, “Roman Gusto in New England: An Eighteenth-Century Boston Furniture Designer and His Shop,” American Furniture 1993, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, 1993), pp. 161-162).
William Price was also well-connected to Boston’s elite and Col. George Leonard, for whom this coat-of-arms was made and who probably paid for its production, would have been a likely customer. From one of the wealthiest families in Massachusetts’ Bristol County, Leonard very likely hailed from aristocratic stock. While the genealogical record is unclear, some sources claim that his great-great grandfather, Thomas Leonard, was the youngest son of Sampson Leonard/Lennard (1544-1611) and Lady Margaret Fiennes, Baroness Dacre (1540-1611), renowned for their lavish hospitality at the Fiennes-family home, Hurstmonceux Castle in Sussex, at one time the largest private residence in England. That Rachel Leonard stitched the Fiennes coat-of-arms indicates that there was (or at least the family believed there was) a previous Fiennes-Leonard family connection. As the youngest son, Thomas had to seek his own fortune and did so through establishing ironworks in Wales and later in Taunton, Massachusetts.
The ironworks established by Thomas Leonard ran for over two hundred years and provided substantial wealth to subsequent Leonard family owners. Col. George Leonard held numerous civic and political posts in Norton, such as Royal Councillor, Representative to the General Court, Selectman, Justice of the Peace, Town Clerk, Judge of Common Pleas and Judge of Probate for Bristol County. He also commanded a regiment, rising to the rank of Colonel. One of his terms of representative to the General Court was from 1740 to 1742, so he would have been in Boston frequently during the time that his daughter may have been receiving schooling from Mrs. Condy. Interestingly, in 1770, George Leonard’s nephew, also named George Leonard, sold land with houses and mills to brothers Jonathan (1726-1797) and John Amory (1728-1803), the latter the husband of Katharine (Greene) Amory who had wrought the coat-of-arms in fig. 1 twenty-five years earlier. It is possible that the Leonard, Greene and Amory families had previous ties in 1740s Boston (D. Hamilton Hurd, comp., History of Bristol County, Massachusetts (Philadelphia, 1883), pp. 604, 618, 624-626).
In 1756, Rachel Leonard married Rev. David Barn(e)s (1732-1811) of Scituate. It is not known if she inherited her work after her father’s death in 1778, but one of her daughters followed in her footsteps and wrought a coat-of-arms of the Leonard family (Betty Ring, p. 66; for the Leonard family coat-of-arms, see The Magazine Antiques (January 1992), p. 105). In 1949, the needlework was in the White Plains Antique Show booth of Connecticut dealer, Florene Maine, and Ralph Carpenter bought it through David Stockwell (Laura Beach, "The Past Is Present in Newport: A Couple's Lifelong Love of Antiques," Antiques and Fine Art (Summer 2005), p. 119).