Mary Fletcher Johnston
Trenton, New Jersey
Silk thread and Ink on Linen Ground
My wisdom and my guide
My counsellor thou art
O never let me leave thy side
Or from thy paths depart
Mary F. Johnston’s work
Mary Fletcher Johnston stitched this elaborate sampler when she was about eleven years old. Considered a "Trenton landscape" sampler, this is one of only four known examples. The building depicted is Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage. The motifs of a prominent building, appliqued sheep, and large baskets with flowers or fruit connect it with other "Trenton landscape" samplers and an unknown teacher.
Mary was born December 1, 1817 in Trenton to David Johnston (1789-1836) and Mary McCulley (1782-1863).
Mary F. and her sister, Emeline Rebecca Johnston (1821-1912), opened a boarding and day school in their home, formally the officers' quarters of the Old Barracks, from 1844-87.
The "Teacher Select School" and its proprietresses gained a reputation for their low-tolerance of misbehavior in the classroom. Columnist Harry Podmore wrote an article entitled "A House with an Eventful History" recounting:
The Misses Johnson [sic] were careful teachers, and strict disciplinarians. If a boy used slang or disrespectful language he was at once sent down to the kitchen, where Sallie, the maid, after liberally soaping a huge piece of cloth, would wash out the mouth of the offender. She was a good housekeeper, and was as careful to see that the mouth was well washed as she was to keep dust off her favorite pieces of chinaware. If a boy chewed the corners of his book he also took a trip down stairs with a note that he was hungry. Then Sallie would sit him on a stool, and after cutting a thick all-around-the-loaf slice of bread would see that he ate every crumb of it before he returned upstairs.
Besides teaching, Mary was secretary of a Civil War soldiers’ children’s home in Trenton. On March 20, 1894, Mary passed away and was buried with her mother and siblings at Mercer Cemetery.
Mary's sampler was found in the Officers' House attic.
Description adapted from Hail Specimen of Female Art! New Jersey Schoolgirl Needlework, 1726-1860, Morven Museum & Garden (2014)