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Mount Vernon, Seat of the Illustrious G W

Speed, Mary Ann
Place Made:
Salem North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
silk, chenille, and paint on silk
Framed HOA;29 5/8; WOA 30 7/8; DOA 1 3/4″
Accession Number:
Needlework picture is composed of silk floss, silk chenille, and watercolor on silk ground in reproduction frame with reverse painted glass; picture depicts image of Mt. Vernon up on a hill; central image is framed by chenille trees stitched on either side; at the bottom of the picture is a title stitched in black; above stitched title is the Potomac River painted in watercolor complete with two embroidered boats each of which has passengers. On the riverbank (right side) are two oxen; standing just above them is George Washington. On the path leading from the house to the river (left side) are two women in neoclassical high waisted dressses (Martha Washington and her granddaughter perhaps?); further up the path is a dog. The sky, river, windows of the house, and faces and hands of the people are depcited in watercolor; the house, surrounding vegetation, hillside, animals, and clothing are embroidered. Silk floss and chenille have faded to shades of gold, brown and green; watercolors remain stronger.
Mary Ann Speed was born December 3, 1796, the daughter of Joseph Speed (1750-1796) and Nancy Ann Bignall Speed (1762-1811) of Mecklenburg County, Virginia. After her mother’s death, Mary Ann became the ward of Richard Apperson, Esq. (Joseph Speed’s nephew by his sister Martha Speed Apperson). Mary Ann attended Salem Girls Boarding School from March 29, 1810, until March 12, 1812. Abraham Steiner, the Inspector of Salem at the time, corresponded with Richard Apperson about Mary Ann’s well-being and the progress of her education. Of note is that although Mary Ann was clearly an accomplished needlewoman, her musical talent was apparently limited. Time and time again, Mr. Steiner reported that she had made no progress in music. In addition to being beautifully executed, this needlework is particularly important because it is the only know example from Salem to depict a known American monument, Mount Vernon. Other known examples of this kind of fine needlework from Salem include mourning embroideries, commemorative embroideries, and an embroidery depicting a scene from a children’s story book. On October 27, 1813, Mary Ann married William Duke Jones (1787-1871). At some point, the couple moved to Oxford/ Granville County, North Carolina (and later to Warren County, NC?). They had six children before Mary Ann’s death in 1826. Their second daughter, Mary Eliza Jones, was born ca 1818. Mary Eliza Jones made Sampler 5717.2.

This sampler and 5717.2 descended to the donor through the daughter of Mary Eliza Jones, Tempe Jones Somerville; who gave them to her daughter, Rosa Gibson Livingston (b. 1877); who gave them to her son, Charles Robert Sherman, Jr. (1912-2006). Charles Robert Sherman, Jr. married Rebecca Laughlin (b. 1915). The couple had no children. The donor received the two pieces from Rebecca Laughlin Sherman who was her mother’s sister.

Exhibit text: The most elaborate silk on silk pictorial embroidery known to survive from the Girls’ Boarding School is this image of Mount Vernon stitched by Mary Ann Speed (1796-1826) while she was student between 1810 and 1812.

An orphan by the age of thirteen, Mary Ann was sent to Salem from Mecklenberg County, Virginia, by her cousin and guardian attorney Richard Apperson. In a letter to her guardian in 1811, Inspector Steiner wrote that Mary Ann was “advanced in Grammar, Geography, Music, Drawing, Needlework, and other female accomplishments.”

The 1806 inventory of the embroidery materials on hand lists “pictures, drawings & engravings.” Given the location of these materials—in the embroidery room—they were probably used as embroidery patterns.

Mary Ann’s exquisite depiction of Mt. Vernon is an example of how one of these prints might have been used. After the death of George Washington in 1799, the young republic of America went into mourning for the much beloved national hero. Mount Vernon became a popular destination for travelers and a popular print subject. Mary Ann may have been inspired by any number of prints of the mansion.

The accounting of Mary Ann’s expenditures between June 1811 and January 1812 records her purchase of the variety of materials she would have needed to complete this needlework including 81 skeins of embroidery silk, 41 ½ yards of silk chenille, ribbons and tape, and satin. Perhaps the “frame with glass” she purchased for $1.50 on January 3, 1812 was meant for this needlework specimen. JMB 10/14

Credit Line:
Gift of Frank H. and Carol C. Holcomb in Memory of Charles and Rebecca Sherman