Home Dealers Calendar Articles Fine Art Database About AFA Login/Register
Home | Articles | Pennsylvania's Mystery Preceptress

by John and Jean Renshaw

In 1998, we purchased an eighteenth-century sampler wrought by a young girl identified as Phebe Harvey. We were impressed with the needlework’s condition and fine stitchery, with urns and undulating vine borders reminiscent of samplers from Philadelphia.1 Yet our main reason for acquiring the sampler was its association with families from Chester County, Pennsylvania—in this instance, the Harvey and Pusey families. As collectors of decorative arts from this region, we looked forward to investigating these families further. Little did we know that our journey would lead us to a previously undiscovered needlework instructor working in Lancaster County.

Fig. 2: Map of the Meetings within the limits of Philadelphia-Yearly Meetings of Friends. By Benjamin Ferris, Wilmington, DE, 1830s. Courtesy of Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.

Phebe Harvey’s Sampler

Name: Phebe Harvey

Residence: Pennsbury Township, Chester County

Monthly Meeting: Kennett Monthly Meeting

When Wrought: 1799, at 12 years of age

School: Lampeter School, Lancaster County

Names Included: Maker, grandparents, parents, siblings, in-law’s initials, cousin

Distinctive Features: Compartmentalized rhyming verses and names; undulating vine side borders with petite flowers that terminate at the base of the top border without forming corners; floral mid-band; vases of flowers; strawberry plants in upper band

Connection to SP Harvey: A cousin, listed
after a verse

Fig. 1: Sampler by Phebe Harvey, 1799. Lampeter School, Lancaster, PA. Courtesy of John and Jean Renshaw; photography by David A. Gentry.

Phebe Harvey’s2 sampler (Fig. 1) included the names of numerous family members, among them her parents, Amos and Hannah Harvey. Through research we learned that they lived in a bank house built by Phebe’s great grandfather in Pennsbury Township, Chester County,3 and were members of the Kennett Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.4 Phebe further named her grandparents, William and Ann Harvey and Joshua and Mary Pusey, and each of her siblings. As typical, Phebe stitched the name of her deceased relatives in black. Atypically, she included the initials of the spouses of her married siblings. With the exception of JBF, we identified each of the names Phebe listed on her sampler, even the name SP Harvey stitched after one of her verses, who, it turns out, was Phebe’s older cousin Susanna Pusey Harvey. Phebe also included the name of the school where she wrought her sampler. Much to our surprise, it was the Lampeter School5 in Lancaster rather than a school in Chester County, Pennsylvania (Fig. 2). Our curiosity regarding the school and the possible preceptress6 increased when we discovered a related sampler (Fig. 3).

Sarah Brinton’s Sampler

Name: Sarah Brinton

Residence: Leacock Township (adjacent to Lampeter), Lancaster County

Monthly Meeting: Sadsbury Monthly Meeting

When Wrought: 1800, at 7 years of age

School: unknown

Names Included: Maker, grandparents,
parents, siblings, Harvey

Distinctive Features: Compartmentalized rhyming verses and names; undulating vine side borders with petite flowers that terminate at the base of the top border without forming corners; floral upper band; strawberry plant in upper band

Connection to SP Harvey: Susanna P. Harvey listed after a verse

Fig. 3: Sampler by Sarah Brinton, 1800. Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA; photography by George Fistrovich.

In 1999, while we were exploring a furniture exhibition at the Chester County Historical Society, a sampler caught our attention. Sarah Brinton’s7 sampler of 1800 (Fig. 3) was unmistakably from the same school as Phebe Harvey’s (see Fig. 1 and companion chart). Most importantly, Sarah included the name of Susanna P. Harvey after one of the verses on her sampler, as Phebe had done on her needlework. Why was Susanna included on Sarah’s sampler? Based on the similarity between the two needleworks, it seemed possible that Susanna was the preceptress who taught both Sarah and Phebe, the latter having the additional connection with Susanna as her cousin.

The Preceptress

We were curious to see if we could find any corroborating information about this probable preceptress. Research revealed that Susanna Pusey Harvey was born to William and Susanna Harvey on June 22, 1768. She was a member of the Kennett Monthly Meeting in Chester County until 1798, when she requested a certificate to transfer her membership to Sadsbury Monthly Meeting. In June of 1798, Susanna’s certificate was received at the Sadsbury Monthly Meeting, which was the business meeting for worshippers at the Lampeter Meeting House.8 Susanna remained a member of the Sadsbury Monthly Meeting until a certificate was prepared for the Wilmington Monthly Meeting (in Delaware), dated 22 October 1800.

This documentation places Susanna P. Harvey in the Lampeter area between 1798 and 1800, where and when Phebe Harvey wrought her needlework. Susanna’s membership in different monthly meetings associated with sanctioned schools9 reinforces the hypothesis that she supported herself by teaching.10

Sarah Lefever’s Sampler

While previewing an auction in the summer of 2000, we saw Sarah Lefever’s sampler (Fig. 4). We were sure that it was from the same school as Phebe Harvey’s and Sarah Brinton’s. We were impressed that while Sarah Lefever’s sampler shared the same decorative schemes as the previous two examples, it also included many additional noteworthy features. Among these were the two unicorns and lions seldom seen on American samplers, though Chester County examples do exist with these motifs.11 We had no explanation for this variation other than outside influences at the time the sampler was wrought.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect in terms of our research was that Sarah Lefever had marked the initials SPH on her sampler. Based on the similarities of design, it seemed that these initials referred to Susanna Pusey Harvey, which would reinforce her role as the preceptress of all three sampler makers. Yet the date associated with Sarah’s sampler did not conform to what we knew about the whereabouts of Susanna P. Harvey.

Name: Sarah Lefever

Residence: Paradise Township (adjacent to Lampeter), Lancaster County

Monthly Meeting: Not applicable as Sarah was not a Quaker

Date Wrought: circa 1796, at 15 years

School: unknown

Names Included: Maker, grandparents, parents, initials SPH

Distinctive Features: Compartmentalized rhyming verse and names; undulating vine side borders with petite flowers that terminate at the base of the top border without forming corners; floral mid-band; strawberry plant in bottom band; addition of unicorns and lions

Connection to SP Harvey: Initials SPH listed at bottom of maker’s reference

Fig. 4: Sampler by Sarah Lefever, 1796. Pennsylvania. Courtesy of John and Jean Renshaw; photography by David A. Gentry.

According to family history, Sarah Lefever was born in 1781.12 She marked on her sampler that it was made in her fifteenth year, and though the stitches were removed indicating such, it would therefore have been wrought in 1796, the same year her father built the Sign of the Ship inn in Paradise13 (Paradise Township is adjacent to East and West Lampeter townships, Lancaster County). In 1815, after her father’s death, Sarah Lefever took over the inn, agreeing to pay for it within one year.14 It seems likely that from 1796 until she acquired the inn, Sarah Lefever remained in the Paradise area. If Sarah Lefever and the preceptress Susanna P. Harvey were in the same area in 1796, it would lend support to the conclusion that Susanna P. Harvey instructed Sarah Lefever in the execution of her needlework.15

Quaker certificates document that Susanna P. Harvey was in the Lampeter area between 1798 and 1800. How, then, could she have taught Sarah Lefever, whose sampler was supposedly made in 1796? There are at least three possible explanations. 1) If the 1796 date is correct for Sarah Lefever’s sampler, then her father may have sent her to a boarding school in the Kennett area in 1796. 2) Susanna P. Harvey may have visited the Lampeter area for a brief period of time in 1796, which would not have necessitated a certificate from the Kennett Monthly Meeting. Apparently, Quakers found it “more consistent in summer to employ mistresses rather than masters,”16 thus explaining her possible temporary relocation. 3) Or, the 1781 date of birth for Sarah Lefever is about two years too early. This is unlikely, however, based on the information that Sarah’s sampler provides by naming all three of her father’s wives. Samuel married Susanna Leaman in 1780 and Elizabeth Schofstall in 1783.17 Sarah Lefever named Elizabeth first and Susanna second and slightly offset, both names are in black indicating their deaths. If Elizabeth was Sarah’s birth mother, that would lead to a birth date of 1783, or later, producing a sampler date possibly of 1798. However, we have concluded that Sarah named Elizabeth first because she was her father’s wife throughout most of Sarah’s childhood. Sarah included the name of Susanna Lefever (Leaman) because she was her birth mother and out of respect for her father. Naming Susanna Lefever supports a 1781 date of birth and a 1796 date for the sampler, and hence confirms one of the first two assumptions noted above.

In 1813, Susanna P. Harvey married Samuel Malin. Later records reflect her new name, Susan P. Malin. Susan may have stopped teaching once she wed, but apparently returned to the occupation after the 1823 death of her husband. For according to Susan P. Malin’s 1851 death notice—which further confirmed our findings—she “taught school in the Friends’ School House, in Brandywine for many years, and was a very worthy woman.”18 Presuming she did indeed continue to teach needlework, the samplers wrought under her tutelage during these later years were likely made in Delaware rather than Lancaster County.

Based on the shared design and stitchery of all three samplers illustrated here, on the presence of either the initials or name of Susanna P. Harvey, and the reference to her as a teacher, it seems apparent that this group of samplers was wrought under the tutelage of Mistress Harvey. Those of us who appreciate samplers can now add Susanna Pusey Harvey to the list of Lancaster County preceptresses. We hope future discoveries will uncover samplers that include Susan P. Malin or SPM as the preceptress.

John C. Renshaw is an associate at Philip H. Bradley Company, Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Jean D. Renshaw is a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


  1. Phebe’s sampler is in the original walnut frame, bearing the fifth label of John Elliott, Jr., who is associated with looking glasses produced in Philadelphia.
  2. Phebe Harvey was born June 17, 1787. She married Evan C. Philips, son of James and Mary Philips of Christiania Hundred in New Castle County, Delaware, on July 23, 1807. Phebe and Evan had five children. Phebe died February 28, 1839.
  3. The William Harvey bank house is illustrated in Eleanor Raymond, Early Domestic Architecture of Pennsylvania (West Chester, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1977), Plate 70. Data compiled by Mrs. Richard Cadbury in 1952, in the Harvey family file at the Chester County Historical Society.
  4. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, “monthly meeting” is a Quaker designation for the business meetings that represented several worship communities.
  5. The schoolhouse connected with the Lampeter Meeting House had rooms “for the accommodation of the teacher and a few boarding scholars.” James Pyle Wickersham, LL.D., A History of Education in Pennsylvania, Private and Public, Elementary and Higher (Lancaster, PA: Inquirer Publishing Company, 1886), 89–90.
  6. A preceptress is a female teacher.
  7. Sarah Brinton was born March 16, 1793. Sarah married Joseph Cooper, son of James and Mary Cooper, at “a publick meeting of the [Religious Society of Friends] held at Lampeter” on April 17, 1823. The marriage certificate is signed by many guests, including Sarah Lefever (see Fig. 4). Sarah died on March 31, 1858.
  8. Brief Historical Sketches concerning Friends’ Meetings of the Past and Present with special reference to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, compiled by T. Chalkey Matlack (Moorestown, NJ., 1938), 244, 263.
  9. In 1797, for example, the Sadsbury Monthly Meeting committee in the care of schools reported that although there was no fund established for the purpose of a boarding school to be under the care of the monthly meeting, “there are three schools within the compass of our monthly meeting taught by masters who are Friends and are under the especial care of a committee of this meeting.” Sadsbury Monthly Meeting minutes held July 19, 1797.
  10. According to scholars Betty Ring and Trish Herr, as of yet no advertisements have been found that offer the services of Susanna as a needlework instructor. Though a practice of many such teachers, as a Quaker Susanna had the network of the organization to spread word of her lessons. Unlike many other teachers who taught out of rented rooms, it seems that Susanna was associated with a school, again negating the need for placing advertisements.
  11. For example, see Amy Finkel, “Samplers of Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania,” The Catalogue of Antiques & Fine Art (Early Spring 2001): 148, Fig. 3.
  12. Sarah Lefever died on December 28, 1840. George Newton LeFevre (compiler), The Pennsylvania LeFevres (Strasburg, PA: The LeFevre Cemetery and Historical Association, 1952), 22.
  13. LeFevre Family File, Lancaster County Historical Society.
  14. Lancaster County Orphans Court, August 15, 1815.
  15. Even though Sarah was not a Quaker, she would have been welcome to attend a school either run or taught by Quakers.
  16. Thomas Woody, Ph.D., Early Quaker Education in Pennsylvania (New York City: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1920), 145.
  17. On her sampler, Sarah Lefever spelled Elizabeth’s maiden name Shovestall. The name is spelled Schofstall in The Pennsylvania LeFevres, 17, and Schaffstall in the Trinity Lutheran Church Records, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1998), 204.
  18. December 23, 1851, Village Record. The death notice transposed her age, but correctly states Susan’s date of death (December 12, 1851) and the fact that she had recently relocated from Wilmington, Delaware. The Kennett Monthly Meeting accepted Susan P. Malin’s certificate from the Wilmington Monthly Meeting on February 6, 1849.

Antiques and Fine Art is the leading site for antique collectors, designers, and enthusiasts of art and antiques. Featuring outstanding inventory for sale from top antiques & art dealers, educational articles on fine and decorative arts, and a calendar listing upcoming antiques shows and fairs.