Made by a Child: A Sampler of Siblings’ Names Stitched in 1778.

An exhibition catalogue of eighteenth-century embroidery would probably pass by this small sampler, which records information about a family in the English Midlands 1767-1787, just purchased for Cotsen. It is simply a list of names enclosed in a narrow, simple border unaccompanied by alphabets, mottoes, architecture, birds, and swirling vines in more bravura examples designed by school mistresses for their pupils.

Joan Oughton, the dexterous young needlewoman, signed at the bottom so posterity would know that she lived in Birmingham and finished the piece in 1788.   She used just three stitches–outline, cross, and tent—and a quiet and harmonious palette of blue-gray, black, gold, and silver silk thread on linen.  The tiny stitches are so regular that the embroidered words and numbers are beautifully legible.  It  lacks the name of a teacher or school, an indication that she worked it as part of lessons to master plain and ornamental needlework, an key component of girls’ education.

Perhaps Joan sewed it as  a  memorial to her sisters and brothers, similar to writing out family members’ names, dates of birth and of passing on a blank leaf in the family Bible. Her mother was almost continually pregnant between 1766 and 1786, bearing eleven children, seven of whom survived infancy.   Joan’s brothers were Thomas Smith, who lived only a week in June 1767, James Harwick born in 1779, Samuel in 1781, and Timothy in 1783.  The oldest girl Elizabeth was born in 1768, Maria, in 1770 and passing away at age eight,  Harriet in 1772, Joan in 1773, Catherine in 1774, Ann who was alive the summer of 1778.  The last girl was a second Maria born in 1786 and living eleven months later. The detail below shows the lines for the first Maria, Harriet, Joan, Catherine, and Ann.

Using Joan’s record of her brothers and sisters, I tracked down very promising candidates for their parents in Ancestry Library (there was no family tree that brought all these Oughtons together as related).  Christopher Oughton was the brood’s father.  Son of Timothy Oughton, he was born April 14th, 1747, and baptized in Lichfield, Staffordshire.  His wife was a Maria, but her maiden name and the date of their union didn’t seem to be documented.

How Christopher support his growing family?  Birmingham directories of tradesmen list a Christopher Oughton at   How did Christopher support his growing family?  Luckily he can be found in Birmingham directories of tradesmen between 1751 and 1775 at fashionable 22 Church Street as a peruke maker–a more elegant term for someone who makes wigs.  Someone in this line of work frequently also cut and dressed hair, sold perfume and pomades, etc.  Christopher added a second, more unusual line of work around 1785—that of pawnbroking.

Joan’s somber tribute to her brothers has proven to be a little piece of family history worked on linen and a very welcome–and unusual–addition to Cotsen’s small group of samplers among the textiles.


In Time of War: Disabled Veterans in Children’s Books of the Napoleonic Era

gillray_world carved

James Gillray, “The Plumb Pudding in Danger” (1805). The British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger and Napoleon carve up the world, represented as an enormous plum pudding, between them.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the picture book came into its own in England.  This period of extraordinary fertility was dubbed “the dawn of levity” by F. J. Harvey Darton, even though it coincided with the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).  The protracted war with the French cast its shadow over English children’s books nevertheless.  An overtly militaristic school book like John Evans’ New Geographical Grammar (1811), described preparations supposedly being made in French port towns for the invasion of England.  The Naval Heroes of Great Britain: or, Accounts of the Lives and Actions of the Distinguished Admirals and Commanders who have Contributed to Confer on Great Britain the Empire of the Ocean (1806) contained accounts of martial valor that were supposed to stir up the desire to serve one’s country.

Other children’s books bear out the truth of the Duke of Wellington’s sorrowful observation that the only thing as sad as a battle lost is a battle won.  I can’t remember when I began to notice pictures of disabled veterans in Regency children’s books.  After the Battle of Waterloo, the sight of an old soldier with a cork or wooden leg must have been common in England.  Only  an high-born officer like Henry Paget, second earl of Uxbridge could afford a sophisticated prosthetic device to replace a limb shattered on the battlefield.

Some disabled veterans scraped together a living performing on the streets of London.   Billy Waters, an American-born freed slave, who fought in the British forces during the American War of Independence, became something of a local celebrity.  This is one of three pictures of Billy Waters I have found in Cotsen–the other two are in The Cries of London Drawn from Life (1823) and a book of London cries lacking a title page published ca.1821 by J. Bysh.


Hodgson’s The Cries of London (London: Hodgson & Co., ca. 1824).

Pictures of amputees may be more common in children’s books issued by the Quaker firm of the Dartons and they may be an indication of  pacifist tendencies.  This one from My Real Friend is unusual for showing quite graphically the daily accidental humiliations to which an amputee had to endure.  The passage the picture accompanies follows.


The title vignette for My Real Friend: or Incidents in Life, Founded on Truth. 2nd ed. corrected (London: W. Darton, 1812). The old soldier’s peg leg has gotten caught in the style.



Perhaps the most unusual sighting of a disabled veteran I’ve found so far is the frontispiece by R. Stennett for Parlour Amusements; or A New Book of Games and Forfeits (ca. 1820).  It shows a group of children playing the game of “Old Soldier” which is described inside.   One person is supposed to impersonate the impoverished veteran and notice how the boy has improvised a wooden leg from a pair of bellows.   The verse rules are followed with a model dialog between imaginary players to show how the process of questions and answers ought to play out.  4907frontis






The game of “Old Soldier,” which also goes by the name of “Here Comes an Old Soldier from Botany Bay,” was played for almost a century in the English-speaking world.  Halliwell-Phillipps included it in Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales (1849) under the title “The Poor Soldier.”   The second edition of Cassell’s Book of In-door Amusements, Card Games, and Fireside Fun described it as old in 1882, but didn’t speculate as to its probable age.  The 1901 volume of the Pennsylvania School Journal recommended “The Game of the Poor, Old Soldier” as an amusing one for small children in 1901, as did Grace Lee Davidson’s 1916 Games and Parties for Children.

This appearance in Parlour Amusements seems to be the earliest recorded and perhaps it is a relic of the Napoleonic Wars. The larger question is to consider what exactly such a game tells us about attitudes towards the disabled veteran during the nineteenth century. Here he seems to be treated simply as a character type that offers a good opportunity for dress up, rather than as a brave soul whose broken body  deserves respect as a symbol of patriotic service to his country.   Whatever its  meaning, the frontispiece of Parlour Amusements, along with the other illustrations shown here, offers a surprising glimpse into the impact of war on civilians.

This post was originally published in 2016, but it is worth reading again as two wars rage simultaneously in two countries.   It is a sad reminder that children are not always spared the realities of war in the books they read.