Mariah Boil American
United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (“Shakers”) American

Not on view

Mariah Boil’s finely stitched sampler illustrates the well-known Shaker mission to produce architecture and decorative arts that were functional but beautiful and depended on the bare essentials of form for their decorative appeal. Surrounded by a zig-zag border, there are six alphabets, three sets of numbers, and several lines of inscriptions all stitched in horizontal bands across the width of the sampler. Below the alphabets and numbers are unidentified initials of Mariah’s friends or family members. Below that, Mariah stitched that she was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on May 6, 1832 and came to the Shaker community of Pleasant Hill in Mercer County, Kentucky, on her fifth birthday, May 6, 1837. In the bottom two lines we learn that twelve-year-old Mariah spent three months sewing her sampler from December 19, 1843 to March 16, 1844.

The Pleasant Hill archives record that two other Boil children, Eliza (b. 1825) and Richard (b. 1830), likely Mariah’s siblings, also arrived in Pleasant Hill around the same time as Mariah—all three without their parents. As a celibate community, in order to bring new members into the Shaker fold, children were added through adoption, indenture, or conversion. The Shakers promised to provide them with housing, meals, and schooling, as well as teaching them domestic skills appropriate to their age and sex until they reached adulthood. During the economic panic of 1837, as families struggled to feed and care for all their members, the number of children who came into Shaker communities surged. This may have accounted for the Boil children entering the Pleasant Hill community.

Mariah was thus raised in the Shaker religion, and the Pleasant Hill archives further record that when she was 21 years old she signed the Covenant agreeing to the rules, regulations and beliefs of the Shakers. However, two years later, on August 7, 1858, she departed "for the wide world", only to return to Pleasant Hill less than a month later, on September 2. The 1860 U.S. Census lists her as a member of Pleasant Hill, but in May of 1863 at age 31, she departed again and there is no record of her return. Although the details of Mariah’s adult life remain unknown, her charming sampler is one of only a few known Shaker samplers, and documents the time she spent at Pleasant Hill.

Sampler, Mariah Boil (born 1832), Silk and cotton embroidery on linen/cotton, American, Shaker

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