A well-executed needlepoint landscape is like a portal to another time. And this one, imagined and created by a young Wickford lass named Maria Hammond, is a perfect example of just that. Created nearly 200 years ago, it is stitched with silk thread upon a hand-painted silk background and shows an almost idyllic scene of the Hammond Homestead Farm just a short while after the start of the 19th century. This piece of art is both sophisticated in its technique and childlike in its portrayal of a place that obviously was very important to its maker. I have no trouble imagining a 12- or 13-year-old Maria laboring away lovingly on this beautiful and honest representation of her grandparents’ home. Why, I imagine she could hardly wait to finish it so she could show it off.
Maria Hammond was born in October 1795 and spent her early years at the Hammond House on Main Street in Wickford. She probably learned her exceptional embroidery skills at either the Wickford Young Ladies School, which met at another as-yet-undetermined Main Street home, or at the nearby Washington Academy on Philips Street, which around 1808 began to offer training such as this to young ladies in addition to the rigorous career training they offered only to males. Indeed, Maria’s father, William T. Hammond, was actively involved in the Washington Academy at that time.
Maria married Exeter resident Col. Benjamin Champlin (rank attained while in the Exeter regiment of the RI State Militia) and lived with him somewhere in the vicinity of the present day Yawgoo Valley Road. Her marriage, however, was short-lived, as Champlin died at age 26. After burying him in the Champlin burial ground nearby, Hammond moved back in with her parents on Main Street. Unlike most young widows from prominent families, Maria Champlin never remarried.
She did, however, eventually leave her parents’ home when she moved in with her sister Lydia, after Lydia married the widower Jabez Bullock. They lived in the fine Brown Street home that Jabez had constructed for his new bride. As a matter of fact, Maria and Lydia lived out their lives there on Brown Street, sharing the house with Lydia’s daughter Abby for the remainder of their days. I bet this fine needlepoint hung proudly on the wall there throughout. After the death of daughter Abby in the early 20th century, the needlepoint returned to the Hammond family and was eventually donated to the North Kingstown Free Library, where it hung behind the librarian’s desk in the Brown Street library for many years. It can now be seen by appointment in the South County Room at the library.
Sadly, I could find very few details about the life of Maria Hammond Champlin in the historic record as I researched this story. I am left with only the comforting mental image of a young teenage girl sitting by the fireplace working diligently on the labor of love that is this extraordinary piece of folk art that she left behind. If you have an 18th or 19th century locally made needlepoint sampler, I’d be pleased to try and research its history for you in exchange for the opportunity to share it with our readers. Contact me at Swamptown@msn.com for details.