Their description of the kit offers background information about the original 18th century sampler, which is in their collection. They write,
Cynthia Burr was one of Mary Balch’s students. The central building is the State House which is found on a number of other samplers worked under Mary's tutelage, it's either the State House in Newport or Providence.
I have an inclination that the building in the center is the Providence State House and not the Newport State House, which locals call the Colony House. Here's why...
Detail of the State House from the Cynthia Burr sampler. Which State House is it?
Here are photos of the properties in debate:
The 1739 Colony House in Newport, RI.
The c.1761 State House in Providence, RI.
Image from the Rhode Island Historical & Preservation Commission website.
From first glance, it appears that the Newport Colony House is a closer match than the Providence State House. But when learning about the State House's architectural history, it didn't always look like this. The Rhode Island Historical & Preservation Commission website explains, "Before the present tower on the west façade and the wing on Benefit Street were added in the nineteenth century, the Old State House bore a striking resemblance to the Newport Colony House." The illustration below, also from their website, helps show what the building originally looked like:
When comparing the three side-by-side...
...there are many architectural similarities which actually makes it less straightforward to distinguish which property is represented in the sampler.
|The back of the Colony House.|
- Both have a modified version of the 12 over 12 double hung windows.
- Both are constructed from brick with a grand double door entrance. (The medieval-influenced door is my favorite feature of the Colony House).
- Both properties have side chimneys; the photo of the Colony House at the right better illustrates this.
However the Newport Colony House has one feature that's missing from the Providence State House which is not depicted in the sampler: it has dormers. Knowing that dormers were generally a 19th century modification to older buildings, I suspect that this might be a later addition.
Looking back at the Essemplaire sampler description, they describe Cynthia Burr as being a student of Mary Balch. When searching the Rhode Island historic newspaper database I learned that...
Mary Balch died in November 1800 at 34 years old, so she was born in 1766 and her maiden name was Mary Stillman. Providence Gazette, November 19, 1800
She was married to Nathaniel Balch in 1789.
Providence Journal and Country Gazette, December 26, 1789
|Detail of the restored Colony House window, July 2010.|
The Providence State House versus the Newport Colony House. Which building do you think is represented?
To learn more about the Old State House visit the Brown University website; to read about the Colony House visit NewportHistory.org.
September 2015 Update:My research from the historic newspapers does not take into account that there were several Mary Balchs living in Rhode Island and the one referenced in my clip above is not the same Bach from the needlework school, so naturally it's not a strong source for interpreting which state house is depicted. However I still believe it to be the Providence State House. : )