A Memento Returns (Cont.)

The education of the young ladies focused on the so-called “ornamental branches”: fine needlework, painting on silk, watercolor flowers, and music and language lessons. The school in Bethlehem was particularly noted for the delicate embroidery style and techniques taught here. The girls learned to make and embroider small purses, pincushions, and work bags. A letter from one of Jane’s friends back home in Germantown thanks her for the lovely, tiny purse from Bethlehem that Jane had given her and that she had probably made herself. And in a touching tribute to her departed parents, Jane completed a mourning embroidery of silk thread and ink on satin-weave silk cloth. These mourning pictures, generally featuring urns or memorial tablets, weeping willows, and the sad survivor or survivors in mourning, were particularly common in the early years of the 19th century, following George Washington’s death, when this particular art form reached its peak. In Jane’s embroidery, it is just possible to make out the inscription, done in ink, on the urn’s base: “In Memory of my beloved parents Thomas & Ann Armat.” The delicately painted face of the mourning girl, made to represent Jane herself, may have been painted by Samuel Reinke, a minister and inspector of the schools, an accomplished artist who provided painted details for the students’ needlework.

After two years, during which they were visited by their grandparents and made trips to Germantown for holidays, the children were brought back home to finish their education and, eventually, to be introduced into society. Jane’s life is far better documented than her older sister’s, and we know that in 1819, the year she reached her majority, she married her cousin William Armatt, who had come from England to go into business with his older, established brother in Baltimore. Within two years, in a pattern strikingly similar to her parents’, Jane and William had two children, both girls.

William, like Jane’s father, died very soon after their second daughter was born. His widow was forced to sell many of their belongings to make ends meet. But she kept his pocket watch. Made by an English watchmaker, its case engraved with William’s name, the watch was a memento of her husband that she clearly treasured. In fact, she may have given it to him in the first place, perhaps as a wedding present, as her grandfather’s accounts show that she and her sister exchanged their father’s watch for two others, shortly before she came of age and married William.

Over the years, Jane visited Bethlehem often, on her way to and from the land she had inherited from her grandfather at the Delaware Water Gap. On one such trip in 1833, she paid a visit to Sarah Horsfield, the Moravian sister who had taught and supervised Jane and her sister some 20 years earlier. Sister Horsfield was getting on in years and was then living with her aged parents. But she remembered the Armat girls fondly and was particularly anxious that Jane convey her good wishes to her sister, Sara.

Sara, as it turns out, had been a child with a serious mental disability, brought on, it was supposed, by some sort of seizure as a toddler. The school was not set up for children who could not advance in their learning, but according to Sister Horsfield’s recollections, Sara was treated with dignity and care. Sister Horsfield remembered that although “contrary to the established rules of the school, when her age would have caused her to pass to an older room, it was thought fit to let her remain under my care, with the schollars who were younger than herself, [w]here she remained till she left school.” The devoted teacher also remembered the tenderness of the girls’ grandfather, noting that whenever Mr. Armat visited the girls, he could never speak of Sara’s condition without shedding tears. After the girls left the school, the teacher inquired after her special charge, and wrote encouraging letters to her. And after Jane’s visit to Bethlehem in 1833, during which she gave Sister Horsfield the latest report on Sara’s health, the teacher wrote Sara one more time:

On Sabbath last I had the pleasure of seeing your dear sister Jane and of hearing of you. Indeed my dear Sara I still love you very much and often think of you and also speak of you to those who remember you while at Bethlehem. I hope to have the pleasure of once again seeing you should my life be spared, but should this not be the case, you know there is a place, where we all hope to meet again, that is before the throne and at the feet of our once crucified savior and redeemer; if we love and follow him we have nothing to fear, he will always be with us nor will he leave or forsake us in a dying hour.

Hearing from her former teacher and protector must have pleased Sara, who died the following year, at the age of 37, just three years after the death of the grandfather who had sent them to Bethlehem to be educated.

In the fall of 1836, in the midst of a personal and business crisis swirling around her second husband, Jane began a period of extensive travel with her daughters through Europe. That same year, an engraving featuring the buildings of the Moravian Ladies’ Seminary at Bethlehem was published. It may have been taken from an original drawing by Samuel Reinke, the minister and school inspector who had been at the school when Jane and Sara were at Bethlehem almost 20 years earlier. As an artist, Reinke drew Moravian buildings and their settings and also provided the schoolgirls with patterns for painting miniature pictures on silk. It is possible that some of Reinke’s patterns made their way into Jane’s hands for an art project, or that she simply purchased his ready-drawn pieces, but either way, two of his drawings on silk must have meant a great deal to her. They depict the buildings that made up the Ladies’ Seminary at Bethlehem and the Moravian Church. Jane cut them into delicate rounds and placed them in the two lockets of her first husband’s pocket watch. There the images remain today, encased in the gold watch, a tribute to her fond memories of her education in Bethlehem. They have been lovingly restored to their Pennsylvania and Moravian roots as a gift to the Moravian Historical Society from Cory Luxmoore, Jane’s only living descendant.

Rosalind Remer is associate professor of history at Moravian College.

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The drawings on silk from the Armatt watch: above Central Moravian Church.
The drawings on silk from the Armatt watch: above the Young Ladies' Seminary.
Photos: Courtesy of the Moravian Historical Society.