This is one corner of a large linen handkerchief or kerchief that once belonged to Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Now the property of Eliza and Alexander Hamilton’s fifth-great-grandson Douglas Hamilton, the handkerchief is currently undergoing textile conservation. The handkerchief is currently display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia as part of their “Year of Hamilton” exhibitions.
The traditional thought about this handkerchief is that Eliza herself had embroidered the tiny, faded cross-stitches, made the drawn-stitch borders, and applied the delicate needle-lace to the edges. Eliza was an accomplished needleworker (see here and here) and the theory seemed to make sense. Working names or initials into a garment like a shirt or shift, or an accessory like a handkerchief was common both for practical reasons (it helped prevent the article from becoming lost) and sentimental ones (the maker cared enough for the wearer to add this small personal touch.)
All that said, I doubt that Eliza was this handkerchief’s maker. It’s highly unlikely that she’d embroider her personal linen with her formal married name. It’s also unlikely that any close friend or relative would do so, either. Yet it’s obvious the handkerchief became a keepsake, preserved with care not only by Eliza, but her family as well.
So who did make it? My guess - and it’s only a guess! - is that it may be the work of one of the girls in her care through the Orphan Asylum Society in the City of New York, the orphanage that Eliza helped found in 1806 and that continues today as Graham Windham, an organization that supports hundreds of at-risk children and their families in the New York area. Eliza served as the first directress of the OAS, and remained there until 1848 when she finally, reluctantly, stepped down at the age of 91. Hundreds of orphans passed through the OAS during that time. While Eliza took pride in knowing them all, I’m sure that there were some who became special to her. Had one of those girls proudly demonstrated the useful sewing skills she’d been taught through the OAS by making this special memento for Mrs. Hamilton - a memento that Eliza kept?
Many thanks to Mark Turdo, curator, Museum of the American Revolution, for showing me this handkerchief.