1955.0003.008 Purse
  • 1955.0003.008 Purse
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Purse (Reticule)

  • Category:

    Textiles (Needlework)

  • Creator (Role):

    Mary Wright Alsop (Knitter)

  • Place of Origin:

    Middletown, Connecticut, United States, North America

  • Date:


  • Materials:


  • Techniques:


  • Museum Object Number:


  • Complete Details

Object Number


Object Name

Purse (Reticule)


Textiles (Needlework)

Credit Line/Donor

Gift of Henry Francis du Pont

Creator (Role)

Mary Wright Alsop (Knitter)
Mary Wright Alsop was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1740. She was the only child of Joseph Wright (1704-1775) and Hanah Gilbert Wright (1718-1804). Her father was a prosperous farmer and brickyard owner. Being an only child, she received an exemplary education at Sarah Osborn's School in Newport, Rhode Island in 1754. Mary married Richard Alsop (1726-1776), also of Middletown, on April 27, 1760. Richard, from a wealthy New York family, was a savvy businessman and became the most successful West Indies merchant in Middletown. Richard became enormously wealthy through his West Indies trade, was also prominent in the Episcopal Church, and became politically influential while serving several terms as Middletown's representative to the General Court, the forerunner of the Connecticut General Assembly. Mary gave birth to ten children during their 16-year marriage, eight of which survived past infancy. Richard died unexpectedly at the age of 50, in 1776, leaving Mary a wealthy widow with eight young children. Richard had made her sole administratrix of his vast estate. Mary's father had died in 1775, and she had no brother or adult son to help her with this overwhelming task, a task which took her 14 years to settle, all while raising her children. In 1792, when Mary was 52 years old, she sat for a portrait by artist Ralph Earl. Five of Mary Alsop's children married well, and made advantageous matches with members of other prominent families, most in Middletown. Mary died in 1829 in Middletown at the age of 89. During her lifetime, Mary was an accomplished needlewoman. Her multiple embroideries and knitted objects, owned by various museums and private collectors, reflect a period of 60 years of her life as a student, wife, mother, widow, and grandmother.

Place of Origin

Middletown, Connecticut, United States, North America



Mark or Signature or Inscription or Label

1. Inscription; Note inside purse; "Knit Bags and cushion / by Mrs Mary (Wright) / Alsop (wife of Richard / Alsop Jr of Middletown / Conn / 1774[?] / Sleeve worked and woven by / her daughter Mary Alsop" (handwritten, ink)





Construction Description


Dimensions (inches)

5 (H) , 2.875 (W)

Dimensions (centimeters)

12.7 (H) , 7.302 (W)

Object Description

Web - 10/13/2014

Mary Alsop was left a wealthy widow with a large family when her husband died in 1776. A skilled needlewoman, in later life she knit and embroidered pocketbooks and reticules (drawstring bags) as gifts for her children and grandchildren. On many she inscribed her name, her age at the time of making, and the name of the recipient. Clearly her grandchildren did not visit as often as she would have liked, as she wrote to one grandson: "I send you a Purse which I knit for you sometime ago, hoping to have the satisfaction of giving it to you myself. Receive it as a small testimony of my affection."

Bibliography and Bibliographic Notes

[Journal] Krueger, Glee. "A Middletown Cameo: Mary Wright Alsop and Her Needlework.". Connecticut Historical Society Museum & Library Vol. 52, No.3-4 Summer/Fall 1987
Published: pp. 180-181, fig. 19; pp. 125-137, biography of Mary
[Book] Swan, Susan Burrows. 1977 Plain & Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1700-1850.
Published: p.116, pl. 20
[Book] Swan, Susan Burrows. 1995 Plain and Fancy: American Women and their Needlework, 1650-1850.
Published: p. 148, pl. 22