Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy - The Arms of Foxcroft and Coney

Refine Filter Results

Skip to Content ☰ Open Filter >>

Image of The Arms of Foxcroft and Coney

Elizabeth or Mehetable Foxcroft , (1728/9-1757–1723-1770)

The Arms of Foxcroft and Coney

c. 1740-1750
31 1/2 in. x 28 1/2 in. (80.01 cm x 72.39 cm)

Medium and Support: Silk, gold, and silver metallic threads, beads, and paint on silk and velvet
Credit Line: Gift of C. Lloyd Thomas
Accession Number: 1962.6


The Foxcroft and Coney coat of arms is perhaps the most visually spectacular and atypical example within an extraordinary group of armorial embroideries worked by wealthy New England girls while attending Boston schools during the eighteenth century. Surprisingly, Boston's heraldic needlework has no foreign prototypes, nor was it favored elsewhere in eighteenth-century America.1 This purely Boston phenomenon was possibly inspired by the filigree coats of arms being made by both English and colonial schoolgirls.2 The Boston schoolmistress responsible for the filigree arms of the 1730s may have initiated the fashion for embroidered arms, and they remained peculiar to New England until the close of the schoolgirl needlework era.

The earliest-known coat of arms with a worked date was made in 1740, and canvas-work pieces with colored grounds were generally favored before the preference for silk on black silk that flourished after 1760. The majority of eighteenth-century embroidered arms are in the lozenge shape typical of mourning devices known as hatchments, although arms painted for decorative purposes were usually vertical rectangles. Black grounds may also have contributed to the twentieth-century assumption that these schoolgirl decorations were, like hatchments, intended to commemorate the deceased.3 Since 1921, if not earlier, worked arms in both lozenge and rectangular shapes have usually been called hatchments, despite the repudiation of this misnomer by heraldic authorities.

Between 1755 and 1774 four Boston teachers advertised instruction in working coats of arms, and three other school mistresses have left documented examples. Yet no clues whatever have emerged concerning a teacher responsible for the Foxcroft and Coney coat of arms, which is exceptional for its large size, for the use of a black silk ground at so early a date, and especially for its unique arrangement of the arms of Foxcroft and Coney on a horizontally divided shield in a manner unknown to English heraldry.4 Although undated and with the exact identity of its maker unproven, it is assigned to the 1740s because its only known counterpart, the arms of Salter impaling Bryan, was unquestionably worked by Mary Salter (1726-1755), the daughter of William Salter (1696-1753) of Boston and Mary Bryan (1697- 1769), who married Henry Quincy in 1749. Mary's work, although slightly smaller than the Foxcroft and Coney arms, is equally impressive, and its rendition of highly raised motifs in gold and silver upon silk and velvet leaves no doubt that both pieces were made under the same instructress.5

The Foxcroft and Coney coat of arms is attributed to a daughter of the Honorable Francis Foxcroft of Cambridge, who married Mehetabel Coney in 1722. It was most likely worked by Mehetabel (1723-1770) or Elizabeth (1728/29-1757), who were closer in age to Mary Salter, rather than by their youngest daughter, Phoebe (1743-1812), with whose heirs it was destined to descend. Elizabeth, the probable maker, married Benjamin Brandon (1724-1755) in 1749, and their three small orphans grew up with their Foxcroft grandmother and the youngest survivors among her fifteen children, John (1740-1802), Phoebe, and Francis (1744-1814).

The 1768 inventory of Francis Foxcroft's estate listed the "Worked Picture Coat of Arms" in "the best Room" of his mansion house, while "a Picture of the Coat of Arms on Parchment" was upstairs in "the Green Chamber.”6 Perhaps this image was the source of the unusual arrangement on the embroidered shield.

After 1768 the exact location of the embroidery becomes uncertain. Phoebe Foxcroft married Samuel Phillips (1752-1802) the future founder of Phillips Academy, in 1773, and they first lived near his parents in North Andover. In 1777 they moved to Andover, as had Phoebe's nieces, Elizabeth (1750-1788) and Martha Brandon (1753-1778) in 1775, both having married Andover men—Nathaniel Lovejoy and Samuel Osgood, respectively. Meanwhile, the Cambridge mansion occupied by Phoebe's brother John Foxcroft, of Tory leanings, was destroyed by fire on 24 January 1777.7 Obviously, the embroidered coat of arms was not there. The widow Mehetabel Foxcroft died in Phoebe's Andover home in 1782,8 but whether she moved to Andover before or after the fire is unknown. If the coat of arms was worked by her daughter Elizabeth, possibly she gave it to one of her Brandon granddaughters and it reverted to Phoebe after their early deaths.

In any case, after Phoebe Phillips died in 1812, the coat of arms evidently spent at least a century in the North Andover homestead then occupied by her son John. He died in 1820 at the age of forty-four, leaving his forty-one-year-old widow, Lydia, with an insolvent estate, and three sons and ten daughters, all minors.9 They all reached adulthood, and in the 1880 will of daughter Mary Ann Phillips Brooks, "The Coat of Arms Picture" was first on a list of seventeen important household items. Thereafter, the heirs of Mary Ann Phillips and her husband, William Gray Brooks (1805-1879), maintained the Phillipses' North Andover homestead for another one hundred years.

The earliest published reference to the Foxcroft and Coney coat of arms appeared in Bolton and Coe's American Samplers of 1921, and named as owners were the "Misses Gertrude and Agnes Brooks, Marlborough Street, Boston, daughters of William Gray Brooks.”10 Gertrude and Agnes, the spinster daughters of William Gray Brooks, Jr. (1834-1912), with their sister, Susan Brooks Thomas (1876-1957), also inherited The Shepherdess, a work of Hannah Phillips, c. 1756-60.

Betty Ring, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 371-73; revised by Kelley Tialiou, Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Assistant | Librarian | Archivist

1. The only known exceptions are two small rectangular renditions of the Flower family arms on cream-colored silk, worked by Elizabeth (1742-1781) and Ann Flower (1743-1778) of Philadelphia in 1765 and 1763, respectively. See Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850, vol. 2 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. 358.

2. For two examples, see Betty Ring, "Heraldic Embroidery in Eighteenth-Century Boston,” Antiques 141 (April 1992), p. 626; and Joseph Downs, "A Quillwork Hatchment," Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 33 (December 1938), p. 267.

3. The word “hatchment” (derived from achievement) normally applies to a coat of arms painted diagonally on a black lozenge-shaped or square panel and hung from one comer. As a symbol of mourning, it might be carried in a funeral procession or hung above the door of the dwelling of the deceased and later removed to the family's house of worship. Hatchments were used in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America just as in Europe, but in America they were more often called escutcheons than hatchments.

4. The families each have canting arms, as follows: Foxcroft: quarterly per chevron sable and azure a chevron between three foxes' heads or, crest a fox's head or; Coney: sable on a fess between three conies dormant or as many escallops sable. The elements of both arms have been combined without regard to heraldic principles, so that the resulting design cannot be blazoned. My thanks to Henry L. P. Beckwith for kindly supplying these details.

5. The two embroideries also shared deterioration of their black silk grounds. The fragile and shredded condition of the background of the Addison piece was stabilized by the conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1962. The Salter and Bryan arms (sight: 271/4 by 211/2 inches) evidently had the worked shield and floral border remounted on new black silk, probably in the 1880s, and is in a frame of that period. It is illustrated in the New England Magazine, October 1897, p. 173; and in Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), opp. p. 266.

6. Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Probate No. 8408, Massachusetts Archives, Boston.

7. Boston Gazette, 27 January 1777, p. 2; see also Sibley's Harvard Graduates, vol. 14 (John Foxcroft, Class of 1758), pp. 268-69.

8. No administration was filed until 2 June 1794. Samuel Phillips, Eben. March, and Joseph Phelps were ordered to exhibit an inventory by 23 August, but no inventory has been found; Essex County, Massachusetts, Probate No. 10097, Essex County Court House, Salem, Book 363, p. 239.

9. Fortunately, Lydia Phillips was assisted by Peter Chardon Brooks (1767-1849), husband of her sister Ann Gorham; P. C. Brooks, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Probate No. 35953, Massachusetts Archives.

10. Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe, American Samplers (Boston: Massachusetts Society of The Colonial Dames of America, 1921), p. 405. See also Charles Knowles Bolton, Bolton’s American Armory (Boston: F. W. Faxon Company, 1927), p. 62.

Exhibition List
This object was included in the following exhibitions:

Portfolio List Click a portfolio name to view all the objects in that portfolio
This object is a member of the following portfolios:

Your current search criteria is: Object is "The Arms of Foxcroft and Coney".

Addison Artist Council logo

Bartlett H. Hayes Prize Recipients


Reggie Burrows Hodges

Exhibition | Residency | Publication | Acquisition


Tommy Kha

Exhibition | Residency | Publication | Acquisition