Connected Through Strands: The Purinton Family Hair Book

– Bailey Sneed ’22 (Winter 2021)

Along Quaker Street, in Lincoln, Vermont, sits a multi-stone monument dedicated to Chase Purinton (Figure 1). Quaker Street is more than just a road; it once functioned as the community’s religious, political, and social center. It even served as the site of the town’s first birth, marriage and burial (Gove, 214). The street name also reflects the town’s religious history as a large majority of early settlers in the town were Quakers, including Chase Purinton (Hughes & Bradley, 160).

Figure 1: Monument to Chase Purinton, “Erected by the descendants of Chase Purinton,” 1903, Lincoln, Vermont. Photograph by Purinton Maple.

Directed by his father to “search until he found a good source of water,” Chase Purinton left New Hampshire with his family, four oxen, six cows, and two horses, and settled in Lincoln, Vermont, in 1803. As the town’s first blacksmith, he found work easily but gained his true prominence in 1806 by constructing the town’s first grist mill, as evoked by the millstone of his monument. With “Yankee ingenuity” and “persistency,” Chase Purinton hand-built the water-powered mill to ground locally-grown feed and grain, introducing the town to more advanced and effective technology (Gove, 214). Beyond constructing the machinery, quarrying and grinding the stones, and building the mill, Chase Purinton, a blacksmith by trade, even made the very own tools that he used to build the mill. He was a determined, hardworking, and crafty man, and once he successfully completed the mill, it constantly ran for 80 years (Gove, 214).  The millstones were saved and incorporated into the 1903 monument on  Quaker Street and mark the centennial of the settlement of Chase Purinton and offer a reminder of his contributions to the community (Gove, 214).

Chase Purinton and his legacy continue to live on in a very different kind of memorial as well: within the pages of the Purinton Family Hair Book, now in the collections of the Lincoln Historical Society. A small lock of his hair is secured to the folded pages of a home-made booklet with ribbon and an adhesive, captioned with his name, and framed by his death year and age in delicate cursive (Figure 2). The hair is thin and sparse, but it is strongly infused with individuality.  It is hard to imagine his full character, resiliency, and influence in these few hairs, but these hairs did just that for his family, allowing them to recall and reconnect.

The Purinton Family Hair Book is a collection of locks and arranged loops of hair into an organized album, bound by green ribbons. The book features forty-four named individuals and an array of different hair arrangements. It spans across ten pages and features many members of the Purinton family and many unrelated individuals. Since the Purinton family plays a prominent role in local Vermont history, and because there is a whole book on Purinton genealogy (Chase Purinton and Seven Generations of His Descendants, 1757 to ?, by D.P. Collins [1987]), I am going to focus on examining the hair album as a cultural relic.

Figure 3: Detail view, Mary Staples, from Purinton Family Hair Book, page 5.

Due to the economic comfort and social status of the Purinton family, the women most likely didn’t work outside the home and instead, like a majority of middle-class white women in the nineteenth century, spent their time making fancywork. Fancywork during the Victorian era is partly elusive but refers to the general trend of craft making, object creation, sewing, and needlework developed for the family and the house. Fancywork reinforced the cult of domesticity by confining and solidifying women’s position in the home instead of the workplace. Women remained at home while simultaneously producing new objects and goods for the home at relatively little cost. It didn’t threaten family finances or gender relations (Bercaw, 240).  Fancywork was delicate, feminine, gentle, and tedious; like the romantics, creators strove for beauty, often looking to the natural world, creating petals and flowers (Figure 3 showcases a lock from the Purinton family album that has been arranged in elaborate loops that suggest a flower). Fancywork manuals and tutorials filled women’s magazines, and through practicing fancywork, as Helen Sheumaker states in her book Love Entwined: the Curious History of Hairwork in America, “women not only learned the craft but crafted themselves as proper women” (Sheumaker, 108).

Within Victorian fancywork, hair was a commonly used and prized material. It is unique because, unlike the rest of the body that is subject to decay, “hair recalls the living state of the body, it remains the same after death” (Harmeyer, 41).  Hair exists as a synecdoche and serves as a representation of the individual through a fragment. The high level of intimacy of working with a loved one’s hair reflects why many hairwork pieces often serve purposes of mourning and remembrance. In the same vein and with the case of the Purinton Family Hair Book, hairwork could serve archival and genealogical purposes displaying networks of families in elaborate wreaths or organized albums.  Hairwork was sacred in materiality and process. It was an attempt to create immortality from mortal remains– to connect with someone separated by distance or death.

Though fancywork reinforced gender roles,  many Victorian women subverted the practice through crafting expansive wreaths and albums, showcasing community and family networks, thereby empowering women to act as historians.  These hairwork records are rooted in femininity and feminine principles and therefore articulate a uniquely domestic and feminine history.  These hair historians wove and outlined relationships that “centered upon the intimate, personal past of their family and friends, the ordinary people, men and women, who were neglected by traditional histories” (Zielke, 41). Hairwork allowed for an avenue of documentation and storytelling that embraced personal relationships.

The form of the hair album is particularly illustrative because it displays broader relationships than the typical genealogical family tree. These networks can include neighbors, friends, and beyond. This was present in the Purinton Family Hair Book; it featured many unrelated people and provided a more accurate insight into the circles of their life. As Sheumaker writes, “Viewing a hair scrap album from the nineteenth century could be an intensely intimate experience, because the maker’s personality and life is laid out so clearly on the album’s pages” (Sheumaker, 122). Albums also differ from other forms of hair art because, unlike the wreath or jewelry that is meant to be displayed, albums are private, and the hair hides between the pages till opening. 

Above all, the Purinton Family Hair Book showcases relationships and entwinement. As a result of the book, these individuals are now forever linked together in the historical record, entwined together through their hair.  Certain page arrangements like in figures four and five deepen those linkages by mirroring the format of a family tree.  Figure four illustrates that Mary is the daughter of Chase and Lydia. Figure five depicts that John and Philena are parents of Caroline. Both are backed by the historical record.

Figure Four: Cover of the Purinton Hair Book, featuring Chase, Lydia, and Mary Purinton.
Figure Five: Page 3 of the Purinton Hair Book: John, Philena, Caroline H. Purinton.

Some pages did not follow concrete patterns but rather consisted of collages of different last names and patches of hair in seemingly random order. Figure six shows a collection of ten different locks of hair, with assorted last names and elaborate and varying loops. Again, hair albums and the Purinton Family Hair Book reveal how personal these items were and how they could be used as an effective tool in imagining these individuals’ social spheres. 

Figure six: Purinton Family Hair Book, page 7. Individuals include Jedediah Huntington, Jeremiah Grinnell, Joseph B. Richardson, Eliza H. Meader, Moses Gove, Jairus E. Davis, Valentine, Henry Downing, and Joseph Jackman.

There are only two individuals with marked death dates in the Purinton Family Hair Book: Chase Purinton (1826) and Lydia Purinton (1843). Through their hair, they are immortalized and remembered. Through their hair, their relationships with family and friends span pages and live beyond their death, connected across time, space and generations.

Figure seven: Detail view of Hair Album cover, featuring Chase and Lydia Purinton.
Figure 8. Detail view of page 3 of album; clockwise from top: Mary Purinton, Maria, Paige, Ruth Purinton, C. [unidentified], Rhoda

The Purinton Family Hair Book preserves the connections of the family and the family itself. Scattered with stunning blossoms of looped hairwork, it is visually and intellectually stimulating because it materializes the relationships of the past and creates tangible relics used to recall these individuals. As seen in figure eight, the ends are hidden, creating an infinite knot of loops that represent strong, indefinite, and timeless love between the women listed. Every placement of hair in this book is a radical act of acknowledgment, remembrance, and memorialization. 

The Purinton Family Hair book showcases the prevalence of fancywork among middle-class Victorians and reveals the deeply emotional and personal ties that underlined fancywork. It also partly demonstrates how women subverted this role of domesticity to a role of the storyteller and historian through documenting family and community networks.  The Purinton Family Hair Book tells a story of humanity, vulnerability, family, love, and connection.

Works cited and all the images of the Purinton Family Hair Book are below. We are especially grateful to Lucinda Cockrell and Beverly Brown for their help with research and for sharing this amazing resource.

Detail, hairwork and charm in form of a book
Detail, Hairwork chain with charm in the form of a book, n.d. Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, VT. Gift of Mrs. Frances A. Waite, 1968, 68.20.b.

Cite this essay: Bailey Sneed, “Connected Through Strands: The Purinton Family Hair Book” in Perspectives on Hairwork: Historic Vermont, ed. Ellery Foutch (Winter 2021): [date accessed]

All pages of Purinton Book

(click on thumbnails to open image in a new tab)

The Purinton Family Hair Book was donated to the Lincoln Historical Society by descendant Beverly Brown in 2019 (LHS2019.034.001). More materials related to the family can also be found at the Lincoln Historical Society; for those unable to travel to Vermont, a family tree and many scanned documents are available via FamilySearch.

Index of Names:

Cover/page 1: Chase Purinton (d. 1826, aged 69); Lydia Purinton (d. 1843, aged 85); Mary Purinton

Page 2: Benjamin and Content [Johnson] Purinton; Rhodman & Harriet & William Purinton

Page 3: John Purinton, Philena Purinton, Caroline H. Purinton (left); Mary Purinton, Maria, Paige, Ruth Purinton, C. [unidentified], Rhoda (right)

Page 4: Elijah Purinton, Mary Purinton, Chase S. Purinton, John Purinton

Page 5: Mary Staples; Martha Purinton; 2 unlabeled locks

Page 6: William Purinton, Lydia Purinton, Elihu Purinton, James Staples (left); Huldah G. Purinton, Thurston P. Chase (right)

Page 7: Jedidah Huntington, Jeremiah Grinnell, Joseph B. Richardson, Eliza H. Meader, Moses Gove, Jairus E. Davis, Valentine, Jos [hidden by hair], Henry Downing, Joseph Jackson

Page 8: Thankful Hawkins, Amaziah Hawkins [family tree link]

Page 9: Elizabeth Davis [with brightly-colored plaid cloth]

Page 10/verso: Martha Purinton, Luther’s Martha [or Luther & Martha], Marilla

Works cited

Bercaw, Nancy. “Solid Objects/Mutable Meanings: Fancywork and the Construction of Bourgeois Culture, 1840- 1880.” Winterthur Portfolio 26, no. 4 (1991): 231–247. 

“Chase Purinton (1757-1826).” Find a Grave. Accessed February 13, 2021.

Gove, M. B. “Quaker Street .” The Vermonter, 1911: 213-215. 

Harmeyer, Rachel. “Objects of Immorality: Hairwork and Mourning in Victorian Visual Culture .” Proceedings of the Art of Death and Dying Symposium, 2018.

Hughes, Charles W. and A. Day Bradley. “The Early Quaker Meetings of Vermont.” Vermont History vol. 29, no. 3 (July 1961): 153-167.

“Philema Purinton (Born Gregory).” My Heritage. Accessed February 13, 2021.

Sheumaker, Helen. Love Entwined: the Curious History of Hairwork in America. Philadelphia, PA: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

Zielke, Melissa. “Forget-Me-Nots: Victorian Women, Mourning, and the Construction of a Feminine Historical Memory.” Material Culture Review 58 (2003).