January 1st 1851
Did not rise as early as I ought to commence a new year …
it being about 7 Oclock before we had our breakfast All wide
awake to get the start of wishing Happy New Year. Finished
our ironing, and swept the chambers A A Gilmore & wife
called P M stoped about two hours. Mrs Witherell finished
the underclothes for Susans doll. Elisa at Olivers [Jr] cutting
Helens dress Commenced a letter to Pauline in answer to one
received last night Pleasant but very cold.
Most of the people named in Evelina Ames’s first diary entry are family members. A. A. Gilmore, for instance, is her 30-year old nephew Augustus. Mrs. Witherell is her sister-in-law, Sarah, busy with doll clothes for Evelina’s youngest child, Susan. Oliver, Jr. is Evelina’s brother-in-law; his daughter Helen is having a dress made. They all live in the small, industrial village of North Easton, Massachusetts. Most live within the Ames family’s substantial compound.
Evelina herself is 42 years old. Raised on a farm several miles south of the center of town, she has been married to Oakes Ames, a shovel-maker, since 1827. With three sons and one daughter, she and Oakes live in the family homestead that they share with Evelina’s father-in-law and his aforementioned, widowed daughter, Sarah Witherell, along with her two children. The Ames men work at the shovel shop, the younger children go to school, and the women tend the home. Everyone is occupied.
The diary that Evelina kept during 1851 and 1852 offers a modest but illuminating window on daily family life in New England in the ten years before the American Civil War, which they will call “The Great Rebellion.” It was a decade that marked the end of much of what had come before. Evelina’s remote, quotidian and predictable life was changing as the railroads moved in, travel became expedited, goods became more accessible and plentiful, and religious thinking was challenged. As far as her personal circumstances are concerned, much more will change for the family in the years ahead than anyone could have imagined on that cold New Year’s day in 1851. Of course, we know this now, looking back with perspective, but Evelina didn’t. She only knew about each day as it happened – which is much of the charm of reading her record.
Hope you will enjoy following along.