February 28, 1851


Feb 28  Friday  After doing my usual chores about house I

carried my work into the other part of the house

and staid until dinner time  Worked on shirt

bosoms & carried two in for Mrs Witherell to stich

This afternoon wrote a long letter to Cousin

Harriet Ames which took me most of the 

afternoon to write   Orinthia & myself spent

the evening in the other part of the house  Cloudy

Augustus not here

Cousin Harriet Ames was a spinster who lived in Burlington, Vermont with her widowed mother.  She was the daughter of Old Oliver’s older brother, John Ames.  Thus she was a niece of Old Oliver and first cousin to Oakes, Oliver Jr., Sarah Witherell and the rest of that generation of siblings.  Moving down one more generation, she was a first cousin once-removed to Oakes Angier, Oliver (3), Frank Morton and Susan.

It’s likely that Evelina wasn’t the only Ames to correspond with Cousin Harriet; her sisters-in-law Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell probably wrote and received  letters from Burlington as well.  All three ladies would have corresponded by mail with distant friends and relatives.  It was the way.  Writing letters was how people kept up with one another.  There was no telephone, and there certainly was nothing that resembled today’s digital and instantaneous communication.  Telegraphs were only just coming on the scene; telegraph offices and wires would soon dot the countryside and lead the way west.  Big wooden poles would be dug into the ground by men wielding – what else – shovels.  In a decade or so hence, Oakes and Oliver Jr. would maintain an active communication by telegraph once Oakes went to Congress and both men became involved with the building of the Union Pacific.

But they would all still write letters. Evelina wrote certain people regularly: Cousin Harriet in Vermont, Louisa Mower in Maine, and another friend named Pauline Dean. She must have been pleased when the mail coach came in, bringing letters to the little post office in North Easton, and taking them out to friends far away.

February 27, 1851

Coal scuttle


Feb 27 Thursday  Cannot say much for my work to day

Orinthia cleaned the sitting room for me while I

was making the fire in the furnace.  had a good 

deal of trouble with it  Augustus made quite a

long call this morning talking over matters & things

Have finished putting in the bosom & wris[t]bands to 

the old shirt that I commenced Tuesday & mended one

for Mr Ames

It sounds as if Evelina’s normal routine was challenged today.  First, she had to struggle with the coal furnace, or stove, probably stoking it and trying to make it catch and hold.   She was certainly familiar with “making” fires, but coal was not her strong suit.  She had spent most of her life burning wood, and she didn’t manage the new furnace well.

Second, her nephew Augustus came to call in the morning at a time of day when she was likely to still be working about the house.  He was full of conversation about “matters & things,” probably filling her in on his move to Easton,  his decision to leave teaching, and his hopes for the new boot and shoe factory he was setting up in the Lothrop Building. Evelina, fond aunt that she was, was no doubt interested in what Augustus had to relate, but the housewife in her was perhaps worried about not getting through her choring or not finishing the last of the ironing or not getting to the necessary mending while Augustus made his long visit.  Happily, Orinthia Foss was around to help with some of the basic sweeping and dusting.

In the afternoon, her housewifely pace seemed to settle down and she was able to pick up her sewing.  She reworked an old shirt belonging to her husband, replacing the most worn areas with new pieces.  A shirt that today we might throw out or put into the rag bag, she saved.  No wonder Reverend Chaffin accused her of being “very economical.”  She was, with no apologies.  No apologies from her husband, either.

February 26, 1851


Feb 26  Wednesday.  Have been baking  Heat the oven twice

made 18 mince pies.  Cake brown bread & ginger snaps

Mr Whitwell called & brought home some books.

I called to see Miss Eaton this afternoon she has failed

very much since I saw her nearly two weeks since.  Mrs. 

Wright is sick with the pleurisy & lung fever, both have watches

Abby & Malvina spent this evening here   The boys have

all gone to the meeting house to a sing  Pleasant & mild

A[u]gustus here to dine

Eighteen mincemeat pies! Hard to fathom a domestic pantry, pie safe or cold shelf  that could hold 18 mince meat pies all at once, let alone an oven that would bake even half that number at one time.  Cake, cookies, and bread, too.

The brown bread that Evelina baked today was a staple of the New England kitchen, and was made from some combination of Indian (corn) meal and rye.  While other geographic areas of the United States, like the south, the mid-Atlantic and the expanding west, had turned to wheat as their preferred grain for baking bread, Yankee housewives, “who valued and esteemed brown bread as the food of their Puritan ancestors,*” held to the familiar cornmeal and rye.  So it was in Evelina’s kitchen.

According to Sarah Josepha Hale, who published The Good Housekeeper in 1841, brown bread was “an excellent article of diet for the dyspeptic and the costive.”   Mary Peabody Mann, in Christianity in the Kitchen pronounced brown bread to be “a nutritive bread, though inferior in this respect to wheat,” and agreed that it produced “a laxative effect upon the system.”  Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, liked brown bread for its economy and tradition.  She advised that it “be put into a very hot oven, and baked three or four hours.”

After she got away from the cook room, Evelina was visited by Reverend Whitwell who either borrowed some books from her or lent some to her – the passage is unclear. Both of their homes must have housed a collection of books, and borrowing and sharing was common.  A decade or so earlier, Easton had boasted of two or three lending libraries but these institutions had pretty well ceased to operate.  Other, better organized libraries would be formed later that century, but in 1851, if someone wanted a book to read, he or she borrowed it from a friend or bought the publication.

In the neighborhood, Miss Eaton was still failing and now, under the same roof,  Mrs. Wright, mother of Harriet Holmes, was believed to be dying, also.  Neighbors were helping Mrs. Holmes with the care and feeding of the two invalids.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, p. 48

February 25, 1851

Helen Angier Ames

Helen Angier Ames


Feb 25  Tuesday  This morning Helen left home for school

at Dorchester.  She felt so bad when she left

that I did not go in to see her.  Her Father & Mother

went with her and returned to night, they went into

Boston and stoped an hour or two.  Mr Jennings

& Crommet called this evening to see Orinthia

I have been to work on a bosom of shirt putting

a new one into an old shirt of Oakes Angiers.  Very windy.

A[u]gustus here

Under some duress, the teenaged Helen Ames was taken to boarding school today, clearly not wishing to go.  Her parents insisted and accompanied her to see her settled.  Their stop in the city on the way home might have been a lift of spirits for a mother and father who had just driven away from a disconsolate child.

The children of both Oakes and Oliver Jr. each went away to school for a portion of their education.  Oakes and Evelina’s boys had already gone and returned home; Susan still had her boarding school ahead of her.  Oliver Jr. and Sarah’s two children, Fred and Helen, were at this stage both away at school.  Oliver Jr. and Sarah were empty-nesters, to use a term they wouldn’t have recognized.  They might have recognized the emotion, however.  Strange to think of them in their separate house, just the two of them now, quiet, (although Sarah’s younger brother, Cyrus Lothrop, sometimes lived with them) while right next door in the old homestead lived a whole commotion of relatives.

Schooling seemed to be the theme of the day.  A Mr. Jennings and a Mr. Crommet called to see Orinthia Foss, presumably on matters of her employment as a schoolteacher. Does any reader out there know either of these names?

His wife and son still living elsewhere – Bridgewater, perhaps – while he set up their rented lodgings in North Easton, Augustus Gilmore was staying temporarily with his aunt Evelina and her family.  He would soon bring Hannah, who was expecting, and little Eddie to town.

February 24, 1851


Feb 24th Monday.  This morning Orinthia commenced a

private school at the school house had twenty

scholars.  Was choring about house all the forenoon

This afternoon made over a valance for

Franks bed and did some mending.

Martin Guild was burried at two Oclock.  None

of us attended the funeral  Helen & Sarah Ames

called a few moments this evening.  Heavy rain.

Looks like little Susie was back in school today, this time under the tutelage of Orinthia Foss, the new teacher.  Not only would Susie see Miss Foss in the school room every day, but also at home for breakfast, dinner, and tea. During her tenure in Easton, Orinthia would take turns boarding with different families in town beginning with the Oakes Ameses. The exact location of the schoolhouse where she taught is undetermined, but it may have been located right in the heart of the village, at the Rockery.*

As usual, Evelina spent this busy Monday doing housework, or “choring,” as she called it, in the morning, or “forenoon,” while Jane McHanna labored with the weekly washing. What do you suppose was served for midday dinner on Mondays, when the women of the house were preoccupied with everything except cooking?  Perhaps the family ate one of those mincemeat pies that had been prepared days in advance and kept very cold somewhere. Yankee housewives were known to keep some baked goods frozen for months, either by placing them on shelves in an ice house, or simply by storing them in unheated spaces not far from the kitchen. A risky practice, one might think, especially with the varied temperatures and rainy weather that has characterized this particular February.

Also as usual, Evelina turned in the afternoon to her mending and sewing. She refurbished a valance for Frank Morton’s bed.  Although his brothers Oakes Angier and Oliver (3) shared a bedroom, Frank had a space, if not a room, to himself.  A valance was an essential component of his bedstead, naturally offering some warmth and privacy that might otherwise be lacking.

* Information from Frank Mennino, Curator of the Easton Historical Society.  Thank you, Frank.

February 23, 1851

Map of Maine, 1850

Map of Maine, 1850


Feb 23  Sunday  Have not been to church to day on account

of my cough, although it is a great deal better.

Orinthia staid at home too, having a bad cold and 

being a good deal fatigued.  We have had a nice 

quiet time talking over Maine affairs.  She spent

Thursday night at Mr Mowers.  Have written a long

letter to Louise J. Mower to day.  Mr Whitwell exchanged

with Mr Bradford of Bridgewater.  It is a lovely day.

This was the second Sunday in a row that Evelina missed going to meeting.   She stayed behind ostensibly to keep the new boarder company and to nurse the lingering cough that she admitted to herself was much better.  Was she still avoiding certain people at church, or had she gotten past the Sewing Circle incident?  Whatever her reasoning, she had a pleasant visit with young Orinthia Foss, the new schoolteacher.

Orinthia seems to have hailed from the state of Maine, where the Ames family had vital business connections.  The wooden handles of the Ames shovels came from Maine, where good wood like ash was still plentiful. Massachusetts, on the other hand, in 1850, was fairly well devoid of decent stands of hardwood after two centuries of settlement and development.  Wood from Maine was a critical resource for the Ames enterprise and over the years, one or other of the Ames men made a periodic trip north to examine the supply and cultivate the connections. Oliver Jr., for instance, made a trip to Wayne, Maine, near Augusta, in the mid-1860s.

On her journey to North Easton, Orinthia Foss spent a night with the Warren Mower family in Greene, Maine, a town near today’s Lewiston-Auburn area. Quite wooded, and close to the Androscoggin River as well.   Mrs. Warren Mower was the former Louisa Jane Gilmore born in Leeds, Maine, in 1820. Was she a relative, perhaps? Evelina’s eldest brother, John Gilmore, lived in Leeds, having moved there from Easton in the 1840s.  What was the connection? Whether or not they were related, Evelina and Louisa were clearly friends who corresponded regularly.

February 22, 1851


Feb 22nd  Saturday  This morning sat down to sewing

quite early to work on Susans apron.  Mr Torrey called 

to see about Augustus having his tenement.  Augustus

has engaged Mr Wrightmans house for the present.

Lavinia & myself passed this afternoon at Mr Torreys.

Called at the store, met Mrs. Peckham & Miss

Georgianna Wheaton there  Miss Foss came to night.  Mr

Ames has been to Boston brought Susan Rubbers.

Cleared off pleasant to night

In his journal today, Old Oliver noted that “It’s pretty muddy now,” which explains why Oakes Ames returned from Boston with overshoes, known as rubbers, for his daughter.  Probably everyone in the household donned rubbers during this late winter wetness.

Evelina negotiated the streets just fine, it seems, as she and her niece traveled the short distance to the center of town to call at the company store and at her brother-in-law’s house.  Their mutual nephew, Augustus Gilmore, had decided not to rent from Col. Torrey and would be settling his family instead at a Mr. Wrightman’s house.  And at the end of the day, a new person entered the domestic scene.  Miss Orinthia Foss, the new schoolteacher, arrived from Maine.

February 22 is a date that people acknowledged in 1851 in a manner similar to the way people do in 2014, because it’s George Washington’s birthday.  In this year of Evelina’s diary, President Washington had only been dead for a little over fifty years.  People were alive who could still remember him; Old Oliver was one of them.  Old Oliver was born in 1779, while the Revolutionary War was being fought.  He was two years old when the British surrendered at Yorktown, and eight years old when representatives of the new states assembled in Philadelphia to write a constitution.  George Washington was elected to head that convention and became the country’s first president in 1789, when Old Oliver turned ten.  When Washington died in 1799, beloved and mourned, Old Oliver was a twenty-year old bachelor just making his way in the world.  Much about that world would change over Old Oliver’s lifetime, but the reverence that citizens of the United States felt for their first leader would hold strong.

February 21, 1851


1851  Feb 21  Friday  It stormed so hard & so dark that Mr & Mrs

Whitwell spent last night with us & returned

home about 8 Oclock this morning  Lavinia &

myself have been sitting quietly sewing.

Susan is all engaged making Labels for the shop

has cut quite steady all day.  Helen brought her work in, and staid two

or three hours but I could not prevail on her to stop to tea

Bridget has hired a bed & bedstead

The family business, O Ames and Sons (as it had been known since 1844 when Old Oliver handed over two-thirds of the reins to his sons Oakes and Oliver Jr.) was just that: a family business.  The Ames men all had rolls to play in its operation, from manufacturing to sales to management.  On this day in 1851, it appears that an Ames female had a roll to play, too.  Little eight-year old Susie Ames spent the day making labels for the shop.  Presumably, this meant she was cutting out printed labels to be affixed to individual shovels.  Did she sit at a table in the kitchen or the dining room, paper and scissors in hand?  Was she paid for this effort, or was this just a rainy day game for her?  Who thought this up?

While Susie wielded scissors, the women wielded needles, of course.  Evelina and her niece, Lavinia Gilmore, kept each other company as they sewed and were joined for a few hours by Helen Ames from next door.  Although Lavinia, aged 19, lived in the country and Helen, aged 14, lived in town, the two young women, distantly related by marriage, were friends.

Lavinia was in town visiting her aunt Evelina.  Last night, Mr. and Mrs. Whitwell stayed over, unable to return home because of bad weather.  A new servant, Bridget, had just ordered a bed and bedstead for herself. In a two-family house already filled with ten people, not including servants, where did everybody sleep? People surely doubled up; Oakes Angier and Oliver (3), for instance, shared a bedroom and probably a bed. Although this practice, too, was disappearing, many houses of the period still kept beds in their parlors; apparently the Ames did this, so perhaps that was where the Whitwells spent the night.

The difference between a bed and a bedstead was simply that the former included only the mattress and linens (also known as bedding), while the latter was the frame on which to put the mattress.  This verbal distinction was beginning to disappear at the time, but it was still useful in an era when some people – servants, particularly – only had bedding on which to sleep.  A mattress could be rolled up and moved around, a wooden frame could not.  Bridget showed hope or confidence in her place in the household when she ordered a bedstead as well as a bed.

February 20, 1851



Feb 20th  Thursday  This morning sat down to sewing quite

early with Lavinia.  worked for Susan and she

sewed some with us  Sent George after Mr & Mrs

Whitwell about one Oclock.  Mr Whitwell attended 

the funeral of James Wells child  Commenced 

raining quite hard & this evening is very dark

The boys & Lavinia & Susan have gone to the 

dancing school at Lothrop Hall

The Thursday evening assemblies, or dancing school, continued. On this occasion, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton took their cousin, Lavinia Gilmore, and little sister, Susie, with them.  How exciting for Susan to go along to watch the young men and women dance; probably exciting for Lavinia, too.  She was at the marriageable age of nineteen and, in the manner of the day, was probably hoping to marry soon.  Getting off the farm for a week to stay with her aunt Evelina in the village of North Easton was an opportunity to socialize and perhaps meet someone special.  Did anyone ask her to dance?  Did her male cousins watch out for her?  Did she like what she wore?

Elsewhere in Easton life was not so light-hearted.  Reverend Whitwell officiated at a funeral for the infant son of James and Celia Wells.  James and his brother John, for whom the little boy was named, worked at the shovel factory.  They were originally from Maine.

And, being February, the weather took a dive for the worse.  The young people’s ride home from Lothrop Hall must have been disagreeably wet.  Mr. and Mrs. Whitwell, who had evidently stayed for tea after the funeral, were unable to get home and had to spend the night at the Ames’s house. Young George Witherell was spared the challenge of carrying them back to the parsonage in the dark, windy downpour.

February 19, 1851


Feb 19  Wednesday  A[u]gustus & wife came this morning in

the stage  We had our breakfast about six Oclock

and I had my morning work most done

We went to Mr Torreys to make a call met Alson

and Lavinia coming.  Alson went back to the poor

farm & Lavinia went with us to Mr Ts  Alson came

here to tea.  Augustus has engaged Mr Torreys

tenement if he concludes to take it   Beautiful weather.

Breakfast at six a.m., at work by seven.  That was the way it was done in the small industrial town of North Easton. By the time Augustus and Hannah Lincoln Gilmore arrived, the men of the house were at the factory and Evelina had washed the dishes, dusted the parlor and instructed Jane McHanna on the menu for dinner and  tea, probably adding additional directions on finishing up the ironing or some other piece of housework.

Off she went, then, to the home of her old brother-in-law, Col. John Torrey, with their mutual nephew, Augustus, only to meet her brother (and Augustus’s father,) Alson Gilmore, en route.  Alson had brought one of his daughters, Lavinia Eveline Gilmore, into town for a visit with the Ameses.  Evelina was fond of her niece, so the visit promised to be pleasant.

Alson soon drove off.  Evelina said he was headed to the “poor farm,” which may have been a jest expressing her opinion of the old family place or perhaps an expression of concern over the economics of the Gilmore homestead.  Or Alson may actually have been on an errand to an Almshouse located in the center of Easton*, near the church that the family attended.  Perhaps Alson was in search of temporary laborers for his farm, although why he would need help in the middle of winter is questionable.  Maybe he had an official role in its oversight.

Many towns had poor houses where the indigent lived; Worcester, Massachusetts established one in the late 1830s in alarmed response to a rising influx of immigrants.  Some citizens were afraid of the diseases that immigrants might be bringing with them, so part of the impetus for setting up a poor farm or poor house or Almshouse, as they were also known, was to establish a discrete site for new arrivals, pending further inspection.

Incidentally, today was an anniversary that probably went unnoticed in the Ames family.  On this date in 1810, a baby named Angier Ames was born.  He was the fourth son of Old Oliver and Susanna Angier Ames, coming along after Oliver Jr. and before William Leonard.  He only lived to be fifteen months old, dying in the summer of 1811 of an unrecorded cause.  Old Oliver wrote no record of this child; did he think of him on this day, some forty years later?

*A shout-out to Frank Mennino, Curator of the Easton Historical Society, for his capable sleuthing about the “poor farm.”  As he pointed out to me, the Almshouse can be identified on an 1855 map of the town. Thank you, Frank!