March 31, 1851



March 31st Monday  This morning after doing my chores about

house, cut out a shirt of rather coarse unbleached

cloth for Mr Ames, am going to put a linen

bosom into it.  Also cut a coarse shirt for 

Oliver, have been mending some, but have not

sewed any on the shirts.  Called this afternoon

on Mr Holmes & at Bridgets to see the dress

maker, Worked awhile on my scrap book.  Orinthia

& I spent the evening at Olivers, Jane at G. Bartletts P.M.

After her morning chores on this last day of March, Evelina cut out more shirt parts. Any reader who has been following this blog on a daily basis has seen Evelina’s prodigious production of shirts for her husband and three sons. This particular project is soon to end. After one or two more mentions, Evelina will leave behind the cuffs, bosoms, and coarse and fine cloth of men’s shirtmaking and move into dressmaking for herself and her daughter, Susan.  And when fair weather truly arrives, she will head for her flower garden.  She will never completely stop sewing – there was always mending to be done – but she will relax her grip on needle and thread.

Today being Monday, Jane McHanna was busy with the weekly laundry, washing the family linens and clothes and hanging them out to dry.  In the evening – after preparing tea for the family, no doubt – Jane left to go to a Mr. Bartlett’s.  The call was probably a social one, but we don’t know whom she visited.  Because so many of the servants in the village had recently immigrated from Ireland, they tended to know one another and often visited each other when they had time off.  Meanwhile, Evelina and the young boarder, Orinthia Foss, headed next door to visit Sarah Lothrop Ames.  It was a sociable evening for all the women in the Ames household.


March 30, 1851



March 30 Sunday  Have not been to meeting at all to day.  My

cold is very troublesome have a very bad head ache.

could not read much.  Mr Cyrus Lothrop 3d called this 

evening & Frederick, Oakes Angier & Orinthia rode

down to Mr E Howards this evening.  Mrs Howard

has gone to Nashua to make a visit.  Mother returned

home from meeting  A very fine day

I commenced making fire in the furnace

Evelina continued feeling poorly today. After yesterday’s helping of the commercial elixir, Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry, one can’t help but wonder if her headache was, in fact, a symptom of hangover from the alcohol she unknowingly ingested.

The consumption of alcohol was absolutely forbidden at the Ames’s house.  Both Oakes and his brother Oliver Jr took a temperance pledge early on, and kept it. They hoped their workmen would follow their example. In this they differed from their father who, in his heyday of running the shovel works, had allowed his workers a ration of rum as part of their regular routine.  Old Oliver’s habits had been learned in the 18th century, which had a more lenient attitude about liquor.  In the 19th century, however, tolerance of alcohol disappeared. Temperance became the banner of the day, its support increasing yearly and culminating, ultimately, in the Prohibition amendment in the 20th.

In the Ames dining room, even something as mild as cider was frowned upon.  Cider was considered by some at a “gateway” beverage to liquor and hard spirits; others found it innocuous. Evelina kept some in the pantry to put in her mince pies but never served it at table.  Once, however, she offered a tumbler of cider to her future son-in-law, Henry French when he turned down a cup of coffee. Oakes admonished them both by stating flatly that, “No cider shall be drunk at my table.”

Alcohol was a controversial issue.  If Evelina had known that the medicine she was taking was laced with alcohol, she might not have indulged.  If Oakes had known, he wouldn’t have allowed her.

*Advertisement from ca. 1900.  


March 29, 1851



March 29 Sat  Have a very bad cold and cough some

but it has not increased with my cold which is unusual

Have taken Wisters Balsam  This afternoon mother

Orinthia & self called awhile in the other part of the 

house  Abby came here about four & stoped one

hour or two, but did not stay to tea  I finished Mr

Ames bleached shirt and Orinthia finished a

coarse shirt for him  Pleasant and fine traveling

Evelina caught a “very bad cold,” her second one since the start of the year.  The first cold she treated by concocting a time-honored home remedy of which her Puritan ancestors would have approved. It included honey, a little horehound from her own garden, and more. The new cold, however, she dosed with a commercial product, Wistar’s Balsam. This bottle of patent medicine was something she purchased “over-the-counter,” as we would say today, with the expectation that a commercial product offered an improvement over what she might have made for herself.  Such a transition from home-made to manufactured goods was very much part of the mid-19th century world in which she lived.

Dr. Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry was the most popular of many patent medicines available in the marketplace for the self-treatment of various ailments. With its “heady melange of cherry bark, alcohol and opiates,” it claimed to have “‘effected some of the most astonishing cures ever recorded in the History of Medicine!'”* With no regulatory oversight or standards to adhere to, it and other nostrums could and did claim curative powers over everything from colds to consumption. A consumer like Evelina could be completely taken in.

How Wistar’s Balsam helped Evelina’s cold is uncertain, but she temporarily felt better for the drugs she imbibed. She was able to sit up with her mother, Orinthia and Sarah Witherell, visit with her niece Abby Torrey, and finish sewing a fine shirt for her husband.




March 28, 1851



March 28 Friday  After making my bed &c went to

mending Mr Ames coat which kept me busy till past

nine Oclock.  A[u]gustus brought me 50 eggs

for which I paid 50 cts  Mother returned from 

Mr Torreys about ten Oclock.  Mrs Witherell

came in at 4 Oclock and staid untill 5 Oclock and 

finished stiching the ninth bosom  Mrs Buck

and Sarah called the Evening  Weather very pleasant

A penny an egg, or 12 cents a dozen.  Not so today.

That Evelina bought her eggs tells us right away that the Ameses didn’t keep chickens.  If they had, Evelina would never have paid for something she could get for free.  These eggs came by way of the Gilmores, either from Augustus who may have been living on a property that had chickens or, possibly, from Augustus’s father, Alson, out on the family farm.

Poultry seldom appeared at the Ames’s dinner table, or at least Evelina didn’t mention it if and when it was served. Beef and pork were the mainstays of their diet, not chicken. Turkey and goose was served, but only on special occasions. The larger animals, once slaughtered, could be preserved in multiple ways, and could stretch to feed more people. Chicken didn’t offer as much variability, although it was acknowledged to be “generally healthful” and for the sick, “a most agreeable and nutritious diet.”*

In the winter, particularly, chicken as a meal was in short supply all over New England. Chickens were vulnerable to the harsh winter of Massachusetts and many people simply didn’t keep any. Come spring, however, they were a welcome change. A “spring chicken” was something young and fresh. An old laying hen, on the other hand, once past her prime, was something to be put in a pot and stewed.

It follows that eggs, which were important in cooking and baking, were in demand. Thus we find Evelina procuring several dozen for her kitchen.

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841.





March 27, 1851



March 27 Thursday.  Spent the day with Mother at A[u]gustus,

got home just before six Oclock and went

in the evening to the dancing school with Mrs S. Ames

Cut out and commenced a bleached shirt for

Mr Ames but have not done so much as to finish 

the sleeves.  Mrs. S. Ames has been to Boston from 

Sharon.  A fine day and very good travelling

the roads are quite dry.  Mother stopt at Mr Torreys.

After Evelina and her mother spent the day with, respectively, nephew and grandson Augustus, Hannah Gilmore left to spend the night at her son-in-law, John Torrey’s, house in the village, leaving Evelina briefly unencumbered from looking after the elderly woman. Evelina seized the opportunity to go out with her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames, to help chaperone a dance for the young people.

No doubt the Ames sons, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton were at the dancing school, as they had been for most of the previous Thursday evening assemblies. So, probably, was Fred Ames, making a rare appearance while home from school.  While adults from their parents’ generation were always present at these occasions, one wonders how the young men felt having their mothers among the group standing guard.

These assemblies were important social occasions that provided innocent pleasure and animation. They fostered acquaintances among the young people of the town who had few other opportunities to mingle.  Dance steps were learned, exercise was taken, manners were polished, courtships were sparked, hearts were engaged or disappointed, and perpetuation of the species forwarded in this important small town gathering. Surely both Evelina and Sarah Ames watched the proceedings with interest.

March 26, 1851


1851 March 26 This morning Orinthia & myself gave a thorough

sweeping & dusting to sitting room entry & then I 

went to mending stockings  Mother & myself passed

the afternoon at Olivers with Mr & Mrs Whitwell.

Mrs S Ames & Mrs Witherell spent the evening

here  I finished the shirt that I commenced 

for Oliver on Monday.  It has been a delightful day

Mud season, as they call it in New England, had arrived and thus a daily sweeping of the floor and carpet was essential. Dust and mud entered the house on the bottoms of boots and shoes when anyone came in the door.  Once this messy passage from winter to spring had safely passed, it would be time for spring cleaning.

Meanwhile, the ladies in the Ames compound on Main Street were socializing among themselves. Evelina took her mother next door to Sarah Lothrop Ames’s house in the afternoon and visited with William and Eliza Whitwell, who were calling.  In the evening, both sisters-in-law came over to visit with her.  The ladies sewed – Evelina still working on shirts, this one for her middle son – and chatted.

The men were not present for this girls’ night in.  Oliver Jr. was in New Jersey on business and, if Oakes were in town, he would have been over in the office, as was his wont.  Years later, Winthrop Ames, grandson to Oakes and Evelina, would note in his description of family life in Easton in 1861:

“Usually […] Oakes, Oliver junior and their sons went to the office in the evening to catch up with their correspondence (all letters were written and copied by hand), discuss business together and go over accounts with the head bookkeeper.”

Whether working or playing, the Ames family members spent this quiet evening en famille.

March 25, 1851



March 25  Worked on Olivers shirt this forenoon

In the morning read to Mother awhile

Mrs J Porter spent the day with Mrs Witherell

I called to see her.  Her youngest boy was with

her between three & four years.  Her oldest daughter

15 & her other son 13 years.  Has lost four children

Abby & Malvina were here to tea.  Pleasant

Augustus went to Boston.  I received a letter from Louisa

J. Mower  Oliver went this morning to New Jersey.  Helen to school

A quiet weekday in Easton, punctuated by departures.  Augustus Gilmore went into Boston, perhaps on errands for the new boot factory. Helen Ames returned to school and her father left for New Jersey on shovel business. Pleasant weather facilitated everyone’s travels.

Sarah Witherell had a visitor today, a Mrs. J. Porter, who brought three children with her. Evelina, who “called to see her,” noted that Mrs. Porter had borne four other children who had died, a sorrow Evelina would have been especially sympathetic to, having lost a child of her own. So had Sarah Witherell. Surely there was a tinge of loss hovering on the edges of this modest gathering, “frail forms fainting round the door,” as Stephen Foster’s classic ballad* from 1854 would soon suggest.

In the United States in 1851, average life expectancy was less than 50 years old. No small variable in that number was the high rate of infant mortality. The expectation that an infant might not survive was so prevalent that some parents didn’t name their children until after the child had lived through its first twelve months.  It wasn’t unusual for census records to show entries for two- or six- or nine-month old babies described as “Infant Not Named.”  Children and young adults died, too, from diseases that we have since held at bay, but babies were especially vulnerable.

*Hard Times Come Again No More