March 19 Wednesday This morning commenced another
shirt that was cut out last fall & the
sleeves finished & the body nearly ready for the
bosom. Made the bosom & collar and finished
it all off this evening. Mr Ames went to
Boston this morning The snow is not deep but
much banked Augustus here to breakfast & dinner
Orinthia finished the shirt that she worked on yesterday
The last days of winter in Easton appeared calm, with the final snowfall (they hoped) on the ground, nephew Augustus still pulling up a chair to the Ames dinner table, and Evelina and Orinthia sitting near the windows, sewing more men’s shirts. But all wasn’t well in the nation. Since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act the previous fall, discord over the issue of slavery had increased. In Boston, where Oakes Ames went today, passions ran high among abolitionists.
What did Oakes and Evelina think of the debate? The Ames men admired Daniel Webster, but the famous Whig senator had helped engineer the political compromise that led to the slave act and been roundly denounced for what many in Massachusetts saw as a sell-out. In the interest of preserving national unity, Webster urged his constituents to obey the federal law. If the story that historian William Chaffin tells is true, Oakes Ames disobeyed it. Writes Chaffin:
“Rev L. B. Bates was once here as Methodist minister. He says that one night not long after the passage of the infamous Fugitive Slave Law a poor slave called him up at midnight for food and help. Rev. Bates fed him and then took him to Oakes Ames who gave him money and sent him on his way rejoicing.”
Lewis Bates was certainly a respected minister in North Easton, but he wasn’t appointed until 1859, so the timing in his recollection of Oakes Ames assisting a runaway slave close on the heels of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act doesn’t jibe. Either Bates got it wrong in the telling or, because he was writing the story many decades later, Chaffin got it wrong in the remembering. The whole tale may be apocryphal, but two ministers believed it to be true. Helping a slave would have been in keeping with Oakes’s generous spirit.
One thought on “March 19, 1851”
One reader has suggested that Rev. Bates could have been an interim minister in North Easton at some point earlier than his appointment in 1859, which would have placed him in town closer to the enactment of the Fugitive Slave bill. That’s certainly possible, but the fact is that Bates doesn’t show up in the census of 1850 or 1855. Nor does Evelina mention such an incident in her diary, which covers all of 1851 and 1852. My own guess is that in telling this story, many decades later, Chaffin’s memory mis-served him, and that the incident actually took place closer to the outbreak of the Civil War, after Bates came to town.
Sarah Lowry Ames