April 11, 1851

Old Oliver Ames



April 11th Friday.  This morning sat down with Lavinia

quite early but did not feel very well.  Washed & ironed

the skirt of my foullard silk dress ready to make 

over  This afternoon went with Lavinia into school 

and then to Mr Torreys and stoped a hour or two

Abby & Malvina came home with us and were here to

tea also Augustus  Quite windy this forenoon 

Oliver Ames, known to Evelina as “Father Ames” and to us as “Old Oliver,” turned 72 today. He didn’t mention his birthday in his journal and the likelihood is that no one else mentioned it either.  He was not a person who encouraged frivolity. As the man who built O. Ames & Sons and made the best American shovels of the 19th century, Old Oliver was well known in his time, as this excerpt from a 19th century biographical sketch shows:

“Hon. Oliver Ames, the founder of the great manufacturing firm of O. Ames & Sons, was born at Plymouth, Mass., April 11, 1779, being the youngest son of Capt. John and Susannah Ames, and was a lineal descendant of William Ames, who came to this country in 1638 and settled in Braintree, Mass. His early education was gained by ordinary common-school instruction, and by the practical experiences of hard work in his father’s blacksmith-shop. These furnished him the groundwork of sober judgment, industrious habits, and a stable and energetic character. At the age of eighteen he went to Springfield, where he learned the trade of gunsmith. In April, 1803, he married Susannah Angier […] and commenced the manufacture of shovels. After a stay of over two years at Easton, he removed to Plymouth to manufacture shovels for Messrs. Russell, Davis & Co. […] until about 1813, when he returned to Easton […where he] had purchased land and a good water-privilege, and had begun the erection of a dwelling-house.

He was one of a company to build a cotton-factory for the manufacture of cotton fabrics. He had manufactured hoes and shovels during his first stay in Easton, but on his second arrival he began again the business that has now become world-famed. Difficulties and embarrassments that would have defeated any one but a man of great ability and persistent energy beset him in these early days. The cotton-factory burned; the war of 1812 had had a disastrous effect upon business; he was endeavoring to restore the business of his father to a prosperous condition; and he had made great outlays in getting established at Easton. But his credit was good and his courage strong; his character and ability alike inspired unlimited confidence; and he worked steadily on to a sure and lasting success.

With only a humble beginning, shovels being made by hand and carried to market upon a one-horse wagon, the business steadily increased, shop being added to shop, workmen increasing by scores, until it has become by far the largest and most prosperous shovel business in the world. He would never allow any work to be sent to the market that was imperfect, and he thus laid the foundation for the great reputation which the Ames shovel has borne, and which it continues to bear.

In 1828-29 he represented his town in the Massachusetts Legislature, serving with marked ability upon the Committee on Manufactures. In 1845 he was elected, contrary to his desires, and by a large vote, to the Massachusetts Senate. He was, however, no lover of office, and desired only that he might have the charge of the highways of his town intrusted to him, a charge he took pride in, and faithfully fulfilled. He was a man of strong and resolute will, of great force of character, indomitable energy, and persevering industry. He was the possessor of a splendid physique, and easily bore off the palm in all feats of strength and skill, especially in wrestling, of which he was very fond. His manly and dignified bearing gave everyone who saw him the impression that they looked upon a man of mark. He was such a man as a stranger, meeting upon the street, would turn to look at a second time. Born of the people, he was always very simple in his tastes and democratic in his feelings and principles. In his likes and dislikes he was equally decided, but his judgments were based upon what he believed to be the real worth of any one, without reference to his station or condition.   He was consequently greatly respected and beloved by his neighbors and fellow-townsmen. He was enthusiastically fond of farming, and, like Daniel Webster, was especially fond of the oxen, always obtaining the best, and taking great pleasure in their management. He took an early stand, both as a matter of principle and practice, in favor of temperance, and brought up his family according to total abstinence principles. He was a decided Unitarian in his religious convictions, having a cordial dislike to the rigid tenets of the Calvinism of his day. He was liberal in his aid of religious institutions, to which he also gave the sanction of his personal attendance. His charities were large, and they were not bounded by the limits of his sect or neighborhood. His defects were such as pertained merely to his limited culture and to the stern conflict and discipline of his early life. Mr. Ames lived to the ripe old age of eighty-four years, dying at North Easton, Sept.11, 1863.”*

*Duane Hamilton Hall, ed., History of Bristol County, Massachusetts,Vol.2, Philadelphia, 1883


7 thoughts on “April 11, 1851

  1. Sarah – that was really great. That guy has been looking down at us for years that exact portrait.. Now I know something about him! I love that you’ve done this. I will be sad when it stops.

  2. Sarah – Loving your diaries and phenomenal research. Hope you are both well.

    I am told this is Oakes. Is this the same generation as Old Oliver? Do you know who painted this painting? Or could this be an Oaks in the generation of Blanche Ames Ames and she painted this?

    Interesting to me that Old Oliver’s birthday is April 11, my grandmother (Winthrop Ames wife Lucy) was April 3. Mine is April 8.

    Caroline Ames McCoy mccoytwice@windstream.net 575-354-5808

    • Thank you, Caroline. This portrait is definitely “Old” Oliver Ames, the family patriarch. Oakes Ames (the first of that name) was his eldest son; you can look his picture under the section of the Family Photographs section of the blog. The Oakes Ames who married Blanche Ames was the youngest son of Oliver Ames Third, the Governor.
      Best to you both!

  3. I missed Evelina yesterday, the 10th. Was she ill? Checking up on her has become a morning ritual.

    This is a wonderful bio of Old Oliver. I thought that the first William, and John, had come over in 1635, not 1638. Which is correct? I had no idea that Old Oliver had left a journal as well. There seems no end to the Ames records. Sarah should not run out of things to write about!

    Now if we could just find Evelina’s diary from 1865 with the description of Oakes’ visit to Lincoln on Jan. 20.

    With gratitude, Sarah. Anna Lee

    P.S. Today I will be speaking to the Colorado Rail Road Museum about the Ames Monument.

    • Evelina was fine on April 10, busy with her rearrangements of the bedrooms. It was Fast Day. Old Oliver’s journal is in the archives at Stonehill College. Don’t know which date for William’s arrival is correct. I do know that Evelina had another diary, which is lost, but it dates from circa 1860. Wish we could find it! Many thanks to you for your research and work with the Ames Monument.

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