April 19 Harriet and her children came from Pittsburgh this
morning, came by the way of Stonington to Mansfield
and got someone to bring them. It s too bad we did
not send for them, but Father thought the storm
might prevent their coming Called in to see them this
afternoon. Harriet does not look near as well
as she did before she went. Augustus went to Boston
& Mr Ames Tolerably pleasant
The youngest offspring of Old Oliver and Susannah Ames came back to town today. Harriett (Ames) Mitchell, all of 31 years old, traveled by rail from Pittsburgh to Easton, finding her own way from the station in nearby Mansfield. (The railroad had not yet been built to North Easton.) In tow were her three children, Frank Ames Mitchell, John Ames Mitchell, and Anna Mitchell, aged 9, 6, and not quite 4, respectively. Given the rigors of traveling a long distance on a train with small children, it’s little wonder that Harriett did “not look near as well as she did before she went.”
Weather and travel conditions aside, the question is why Harriett returned home and left her husband, Asa Mitchell, behind. We know only a little about Asa Mitchell. He was a member of the well-regarded Mitchell family of Bridgewater. A coal dealer, he had recently moved west from Cambridge to Pittsburgh, Erie or someplace in Pennsylvania. His employment seemed unsettled, and perhaps was driven by the vagaries of the coal industry.
Asa and Harriett had been married for eleven years and, like any of the Ames marriages, we can only conjecture what their relationship was like. We do know that Harriett and their children spent many months away from Asa, eventually staying in a house in Bridgewater that Old Oliver obtained for her. Asa spent some time there, too, but by 1867 he was an inmate at the Taunton Insane Asylum, where his expenses were met by Oliver Jr. We don’t know what his mental illness was; it may have been as debilitating as senility, as sudden as brain trauma or as complicated – and untreatable then – as schizophrenia or bipolar disease. His condition would erase him from Harriett’s life and, by extension, the lives of his children. He died in June, 1877 in Taunton.
So on this cloudy day, with the “wind north east and cold,” and an uncertain future in front of her, Harriett brought her children home and was made welcome. She and her older sister Sarah Witherell were close and, no doubt, were glad to see each other.
* Leslie’s, 1878