June 19, 1851


June 19th Thursday  Weeding in the garden untill past

nine  Heat my grease and made a barrel

of soap.  poured the grease in hot and potash

cold with a little hot water and it has come well.

This afternoon have cut the sleeves for my stone

colour borage dress and have worked some on

the hair cloth cover for the lounge.  Harriet

come into my chamber for an hour or two.

Bridgett here. 


This was a fine June day for working out of doors.  Old Oliver noted in his journal that “We mowed back of Kellys to day,” describing a piece of land north of their house near the ponds.

At the house, or rather, in the yard, Evelina and probably Jane McHanna made soap. As their mothers had done before them, they boiled animal fat (of which they had plenty on hand) in an iron kettle over an open fire. When ready, they “poured the grease […] hot,” into a barrel and added potash, a generic term for lye, a product that was typically obtained from wood ashes. The Ames weren’t burning wood at the house anymore, though, so where and how Evelina got her potash is uncertain. Any thoughts, readers?

Evelina had made soap before and was confident in the process. “It has come well.”  However, she and countless other housewives would soon find that this skill was no longer necessary as commercial soap became available. After the Civil War, especially, manufactured soap would gradually replace homemade soap, except in the remote pockets and far reaches of the migrating frontier.

Some 750 miles to the west of Easton, in fact, in the bustling river town of Cincinnati, a candlemaker named William Procter and a soap-maker named James Gamble had been manufacturing soap for about fourteen years. Besides wanting to make a good product, they wanted to sell it to a broader market. Using the animal fats from the nearby “Porkopolis” slaughterhouses and fronting the Ohio river, they had both material and transportation right at hand. Their enterprise would succeed. Homemakers like Evelina would no longer need to stand over a hot kettle to make soap.




3 thoughts on “June 19, 1851

  1. Weeding is in my list today. Amazing how some things have to be done no matter what the year.

  2. Yes, weeding is on my list, too, and, it being a school day, there are not even grandchildren here to make their $5-$7 an hour at it. 😉 Plenty of people in Easton in 1851 still did burn wood, so I am sure Evelina could have gotten ashes with no problem; not sure how much, if any, potash is in the coal ash. Interesting stuff on P&G out in Cincinnati. The Easton Historical Society does have one picture of Kelly’s House, which a former curator once found for me. It was on the site of what is now the Catholic Cemetery, across the street from Edwin Manley’s. Old Oliver also planted potatoes there at various times.
    On a different note, from today’s Globe, this on the Governor Ames Estate opening under Trustees of Reservations. Governor Ames was one of Evelina’s children, right? http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/south/2014/06/18/easton-governor-oliver-ames-estate-open-with-festive-day-june/0Wcnh5rQT9QISWIbt93KHP/story.html

  3. Oliver Ames “Third”, as he was known in the family, was Evelina and Oakes’s middle son. He indeed served as governor of Massachusetts. I posted a few things about him on February 4. Thanks, Dwight and Linda. Gotta go. Weeding…

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