September 30, 1851


21st century view of apartment building owned by Col. John Torrey, which Augustus Gilmore and his young family moved into in 1851

Sept Tuesday 30  Augustus family left this afternoon for

their new place  his wife went this forenoon

and put down two ca[r]pets and put up two beds

I went about four Oclock and helped her

untill night   passed part of the evening in

the other part of the house  I have been to 

work a very little on my dresses and so

has Ellen  Helen left this morning for school in Boston

It was “a fair day + pritty warm”*, so folks who had stayed inside yesterday because of the rain were able to be out and about today. Evelina must have felt better, too, as she helped her nephew’s wife, Hannah Lothrop Gilmore, set up housekeeping in their new quarters in the village. Practiced mothers, they probably kept their eyes on Hannah’s small sons as they worked.

Helen Angier Ames, fourteen-year-old daughter of Sarah Lothrop and Oliver Ames Jr., left for Boston this morning.  She was going to a new school, the third one this year. Clearly she, or her parents, had had difficulty settling on the right situation. Perhaps this one would be the charm. We don’t know which academy or seminary she was headed to; there were probably several schools to chose from. The Auburndale Female Seminary was one that was established about this time (today is exists as Lasell College) though we have no indication that this was the one, among many, that the Oliver Ameses would have settled on for their daughter.

The Girls High and Normal School started up around the mid-19th century as well.  It was focused on training young women to become teachers, and thus was unlikely to be the institution that Helen Ames went to.  Helen didn’t need to be trained to make a living.  A smaller, private outfit was likely to have been the place for her.

* Oliver Ames, Journal

September 29, 1851


Monday Sept 29  Cut out three prs of cotton Drawers

for self for Ellen to make & have done some

sewing  Augustus came with his family about

4 Oclock are going to move into a part of Mr

Torreys house  Hector & Susan Orr came to

the other part of the house this afternoon.  Susan

will stop awhile  Not very pleasant has rained some

Rain arrived but the day, according to Old Oliver, was “pritty warm.” The wet weather and her cold must have kept Evelina indoors.  She may not have felt well, but as long as she could sit up, she would have found something useful to do.  Sewing some underwear for herself was the mundane chore waiting in her workbasket. Meanwhile, Jane McHanna, the family servant, washed the weekly laundry, perhaps doing her trick of letting the rain do the rinsing. She would have been challenged to figure out how to dry it, though.

Visitors arrived in the other part of the house; the Orrs, a family with whom the Ameses had been connected since early days in Bridgewater, came to visit. Susan Orr, a spinster, had known Oakes Ames when he was a baby. Today she and Hector – her brother, perhaps? – came to see Old Oliver and Sarah Ames Witherell.

On Evelina’s side of the family, nephew Alson “Augustus” Gilmore, his wife Hannah and their two sons, toddler Eddie and infant Willie, began to move into temporary quarters at Col. John Torrey’s building in the village.  Eventually, they would build a home, but for now they were going to rent.


September 28, 1851



Sunday, Sept 28  Having a bad cold and headache I did not attend church

to day have not read as much as I should had I been

well  Susan has got quite smart and has been

reading the wide wide world  It has been very 

quiet here all day  I have been looking at

my accounts book have neglected it sadly

of late but hope to do better for the future


The excitement and strain of the last week or so – the return from Boston, the plunge into redecorating and her daughter’s sudden and demanding illness – may have taken their toll. Evelina came down with a cold and was too ill to go to meeting.  That she was too sick to “read much” indicates just how crummy she must have felt. She generally enjoyed reading on Sundays after church. The only activity that seemed to interest her today was looking at her “accounts book,” but that didn’t cheer her up much. Perhaps she suddenly reckoned with the money she and Oakes had recently spent.

Little Susie Ames, who had been so sick with nettle rash, was definitely on the mend.  She may not have gone to church either, but she was deep into reading The Wide, Wide World, a popular, famously sentimental novel by Susan Warner (published under the pen name of Elizabeth Wetherell.) This pious classic tells the story of little Ellen Montgomery, a girl about Susan’s age who is separated from her mother and sent to live with distant relatives. She struggles among strangers – kind and mean – to accept her fate and learn to trust God. A best-seller in its day, it clearly appealed to Susan, and Evelina, too, presumably.


* Ellen Montgomery, the young heroine of The Wide, Wide World, is often in tears, as this period illustration from the popular novel shows.

September 27, 1851


 $20 Gold Piece, 1850

Sat Sept 27  Have been very busy to day but can

scarcely tell what I have done have been working

about house most of the time  Have bought

Mrs Mitchells beaureau and to night it has

come and it looks better than I expected  agreed

to pay her 18 dollars but shall give her 20 for it

Mr Ames carried back the chairs to Bigelows

and bought me one at Courrier & Trouts for […] 25 Dols

William Chaffin, Unitarian minister and town historian, once described Evelina as “very economical.”* He claimed that she mended her husband’s pants so that he wouldn’t have to spend money on new ones. Some Ames descendants and others knowledgeable about the family history also consider Evelina to be the personification of Yankee frugality. She sewed tucks into dresses, reused old pieces of carpet, made her own soap and kept careful household accounts. She mended coats, upholstered a lounge for the parlor and roped relatives and friends into helping her make shirts for all the men in her house. She did work that she could have paid others to do for her. Was she being cheap or was work a habit with her? Or both?

Evelina could and did spend money, as last week’s flurry of shopping in Boston demonstrates. She bought dress fabric, chairs for the parlor and new wallpaper. And today, only one week later, she paid her sister-in-law, Harriett, $2 more for a chest of drawers than the price they had agreed upon. The gesture was generous, and underscores the possibility that Evelina was not quite the cheapskate that family tradition has allowed.

As the acquisition of the used “beaureau” shows, Evelina was having a burst of redecorating. What had set this off? The shovel shop was doing well, obviously, so they could afford to buy new things. Beyond having the means, what encouraged her to make these alterations? Was she being encouraged by her husband? He seemed to be right there with her at the store.  Was Oakes’s participation prompted by an easy complacency about his wife’s spending or a shared enthusiasm for the new purchases? Was an influx of wealth changing the way they lived?

* William Chaffin, Oakes Ames, private publication, Courtesy of Easton Historical Society

September 26, 1851



Friday 26th  Mrs S Ames & Mrs Mitchell went into Boston & Cambridge

Wednesday & returned last night  Julia is to work

for Helen to day  they talk of sending her to Boston

to school  I have been to work on my dresses some

to day and have varnished my desk & beaureau

& some other things, taken up some plants 

from the garden  It is very cold and we had 

some frost last night

It had been a week ago today that Evelina, Oakes, and other Ameses had stood in Boston for hours watching a grand parade celebrating the railroad.  Since that time, Evelina had returned home, rearranged furniture and nursed her daughter through an uncomfortable spell of sickness.  She must have finally felt that her life was getting back to normal.

Evelina sewed a bit today, of course, and continued to redecorate, varnishing two pieces of furniture. Even more pressing, however, was her garden. She brought some plants into the house in hopes that they would winter over and, most likely, pulled out other annuals that she had planted months earlier.  She was feeling the cold and noted the frost, although her father-in-law, Old Oliver, contradicted her in his assessment of today’s weather as “cloudy most of the day but not cold.”

Old Oliver also noted that “Horatio was here to day, ” something that Evelina neglected to mention. Horatio and Oakes Ames didn’t get along, so the men would have avoided one another if possible. Perhaps Evelina didn’t see Horatio, although, given his great size and odd voice, he would have been hard to miss. As described by Winthrop Ames, Horatio “was an enormous man, so large that when he walked beside his father he made the latter appear of almost ordinary stature; but with a piping voice which seemed especially incongruous with his great frame.”**

Evelina did quickly see sisters-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames and Harriett Ames Mitchell who returned from an overnight in the city. Sarah may have been scouting boarding schools for her daughter, Helen.


* Courtesy of

** Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1937, p.107

September 25, 1851


Thursday Sept 25th  Julia has been here to day and has

cut two french print dresses.  She had but

very little trouble with them and I think they

sett very well  she also cut Susans doll a frock

Susan had a very comfortable night & appears

quite smart to day  The Dr came here to day

which makes the third visit says it is not necessary

for him to come again

Julia Mahoney, a young dressmaker who had recently immigrated from Ireland, worked at Evelina’s today.  She immediately set about cutting sections for two dresses to be made from the French print fabric that Evelina had just bought in Boston. Evelina was pleased with Julia’s work today, which wasn’t always the case.  To help keep little Susie Ames occupied as she recovered from a terrible case of nettle rash, Julia cut “a frock” for Susie’s doll.

The doctor – we don’t know which one in Easton had been called – visited today and confirmed Susie’s imminent recovery.  The little girl was appearing “quite smart,” a phrase that Evelina occasionally used to note marked improvement in someone’s appearance, health, or wits.

There was no question that fall had arrived.  Not only had the autumnal equinox occurred, officially ushering in the season, but Old Oliver had recorded several small frosts recently, including “a large frost last night.”  Daylight was shrinking slightly every day. As she quilted today, Evelina must have been turning her thoughts toward winter.  She may also have paused to remember that ten years ago on this date, her fourth son, Henry Gilmore Ames, had died at age 2 1/2.

September 24, 1851


Wedns Sept 24th  Susan has had another night of

suffering and has not slept but little if any but this

morning she appeared better and has had a more

comfortable day than I expected she would have  Helen

brought in her doll for her to play with and she

has had three to play with which has taken […] her

mind from her sickness in a great measure.

Francis dined here carried home Mr & Mrs Whitwell


The nettle rash, or hives, that had attacked Susie Ames began to subside this morning, surely bringing relief not only to the little girl, but to her mother and everyone else interested in her welfare. As Susie began to feel better, she became agreeably occupied with an extra doll brought in for her to play with by her older cousin from next door, Helen Angier Ames.

Helen’s mother, Sarah Lothrop Ames, and Harriett Ames Mitchell left Easton today to go into Boston and Cambridge for a night. Perhaps they visited Sarah’s sixteen-year-old son Fred Ames at Harvard, where he was a new sophomore. Fifteen-year-old Francis E. Gilmore, the youngest son of Evelina’s brother Alson Gilmore, came to the Ames’s for midday dinner.  Was he visiting the construction site of his older brother, Edwin Williams Gilmore, who was building a home close to Ames compound? Francis lived down on the family farm, and was able to give a ride south to William and Eliza Whitwell, who had been visiting Sarah Witherell.

Meanwhile, focused and persistent, Old Oliver continued to supervise construction of a new flume from Great Pond near Stoughton south to the waterflow in North Easton. He noted in his daily journal that “this was a fair day with a strong wind from the north west and pritty cold. we got on the top stone to our floom to day.”



September 23, 1851



Tues Sept 23d  Susan has passed a dreadful night has not slept

any at all and this morning we sent for the Doctor

and he pronounces it the nettle rash  She has suffered 

very much to day would not let me leave her for

one moment  Mr & Mrs Whitwell are spending the 

day at the other part of the house  Oakes A & Mrs

H Mitchell called there last evening and visited them

She called in to see Susan

Little Susie Ames was in agony.  She had nettle rash, a 19th century term for hives, an acute, raised rash that erupts from the skin in painful splotches. It can appear in many places on the body; Susie’s landed on her backside and spread from there. Known medically as urticaria, the condition is often symptomatic of an allergic reaction, but it can have viral or idiopathic origins, too. It’s hard to say what might have caused the nine-year old’s sudden breakout.

The poor girl’s skin itched, stung and burned, making her unable to rest or sleep without discomfort. Tending her daughter all night and day, Evelina didn’t get any rest, either, and the regular domestic pattern of the day was disrupted. A quick visit from Harriett Ames Mitchell must have been helpful, at least, in capturing Susie’s attention for a few minutes.

In the house next door, Sarah Lothrop Ames turned 39 years old today. Given the recent death of one of her brothers, it’s doubtful that any great fuss was made over the occasion. Sarah and her immediate family were probably still wearing some form of mourning apparel at this point.





September 22, 1851



Mon Sept 22nd  This morning sat down to sewing and fixing some work

for Ellen cut the breadths for a bedquilt and was in 

hopes to have a quiet day & week to sew but it has 

not commenced very fair  About noon Susan was

complained of an itching & burning and on examination

I find her back was broken out in great blotches &

this evening she is completely covered & in great agony

A Mr Bronson is stopping here from Pennsylvania

Monday morning at the Ames’s meant that after breakfast, Jane McHanna turned to doing laundry and Evelina, after doing dishes and other chores, sat down to sew.  She had in mind to make a quilt – perhaps she had liked one of the quilt designs featured in this month’s Godey’s Lady’s Magazine. She cut out some “breadths” of fabric and imagined she’d have most of the day to work on the project.

At midday, however, just at the time when dinner was usually put on table and the men returned from the shovel shop for the big meal of the day, nine-year old Susie reported not feeling well. Something on her back itched and burned. It got worse as the hours passed and by bedtime she was suffering. What was going on?

To complicate matters, the Ameses had a houseguest staying for the night, a Mr. Bronson who was most likely in town on shovel business.  How difficult it must have been for Evelina to give him proper attention and tend to her daughter at the same time. So much for sewing.

Quilt designs from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1851

September 21, 1851



Sunday Sept 21st  Have been to meeting  Mr Ames & self came

home at noon and Horace Pool came with us

and they rode up to the great pond where they are

building a new floom.  Brought Abby Torrey from

meeting & carried her back  She & Malvina are spending 

a week at Alsons  Miss Latham & her brother Edward

came to our meeting this morning and to the other 

part of the house after  I called into see them

The new flume going in at Great Pond was attracting local attention. After church, Oakes Ames and Horace Pool rode up to see it. Oakes had been in Boston when his father, Old Oliver, had begun the work, and no doubt he was curious to see the progress.  No one would have been working on it today, as it was Sunday.

The flume was intended to harness water power for the shovel factory. It was basically an inclined ditch lined with stones and boulders to shunt the water along. Some flumes – such as those used in lumbering – are lined with wood, but that wasn’t likely to be the case here, given the scarcity of wood, the availability of stones, and the expectation of longevity. Old Oliver’s oxen must have been used to haul the many stones, and man-power used to put each one in place.  The channel itself would have been dug with Ames shovels, naturally.

Evelina, perhaps moving about slowly on sore feet, went to church and caught up with various friends and family members, including nieces Abby and Malvina Torrey. She popped into the other part of the house – the section lived in by Old Oliver and his daughter Sarah Witherell – to greet some visitors there.  She was settling back into her routine after the Boston holiday.

Photograph of an old flume,, courtesy of Hadrian