$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