October 14, 1851

 

Corpse

 

Tues Oct 14th  Expected Julia here to work this 

morning but she sent word that she would not come

untill afternoon and it has put me back about my work.

Went to the store and got muslin for Mrs Willis robe,

and linings for dresses.  Helped Mrs Witherell & Mrs S

Ames make the robe  Julia came this afternoon & cut

the waist to my dress  Mr Ames has been to Boston &

Braintree

The sad business of sewing a robe, which is what the Ameses called a shroud, fell to Evelina and her sisters-in-law. The Ames women often were called on to make robes for the deceased, as they did today for a neighbor, Mrs. Willis. Mrs. Willis, who had died the day before, presumably had no family members who could otherwise sew the robe. Evelina herself picked up the muslin, the traditional material for a burial sheet, from the Ames store. The process of preparing the dead for burial tended to follow the existing customs:

“Before the Civil War, the care of the dead was largely the domain of the deceased’s family and neighbors. The corpse was customarily laid out on a board that was draped with a sheet and supported by chairs at either end. The body was washed, almost always by a female member of the household, and wrapped in a sheet for burial. A local carpenter or furniture maker […] supplied a coffin, a simple pine box with a lid. The undertaker, often the same carpenter or furniture maker […] took the coffin to the house and placed the body inside. With the family and friends gathered around, the minister performed the appropriate religious rituals, and then the undertaker conveyed the coffin to the graveyard.”*

Other sewing went on today as well. Evelina had spent the past several days piecing together a dress made of cashmere, and was waiting for the dressmaker of choice, Julia Mahoney, to work on the waist.  Julia was late, however, which threw a wrench into Evelina’s plans for the day. Evelina didn’t like tardiness, and was unhappy to have to rearrange her day. Eventually, however, Julia arrived and “cut the waist.”

Oakes Ames, meanwhile, went into Boston and Braintree, presumably on shovel business.  Saturday was his usual day to go into Boston; it being Tuesday, perhaps something beyond Oakes’s usual job of taking orders for shovels was called for.

*http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/classroom/curriculum , “Death and Dying in the 18th and 19th Centuries”

 

 

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