November 30, 1851



Nov 30th Sunday  We have all been to church except

Susan. She did not get ready in season

and I did not hurry her to break her of being so

tardy.  Mother Henrietta & self went to Mr Whitwells

at noon.  Mrs Whitwell insisted on our taking a

cup of tea, squash pie, &c &c  Mother came home

with us from church  Augustus & wife have passed

the evening here


Punctuality is a trait much prized by the Ames family; as it is in 2014, so it was in 1851. Evelina liked to be on time. She was probably familiar with the proverb that “People count the faults of those who keep them waiting.”

Susan Eveline Ames, nine-years-old, was often tardy.  In particular, Susie wasn’t fond of going to meeting, something her mother tried vainly to cure her of.  On this Sunday in 1851, Susie dawdled and missed the carriage, so to speak. The family left for the morning service without her. Evelina clearly saw this as a good punishment for her daughter, but it’s entirely possible that Susie enjoyed staying behind.

The lesson about tardiness, or, at least, the importance of going to church, didn’t stick. Ten years later, circa 1861, Susie was still finding ways to escape going to meeting. According to Winthrop Ames:*

“[M]y grandmother [Evelina] notes with suspicion in her diary that the headaches of her nineteen-year-old daughter, Susan, seemed to occur rather oftener on Sundays than on other days, especially when there was to be a second sermon in the afternoon.”*

“In season”, by the way, was a 19th century phrase meaning “in time.”


*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, privately printed, 1937, p. 130

November 29, 1851


Nov 29th  Sat.  This forenoon have been mending

Olivers (3) clothes and putting them in order to 

carry back Monday.  Have been with Oliver

to spend the afternoon at Mothers. Came

home by Mr Lothrops to bring Sarah Lothrop

Fred & Helen home  Alson has been quite 

unwell a week or more & is not able to work

Evelina was enjoying the company of her middle son, Oliver (3), today. Like many a modern child, he had brought his clothes home from college to be put “in order” (but not washed – it wasn’t laundry day.) Evelina mended what she could and then the two of them rode south to visit old Mrs. Gilmore and the family on the farm. They found that Alson Gilmore, Evelina’s brother, had been “quite unwell.” He was evidently bed-ridden, which suggests that their Thanksgiving had been less celebratory than the Ames’s.

Unlike the shovel laborers in the village, Alson did work that didn’t follow a schedule set by a bell.  He labored according to the demands of the season, weather and livestock. How had he managed to run his farm this past week when he was too ill to work? Most likely his fifteen-year-old son, Francis, took over responsibility for any livestock. And if the Gilmores had any dairy cows, it was typically the women of the house – in this case, daughter Lavinia or wife Henrietta – who would typically have done the milking. Because it was November, and after the harvest, there was otherwise not much work that demanded attention.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, seen above, would have been full of advice for Alson and other farmers. We don’t know if Alson consulted it. (Like Old Oliver Ames, he might have consulted instead an agricultural newspaper called The Massachusetts Ploughman.)  The almanac was just featuring its new “Four Seasons” cover, first used in October of 1851 and still in use in 2014. It was designed by Hammatt Billings, a Boston architect and artist who also did the original illustrations for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and engraved by Henry Nichols of Cambridge, who name appears on the lower right.  The editor was Robert B. Thomas, whose portrait is featured on the right side of the cover, opposite Benjamin Franklin.

November 28, 1851


Nov 28th Friday  Had rather of a late breakfast

Oliver did not rise untill past ten Oclock

Have been very busy to day making some

collars for Mr Ames & have been looking

over Olivers clothes some  Mr & Mrs Thom

Ames have spent the afternoon with Mrs Witherell

I have been to see them this evening

Like many middle-class families in 1851, the Ames family probably kept at least one clock against a wall or on a mantel. By its hands Evelina could tell that her middle son, Oliver (3), had slept exceedingly late on this morning after Thanksgiving. She might have looked up from her sewing to notice the minutes move by. Just home from his first term at Brown University, Oliver was keeping collegiate hours that were rather more elastic than the factory time by which the days usually ran. Tired from his studies and his journey home, Oliver slept in. Workers at the shovel shop were not accorded that luxury.

Absent a working clock in the house, how did people in the village and its close environs know what time it was?  Pocket watches were popular, certainly, but many in the village wouldn’t have owned one. The young, single immigrant men who lived in the Ames tenement, for instance, and the working families who lived in the factory houses around town needed temporal oversight. A bell at the factory guided them.

According to historian Gregory Galer:

“Life in North Easton in the 1840s was dominated by the Ames Company.  With the move to a more regular work schedule the company instituted the use of a bell, heard throughout the village, to be sure employees would keep a schedule which would allow them to fullfil their duties at the shovel shop.”*

Evelina’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, noted:

“Every week-day morning at ten minutes before five the shop bell warned the town to yawn itself awake; and at nine in the evening it rang a curfew (as it still does) to advise bedtime.  The factories started at seven, by lamplight in winter, and stopped at six, with an hour out at noon for dinner – a ten-hour day.”**

Winthrop was writing in 1937; in 1952, the Ames factory would close in Easton and move to West Virginia.  No curfew bell rings in North Easton today.


*Greg Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2001, p. 240

*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, privately printed, 1937, p. 128

November 27, 1851



Nov 27  Thanksgiving day we have passed in the other

part of the house.  Our sons & Helen went this evening

to a ball in Canton  Father Mrs Witherell Mr Ames &

self had a game of cards.  Mr & Mrs H Lothrop

A[u]gustus & wife Cyrus & Sarah Lothrop

spent the day at Olivers

In 1844, Lydia Maria Child, a Massachusetts mother, author and abolitionist, published the original six verses of a poem about Thanksgiving. The poem was put to music, and verses were added or modified over time. We know it, and everyone sitting around the Ames’s dinner table would have known it:


The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day
Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.
Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.
Over the river, and through the wood—
and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
it is so hard to wait!
Over the river, and through the wood—
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for everyone.”
Over the river, and through the wood—
now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

– Lydia Maria Child


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

November 26, 1851

Rolling pin

Wedns Nov 26th  Have heat the brick oven three times

to day  Made Squash mince & apple pies

fruit & plain cake & seed cakes  did not

get the last oven in untill about four Oclock

Jane has assisted some about the work  Dr Swan

came to see her says she must exercise but

must not work hard  Oliver came home in the stage

The kitchen was humming today. Evelina baked pies and cakes to feed her family, now back at the full complement of six at table, as Oliver (3) arrived home from college for the holiday. She baked pies and maybe some side dishes to take to the other part of the house, where they would have Thanksgiving dinner the next day with Old Oliver, Sarah Witherell, and Sarah’s children, George and Emily. Jane McHanna “assisted some,” but was still sick enough to have a visit from the doctor – this time, the Ames’s personal physician, Caleb Swan.

In 1851, Thanksgiving was not yet a national holiday. That would happen in 1863, after lobbying by the indefatigable Sarah Josepha Hale convinced Abraham Lincoln to make an institution of a feast that was already celebrated in many – but not all – states. Although the country was suffering from the shock and carnage of a civil war, Lincoln saw good in the idea of a day of gratitude for “fruitful fields and healthful skies”** and, by Executive Order, proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national Day of Thanksgiving, in perpetuity.

The tradition of Thanksgiving evolved from the Puritan practice of holding days of thanksgiving or fasting, according to immediate need. The Puritans were inclined to see God’s influence in every part of their daily lives. When they were good, God would reward them. When they were bad, He would punish them. Depending on how things were going, their ministers were either making sure to thank God or beg for help. In the 17th century, a local congregation could call for a day of thanksgiving or a day of fasting on its own. As time went on, the practice became more formal and by the 19th century, governors, at least in New England, would call for a day of fasting in the spring (before the planting) and a day of thanksgiving in the autumn (after the harvest). In 1851, this was still how it was done.

Toward the end of the 19th century, as immigration began to influence and de-homogenize American culture, some of the old guard became concerned. Like many an established group, its members wanted to preserve their culture and honor traditions such as Thanksgiving.  The fourth Thursday in November became more than just a feast of gratitude with family members. It became a post-Civil War symbol of America’s beginning, an annual celebration that would help new immigrants understand how the country was first settled by white Europeans. Teaching about the holiday in schools became a priority and thus, for more than a century, an account of a first Thanksgiving feast between the Pilgrims and the Indians has become an indelible, if occasionally controversial, feature of American history.

For Evelina and her family, Thanksgiving was the most important holiday of the year. They would celebrate it with Yankee gusto, which generally meant a gathering of family and a fine feast followed by a game of cards for the old folks and perhaps a dance for the young people.

* A wealth of information about Thanksgiving can be found in “Thanksgiving: A Biography” by James W. Baker, New Hampshire, 2009. 

** Abraham Lincoln, A Proclamation, October 3, 1863

November 25, 1851




Tues Nov 25th  Mary has done the ironing to day except

the fine clothes and they look much better than usual

Jane is rather better to day and has washed the dishes

and assisted some about the housework.  I have made a

dickey for Mr Ames. Passed the afternoon at Father Ames

with Mr & Mrs Swain & Mrs Meader  Mrs S Ames,

Fred & Helen came home to night

Family members began to gather in anticipation of Thanksgiving. Fred and Helen Ames came home from their respective schools in Cambridge and Boston, adding animation to the quieter house next door.  Surely their parents, Sarah Lothrop and Oliver Ames, Jr., were pleased to see them.  Oliver (3), away at school in Providence, was getting ready for his travel home.

No one was making merry yet, however.  Everyone still had work to do. The new girl, Mary, did some ironing, evidently better than Jane McHanna usually did.  Jane herself, still recovering from an illness that had laid her low for almost ten days, was able to wash dishes and help out a bit. Evelina, after supervising Mary and Jane, was finally freed up to sew and socialize.  She was in a happier state of mind.

The men of the family were working as well.  While Oakes, Oliver Jr, Oakes Angier, and Frank Morton were at the shovel shop, Old Oliver and some of his men began “a building an ice hous.”**

“About sunsett,” it began to snow.


*Image of a mid-19th century kitchen, Courtesy of

**Oliver Ames, Journal, Courtesy of Stonehill College Archives, Tofias Collection





November 24, 1851


Monday Nov 24  Mary the new girl came last night and

she has done the washing very well it has

been very pleasant and they are all dry and brought 

into the house  Another town meeting to day and 

the Los & free soilers joined and elected Mr. Silvester

for representative.  The whigs are not a little agrieved

Mended Oakes Angiers coat  Frank Heath has

been getting the boards ready for the porch

More bad news for the disintegrating Whigs. In Easton,“there was a Town meeting for the chois of representative and the freesoil + Democratic parties united + chose a locofoco Galon Silvester”. The new representative from Bristol County for the General Court of Massachusetts was Galen Sylvester, a carpenter and former selectman.

Originally from Vermont, Sylvester was a member of the Locofoco faction of the Democrats, which had developed in the 1840s in protest against Tammany Hall in New York City. Their hero was Andrew Jackson. Their name came from some friction matches they once used to light candles to illuminate an evening meeting that had been interrupted when Tammany men turned off the gas lights on them. By 1851, the label had become somewhat derogatory. Ralph Waldo Emerson said of them, ” “The new race is stiff, heady, and rebellious; they are fanatics in freedom; they hate tolls, taxes, turnpikes, banks, hierarchies, governors, yea, almost laws.”** By the middle of the 1850s, the “Los” were no longer a viable political group.

Having gotten past last night’s quarrel with Oakes, Evelina seemed to sympathize with her husband and the other Whigs over their loss. But she was again focused on her domestic responsibilities, keeping her eye on a new servant, Mary, who had done a good job with the laundry. Evelina was also minding the work of a carpenter named Frank Heath, who was building or repairing a porch.


*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Tofias Collection

**Bill Kaufman, The Republic Strikes Back, The American Conservative


November 23, 1851



Sunday Nov 23d  Jane with Michaels sister got the

breakfast this morning but after breakfast Jane 

went to bed  I could not go to church this morning

Augustus came home at noon and brought Mr

Davidson  Mrs Meader Hannah & self went

back with him  This evening sat with my shawl

& bonnet on from 6 to 8 Oclock waiting for Mr

Ames to go to Mr Swains and then took them off did not go


For the second time this month, Oakes Ames forgot to take his wife somewhere. On this occasion, they had planned to visit Ann and John Swain.  Evelina had missed the morning meeting and although they had company at noon, and she made it to the afternoon service, she was still eager to get out and socialize. As night fell, she put on her “shawl & bonnet” and waited for her husband to pick her up. He didn’t show. She “did not go.”

Evelina had been disappointed two weeks earlier when Oakes had forgotten her, but the tone of her diary entry on that day had been tolerant. This time, she was likely less forgiving. Once Oakes finally walked in the door, more than two hours late, Evelina must have let him have it. Surely she got mad. Surely they argued.

Oakes’s excuse would’ve been that he’d been off electioneering, just like the last time he forgot to fetch his wife.  The next day was another town meeting and, in anticipation, he’d obviously gotten sidetracked, probably with friends. At least Evelina could be certain that he hadn’t been out drinking; Oakes was a teetotaler. But she would have been left to wonder what the outcome would be of her husband’s absorption into politics, and how it might alter their relationship.

Jane McHanna, meanwhile, was still sick.  Evelina was not having a great week.

*Image courtesy of


November 22, 1851


Sat Nov 22d  Another busy day I have had.  Jane

is better than she was yesterday but is not 

able to do much.  Did not rise untill after

breakfast.  Michaels sister came to night

has gone to meeting this evening   Jane was

quite smart talking this evening with them

I have had the offer of another girl.  She is

coming to work Monday & stay a few days


Evelina had lacked the full support of her servant Jane McHanna for much of this month. The thirty-six year-old servant had been away for five days and sick for seven. Evelina wasn’t happy to be doing most of the housework and all of the cooking and baking. With Thanksgiving less than a week away, she was feeling stressed.  She planned to get “another girl” to come in to help.

Evelina never described the nature of Jane’s illness but she did care enough about her servant to have brought in Dr. Wales.  She had allowed Jane to rest as needed, too, but she couldn’t help but notice that Jane seemed lively enough when her friends, Michael O’Beirne (also known as Michael Burns) and his sister came by to see her. Was Jane taking more time to recuperate than she needed? The relationship between the two women must have been strained by this point.


November 21, 1851


Friday Nov 21st  Jane has not been able to do any thing

to day has had Dr Wales.  I have heat the

brick oven twice made Apple & mince pies

& brown bread  Mr Clarke has taken the 

box & sink from the little porch.

Mrs Witherell has been baking and she

made my bed & Susans for which I feel

quite mortified  And assisted about the dishes.

Jane McHanna, the Ames’s servant, really was ill. Dr. Ephraim Wales called at the house to examine her. A young doctor, he was the son and grandson of doctors, also named Ephraim. Beyond that, we don’t know much about him. He and his wife, Maria, were listed in both the 1850 and the 1855 census, yet he drew no mention in the detailed chapter on physicians in William Chaffin’s History of Easton, Massachusetts. Perhaps they moved away before 1886, when Chaffin published his tome.

In 1851, Ephraim and Maria may have lived in the village; by 1855, they appear to have moved out to the country and settled near the Gilmore farm.  Regardless of his home address, on this particular day Dr. Wales braved some wet weather to visit Jane. Old Oliver described the day as ” a verry rainy day wind North east – East + south East the wind blew quite hard there was about 3 inches of rain fell. it raisd the two resevors 13 inches each.”

Evelina and her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell, stayed indoors and baked. With Jane sidelined, Evelina was once again doing the cooking and the housework, too busy to sew. Sarah must have felt sorry for Evelina, for she slipped away from the baking and made the beds for Evelina while the latter was coping in the kitchen, then came downstairs and helped with the dishes. Sarah, a widow who kept house for her father, was always looking after others.