December 31, 1851



Wednesday Dec 31st  This morning sit down early to knitting

my hood  Have it all finished ready for the lining.  About ten 

Oclock went into the school with Mrs. Witherell.  Mr Brown

has closed his school to day.  Passed the afternoon & evening at Olivers

Mr & Mrs Wm Reed  Mr & Mrs J Howard, Whitwell & A Gilmore were there.

Susie Ames and Emily Witherell may have been happy today to reach the end of their school term. Class, dismissed!  1851, dismissed!

Just how the Ames family celebrated the departure of the old year and arrival of the new, we don’t know. Old Oliver, with his usual terse assessment of the day, merely noted that “this was a cloudy day and some cooler + misty + foggy.” The cool mist he saw would develop into a huge rain storm over night, preventing folks from moving around much.

A group of friends and relatives gathered for tea next door at the home of Oliver Ames, Jr. and his wife Sarah Lothrop Ames. Besides Evelina and Oakes, at the party were Reverend William Whitwell and his wife Eliza, Reverend William Reed and his wife Abigail, Jason Guild Howard and his wife Martha, and Evelina’s brother Alson Gilmore and his wife Henrietta.  In just a few more years, a group like this might have sung the beloved  Auld Lang Syne to mark the occasion. In fact, a version of Auld Lang Syne, written in 1855 and called Song of the Old Folks would become “the tradition of the Stoughton Musical Society to sing […] in memory of those who had died that year.”*

Out with old, in with the new. What a year it would be for the Ames clan.

December 30, 1851



Tuesday Dec 30th  This forenoon worked about the house

again. Have put the drugget down in the 

parlour and dusted the room thoroughly.

Made Susan the second pair of sleeves to her blue

cotton & wool Delaine  Finished the letter to Lucy Norris

Commenced knitting the border to the bottom of my hood

It is a beautiful warm sunny day like the spring of the year


Nor surprisingly, the carpet that Evelina used in the house was inexpensive. Drugget, as it was known, was “a sort of cheap stuff, very thin and narrow, usually made of wool.”**  Drugget is an English term for “a coarse fabric having a cotton warp and a wool filling,” ** the kind of quick carpeting one might have found in a first class railway carriage. It probably had a design or a border printed on it.

Evelina has written here and elsewhere of putting carpeting down, taking it up and outside to clean, and putting it down again. She has written of stitching the carpeting together, which suggests that she may have used drugget runners side by side to make an over-all covering for her parlor floor. She may have been more conventional, though, and placed the drugget as runners on top of an area rug, or on top of a bare floor. Whatever she did, the work was repetitive and dusty.

It’s a shame that Evelina spent so much time indoors today when the weather was “fair warm + pleasant,” as Old Oliver reported. She herself made note of its similarity to spring; she should have known it wasn’t going to last.


** Wikipedia, “Drugget”, as of December 26, 2014



Scandinavian Room with drugget runners “Bibliotekarien Segersteen i sitt hem,” 1886, by Johan Fredrik Krouthen, Courtesy of


December 29, 1851


Thomas Valentine Sullivan (1800-1859)

Monday Dec 29th  Have been at work about the house all

day  Helped Susan wash the dishes this morning

cleaned the dining room swept & dusted the

parlour & sitting room chambers entry &c  This

evening have spent in Olivers quilted the lining

to Susans hood  Helen has a bad cold and has

come home  It has cleared off very pleasant

It was an average Monday at the Ames’s house. Jane McHanna washed clothes and linens in big tubs in the kitchen while Evelina swept and dusted all around the house.  Susie Ames worked, too, helping her mother with the breakfast dishes.  After the chores and meals were over, Evelina visited next door with some sewing in hand.

In Boston, however, the day was more noteworthy. An iconic American institution – so familiar to most of us in the 21st century that it seems to have always existed – was formed today. Borrowed from London, where the original organization had been founded six years earlier, a Young Men’s Christian Association was formed at the Old South Church. The “Y” was born in the U. S. A.

The driving force behind the creation of an American YMCA (another had just opened in Canada) was Thomas Valentine Sullivan, a sea captain who had chosen to spend his retirement working as a missionary on the Boston waterfront. According to the Y’s own history, Sullivan noted a “need to create a safe ‘home away from home’ for sailors and merchants.”*  Young men who found life on the street too dangerous or unsavory could take refuge at the Y for “Bible study and prayer.”*

Among her dishrags and dustmops, Evelina wouldn’t have known about Capt. Sullivan and his new work. Yet the small, hopeful gathering at the Old South Church would grow into a major, caring resource for millions of people.





December 28, 1851



Sunday Dec 28th A very stormy day but all went to meeting

except Oakes A & self, came home at noon so few

there that Mr Whitwell thought best not to have one in the afternoon.

Mr Swains brother went with them  Capt Johnathan Pratts wife

was buried this afternoon  Have written to Miss Foss and

partly written a letter to Lucy Norris


The “stormy day” kept most folks home from church; it had snowed overnight and the snow had turned to rain.  According to the family’s indefatigable weather man, Old Oliver, it “raind by spells all day but there was not more than ½ an inch fell.”

It was dreadful weather for a burial, but the frozen ground and cold precipitation didn’t prevent the funeral of Sophia Pratt, who had died the day before of consumption. Fifty-seven years old, she was the mother of four sons and the wife of Capt. Jonathan Pratt, a farmer and former member of the local militia. The Pratt family had been settled in Easton for several generations; their farm was not very far from the Gilmore spread in the southeastern section of town.

In common with any human community, the people of Easton had ceremonies for dealing with death. Protestant or Catholic, a dead person’s body was placed in a coffin and buried as soon as practicable, for reasons of hygiene, convenience and respect. As historian Drew Gilpin Faust explains: “Redemption and resurrection of the body were understood as physical, not just metaphysical realities, and therefore the body, even in death and dissolution, preserved ‘a surviving identity.’ […][T]he body and its place in the universe mandated attention even when life had fled; it required what always seemed to be called ‘decent’ burial, as well as rituals fitting for the dead.”*

As her coffin was lowered into a plot in Pine Grove Cemetery, Sophia Pratt would have received a fitting funeral.


*Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 62



December 27, 1851


Sat Dec 27th  Have put more sugar lemon & ginger to the syrup

of the citron  swept and dusted the rooms got

the lining ready to quilt to Susans hood quilted

the lining to Susans bonnet and fixed the collar

to my cloak  A[u]gustus Lothrop brought me a 

bushel of cranberries.  A Augustus called to bring

soap shoes &c that he got me in Boston


The cold temperature continued, Old Oliver noting in his diary that “the thermometer according to the papers was down to 8 in some places.”* Such temperatures wouldn’t have harmed the bushel of cranberries that Evelina received today. As author Mrs. Cornelius advised in her 1846 household guide, “cranberries keep well in a firkin of water. If they freeze, so much the better.”**

Cranberries were common in New England.  There is debate over whether they were served at the earliest Thanksgiving dinners, but there’s no debate that both Native Americans and English settlers consumed the fruit in season. Botanist Judith Sumner notes that: “Wild cranberries were originally hand-picked, but efficient New-Englanders soon crafted scoops that could be used to rake the berries from the lax stems.  During the nineteenth century, bogs carpeted with wild cranberries transformed into cultivated sites that were raked systematically each fall.”***  Augustus Lothrop, the youngest brother of Sarah Lothrop Ames, evidently cultivated cranberries at his farm in Sharon.

Henry David Thoreau enjoyed cranberries, finding them in the wild and eating them raw.  He considered them “a refreshing, cheering, encouraging acid that literally puts the heart in you and sets you on edge for this world’s experiences.”***

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, 1848-1863

**Mrs. Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, New York, 1846

*** Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, Portland, Oregon, 2004, p. 124


Ed. note:  Horace “Augustus” Lothrop was the youngest brother of Sarah Lothrop Ames.  He lived in Sharon.

Alson “Augustus” Gilmore was a nephew of Evelina Gilmore Ames, son of her brother Alson. He lived in Easton.

December 26, 1851


Dec 26th Friday  Mr Scott has been here to day and

painted the back entry chamber & stairs leading to my

room & Janes bedroom,  I have been knitting the border

to Susans hood and sewed it together ready for the 

lining  It is a bitter cold day  Augustus called this 

evening to get the direction for things to get me

tomorrow  Came down stairs after I went to bed and

made a fire in the air tight so that my plants should not



With the wind out of the north “[i]t was a cold day all day,” noted Old Oliver.  So “bitter cold” was it that after bedtime, Evelina slipped downstairs in her nightgown to check on the indoor plants. Determined that they “should not freeze,” she lit a fire in the “airtight” to keep them warm.

The airtight was another word for stove, in this case a coal stove. People often used the words stove and furnace interchangeably, so the air tight that Evelina speaks of may be the same furnace that is often lit by one of the servants. As was customary in many New England homes, it would have been allowed to burn down every night and started fresh each morning. Yet this evening was too cold to risk Evelina’s herbs and other plants being killed off, so the stove was kept going over night.

The presence of this and perhaps other stoves in the house tells us that the Ameses no longer burned wood fires in the original fireplaces, a transition in heating technology that had happened since the 1830s over most of industrialized New England. The change had provided a better, more even heating system, but at a cost. Many lamented the loss, for “the hearth had been the warm, bright center of the household, the provider of cooked food, heat and light and a symbol of the family’s shared life.”* Others, however, of whom Evelina was likely one, cheered for the added warmth and convenience of the furnace.

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everytday Life, New York, 1988, p. 141

December 25, 1851



Dec 25th Thursday  The Irish are expecting to have a great

time to day Jane went to the meeting house about

eight but the priest did not come she stoped an

hour. Carried my knitting into Olivers awhile this

forenoon. This afternoon have been to mothers

with Mr Ames & Frank as they were going to West

Bridgewater.  Finished knitting the front & back of

my hood  Made a present to Lavinia of Turnpike Dividend $800

Christmas Day! But as Evelina points out, the Irish Catholics in town would be celebrating, but the Ames family wouldn’t. Jane McHanna left the house to attend a Christmas mass for which, unfortunately, the priest was either late or didn’t show up at all.  Jane returned home to prepare dinner. Evelina, meanwhile, visited Sarah Lothrop Ames next door, knitting in hand.

After dinner Evelina rode along with her husband and youngest son as they went on an errand to West Bridgewater.  They dropped her off to see her mother at the family farm. There may have been some recognition of the holiday in this gesture, although Evelina makes no mention of gift-giving, with one significant exception. Evelina gave an $800 dividend to her niece Lavinia Gilmore.

The dividend came, somehow, from proceeds from the Taunton and South Boston Turnpike, a road that had run through part of Easton since the early 1800s, between “‘Taunton Green, so called, to the Blue Hill Turnpike,'” according to town historian William Chaffin.* Its origin was controversial and involved a long-standing disagreement with the Town of Raynham, but its impact on the Gilmore family was generally positive, as various Gilmores, including Evelina’s father and brother, served as toll-gate keepers. As Chaffin points out, however, “[t]he toll-gate naturally became unpopular.” It was closed in October of 1851.

How Evelina came to possess $800 from the road is unclear. Was this a regular dividend that Evelina received, or was the family compensated for the road’s discontinuance? That Evelina passed this money on to her niece, however, is a clear demonstration that for all her economical instincts, Evelina was capable of great generosity.


*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, Mass, 1866, pp. 454 – 458.

December 24, 1851


Christmas illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book, December 1851

Wednesday Dec 24th  This morning gave the sitting room stairs

bedroom &c a thorough sweeping and was about the 

house at work a greater part of the forenoon

knit on my hood when I seated myself at work

read some in Ladys Book which I have

commenced taking for another year.  Emily brung

me a linen collar that her mother made for a

Christmas present


Emily Witherell delivered a Christmas gift from her mother, Sarah Witherell, to her Aunt Evelina, a gesture that may have caught Evelina off guard.  In practice, the Ameses had not been in the habit of observing Christmas, finding this religious celebration too festive for their Puritan-derived tastes. Yet times were changing and, in future years, Evelina would become both a recipient and giver of Christmas presents.

Evelina’s transition from being suspicious of Christmas to celebrating it was stimulated by various factors, not the least of which was its promotion in her favorite magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, the same magazine whose subscription Evelina renewed today. The periodical recognized and encouraged the holiday’s appeal to its well-heeled readers, many of whom would have read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published less than a decade earlier. Unlike Unitarian (and one-time Congregationalist) Evelina, a growing number of Godey’s readers were less hide-bound to a doctrine devoid of celebration. The influx of Irish Catholics, who did honor the holiday, influenced some of this change, too.

While many in the nation made preparations for Christmas, a terrible fire at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., resulted in the destruction of nearly two-thirds of their holdings. Included in the loss was most of Thomas Jefferson’s original library.**



December 23, 1851



Tuesday Dec 23  Julia has been here to day to make Susans cotton

& wool Delaine  I have not sewed much with her

was choring about the house most all the forenoon

painted over some boxes for Mr Scott to grain.  made

the skirt & cuffs to Susans dress then went to knitting

on my hood which I commenced last evening.  Julia

cut and made and gathered the skirt and basted 

it on to the waist, the sleeves are not made


Old Oliver’s wintry weather report for this day suggests a scene worthy of Currier & Ives:”[T]his was a cloudy day + a verry little fine snow. wind north west it cleard of[f] about sunsett. what snow fell to day + last night was 1 ½ inch.” The countryside was covered with snow, appropriate enough for the first full day of winter.  And winter was a season much illustrated by the 19th century printmakers, Nathaniel Currier and James Ives.  Working out of New York, the firm produced enormously popular hand-colored lithographs of mostly American scenes. Currier began the prints in 1835 and was joined by Ives, who had been the firm’s bookkeeper, in 1856. The men soon developed a stable of artists and produced prints through the rest of the 19th century and into the early 20th. Evelina would have been familiar with Currier & Ives images, in the same way that many mid-20th century Americans were familiar with the illustrations of Norman Rockwell. The images were everywhere.

Many, if not most, Currier & Ives prints were scenes of the outdoors. On this day at the Ames’s, however, the action was all indoors, as the women chored, painted, sewed and knitted. Dressmaker Julia Mahoney was at the house to sew a wool dress for nine-year-old Susan Ames. That a child Susie’s age was having a dress made by a “professional” rather than her own mother was certainly a sign of the Ames’s wealth. Helen Ames, Susie’s fifteen-year-old cousin next door, often had her dresses made by Julia. Evelina was keeping up with her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, in providing the best for her daughter.


December 22, 1851



Monday Dec 22d  Washed the dishes with Susan, made

the beds &c and then went to work on the hour glass

table got it made about the middle of the afternoon

Mr Ames went to Canton this afternoon  Mrs Mc

Hanna to Mr Savages  Spent the evening at 

Augustus  Went with Oakes Angier in the sleigh

as he was going to Mr Whitwells  They went this

afternoon to the funeral of Lewis Keith

Domestic chores and neighborhood errands reigned on this winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. Jane McHanna did laundry, little Susie helped wash dishes, and Evelina made the beds. Evelina had a special project, too, that she worked on: an hourglass table she was making to give to her nephew, Edwin Gilmore, and his bride-to-be, Augusta Pool.  She made major progress on it, but what was it?  Does any reader know about the design and/or purpose of an hourglass table?

In the afternoon, after the midday dinner, family members rode out in various directions. Under a cold, cloudy sky, Oakes Ames went north to Canton, to the family works there or perhaps to the Kinsley’s. Oakes Angier drove a sleigh south to the minister’s house in order to attend the funeral of a local farmer, Lewis Keith.  Evelina rode along with her son but stopped to visit her nephew, Augustus Gilmore.  Jane McHanna, meanwhile, went out on foot to see William and Hannah Savage, who lived in the village.  Mrs. Savage was poorly.

Did anyone tell a ghost story tonight after dark fell? Such tales were customary for some families at winter solstice.  On her way home from her nephew’s, was Evelina able to see Orion in the night sky through the clouds?

*Image courtesy of