What is a diary as a rule? A document useful to the person who keeps it. Dull to the
contemporary who reads it and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it.
Sir Walter Scott
January 1, 2015
If you’re like me, you have treasured the 1851 diary of Evelina Gilmore Ames. Some of you have even participated with comments that have added depth to the consideration of a time gone by. Your additions have enhanced the small tale of a Yankee housewife who marked her modest days with regular notations of dresses sewn, flowers planted and fruits preserved, who wrote of short trips into Boston, visits to the family farm, and errands of mercy into the homes of sick neighbors.
Without meaning to, Evelina preserved a picture of life from antebellum New England, a life that has disappeared and evolved into a world she’d be hard-put to recognize. Her children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren have lived and died. Her house itself is gone, though the grander dwelling of her in-laws, Oliver, Jr. and Sarah Lothrop Ames, still stands proudly next door. Automobiles drive where oxen carts and horse carriages moved, and the significant architecture of certain stone buildings in the center of the village memorializes relatives she loved. The very factory whose noisy production of world-famous shovels led the local economy for decades moved away more than sixty years ago. She couldn’t have imagined it.
Yet some things remain the same. People are still people, solicitous or mean, content or down-hearted, eager or indifferent. The true characters we read about in the pages of her diary are recognizable and familiar to us in their essential humanity. We can find ourselves and our own families somewhere in these pages; we all behave so similarly. In Easton, Massachusetts, many descendants of the people Evelina wrote about still live. Last names like Ames, Gilmore, Randall, Tisdale and others can be found in the local telephone book (which itself is in danger of becoming as obsolete as Evelina’s tin stove.)
Evelina continued to keep a diary after 1851, but only the 1852 diary is extant. Her journals from the Civil War period have been lost. We’ll just have to treasure the one that remains. And so, ahead of us is the last available year of Evelina’s tiny aperture on the Ames family of old.
Thank you for reading!
Sarah Lowry Ames
(wife of John S. Ames III, great-great-great-grandson of Oliver and Susanna Angier Ames)