May 26, 1852

Bird

1852

Wedns  May 26th  Jane has done part of the ironing  I have

put down the carpet in the front chamber & sitting

room and the bedroom carpet partly down and 

got the rooms in pretty good order  Mr Scott

& Holbrook commenced painting in the other

part of the house yesterday   Mrs Patterson

staid at home to do her washing & ironing

Mr Ames went to Bridgewater West

 

Spring cleaning continued; Evelina laid carpet today, often one of the last chores on the list. She could almost check the sitting room off the list, and seemed pleased that the house was “in pretty good order.”

Another spring ritual, this one involving bird hunting, may or may not have taken place on this date; by 1852, it may have been outlawed.  But the hunt, which always took place on the last Wednesday in May, was recent enough to have included various Ameses, if we assume they chose to participate.  Town historian William Chaffin describes the ritual in his 1886 History of Easton:

“At different times in the history of the town rewards were offered for killing crows and blackbirds, which were supposed to be very destructive to corn […]

“Scarcely two generations ago [which would place the event somewhere as late as the 1840s] the custom prevailed of young men choosing sides, and each side on a given day starting out and killing all the birds they could. The day chosen was the old ‘Election day’ so called, the last Wednesday in May, once the time for the convening of the State Legislature, and which came to be known as ‘Nigger ‘lection.’  It was one of the greatest holidays of the year for the boys. […] [T]hose taking part in the shooting started out at daybreak and killed as many birds as possible.  They usually met at some appointed place before dinner, to count the birds and see which side had won the victory.  In North Easton, the rendezvous was at Howards’ store […]

“The understanding was that only harmful birds should be killed; but it was easy to include nearly all birds in this category, because, it was argued, bobolinks and swallows destroyed bees, and robins stole cherries, etc. In some places the party beaten paid for the dinner and drinks of all.”*

In the 21st century, it’s difficult to fathom both the wanton waste of this offensively-nicknamed holiday, and the glee that evidently accompanied it. That hunting has an appeal, we don’t question, but that songbirds were the quarry is hard for modern folks to accept. **

 

William Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, pp. 776-777

** This editor freely confesses to being a birder and particularly fond of bobolinks.

4 thoughts on “May 26, 1852

  1. It was probably an extension of the time when there was a bounty offered for rattlesnakes, wolves, wildcats, and black birds (crows, I assume.) Crows certainly can do significant damage to crops, seating seed and pulling up new sprouts, but most of the rest of the shooting does seem alien and disturbing to us now. In all the records I have read from Old Oliver, I never saw any reference to his ever hunting, or even firing a gun.

  2. We don’t know if the Ames males participated in this hunt. Oakes Angier and his generation possibly would have been the last to do so, but they may well have been away at boarding school at this time of year. Or simply disinclined. The previous generation of Oakes, Oliver Jr etc. would have been the right age, but the point that they weren’t a hunting family is well made. They were too busy working! Except for Oakes who, on occasion, shirked his schoolwork for his fishing pole. Or so Chaffin says!

  3. Killing anything for merely sport should have been a no no even back then.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s