May 21, 1852

67

*

1852

Friday May 21st  Mrs Patterson came to help clean house

to day and has done very well.  We have

cleaned the boys chamber and put down the

carpet & the store room,  all […] that is necces-

sary for painting the dining room.  have put

some clean paper on part of the dining room.

Have not changed my dress to day and have not

had a chance to sit scarcely a moment.  Have a

trellis from Lucius Clapp

“[T]his was a fair day neither verry cold or warm,” recorded Old Oliver in his journal; he was beginning to look for rain for his crops, as the spring was turning dry.

Evelina probably paid less attention to the weather than her father-in-law, because she was focused on the ritual spring cleaning. She hired extra help in the form of Mrs. Patterson, who may have been Mary Patterson, the forty-ish wife of Thomas Patterson, a farmer in Bridgewater.

Whoever she was, Mrs. Patterson proved a boon to Evelina. The two women were busy all day cleaning, washing the floors, putting down carpet, and putting up new wallpaper. Evelina never changed out of her work dress, as would have been customary in the afternoon, and barely sat down. Meanwhile, the regular servant, Jane McHanna was preparing the meals and tending to the ordinary chores of the house.

The trellis that Evelina and Oakes ordered from Lucius Clapp arrived today, and was most likely placed, free-standing, somewhere in the yard. It could well have been a centerpiece for Evelina’s flower garden.

*Illustration from “Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings,” 1863, published in Charles Dickens’ periodical, All the Year Round

May 20, 1852

 

Mattress

1852

Thursday May 20th  Went to Bridgewater quite early this

morning and did not get back until

after four Oclock  Bought an oilcloth

carpet for the dining room,  Straw carpet

for O Angiers chamber and engaged some

husk mattress  Called into Edwins after 

I returned  Have a bad head ache.  Very pleasant

Today’s shopping objective: new floor coverings for the dining room and a bedroom, as well as “some husk mattress.”  At least one of the mattresses of the house was due to be restuffed or entirely made over.

By the mid-nineteenth century, mattresses were stuffed with various materials, including cotton batting, wool, horsehair or corn husks. As they had been for centuries, mattresses were placed within a wooden bed frame and set atop a latticed support of rope or leather or wire. The box-spring that we use today would come along a few decades later.

It’s a little curious that Evelina “engaged some husk” for a mattress, when she could have selected cotton or something finer, like down. Feathers would have required poultry, however, which the Ameses didn’t keep, and were expensive to purchase. The husks, probably harvested the previous fall from a corn harvest and dried over the winter, would have been less expensive.

By the end of the day, Evelina had a headache. Perhaps her long day of shopping or a bumpy ride to and from Bridgewater set her off.  With so much time spent outside, a high pollen count could have been the culprit, too, and might also account for Susie Ames’s recent nose bleeds.

May 19, 1852

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Wednesday 19th May  Washed the windows in the 

parlour and cleaned it   all that is necessary this spring

Was about house until about four Oclock

when Mrs Swain came and spent the 

afternoon  Mr Swain came to tea  Worked

on the garden about an hour  Susan has

the nose bleed almost every day.  This afternoon

came home before the school was done

 

Spring cleaning was late this year, as the women’s attention had been given over to family illness. The kitchen had been repainted some weeks earlier, but other rooms hadn’t been dealt with. Evelina set out to rectify the delay and, probably with support from Jane McHanna, donned her apron to tackle the best room in the house, the parlor, much of which had been redecorated back in February, so needed little attention beyond its windows and a basic cleaning.

One imagines Evelina and Jane in working clothes as they went about with their brushes, rags and mops. But what did Evelina wear under her apron, or after she changed out of her choring dress? Was she wearing any mourning attire? Did her outfit signify at all the recent loss of her nephew George?

In the 19th century, “[m]ourning was particularly a woman’s affair,”* perhaps because of a societal norm that women were sentimental and emotional, and men were not. There were rules about attire to be followed after the loss of a loved one. At the beginning, black crepe dresses, black veils or headgear, and even black jewelry – onyx, usually, or pins netted with a lock of hair of the departed – were expected to be displayed in some manner. After a certain period, black was put away and lavender, grey or purple dresses were acceptable. The closer the relative was to the deceased, the more exacting the expectation.

In her fine book about death in the Civil War, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust notes:

“By convention, a mother mourned for a child for a year, a child for a parent the same, a sister six months for a brother. A widow mourned for two and a half years, moving through proscribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment. A widower, by contrast, was expected to mourn only for three months, simply by displaying black crape on his hat or armband.”**

By these calculations, Sarah Ames Witherell had been dressed in black or lavender too often before. Her husband had died in August, 1848, her young son Channing in May, 1849 and now her son George. Sad to say, she would have had a black dress or two, plus the appropriate accessories, in her cupboard. But what was Evelina obliged to wear? Perhaps not a black dress – although she had one – but an armband? Or a black ribbon in her bonnet? What was the expectation for an aunt?

 

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 102

**Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 147

 

 

 

 

May 18, 1852

Dianthus.2474433_std

Pinks

 

1852 Tuesday 18 May  Have accomplished but a very little work

to day  Made a long call in Olivers & the other

part of the house talking over my visit yesterday

Set out some pink slips &c that I got there

About three started for N Bridgewater met

Alson & wife turned about and came back

Spent the rest of the afternoon at Edwins.  called

at Augustus,  her sister Elizabeth there

The visit to the Kinsley family that Evelina had made the day before lingered in her mind. She talked about it with both sisters-in-law, no doubt describing the family, the conversation, and the twelve pots of flowers she got to bring home. Was she bragging or sharing? Were Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell interested or only tolerant? The Kinsleys were well-to-do, prominent citizens of Canton, so one suspects that both sisters-in-law had some curiosity about them. Yet it had only been a week since George Witherell had died, so Sarah Witherell may have had limited attention for Evelina’s gadding about.

After her “long call” with her relatives, Evelina spent time in her garden planting “some pink slips &c” that she got in Canton.  Pinks are bright little flowers that we know better as carnations and more formally as dianthus.  The name comes from the “pinked” or serrated edge of the petals, as if trimmed with pinking shears. Pinks are a traditional flower for a cottage garden; botanist Joseph Breck declared that “There is no flower more desirable in the flower-garden that the Carnation. A well-grown, superior variety, cannot be surpassed, in elegance, beauty, or odor, by any other flower.”*

The pretty little flowers in Evelina’s garden must have brightened up the yard of a home whose occupants needed cheering up.

 

Joseph Breck, The Flower Garden or Breck’s Book of Flowers, Boston, 1851, p. 111

 

May 17, 1852

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Mid-19th century American Greenhouse*

1852

Monday May 17  Finished planting my flower seeds

Mr Blodget here to dine from Boston

This afternoon have been to Mr Kinsley with

Mr Ames.  Miss Nevill there from Salisbury.

Brought home twelve pots of flowers from

their green house.  The grapes & flowers look

finely  Had a very pleasant visit got home

about dark

Evelina enjoyed herself today. It was lovely outside, for “the sun shined about half the day + was pritty warm wind west + south west.”** She gardened for much of the morning and in the afternoon, rode with her husband, Oakes, to Canton to call on the Kinsley family.

Lyman and Louisa Kinsley, whom we’ve heard of before in Evelina’s diary, were about the same age as Oakes and Evelina. They had two children, Lucy Adelaide and Edgar Lyman, who were twelve years apart, suggesting that there may have been other children born between the two. Lucy was close in age to Oakes Angier, and Edgar was a year or so younger than Susie.

The Kinsleys were prosperous; Mr. Kinsley ran an iron business that had been started by his father and had long supplied material for Ames shovels. The Kinsley Iron and Machine Company would eventually be bought by the Ameses and managed by Frank Morton Ames. That being some years in the future, the Ameses could sit and admire the Kinsley place with little thought of acquisition – perhaps. Certainly, Evelina was much taken with the Kinsley greenhouse and the “twelve pots of flowers” she got to take home.

Greenhouses such as Mr. Kinsley’s were becoming more popular in the mid-19th century, particularly in England after the government there did away with the heavy tax on window glass. Hothouses had been known previously on this size of the Atlantic, also, appearing in the colonies as early as 1737, when wealthy Bostonian Andrew Faneuil built one. George Washington, too, had one built at Mt. Vernon to grow pineapple. Greenhouses would increase in size, status, and grandeur as the century progressed. Easton would see its share when the next generation of wealthy men reached maturity. Frederick Lothrop Ames, Edwin Williams Gilmore and probably others would raise orchids and more in the glass-walled wonders.

*Greenhouse from Beekman Estate in Manhattan, circa 1850

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

May 16, 1852

lclapp-1

1852

Sunday 16th May Mr Whitwell preached a funeral sermon

and very good  At noon mother Henrietta

and self spent at Mr Whitwells  After meeting

Mr Ames Susan & I rode to Mr Clapps made

quite a long call  he has but a very few 

flowers in blossom, pansys were very pretty

Have engaged a trellis of him

The last formal recognition of the death of fourteen year old George Witherell took place in the Unitarian church this Sunday when the minister “preached a funeral sermon.”  Different from the ritual text that probably defined the graveside service just three days earlier, the sermon was presumably a collection of thoughts about death in general and the death of the young man in particular.  Reverend Whitwell knew the family well and, being an articulate and thoughtful wordsmith, must have offered the family some personal comfort and consolation.

Evelina appeared to be recovering her strength. With her husband and daughter, she rode to Stoughton after church to visit Lucius Clapp, where they made “quite a long call.” Evelina discussed flowers and a trellis. Was this trellis ordered in place of the one at the front door that was being built only ten days earlier?  Or was this a new trellis entirely, designed perhaps for the garden?  Was this the year of the trellis?

One imagines that Oakes Ames offered less direction about the trellis than his wife.  What he might have preferred to discuss with Lucius Clapp was their shared interest in the Whig party, or their mutual respect for temperance.  According to one nineteenth century historian, Mr. Clapp was a “kind-hearted”* man with a “modest and retiring nature.”* His politics were informed and liberal:

Formerly a Whig, Mr. Clapp has been identified with the most progressive political creeds. He was one of the original Free Soilers, and chairman of the first Free-Soil meeting held in Stoughton. Since its organization he has supported the Republican party. He has been [a] member of school committees several years, and selectman of Stoughton seven years, and now (1883) holds that position. He has always been pronounced in advocacy of temperance, and has been connected with every movement for the betterment and advancement of his native town. He is an attendant and supporter of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”*

Mr. Clapp and Mr. Ames would have had much to talk over.

 

*D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, 1884, pp. 424-425

May 15, 1852

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May 1852

Saturday 15th  Have been mending a lot of stockings

that have bee[n] put by for a week or two  Spend

too much time in the garden  Gave Mrs Gilmore

Augusta & Abby some plants & flower seeds

Abby stoped a couple of hours  Gave Susan a bath

and took one myself and the afternoon thus passed

Spent the evening   Helen is much better she has

had a sorry time of it  Quite pleasant

 

Today was “cloudy all day but a little warmer,”* according to Old Oliver. The bath water that Evelina and her daughter Susie used was in no danger of freezing, as it had earlier in the year when Oakes had planned to bathe but forgot and left the the water to freeze in the pail.  The water in the pail should have been poured into a tub not unlike the one in the illustration above, copper-lined, claw-footed, and rimmed in oak.  That Evelina mentioned taking a bath suggests that bathing was not a regular event; personal hygiene operated under a different set of standards in the 19th century.

The baths, taken in the Ames’s indoor bathing room, probably felt quite relaxing, even therapeutic after the stress and grief of the week gone by. For Evelina, even just mending the hose that had sat untended would have been a welcome return to normalcy after the death of young George Witherell.  Working in the garden, too, would have been a pleasure.  Her plants were doing so well, in fact, that she had plenty to spare and give away to some of her female relatives.

Next door,  fifteen year old Helen Angier Ames was finally recovering from an infection on her face, an abscess or boil, that had  been lanced the day before.  The procedure had been successful, and the family’s health concerns seemed to be put away, at least for now.

May 14, 1852

Susan Eveline Ames French

Susan Eveline Ames (French)

1852

May 14th  Susan ten years old to day.  Her father & 

I have promised her 10 dollars each if she will

be a good girl and keep herself neat till her

next birth day.  Have been to work some on

Susans delaine dress altering it The gardener

laid out my verbena and I set out some slips

From the house  Malvina came to stop the night

Helen had her face lanced  Not pleasant

 

 

Last year for her birthday, Susie Ames had a little party.  Not so this year, her birthday coming too close on the heels of the death of her cousin George Witherell. Instead, her parents made her a generous promise of “10 dollars each,” if she behaved well and kept “herself neat” for the next year. Those were high expectations for a child, even a Victorian one.

Next door, Helen Angier Ames was still suffering from her own difficult ailment, that of a swollen face. Was it an abscess, or a boil, or something else? The doctor came again to see her and this time lanced her face. Not a pleasant procedure, one imagines. Otherwise, in the main house, family members seemed to be settling back into the normal domestic routine.  Eveline sewed and gardened; her verbena and more went into the ground, despite the continued stormy weather.

 

May 13, 1852

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Thursday May 13th  Worked in the garden about an hour

this morning  Assisted about putting George into the 

coffin, put in some geraniums leaves feverfew

blossoms and wild flowers  Has rained very hard

all day.  funeral at three Oclock  Mrs Lovell &

son brought Mrs Witherell and Mr & Mrs Brown came

beside a few neighbors.  Mr. Whitwell spoke well

On this cold, stormy spring day, George Oliver Witherell was laid to rest. Although he is now buried in the Village Cemetery in North Easton, he was initially buried elsewhere near his father, Nathaniel Witherell; his little brother, Channing; and his grandmother, Susannah Angier Ames and a few other Ames relatives. Only after the Unitarian Church was built in 1875 were the remains of all moved to the cemetery behind the new church.

Evelina helped place her nephew George in his coffin and added what could almost be described as a potpourri of geranium leaves, feverfew and wild flowers that would have provided a sweet, masking scent. Feverfew, an aromatic member of the daisy family, was also commonly used as an herbal medicine. Gardener and housewife that she was, Evelina would have had these dried leaves and petals on hand.

The service for George would have begun at the house and moved to the graveside, rain or no rain. A memorial sermon would follow the next Sunday, but this day Reverend Whitwell spoke over the coffin in a heartfelt service for family and close friends. Besides the Ames clan, who would have been there in full force, George’s paternal grandmother, Mrs. Witherell, was brought down from Boston to attend. To no one’s surprise, “Mr. Whitwell spoke well.”

May 12, 1852

Corpse

Wednesday May 12th  Helped Mrs Witherell make Georges robe

Planted some seeds that Mrs Howard gave me

and African rose sent from Andover.  Have ripped

the skirt from Susans borage delaine to lengthen

it Swept & dusted my chamber &c &c Jane had

finished the ironing  Have not felt very well

have not got over being broken of my rest.  It has

rained since nine Oclock quite fast

A new gardener commenced work today

What sad sewing went on today. Sarah Ames Witherell, a thoughtful, dutiful woman who had sewn so many things for friends and family, now sat and made a shroud for her first-born child, George. Only fourteen years-old, he had died the day before after a painful bout of rheumatic fever. Of the three children Sarah had borne, only her middle child, Emily, was still alive.

The steady rain must have enhanced the gloom. Old Oliver wrote that “it began to rain before noon wind north east and it grew cold and raind all the afternoon.”* Evelina must have done her planting first thing in the morning, after which she helped Sarah with the robe for George. She also worked on a skirt for Susan, and swept and dusted while Jane McHanna ironed. She was probably not the only family member who was recovering from “being broken of my rest.” Everyone was trying to return to a normal routine after the disruption and sorrow of George’s illness, although next door, Helen Angier Ames was still suffering from a case of blisters and facial swelling.

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