July 17, 1852

Wine glass

July 17th Sat  Hannah & Mary picked some currants

yesterday and to day I have made some

currant wine had four quarts of juice

Have done but very little sewing. Have

mended some.  Oliver returned from

school to night He is not looking very well

He brought home his pictures & all his things

is in hopes to go back again but it is uncertain

Evelina’s diary entry today poses two questions for us readers. First, why was she, wife of a strict tee-totaler, making wine? The answer is that from time to time, even a temperance household needed wine for medicinal purposes. It may be, also, that the occasional dish, such as mincemeat, required some alcohol as an ingredient. Even Lydia Maria Child, who abhorred liquor, nonetheless included a recipe for currant wine in her household guide:

Break and squeeze the currants, put three pounds and a half of sugar to two quarts of juice and two quarts of water. Put in a keg or barrel. Do not close the bung tight for three or four days, that the air may escape while it is fermenting.  After it is done fermenting, close it up tight…It should not be used under a year or two. Age improves it.*

The second question is almost unanswerable. Why wasn’t Oliver (3) able to return to Brown University? He wanted to, but clearly the decision wasn’t his to make, nor did it appear to be the school’s choice. Rather, the decision to cease attendance lay with Oliver (3)’s father, Oakes Ames, who had been against his son attending college in the first place. Oakes was once described as having “inherited some measure of that Puritanical contempt for the liberal arts…”**. He had first put his foot down against Oliver going, finally relented for one year, and now was again saying no.

If we can move past Oakes’s prejudice against higher education, we can imagine that he wanted his middle son back at the factory. So much had happened at the shovel works during Oliver (3)’s absence. The old factory had burned down and a temporary one had been quickly rebuilt. A new, state-of-the-art stone factory was being raised, requiring extra supervision. And the manufacture and sale of shovels had had to continue as if nothing had happened. Quite likely, Oakes needed his son’s help. Studying was over.

It’s also possible that an additional factor may have influenced Oakes’s decision, a factor that he couldn’t yet share – at least not with Evelina. Oakes may have been privy to a concern about his son Oakes Angier’s health, a condition that would soon be apparent to all.


*Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, p. 59

** Hon. Hosea M. Knowlton, Address at the Dedication Ceremony for the Oliver Ames High School, December 12, 1896, published  Boston, 1898, p.98


3 thoughts on “July 17, 1852

  1. And making the wine was one way to preserve the otherwise perishable currants. I am trying to recall if Oakes ever drank back in his youth. Certainly in the building of the 1825 Great Pond dam and hammer shop, we know that rum was being consumed, and I think that Oakes was involved in that, but I am not sure. He could have been involved in the work, but not imbibing. That was back before Old Oliver decided to switch all the workers to the non-intoxicating swidgel. Didn’t Oliver 2 once decide to try studying law, because his health was, he feared, not up to shovel industry standards? Or was his health, mental or physical, not up to demands of studying law? 😉 In any case there is this seeming paradox of people like Oakes and many Quakers, who had high standards for personal behavior, but were wheeler-dealers and/or hard bargainers. I recall workers paying tribute to Oakes’s generosity, but he certainly was a wheeler dealer from his early years to Credit-Mobelier. I’m not trying to make any judgments here, but invite comments on the phenomenon.

  2. You’re right, Dwight, that Oliver Jr did go off to law school but was called home by Oliver Sr (receiving a truncated education similar to the one that Oliver (3) experienced.) Don’t know if Oakes or Oliver Jr imbibed when they were young, but do know that Oakes had a habit of chewing tobacco that he forced himself to give up. Bet Evelina was happy to get rid of the spittoons…
    And as for Oakes being a wheeler-dealer, no question. Whatever he did, he did wholeheartedly, whether it was politics or making shovels. He was hard on his family – witness the horsewhipping he gave his son Frank, and the financial pounding he gave his younger brother William – but he was also devoted to them. A contradictory, fascinating figure.

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