Wedns Aug 4th Sewing circle met at the other part
of the house Had an unusually large number
About 30 beside the gentlemen that came
to the second table. My family all had tea
there After tea all went into the gardens
and into Olivers to hear Helen play
Horatio and another man came from Salisbury
Sarah Witherell hosted the monthly Sewing Circle, to which people turned out in “an unusually large number.” Everyone would have known about the death of Sarah’s son back in May, and by showing up on this occasion, they likely were paying respect to a woman they probably admired. In her quiet, dignified way, Sarah had done so much for others that others now wanted to do something for her. They may also have been demonstrating respect for her father, Old Oliver. Sarah was probably grateful for the outpouring and for the hostessing assistance she would have gotten from her visiting cousin, Almira Ames.
Old Oliver may or may not have been on the premises for tea. According to his daily record, on “the 4th Horatio + Mr Morse his traveling agent came here + went away the next day.”* Evelina doesn’t mention Horatio (Sr., probably) but as we know, they weren’t close.
After the busy gathering at Sarah Witherell’s, family and guests toured the gardens – of both houses, presumably – and then moved into the house next door to hear Helen Angier Ames, only daughter of Sarah Lothrop Ames and Oliver Ames Jr., play piano. Perhaps even Old Oliver, Horatio and Mr. Morse were part of the appreciative crowd.
This is the first entry that tells us that Helen Angier Ames played the piano, and it’s significant. Owning a piano or, more likely, a pianoforte was “the ultimate ‘badge of gentility’.”** Because “less than one in a hundred” households in the country owned such an instrument, those that did could be reckoned to be high up on the social scale. Owning a piano distinguished “‘decent people’ from the lower and less distinguished”, according to the standards of the time.
*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection
**Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday LIfe: 1790-1840, New York, 1988, p. 143