December 11, 1852

Trunk

Sat Dec 11th  It has been a very stormy day

and O A has been in the house and

we have packed all his clothes  Catharine

has made two night shirts for him

and they are all washed & ready  It has

been a trying day to me  Mr Torrey called

and had quite a chat with mother but

I was busy at the time

 

“[T]he 11th it began to rain in the night + this morning there is a north east storm + rather cold + windy it raind about all day and fell 1 ½ deep,”* wrote Old Oliver Ames in his daily record. The weather was miserable and seemed to match Evelina’s mood as she packed Oakes Angier’s trunk with the help of her servants and, perhaps, Sarah Witherell.  Evelina herself said it was a “trying day.”  She couldn’t even attend to a visit from a favorite, her brother-in-law, Col. John Torrey, and seemed grateful that her mother was available to do the honors of receiving his call.

On this exact date in Lexington, Virginia, a young professor at the Virginia Military Institute wrote to his sister Laura Ann, with whom he was very close, offering her advice about getting the better of a recent illness: “I hope that though ill health is your present lot, that notwithstanding you will continue a buoyancy of spirits, and not give way to surrounding troubles.  I too am a man of trouble, yet let the oppressing load be ever so great, it never sinks me beneath its weight.”  It’s too bad that Evelina couldn’t read his advice – she might have been able to bear her sad thoughts better. Although she had never met the professor, she would one day know his name: Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

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

**Thomas Jackson, Letter to his sister Laura Ann, Courtesy of Virginia Military Institute Archives

December 10, 1852

Handkerchief

 

Friday Dec 10th  Oakes A brought some stockings &

hdkfs from Boston  I have lined & run the heels

of the stockings & Mrs Witherell hemmed & marked 

the handkerchiefs  Went with mother into 

Edwins awhile this forenoon. Oakes A & Lavinia

went to N Bridgwater  Augusta & Lavinia

spent the afternoon at Augustus’

Evelina had company now as she prepared Oakes Angier’s clothes for his trip. Her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell, hemmed and monogrammed Oakes Angier’s new handkerchiefs while she strengthened the heels of his new hosiery. Pedestrian tasks, but absolutely necessary for the young man who was venturing into a land where there would be no mother or aunt to mend or improve his clothing. We might imagine that the two women worked quietly together in Evelina’s sitting room, each one’s mind heavy with thought. But perhaps there was conversation between the two. If Evelina was able to speak her fears aloud, she couldn’t have found a more sympathetic listener in the whole family.

Oakes Angier himself was off with his cousin Lavinia Gilmore to North Bridgewater on some errand or other. Evelina did find time to take her mother, Hannah Lothrop Gilmore, across the way to visit Edwin and Augusta Gilmore. Augusta by now was in her seventh month of pregnancy, showing her condition and moving slowly, one imagines.

Old Oliver, meanwhile, was watching the sky and wondering where the cold weather was: “a cloudy day but mild + warm. the ground has not froze nights for several nights past.”*

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

December 9, 1852

936572_l

Dressing case, mid-19th c.*

Thursday Dec 9th  Mrs Witherell & Mrs Ames

have been to Boston and Oakes A came

home with them  Mrs Norris has a present

from Mr Norris of a beautiful dressing case

Have got the forks & spoons &c from Bigelows

for which they charge 77 dollars 77 cts

Miss Alger brought Mother & Lavinia up

yesterday  Lavinia & Edwin & wife were here

and I went [to] Augustus after Mother this forenoon 

 

Evelina seemed to be in better spirits, perhaps because Oakes Angier returned from Boston. She was savoring every minute with him before he left for Cuba.

Her sisters-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell and Sarah Lothrop Ames, had also been in the city. They returned with the news that Caleb Norris, son-in-law of Robert and Melinda Orr, had given his wife, also named Melinda, a dressing case for her 28th birthday. Norris was a dry goods merchant and the young couple lived with her parents on Columbus Avenue. Given Norris’s connections in wholesale and retail, he must have been able to procure his wife a fine box, perhaps at a friendly price. However he managed it, he impressed the Ames women mightily.

A dressing case was a fashionable item for women**, one that could be placed on a dressing table or clasped closed to travel. Most cases, such as the one in the illustration, contained bottles and vials to hold perfume and lotion, and brushes and combs for the grooming of increasingly complicated hairstyles. All items deemed necessary for the beautification and maintenance of a woman’s hair, face and hands were thoughtfully and expensively included, topped off in this case with silver lids.

Their friends weren’t the only ones spending money on luxury items. Evelina tells us what it cost to buy some new flatware and have it monogrammed: $77.77. In today’s dollars (2015), that would amount to approximately $2,430. The Ameses were becoming quite wealthy to be able to spend that amount. The purchase certainly overpowers that 75 cent crumb brush that Evelina received from her nephew Fred, but to her credit she seemed equally pleased with both acquisitions.

 

*courtesy of http://www.antiquebox.org 

** There were also dressing cases for men, with different contents, naturally.

December 8, 1852

imgres

Wednesday Dec 8th  Have been doing to day probably

what I shall while Oakes A stays, to work

on his clothes  He went to Boston this

morning  It is so near the time he is to leave

that I do not like to have him away but 

how little is he sensible to what my feelings are

Miss Alger has given the 15th leson

 

Only one week earlier, Evelina had learned that Oakes Angier’s illness had returned. She had been shocked, rattled, anxious. Today, a week later, she was not much improved and had added a dose of self-pity. She was feeling sorry for herself. While Oakes Angier went off to Boston for the day, probably with his cousin Alson Augustus Gilmore, Evelina stayed at home to mend and sew the clothes he would need for the journey to Cuba. “[H]ow little is he sensible” to her maternal concern and regard, she bemoaned.

Oakes Angier may have been quite aware of his mother’s feelings, and may have wanted a break from them. Fresh air, sunshine and a jaunt into Boston must have appealed to him. He had his own mental adjustments to make to this threat to his young life, independent of everyone else’s personal regard. He had so much at stake.

So mother and son spent some time apart, he exploring some of the larger world he would soon be thrust into, she nursing a heavy heart at home, sewing, of course, perhaps with piano scales running in the background.

The only thing that Old Oliver noted was that it was a “fair good”* day.

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

 

 

December 7, 1852

A0011_image0001

Cuban plantation, mid-19th century

Tuesday Dec 7th  Have been mending and to work on

Oakes A clothes again to day.  Catharine has

gone to Canton and is coming back to night.

Edwin & wife were here this evening 

and Augustus called has been persuading

Oakes A to go to Boston tomorrow

Evelina continued to work on Oakes Angier’s wardrobe. She must have been somewhat stymied to prepare for a climate so markedly different from her own. Oakes Angier would need warm clothes for the journey by water, but light clothes for his new life in Cuba. People in the middle of the 19th century generally had smaller wardrobes than today’s people in the same socio-economic class, but still, a variety of shirts, pants, jackets and undergarments had to be readied and packed. How did Evelina manage, operating as she did with so little knowledge of Cuba’s climate and social guidelines?

What did Oakes Angier know about Cuba, for that matter, other than its purported healthful properties? He may have known one or two people who had gone there, or perhaps was in hopes of acquiring a few letters of introduction. He probably knew that sugar plantations were a major industry, especially as Oakes Ames had a business associate, Elisha Atkins, who invested in sugar there. Not to get ahead of the story, but while Oakes Angier was staying in Cuba, he must have spent time on a plantation or at least visited one occasionally. The sugar business did pique his interest, because some twenty years later, after the Civil War, he and his two brothers would buy a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Surely the seed for that purchase was sown when Oakes Angier first saw sugar cane in Cuba.

 


													

December 6, 1852

 

cuba-1850

Havana Harbor, ca. 1851

Monday Dec 6th  This day have commenced fixing Oakes

Angiers clothes ready for him to go to Cuba

We were all in the other part of the 

house to dine likewise Oliver & wife

Went when dinner was ready and spent

the afternoon & evening probably the last time

we shall all be there together for months

 

The family had decided. Oakes Angier Ames, suffering from what everyone believed to be pulmonary tuberculosis, would leave home, his cold New England home, to try to recover his health in hot, humid Cuba. Twenty-three years old, he was about to travel farther than anyone in his immediate family had ever traveled, to seek not fortune, but well-being. Everyone in that family (and probably a few beyond it) felt a part of his journey. One of their own was leaving home.

Evelina was emotional about Oakes Angier’s pending departure. She had periods of barely being able to cope, but today she seems to appreciate how much time family members were spending together, dining, visiting and having tea, “probably for the last time we shall all be together for months.” Being separated for only “months” was putting the best possible spin on the situation, for every person in that family surely knew that Oakes Angier might never recover or return.

Cuba, meanwhile, must have been the topic of some of the family’s conversation. The political relationship between the United States and the island, which was then a colony of Spain, was uneasy because of a few recent episodes of the island’s Captain-General refusing to accept mail and passengers from the United States. That disagreeable situation was being resolved through an appeal to Spain.

But a larger consideration prevailed in the rhetoric of some southern politicians who were looking for a way to annex Cuba and reinforce the practice of slavery there. So far, their agitation had been unsuccessful. In his State of the Union address – delivered this day to Congress – President Millard Fillmore wrote clearly of his disinterest in acquiring Cuba:

[B]e assured that the United States entertain no designs against Cuba, but that, on the contrary, I should regard its incorporation into the Union at the present time as fraught with serious peril.

Were this island comparatively destitute of inhabitants or occupied by a kindred race, I should regard it, if voluntarily ceded by Spain, as a most desirable acquisition. But under existing circumstances I should look upon its incorporation into our Union as a very hazardous measure. It would bring into the Confederacy a population of a different national stock, speaking a different language, and not likely to harmonize with the other members. It would probably affect in a prejudicial manner the industrial interests of the South, and it might revive those conflicts of opinion between the different sections of the country which lately shook the Union to its center, and which have been so happily compromised.

Expressing the prevalent and unchallenged racism of the time, Fillmore wrote optimistically of the future of the United States. Cuba aside, Fillmore believed that the political division between the North and the South had been solved by the Missouri Compromise of 1850. He was certainly wrong. What did Oakes Angier Ames make of it all?

 

*Millard Fillmore, State of the Union Address, 1852

 

December 5, 1852

Cheese

Sunday Dec 5th  have been to meeting all day

as usual. Staid in the meeting house

at noon with Augustus wife. Was very

sleepy this afternoon could not possibly 

keep awake.  Have been writing John &

wife this evening & Mr Ames has written some

& sent him a check for 86 doll 39 cts and are

to pay Alson 25 doll for him, for butter & cheese

dried apples &c.

 

“[T]his was a cloudy foggy day wind north east, not cold.”* Evelina doesn’t mention her eldest son today. She went to church and “staid in the meeting house” with a niece-in-law, Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, during intermission, which was unusual for her. Most other Sundays she went out and socialized; today, not. Perhaps she was avoiding friends and neighbors who, by now, would have heard about Oakes Angier’s illness, and would have wanted to extend sympathy and advice to her, which perhaps she just couldn’t handle yet. She still didn’t have her own thoughts and feelings in order and was so exhausted that she couldn’t stay awake during the afternoon sermon.

As she had done before during times of stress, Evelina turned her attention to money, in this case settling a domestic financial transaction. She spent time in the evening attempting to reconcile an account between her brother John Gilmore, who lived out of town, and her other brother, Alson, who lived on the family farm. There had been, evidently, a three-way trade of “butter & cheese dried apples &c,” a transaction that involved Oakes Ames writing a couple of sizable checks. Might Oakes Ames have helped support some of Evelina’s relatives from time to time?

 

December 4, 1852

IMG_0408

Silk Day Dress, ca. 1853 – 1855*

 

Sat Dec 4th  Have made velvet strings to my

bonnet swept the parlour and done some

sewing on one thing and another   Do not

feel very well  It has been a damp uncomfortable 

day and O A has been in the house reading.

Mr Ames brought me home a blue & brown 

raw silk dress

Feeling poorly, Evelina seemed to move through her day randomly doing “one thing and another.” She was so worried about her son Oakes Angier that she was making herself sick. Her thoughts must have been in an endless loop of Oakes Angier being ill and being ordered to Cuba for a cure. Why had this happened? Would he get better? Did the doctor know what he was doing? How could she cope?

This being Saturday, her husband Oakes went into town on shovel business, as usual. He, too, must have been feeling the shock and fright of their son being sent away for his health, but his thoughts today were on Evelina.  He was worried about her and, as he sometimes did, bought her a present. In the past he had purchased thread or magazines or some other small item. But on this day, he bought something on a scale we haven’t seen before: an expensive silk dress.

We might want details about this purchase: was it a bespoke dress that she could alter to fit, or was it simply the material that she and her dressmaker could create from scratch? Whatever shape that blue raw silk took, Oakes knew how much his Evelina loved dresses and dressmaking and was making a grand gesture of love and concern. We have no greater proof of his regard for his wife.

*Image courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum, Gift of Mark A. Clark in memory of Mrs. Lawrence Halloran.

December 3, 1852

Hog

Friday Dec 3d  Finished taking care of the pork this

forenoon had 60 lbs sausage meat  Weighed

16 lb pork tried it out and it (the lard) weighed 14 lbs

Went to mothers this afternoon with Oakes

Angier as he was going to West Bridgewater

My bonnet came from Boston to night

that I left to be made  Susan practiced

an hour this evening to me & I went into the other 

part of the house

Yesterday Old Oliver “kild six hogs [… and] the everage weight of the whole 12 was 413 pounds the heavyest weighd 489.” Oliver had given each offspring – Oakes, Oliver Jr., and Sarah Witherell – a pig to cut up and preserve. Upset as she was over the news about her eldest son, Oakes Angier, Evelina and her two servants worked to break down their pig into a manageable, edible assortment of pork. Sausage, of course, was a standard way to process and keep pork over time. So yesterday and today, the women cut and grounded meat, ending up with 60 pounds of sausage and 14 pounds of lard.

No doubt Evelina was preoccupied with thoughts of her son, but she may have found some comfort in keeping her hands busy with the necessary chores of the kitchen.  She took the opportunity of riding with Oakes Angier to the family farm, perhaps to share the news with her mother and brother Alson. Oakes Angier rode on to West Bridgewater. Might he have traveled to call on the Hobart family as well? He must have had to tell Catharine Hobart that he was leaving for Cuba and an uncertain future.

Susan Ames, once so rebellious at the piano, “practiced an hour this evening to” her mother. Do we imagine too much to think that she was trying to make her mother happy?

 

December 2, 1852

Fire

Thursday Dec 2d  Have been very nervous to day

thinking about Oakes A   cannot reconcile myself

to his leaving home.  Have done as well as I

could about taking care of the hog but made

poor headway  Augustus & wife  Edwin & wife

Mrs Witherell & Mrs S Ames all came unexpectedly

to spend the evening and I have not even changed

my dress. But who cares?  Miss Alger has

given her 14th lesson

 

Back in North Easton, Evelina was still rattled by the bad news her son had received. She tried to deal with a butchered hog that her father-in-law sent her but could barely cope.

Oakes Angier had been told he had consumption. He was advised to go to Cuba, whose warm, humid climate was believed to be good for pulmonary tuberculosis. No other effective treatment was available. The Ames men – Oakes Ames, certainly – would have been active today investigating possible arrangements. Oakes and Oliver Jr. had a business associate, a shipping merchant named Elisha Atkins, who traded in sugar in Cuba, at a port called Cienfuegos on the southern side of the island. Perhaps they contacted him for advice.

All the Ameses, and the Gilmore clan, too, were upset by the diagnosis. Family members on both sides “all came unexpectedly” at night to show affection and alarm for Oakes Angier, the eldest cousin of his generation. The family pulled together, although Evelina was too shocked to appreciate the support, too sad to rise to the occasion. “I have not even changed my dress,” she noted pitifully.

Completely preoccupied by Oakes Angier’s illness, the folks at the Ames compound may not have paid much attention to the news that the Chickering Piano Company building in Boston had caught fire and burned to the ground.

“3 o’clock A.M. — Thursday Morning — The whole of the manufactory—an immense block structure, five stores high—is one mass of ruins. Mr. Jonas Chickering owned the building, and occupied all of it except the stores, which were improved by Messrs Thomas &Merriam, grocers, Edward Butman, crockery ware dealer, Amos Cummings, grocer. Very little property, in the building was saved. The devouring element spread through the building with terrific rapidity and soon the heated walls began to fall so as to endanger the lives of those who approached.

The building occupied the space on Washington street, between Norfolk place and Sweetser court. A portion of the side wall on Sweetser court first fell doing no injury, and the gable end of the side wall, on Norfolk place, fell over and crushed in the roof of the brick building on the opposite corner, which was on fire, and forced out the gable end. Both buildings were now one mass of fire, presenting an awfully grand sight. A part of the wall on Washington street, next fell and the flames swept across Washington street, threatening the destruction of the Adams House and other buildings on the opposite side, but they were saved. The attic windows of the Adams House were badly scorched.

The greater portion of the wall on Norfolk street next fell over on the opposite building, crushing it completely to pieces, and the walls of the next adjoining northerly, a three story, old fashioned block, and buried underneath the ruins, two watchmen, named Alfred Turner and Benjamin F. Foster, of the Boylston division. A large force immediately set to work to remove the rubbish, and after some time, were able to converse with Turner, and in an hour’s time reached one of his arms, but before the ruins could be cleared away, he fell into the cellar, and not just before putting our [news]paper to press been dug out. Foster, it is supposed lived but a short time.

The building on the corner of Norfolk place, opposite Chickering’s was five stories high, belonged to Deming Jarvis, and was occupied, the store by P.R. Morley, plumber, and the upper stories by Mr. Ladd, pianoforte key maker. They saved but a small amount of their stock. The building was insured. The old brick building next adjoining, which was leveled to the ground by the falling wall was occupied by Mrs. Wyman, as a boy’s clothing store and a dwelling house.”*

Was the Chickering Piano Company the place where Evelina and Sarah Witherell had purchased their pianos?

*