October 4, 1852

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                       Roger B. Taney                                                                   Benjamin Robbins Curtis                

(1777 – 1864)                                                                       (1809 – 1874)

Oct 4th Monday  Catharine Middleton & C Murphy washed

Mrs Norris and all of us dined with Mrs Witherell

and staid there untill about four and then

Mrs Norris and self went to Augustus’ to tea and

passed the evening  Mrs Lincoln is there

intends spending the winter  I do but very

little sewing have made a pr of plain cambric sleeves to day



It was the first Monday in October which in North Easton meant another washday. At the Ames compound, the Irish servant girls, Catharine Middleton and Catharine Murphy, tied their aprons on, filled the wash tubs and went to work. The slight rain did not interfere.

In Washington D.C., on this first Monday in October, nine white male justices put on their black robes and also went to work. A new session of the U.S. Supreme Court got underway. Led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland, the 1852-1853 term would deal with, among others, the case of Cooley vs. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia. That decision would confirm the right of states to regulate commerce within their own boundaries. We might imagine that this decision had an impact on businesses such as the shovel works that shipped merchandise.

Taney and three other members of the court – John McLean of Ohio (the longest-serving), James Moor Wayne of Georgia, and John Catron of Tennessee – had been appointed by Andrew Jackson in the 1830’s. Two other justices, John McKinley of Alabama and Peter Vivian Daniel of Virginia, had been appointed by Martin Van Buren and had served almost as long. Newer to the bench were Samuel Nelson of New York, appointed by John Tyler in 1845, and Benjamin Robbins Curtis of Massachusetts, appointed by Millard Fillmore the previous year, 1851.

Associate Justice Curtis was the first and only Whig ever to serve on the Supreme Court. A graduate of Harvard, he was also the first justice to have a formal law degree. The justices up until that time had either “read law” as apprentices or attended law school without getting their degree.  Curtis would further distinguish himself in 1857 when the Taney Court handed down the infamous Dred Scott decision that determined that a black man had no rights of citizenship. Curtis and John McLean dissented from that majority decision, with Curtis so upset that he resigned from the court. He is the only justice to date to resign from the Supreme Court on a matter of principle.



September 28, 1852


Tuesday Sept 28th  Have two girls and yet Im

about house a great deal of my time

I fear I do not manage right  To day

I have sewed but very little have been

preparing for the sewing circle and have

cut out 6 prs of pillow cases & put them

out to whiten and 5 sheets.  This evening

have written to Mr Norris about our piannos


Evelina struggled to manage the servant girls. Was it her fault or theirs? Was Evelina too lenient, or demanding, or unappreciative? Were the young women ill trained, or naturally inept, or uncertain about their responsibilities? Evelina was inclined to blame herself.

She needed their help today, too, as she was getting ready to host this month’s meeting of the Unitarian Sewing Circle. Evelina hadn’t held a meeting of the Circle at her house for nineteen months, since her unsuccessful attempt back on February 12, 1851. On that occasion, bad weather and disinclination or indifference on the part of other Circle members had resulted in a no show of anyone except the immediate family. She had given a party that no one came to. She had been mortified, but soon recovered.

Did the memory of that embarrassment surface today as she was cleaned house, prepared food, and cut out pillow cases to be sewn? She doesn’t say. She had moved on, perhaps, and was more interested in thinking about the new pianos to come than revisiting an old grievance.

But would her fellow needlewomen show up tomorrow?

The New Year

What is a diary as a rule? A document useful to the person who keeps it. Dull to the

contemporary who reads it and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it.

Sir Walter Scott


January 1, 2015

Dear Readers,

If you’re like me, you have treasured the 1851 diary of Evelina Gilmore Ames. Some of you have even participated with comments that have added depth to the consideration of a time gone by. Your additions have enhanced the small tale of a Yankee housewife who marked her modest days with regular notations of dresses sewn, flowers planted and fruits preserved, who wrote of short trips into Boston, visits to the family farm, and errands of mercy into the homes of sick neighbors.

Without meaning to, Evelina preserved a picture of life from antebellum New England, a life that has disappeared and evolved into a world she’d be hard-put to recognize. Her children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren have lived and died. Her house itself is gone, though the grander dwelling of her in-laws, Oliver, Jr. and Sarah Lothrop Ames, still stands proudly next door. Automobiles drive where oxen carts and horse carriages moved, and the significant architecture of certain stone buildings in the center of the village memorializes relatives she loved. The very factory whose noisy production of world-famous shovels led the local economy for decades moved away more than sixty years ago. She couldn’t have imagined it.

Yet some things remain the same. People are still people, solicitous or mean, content or down-hearted, eager or indifferent. The true characters we read about in the pages of her diary are recognizable and familiar to us in their essential humanity. We can find ourselves and our own families somewhere in these pages; we all behave so similarly. In Easton, Massachusetts, many descendants of the people Evelina wrote about still live. Last names like Ames, Gilmore, Randall, Tisdale and others can be found in the local telephone book (which itself is in danger of becoming as obsolete as Evelina’s tin stove.)

Evelina continued to keep a diary after 1851, but only the 1852 diary is extant. Her journals from the Civil War period have been lost. We’ll just have to treasure the one that remains. And so, ahead of us is the last available year of Evelina’s tiny aperture on the Ames family of old.

Thank you for reading!


Sarah Lowry Ames

(wife of John S. Ames III, great-great-great-grandson of Oliver and Susanna Angier Ames)




December 25, 1851



Dec 25th Thursday  The Irish are expecting to have a great

time to day Jane went to the meeting house about

eight but the priest did not come she stoped an

hour. Carried my knitting into Olivers awhile this

forenoon. This afternoon have been to mothers

with Mr Ames & Frank as they were going to West

Bridgewater.  Finished knitting the front & back of

my hood  Made a present to Lavinia of Turnpike Dividend $800

Christmas Day! But as Evelina points out, the Irish Catholics in town would be celebrating, but the Ames family wouldn’t. Jane McHanna left the house to attend a Christmas mass for which, unfortunately, the priest was either late or didn’t show up at all.  Jane returned home to prepare dinner. Evelina, meanwhile, visited Sarah Lothrop Ames next door, knitting in hand.

After dinner Evelina rode along with her husband and youngest son as they went on an errand to West Bridgewater.  They dropped her off to see her mother at the family farm. There may have been some recognition of the holiday in this gesture, although Evelina makes no mention of gift-giving, with one significant exception. Evelina gave an $800 dividend to her niece Lavinia Gilmore.

The dividend came, somehow, from proceeds from the Taunton and South Boston Turnpike, a road that had run through part of Easton since the early 1800s, between “‘Taunton Green, so called, to the Blue Hill Turnpike,'” according to town historian William Chaffin.* Its origin was controversial and involved a long-standing disagreement with the Town of Raynham, but its impact on the Gilmore family was generally positive, as various Gilmores, including Evelina’s father and brother, served as toll-gate keepers. As Chaffin points out, however, “[t]he toll-gate naturally became unpopular.” It was closed in October of 1851.

How Evelina came to possess $800 from the road is unclear. Was this a regular dividend that Evelina received, or was the family compensated for the road’s discontinuance? That Evelina passed this money on to her niece, however, is a clear demonstration that for all her economical instincts, Evelina was capable of great generosity.


*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, Mass, 1866, pp. 454 – 458.

December 19, 1851


Dec 19th Friday  After breakfast went to making

my citron made quite a long job of it nearly two before it

was all done had about 14 or 15 lbs  The coal

affected Jane so much that she nearly fainted 

and had to go to bed & I had to get dinner

After I got through with the citron I put

the things back into the store room from the

shed chamber & put it in order  Spent eve at Olivers

Coal was the fuel of choice at the Ames compound, but it had some negative aspects (beyond its environmental impact, a more modern concern.) Dust and smoke from burning coal was noxious, its particulates containing toxins like lead, mercury and arsenic.  Yet much of America was turning to coal for fuel to support the growth of manufacturing and the expanding rail traffic, and to replace the use of wood in homes.

While working in the kitchen making candied citron, Jane McHanna was overcome by the coal smoke and smell.  She went to bed to recover, leaving Evelina at the stove to finish up and make dinner. No doubt Evelina was concerned for the health of her servant, but no doubt she was somewhat peeved to be doing Jane’s job again.

Citron, meanwhile, was the fruit of choice for fruitcake.  Not as familiar to us nowadays as it was in 1850, it was cooked and candied and used for special baking.  Both Evelina and Jane would have known how to cook it down.


November 29, 1851


Nov 29th  Sat.  This forenoon have been mending

Olivers (3) clothes and putting them in order to 

carry back Monday.  Have been with Oliver

to spend the afternoon at Mothers. Came

home by Mr Lothrops to bring Sarah Lothrop

Fred & Helen home  Alson has been quite 

unwell a week or more & is not able to work

Evelina was enjoying the company of her middle son, Oliver (3), today. Like many a modern child, he had brought his clothes home from college to be put “in order” (but not washed – it wasn’t laundry day.) Evelina mended what she could and then the two of them rode south to visit old Mrs. Gilmore and the family on the farm. They found that Alson Gilmore, Evelina’s brother, had been “quite unwell.” He was evidently bed-ridden, which suggests that their Thanksgiving had been less celebratory than the Ames’s.

Unlike the shovel laborers in the village, Alson did work that didn’t follow a schedule set by a bell.  He labored according to the demands of the season, weather and livestock. How had he managed to run his farm this past week when he was too ill to work? Most likely his fifteen-year-old son, Francis, took over responsibility for any livestock. And if the Gilmores had any dairy cows, it was typically the women of the house – in this case, daughter Lavinia or wife Henrietta – who would typically have done the milking. Because it was November, and after the harvest, there was otherwise not much work that demanded attention.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, seen above, would have been full of advice for Alson and other farmers. We don’t know if Alson consulted it. (Like Old Oliver Ames, he might have consulted instead an agricultural newspaper called The Massachusetts Ploughman.)  The almanac was just featuring its new “Four Seasons” cover, first used in October of 1851 and still in use in 2014. It was designed by Hammatt Billings, a Boston architect and artist who also did the original illustrations for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and engraved by Henry Nichols of Cambridge, who name appears on the lower right.  The editor was Robert B. Thomas, whose portrait is featured on the right side of the cover, opposite Benjamin Franklin.

November 27, 1851



Nov 27  Thanksgiving day we have passed in the other

part of the house.  Our sons & Helen went this evening

to a ball in Canton  Father Mrs Witherell Mr Ames &

self had a game of cards.  Mr & Mrs H Lothrop

A[u]gustus & wife Cyrus & Sarah Lothrop

spent the day at Olivers

In 1844, Lydia Maria Child, a Massachusetts mother, author and abolitionist, published the original six verses of a poem about Thanksgiving. The poem was put to music, and verses were added or modified over time. We know it, and everyone sitting around the Ames’s dinner table would have known it:


The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day
Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.
Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.
Over the river, and through the wood—
and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
it is so hard to wait!
Over the river, and through the wood—
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for everyone.”
Over the river, and through the wood—
now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

– Lydia Maria Child


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

October 21, 1851


Tues Oct 21st  Have been scraping off the paper again

to day and getting ready for the painters

Have been to work some on the sleeves

of my cashmere have sewed part of the 

trimming on.  Hannah called to ask

me to take care of her babe for her to go

to Boston tomorrow  Was in the other part

of the house part of the afternoon 

The house continued to be in some upheaval this morning as Evelina scraped more wallpaper off of the parlor walls in order to get “ready for the painters.” Her arms and hands must have ached with the effort. Soon enough she broke away from that task and turned to her sewing, probably with relief. For some time she had been working on a new wool dress and today sewed some trim on.  Did she add fringe, or piping, or lace? Or did she add the ribbon she’d been looking for lately?

The bad weather from the weekend had disappeared. According to Old Oliver’s daily chronicle “there was a large fog this morning + after it went of[f] it was verry warm wind brisk from south west Mr Arnold came here to day to sleight the shop at great pond.”

Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, wife of Evelina’s nephew Alson “Augustus” Gilmore, came by to ask her aunt to babysit the next day. Evelina, always a friend to younger women, agreed to watch Hannah’s infant son. It’s worth noting that in order to ask that favor, Hannah had to walk over from the village to physically appear at Evelina’s house. That, or she could have written a note and asked someone to deliver it.  There was no phoning, no texting, no emailing, no instant messaging. Instead, there was a knock on the door and a face-to-face request. That’s how it was done in 1851.

Evelina wound up the day with a visit to Sarah Witherell and her houseguest, Susan Orr, in the other part of the house.


October 19, 1851


Sunday Oct 19  Last night was very stormy, rained very fast

and heavy wind.  This evening is very pleasant

but it has rained all day so that none of the 

family went to meeting  Alson came after Lavinia

about three Oclock  I have been reading most

all day “Olive”  It is rather interesting but wish 

I had spent the day more profitably

Evelina’s father-in-law, Old Oliver Ames, also recorded the day’s bad weather in his daily journal: “it began to rain last night + this morning there is a north eas[t] storm + the wind blows verry hard. it stormed nearly all day but was clear at night – there was an inch + a half of water fell”

According to the weather record for 1851 – the first year that Atlantic hurricanes were officially tracked – the storm that Evelina and Old Oliver describe was Tropical Storm #6. It made landfall in Rhode Island, thus its impact on nearby North Easton would have been severe. Despite the rain and wind, the buildings in the Ames complex appear to have come through fine. Old Oliver would have mentioned it otherwise.

For the fourth week in a row, Evelina missed church. One Sunday, there had been no service; on two other Sundays, she had been ill and today, weather prevented attendance. She was probably missing her weekly dose of religious direction from Reverend Whitwell and social interaction with her fellow Unitarians.  She occupied herself by reading “Olive,” which was most likely a domestic novel in the genre that she often read.  It would have been the kind of book that Old Oliver called “love trash.”

October 10, 1851


Friday Oct 10th  This forenoon made the skirt to my

cashmere dress and sewed some for Harriet.  This 

afternoon Mrs H Mitchell and children left with

William for Erie.  They are to stop a few days in 

Goshen with William and then go on to meet Asa at

Erie  Hannah called with Eddy a few moments when

she returned I went as far as the store & got some

Linings for my sleeves & Susans dress

Back on April 19, Harriett Ames Mitchell and her three children, Frank, John and Anna, had arrived in North Easton from Pittsburgh.  Harriett’s husband, Asa Mitchell, had not arrived with them, although he visited North Easton briefly later in the summer. Harriett and the children had spent six months in North Easton, mostly without Asa, staying off and on with Harriett’s father, Old Oliver, and her sister Sarah Witherell. They had also stayed in Bridgewater, where the Mitchell family lived.  Now, the family was traveling back to Pennsylvania, this time to Erie, where they would meet up with Asa. Harriett’s next oldest brother, William Leonard Ames, who had been visiting Old Oliver, too, “went from here with them.”*

Erie, Pennsylvania had just that year been chartered as a city, and was becoming a thriving manufacturing spot. As one modern historian has noted, “Erie was, of course, aided greatly by its proximity to the coal fields of Pennsylvania.”**  It was that proximity to coal that must have drawn Asa Mitchell to the town; he was a dealer in the coal market. Evelina speaks very little about Asa and from that it’s tempting to infer that Asa didn’t have a strong roll in the Ames family life.  He may have played a part in the business dynamics of the various Ames enterprises, however, but if Evelina knew about that, she didn’t mention it.

What did Evelina think about her sister-in-law moving away again? Evelina had a brother, John, who also had moved away from the area, but most of her family was nearby.  Did she ever think about life beyond eastern Massachusetts?  Did she ever want to board a train to see where it might take her? She doesn’t seem to have suffered from wanderlust.


*Oliver Ames, Journal, courtesy of Stonehill College Archives

** http://www.theeriebook.com, published by Matthew D. Walker Publishing Company, 2014