Oliver Ames, Jr.
(1807 – 1877)
Friday Nov 5th Susan has taken her ninth lesson
in music and I fear she is rather dull
does not call her letters well at all
Mrs Swain called this afternoon to settle
with me about her things and to night sent
me as a present as much as a half bushel […]
quinces We passed the evening in Olivers
After stopping by to pay for the mourning apparel Evelina had picked up in Boston, Ann Swain sent Evelina two pecks of quinces to further thank her for her kindness. This thoughtful gesture may have distracted Evelina from her ongoing annoyance at her daughter’s “dull” piano playing. Susan had not yet learned her scales. At night, Evelina and Oakes, and perhaps other family members, “passed the evening” next door at Oliver Ames Jr’s.
Today, in fact, was Oliver Ames Jr.’s 45th birthday. He and his wife, Sarah Lothrop Ames, lived next door to Oakes and Evelina. At this juncture, Oliver Jr. was serving his first term as State Senator; he would serve a second term in 1857. According to Reverend William Chaffin, who knew the Ames family well, “Oliver Ames stood among the foremost in his reputation for a manly and unblemished character and for business ability…a strong, substantial, able, and honorable man.”****
The third of Old Oliver’s eight children, Oliver Jr. had originally been the brother who tinkered with the possibility of a career away from the shovel factory. In his teens, he suffered a “severe fall,”**** and was unable to work. He was sent to the Franklin Academy in North Andover after which he began to read law with William Baylies, Esq., of West Bridgewater. Reading and debating – good lawyering skills, both – had always been sources of pleasure for Oliver, but “[t]he confinement of office proving unfavorable to his health, together with the increasing demands of business at home,”**** he returned to North Easton. In 1833, he married Sarah Lothrop, the daughter of the Honorable Howard Lothrop and Sally Williams Lothrop. They had two children, Frederick Lothrop and Helen Angier Ames.
Relative to his brother, Oakes, Oliver Jr was reckoned to be “pretty dignified, and takes a good deal after his father, but Oakes is always ‘hail fellow well met.”** Another contemporary acquaintance of both men said simply that Oliver Jr. was “the conservative one.”***They made a good business pair. Over time, Oliver Jr. and Oakes, under the watchful eye of their father, turned the shovel shops into an industrial powerhouse, even as they groomed the next generation, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Fred, to take over when the time was right. They invested in technological improvements and hired more help, especially from the newly arrived Irish population. They improved supply and delivery; in 1855, Oliver Jr. helped create the Easton Branch Railroad spur from Stoughton to North Easton. In 1863, he oversaw the creation of a railroad line through the Great Cedar Swamp to Raynham. His interest in railroads led him to join his brother in the plan to build a transcontinental railroad when Oakes, by that time a U. S. Congressman, was tapped by Lincoln to lead the way.
The rest, as they say, is history. Both brothers became “deservedly famous”*****for their involvement with the Union Pacific. More than one contemporaneous historian has noted: “In 1866, Oliver Ames was elected president of that railroad, an office he held with significant ability until March, 1871. During this time the road passed through some of its stormiest days and severest trials. His sound judgment, great business capacity, and inflexible integrity were of immense service in carrying this great enterprise safely through difficulty and peril to final success.”*****
On this dark autumn night in 1852, the “difficulty and peril [and…] success” lay ahead for both brothers as they sipped tea with their wives and watched “a few flakes of snow” fall.*
*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection
**“Ames at Easton: The Shovel Makers and Their Works. Life and Habits of the Congressman. Cursed Abroad – Applauded at Home,” The Boston Times, February, 1873
***Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, Reminiscences of Forty Years, 1891, Boston, p. 137
****William Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, p. 655.
*****Duane Hamilton Hurd, History of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Vol. II, 1883, pp. 430 – 431 (also Chaffin, p. 656)