December 24, 1852

Image from Aunt Louisas Alphabet book - Alphabet og Games and Sports, London, 1870

The Yule Log, English illustration, ca. 1870

Friday Dec 24th  Have finished the sack for Susan

and I feel that I have a good job done

Catharine has basted the lining & outside

of my dress together  Ann & Catharine

went to Canton this afternoon. Alson &

wife came up this morning to go to the lecture

they stopt at Augustus & Henrietta & Helen came

here   Malvina here to tea.  Mr Ames went to Boston

lecture by J C Parks

on the dignity of labour

Some people were preparing for Christmas, but Evelina wasn’t one of them. As we saw last December, the Ames family didn’t celebrate Christmas, certainly not the way we celebrate it in 2015. Nor did other Unitarians and fellow Protestants in New England. Catholics celebrated it, however, and this afternoon, Irish servants Catharine Murphy and Ann Shinkwin departed for Canton where they must have had family or friends to meet. They wouldn’t return until late the next day. In one sense, Christmas to the Ameses meant a lack of servants and no work – or reduced production, perhaps – at the shovel shop. It was a holiday with a negative impact.

So in the Ames compound, life went on as usual, even on Christmas Eve. Evelina sewed and Oakes Ames went into Boston. A few Gilmore relatives, including Evelina’s youngest nieces, Henrietta Hall Gilmore and Helen Jane Gilmore, came by. There was a lecture in town which Evelina’s brother Alson and his wife Henrietta Williams Gilmore attended in which Mr. J.C. Parks spoke on “the dignity of labour.” An interesting theme for a day when much of the work force was so-called idle. Surely the quiet at the factory got under Old Oliver’s skin, but with his usual understatement, he only mentioned the weather in his journal:  “[I]t raind ¾ of an inch last night it was cloudy in the forenoon + fair in the afternoon wind south west and it took the snow + ice all off.”*

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

November 25, 1852

Turkey

Nov 25

[…] Thanksgiving  Mr & Mrs

Whitwell Father Mrs Witherell Emily Horatio &

Gustavus dined at tea here.  Michael &

sister & Ann Oral at the second table.

Mr W went home at half past three to

marry a couple   Oakes A Emily & Susan went

with him After they left this evening Mrs

Witherell & self called on Mrs Dow in Olivers

Mr & Mrs Dow & family Mr & Mrs H Lothrop & Cyrus

at Olivers 

“[T]his was thanksgiving day,” wrote Old Oliver Ames, after a brief notation that the day “was fair in the morning but clouded up in the afternoon”. Evelina and her servants prepared a feast that fed at least fifteen people. The whole Oakes Ames family was there, naturally, and so was Old Oliver. Dining with them were Sarah and Emily Witherell, Reverend and Mrs. Whitwell, brother Horatio Ames and his youngest son Gustavus, the latter two having arrived from Connecticut the day before. At the “second table”  – which likely means a second seating – the servants partook. Catharine Murphy and Ann Shinkwin were presumably present, as was Michael Burns (Old Oliver’s coachman/ostler), his sister and Ann Orel, a young Irish girl who worked for Sarah Witherell.

Family gathered next door, too. The Oliver Ameses, meaning Oliver Jr.,Sarah Lothrop Ames and their children Fred and Helen, shared the repast with two of Sarah’s brothers, Henry and Cyrus, along with Henry’s wife Eleanor and long-time friends, the Dows. Quite a gathering, all told, as family members dined and visited.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the patron saint of Thanksgiving, describes her understanding of the origin of Thanksgiving in a novel she wrote in 1827 and republished in 1852:

“Soon after the settlement of Boston, the colony was reduced to a state of destitution, and nearly without food. In this strait the pious leaders of the pilgrim band appointed a solemn and general fast. […] The faith that could thus turn to God in the extremity of physical want, must have been of the most glowing kind, […] On the very morning of the appointed day, a vessel from London arrived laden with provisions, and so the fast was changed into a Thanksgiving.”

This may have been the version of Thanksgiving that Mrs. Hale used to persuade Abraham Lincoln to make it a national celebration. It also may have been the story of Thanksgiving with which the Ameses were most familiar.

 

November 23, 1852

60c3f7a52ea0d3900456a643aac3db0f

Tues Nov 23  Catharine & self have been mending

shirts &c all day  It being very stormy I

thought it a good time to mend

Frederick & Helen came home to night

Susan & self have been in to see them

Fred brought me a crumb brush cost 75 cts

Ann has done the housework and cut

squash & apple for tomorrow

 

“[T]he ground was white with snow this morning, but was a raining + took it all of[f] by noon there was a bout half an inch of water fell”* on this late November day; people in Easton had yet to see a serious snowfall.  Although the storm kept Evelina indoors, the lack of snow was actually a help to travelers like Fred and Helen Ames, who were making their way home for the holiday.

Fred Ames brought his Aunt Evelina a gift. What was better, that she received a crumb brush or that her nephew spent 75 cents on it? That amount would translate to about $17.50 in today’s (2015) market. Either way, she was pleased with the gift, which she would no doubt place with pride on her dining table.

Most of us modern readers probably don’t keep a crumb brush handy at our dinner tables, although we’ve seen modern versions in use in restaurants. But then, most of us probably no longer dine on pressed and laundered tablecloths at home, at least on a regular basis. Placemats are more common. (Readers weigh in here, please.) But in 1852, formal dining on snowy white tablecloths was aspired to as the middle class rose above their agrarian past of eating without linens. The dining room itself became more popular as families found the means to support more servants and rise to a style of living that involved a clear separation between cooking and dining. The notion of today’s open kitchen, where guests sip wine on stools and watch the hostess  – or host! – cook dinner would be absolutely foreign to Evelina. Our lack of damask would shock her and her contemporaries.

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

November 18, 1852

5251656_f520

Thursday Nov 18th  Catharine & Ann have cleaned

the buttery and it has taken them both all

day and I see to putting most of the dishes

back  Mixed my meat for mince pies

Wrote a note to Mrs Ames to send by

Mr Swain tomorrow with a gold thimble

Called in Olivers  Augusta there this evening

 

For all the sewing that Evelina did, this is the first entry where she mentions a thimble. The approximate particulars seem to be that Evelina asked her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, to get a gold thimble to be sent – as a gift? – to Ann Swain. Sarah Ames must have been planning to go to Boston the next day. Readers, your interpretation?

Whatever the circumstances were around this gold thimble, there’s no question that women used thimbles to sew. A thimble was worn on the tip of the finger to push the needle through the fabric. Simple enough, and time-honored. Thimbles have been found dating from BC, the earliest ones made of metal or leather or wood. Brass eventually became a standard material, although versions made of glass, ceramic, or even whalebone were made as well. Silver and gold, of course, were at the high end of the spectrum and often became heirlooms. Although the sewing machine would soon enter the market and alter the sewing habits of most women, thimbles would remain a tool for anyone using a needle and thread.

Not all the day was spent on sewing concerns. Evelina and her servants cleaned the buttery (or pantry) and made mincemeat. Old Oliver and his men were still outside where, in a “chilly” wind, they “finisht geting the manure of[f] our hog yard.” Surely everyone was pleased to finish that noisome task.

 

 

November 15, 1852

Flying-Cloud

“Flying Cloud”

Monday Nov 15  Catharine & Ann have washed

and Catharine has finished cleaning 

the front entry  I have got the 

stair carpet down and the entry

looks clean & nice  we get ahead

rather slowly in cleaning house

“[T]his was a fair cold day the coldest we have had this fall the ground froze considerable last night”.* As winter approached, the Ames family turned their focus indoors. Like Evelina, housewives and husbands across New England were looking to get their houses in order and the last outdoor chores finished before winter weather arrived.

Even as the Ameses and others turned inward, more adventurous spirits took to the sea. In fact, throughout 1852, captains and their crews had been making long-distance sailing trips from various ports in the Northeast around the Horn to California. Even as Evelina was beating her carpets, a group of clippers were racing one another over the deep blue to see who could make the best time to San Francisco from Boston or New York. Some newspapers called it The Deep Sea Derby.**

Clipper ships, such as the famous Flying Cloud in the illustration above (which, at 89 days and 8 hours from New York to San Francisco, independently set the record for the fastest trip of any clipper ship) were the vessels of choice for speedy deliver of passengers and cargo. They were thin, full-sailed and sea-worthy, tending to “clip” along rather than plough through the waves. Originally designed to accelerate the tea trade from China, clippers became the ideal ship for ferrying folks to California while the Gold Rush was on.

Donald McKay, a master shipbuilder in East Boston, designed and built many of the finest clipper ships of the day. He designed Flying Cloud, and had several vessels participating in the Deep Sea Derby as well, including Westward Ho, Sovereign of the Seas, and Flying Fish, the latter of which won the contest by making the journey in 92 days. Most ships took more than 100 days to make the journey.

Though the race was spirited, and not without danger, its future was limited. The railroad would push west within a score of years, cutting into the sailing trade, and the creation of the Panama Canal at the turn of the next century would obviate the need to sail around the Horn.

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

**Extensive information about this race can be found at http://www.maritimeheritage.org. 

 

November 11, 1852

alcott_lou

Louisa May Alcott

(1832 – 1888)

Thursday Nov 11th

Ann & Catharine has cleaned the shed chamber

and sitting room chamber & I have been 

putting draws & closets in order.

Mr Ames & self at Olivers to tea  Mr &

Mrs Swain & Mrs Meader there

Commenced Susan an Angola yarn stocking

 

For Evelina, this was a productive day. Her servants, Ann Shinkwin and Catharine Murphy, cleaned the shed and the sitting room, while she herself reorganized “draws & closets”. She must have felt quite satisfied having put two key rooms in order. Come evening, she and her husband went next door to tea where they visited not only with the Oliver Ameses, but also with Ann and John Swain and Ann’s mother, Sarah Bliss Meader. Mrs. Meader was from Nantucket; she must have been visiting in the wake of the death of little John Swain.

For Louisa May Alcott, a 19th century author who should need no introduction, this was an important day. Some literary sources have it that Miss Alcott, using the name “Flora Fairfield,” published her first story, The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome, on this exact date, when the author was barely twenty years old. However, closer examination suggests that The Rival Painters first appeared back on May 8 in The Olive Branch, a periodical published in Boston from 1836 through 1857.  A second story, easily confused with the first, was The Rival Prima Donnas, which was published on this date in 1854 in The Saturday Evening Gazette, earning the author five dollars.

Regardless of the scholastic disagreement over the first appearance in print of Louisa May Alcott, we can imagine that Evelina was exposed to her writing at various times from this year onward. Surely Evelina read other short stories and novels by this increasingly famous author. If she developed an affection for the author’s work, Evelina would have read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys and been as familiar with the triumphs and travails of the March family as devoted readers still are 160 years later.

*A fine resource for readers wanting to know more about Louisa May Alcott is “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” by Harriet Reisen, New York, 2009.

 

 

November 10, 1852

Jar

Wedns Nov 10th Catharine […]

& Ann have both been ironing

all day and have got it all done  I have not

done a great deal but fuss round the

house  Have covered my jelly &c with

brandy paper  Alson called and brought 

a [illegible] to exchange  Abby spent

the evening  Miss Alger has given her 10th

lesson dined here

Evelina continued to be a bit cross today. Yesterday she was tired of cooking preserves, today she covered those jelly jars with brandy paper and continued to resent having to “fuss round the house.”At least the servant girls finished the ironing – that was a point of satisfaction. Perhaps Evelina was reacting to the shorter days and lower sunlight, although Old Oliver reported that on this particular day, the weather was “verry pleasant”* throughout the afternoon.

Miss Alger the piano teacher came to give Susie Ames and Emily Witherell their piano lessons, and stayed to dinner. Evelina doesn’t say how her daughter did, which may be a sign that Susie was finally getting the hang the instrument.  No doubt Miss Alger was doing her best to teach Susie and Emily, but she was getting paid and fed – often. For Evelina to be spending the money and effort and to have her daughter not succeed was simply not acceptable. Susie had to learn.

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