October 31, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

 

Sunday Oct 31st  Mr Swains child died at 20 minutes

past five this morning  Mrs Witherell

and self passed the night there & laid

him out  Mrs Witherell came home & I 

staid untill about four  Mrs S Ames

& Helen were here awhile this evening

and the rest of the time I read Ravenscliffe

John Howland Swain, Jr., aged one year and 14 days, died at dawn this morning. Cause of death was listed as Teething. What did that mean? He was dehydrated? He had a fever? An infection? Whatever it was, it was too much for the little boy – and for the medical treatments of the day.

In the 19th century, infant death was common, but its ubiquity made it no less easy for parents to bear. Sylvia D. Hoffert, a 20th century historian, has studied the subject. She writes:

“The number of children that couples were likely to bear was beginning to decline in the early nineteenth century. This factor combined with the cult of motherhood, which demanded that women invest considerable time, effort, and affection in their children and measured their contribution to society by their success in fulfilling their maternal obligations, made the death of an infant a particularly tragic occurrence. […] Although […parents] placed great value on their babies’ lives and did what they could to protect them, they were well aware that children commonly died in infancy and that there was little they could really do to ensure the survival of infants. They used the loss of infants as an occasion for demonstrating their willingness to submit to the will of God and found comfort in the belief that their children had gone to join him in heaven. For them, the death of an infant was a private, family matter.”*

The Ames women supported Ann and John Swain as they dealt with the loss of their firstborn son. Both Evelina and Sarah Witherell had themselves buried children of their own, and could comprehend the sorrow inflicted. While Evelina deals with the little boy’s death matter-of-factly, even escaping into her reading later in the day, she had to have been sad for the young Swain couple. She knew.

*Sylvia D. Hoffert, Private Matters, 1989, University of Illinois,  pp. 169-170

October 30, 1852

Nurse

Sat Oct 30th Mr Dawes & Miss A[l]ger left for

Boston this morning  Mrs S Ames watched 

last night with Mr Swains child and Mrs Witherell

is there to day  I have been very busy about

house to day and wish I was able to do

a great deal more as it is much out of order

Yesterday the Ames women visited Ann and John Swain’s house to see their ailing infant son. Today Sarah Lothrop Ames and Sarah Ames Witherell were back, taking turns watching. The outlook for the one-year old wasn’t good, evidently. Evelina would go over to the Swains for the night, being too busy during the day to help.

Evelina was straightening up her house after the departure of the latest houseguests, Mr. Dawes and Miss M. J. Alger. It was the first time in days that her home was back to normal, with only family in residence.  She found everything to be “much out of order,” and no doubt she and her servants bustled about choring and setting things to rights. She seemed too busy even to worry about whether or not her daughter Susie was practicing the piano.

In unrelated news from the Pacific Northwest, this 1852 date marks the first time that the name “Seattle” appeared in print, in a pair of advertisements in The Columbian, a nascent newspaper in Olympia. The city we know today, then just a small settlement, had been known informally as Duwamps, but had been recently renamed after Chief Seattle, a leader of the local Suquamish tribe. How remote and unconnected Evelina would have considered the beginnings of a city so far from her kin and beyond her ken.

 

 

October 29, 1852

255px-Daniel_Webster_-_circa_1847

Daniel Webster

(1782 – 1852)

1852 Friday Oct 29th  Mr Dawes came from Boston

about ten Oclock  Miss Alger expected

him before and began to feel uneasy

They went to the shops after dinner

Helen Susan & Emily went to the shop

& then rode to call at Mr Roachs

They were all in here this evening to

hear Mr Dawes play on the guitar  Mrs S

Ames & self called Swains, to see their child

Mrs Lothrop & Brett called with her babe

 

Old Oliver must have been an admirer of Daniel Webster, else why would he mention the man in his daily weather journal? He wrote, “the 29th was a verry plesant warm day. it clouded up some toward night – Daniel Webster was buried to day”.

Daniel Webster, lawyer, diplomat, statesman, orator and Whig leader, was indeed buried on this day. He had died three days earlier after a fall from a horse and was buried with “impressive ceremonies”* at Marshfield, about 35 miles east of Easton. Considered by many to be one of the finest senators ever, Webster had also been a Secretary of State, U.S. representative, constitutional lawyer par excellence, and a devoted preservationist of the union. To the latter end, he co-authored and spoke eloquently on behalf of the Compromise of 1850, which included the controversial Fugitive Slave Act. As a result, he lost the support of many New Englanders; abolitionists washed their hands of him.

On this day in Boston, however, it would have been hard to find his enemies. According to a newspaper account the next day, a united citizenry mourned:

Boston never before presented – probably never will present – such a funeral aspect as was worn in her streets yesterday. Most of the stores and shops were closed, as well as the institutions, offices, and markets, and a large proportion of the city was dressed in the habiliments of wo. [sic] Though the work was only voluntarily the act of individuals, it was very general – Washington, Hanover, and many other streets being covered in black, interspersed with mottoes, flags, portraits, and other mementoes, as the taste of each led him to adopt and carry out.  It was one of the last acts which Boston can perform to express her sorrow for the loss of the great statesman, and it is praise enough to say that it was well and appropriately done. The streets were thronged nearly all the day, crowds of people being present from other places, – and our young men wore the insignia of mourning which had been adopted, and grieved countenances were observed at every turn of the street…*

 

*New York Times, October 28, 1852

 

October 7, 1852

elm-yellows

 

Oct 7th Thursday  Have been cutting out some shirts

for bosoms.  Catharine Murphy has made

four window curtains for my front chamber

Mrs Witherell Mrs S Ames & self passed the

afternoon & evening at Mr Swains  Mr Ames 

came to tea and Oliver rode down after us and 

stopt awhile Mr & Mrs Meader are there &

Ellen Meader  Augustus wife went to Boston

 

There was quite a bit of socializing today, prompted in part by good weather. “[T]he 7th was a fair pleasant day + verry warm,” noted Old Oliver Ames. Henry David Thoreau, some 40 miles to Oliver’s north, was more discursive about the sunshine:

I sit on Poplar Hill. It is a warm Indian-summerish afternoon. The sun comes out of clouds, and lights up and warms the whole scene. It is perfect autumn. I see a hundred smokes arising through the yellow elm-tops in the village, where the villagers are preparing for tea. It is the mellowing year. The sunshine harmonizes with the imbrowned and fiery foliage.**

The elm trees such as the ones that Thoreau mentions would also have been seen by Old Oliver. In fact, they would have been seen across the state and beyond. Once upon a time, American Elms were ubiquitous in the United States.They were tall trees with a wine-glass profile and a graceful green canopy. In the 20th century, however, most of them were wiped out by Dutch Elm disease. The existence of “Elm Streets” in communities around the country attests to the fact that elms were once as common as maples or pines. As Thoreau suggests, many a small town lived under their shade.

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

**Henry David Thoreau, Journal, courtesy of http://hdt.typepad.com/henrys_blog

 

 

May 23, 1852

Preach

Sunday May 23d  Mr Rogers of Canton preached to day

I did not like him any better than Mr Whitwell

Alson Mother & Helen came home with us

at noon.  Oakes A carried Miss Foss to the 

sing and home  Ellen H & Rebecca White went

with them  Mr Ames & self made a long call

at Mr Swains  Mr Rogers made a short call

as he was going to church

Robert P. Rogers, the Unitarian pastor from Canton, led the service in Easton today, presumably switching places with the regular minister, William Whitwell, as the clergy often did in those days. Rogers was only twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old; his post in Canton was his very first.  As yet unmarried, and certainly younger and less seasoned than Mr. Whitwell, Rogers did not impress Evelina. He paid her the compliment of making “a short call” before church, but she was partial to the Whitwells.

Young Mr. Rogers would soon leave Canton for a pulpit in Gloucester where he would serve as minister for the remainder of his ministerial life.  He must have done well there, or they wouldn’t have kept him around for so long. Decades later, however, Mr. Rogers would return to Canton to live out his last days.

Between and after today’s services, folks were moving around town quite a bit. Old Oliver noted that it was “some cloudy” but also “pritty warm,” so it was pleasant to visit.  The dry roadbeds, though dusty, would have been relatively smooth. Evelina brought her brother and mother home after the morning service, Oakes Angier carried three young women to a sing after church, and Evelina and Oakes went over to see John and Ann Swain in the late afternoon. Everyone socialized.

 

May 19, 1852

a57b960ef05c59d007f70efe1b8f5f79

 

Wednesday 19th May  Washed the windows in the 

parlour and cleaned it   all that is necessary this spring

Was about house until about four Oclock

when Mrs Swain came and spent the 

afternoon  Mr Swain came to tea  Worked

on the garden about an hour  Susan has

the nose bleed almost every day.  This afternoon

came home before the school was done

 

Spring cleaning was late this year, as the women’s attention had been given over to family illness. The kitchen had been repainted some weeks earlier, but other rooms hadn’t been dealt with. Evelina set out to rectify the delay and, probably with support from Jane McHanna, donned her apron to tackle the best room in the house, the parlor, much of which had been redecorated back in February, so needed little attention beyond its windows and a basic cleaning.

One imagines Evelina and Jane in working clothes as they went about with their brushes, rags and mops. But what did Evelina wear under her apron, or after she changed out of her choring dress? Was she wearing any mourning attire? Did her outfit signify at all the recent loss of her nephew George?

In the 19th century, “[m]ourning was particularly a woman’s affair,”* perhaps because of a societal norm that women were sentimental and emotional, and men were not. There were rules about attire to be followed after the loss of a loved one. At the beginning, black crepe dresses, black veils or headgear, and even black jewelry – onyx, usually, or pins netted with a lock of hair of the departed – were expected to be displayed in some manner. After a certain period, black was put away and lavender, grey or purple dresses were acceptable. The closer the relative was to the deceased, the more exacting the expectation.

In her fine book about death in the Civil War, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust notes:

“By convention, a mother mourned for a child for a year, a child for a parent the same, a sister six months for a brother. A widow mourned for two and a half years, moving through proscribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment. A widower, by contrast, was expected to mourn only for three months, simply by displaying black crape on his hat or armband.”**

By these calculations, Sarah Ames Witherell had been dressed in black or lavender too often before. Her husband had died in August, 1848, her young son Channing in May, 1849 and now her son George. Sad to say, she would have had a black dress or two, plus the appropriate accessories, in her cupboard. But what was Evelina obliged to wear? Perhaps not a black dress – although she had one – but an armband? Or a black ribbon in her bonnet? What was the expectation for an aunt?

 

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 102

**Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 147

 

 

 

 

May 5, 1852

Thread

Wednesday May 5th  Worked about house & got my sleeves for Delaine ready

for Mrs Witherell to work  The sewing circle met

at Mrs Nahum Pools.  Mrs S Ames gone to Boston

George quite sick with the rheumatics Augusta gone

to N Bridgewater and so poor I should have had to

go alone.  Preferred to stay at home  Mr Peckham +

family all at Mr Swains.  called to see them & after they

left Mr & Mrs Swain went with me to Edwins garden got

two Gladiolus bulbs.  A beautiful pleasant day

The Sewing Circle met today at the home of Nahum and Lidia Pool, but Evelina didn’t attend. Her usual companions from the village were otherwise occupied, and “poor” she didn’t want to go by herself. She stayed home, or at least she stayed in North Easton. She parcelled out some sewing to her sister-in-law, Sarah Witherell, to work on, and headed out. Perhaps Sarah sat and sewed near her son George, who was “quite sick.”

The day was beautiful, and Evelina seemed to be in fine spirits despite missing the sewing circle, or perhaps because of missing it. She went to see John and Ann Swain and there encountered the Peckham family, who had moved away from North Easton the previous year. They must have been back for a visit.  When they left, Evelina and the Swains went up to the garden of Edwin Manley and bought two Gladiolus bulbs.

March 26, 1852

imgres

 

1852.

Friday March 26  Mrs S Ames returned from Boston last

night, had unpleasant weather for two days.  She called

at Mr Orrs found them all well. Julia is there

yet with her little one  Mrs S Ames & Witherell

called on Mrs Elizabeth Lothrop and invited me

to go with them but I felt it more my duty to call

on Mrs Swain, did so, and was prevailed upon to 

spend the afternoon & evening.  She has weaned her

babe, has been quite unwell but is now better

Two young women closely connected to Evelina recently weaned their babies. Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, wife of Evelina’s nephew Augustus, had just weaned her seven month old son, Willie. Ann Swain, wife of the head clerk of the shovel works, John Swain, had done the same with her five month old boy, John.

Weaning was an anxious time for both babies and mothers, although in this circumstance it appears the babies came through the ordeal better than their mothers, at least at first. Both Hannah and Ann had been unwell during the process. Evelina, in her attentive way, had spent time with the two young mothers while they ailed. As a practiced mother who had nursed and weaned five babies of her own, she may have offered advice and provided significant comfort to the younger women.

In Boston on this day in 1852, far from the concerns of the nursery, a new house of worship, the Temple Ohabei Shalom, the first synagogue in Boston, was consecrated. Although the temple, built on Warren Street, is no longer standing, we know that was architecturally handsome and well-appointed. It could seat 400 worshipers and also offered an area for a Hebrew School, a meeting room, and a bath, known as a mikveh.* A temple by the same names exists today on Beacon Street in Brookline.

Although Easton now has a synagogue, the Temple Chayai Shalom, it did not have one, nor did it have a visible Jewish community, in 1852.

 

* Jim Vrabel, When in Boston, Boston, 2004, p. 160

February 15, 1852

 lilliam_wald2

Nursing uniform from the late 19th c.*

1852

Sunday Feb 15th  Have been to church and at

noon went to Mr Baileys to see sister Amelia

who is nursing there  Mother went with me

Have been reading since meeting  Edwin & wife came

in to spend the evening but Mr Ames & self were

just going to Mr Swains and they would not let 

us stop for them so they went to Augustus  Had a 

pleasant call or rather visit at Mr Swains  came away

about nine Oclock  Very pleasant

The sun came out today, so despite it being “pritty cold,”** the Ames family went to church. During the intermission between morning and afternoon services, Evelina and her elderly mother, Hannah Lothrop Gilmore, rode out to visit Amelia Gilmore.  Amelia was the widow of Evelina’s brother, Joshua Gilmore, Jr. Joshua had died three years earlier, at age 35, leaving Amelia with two sons to raise.

In order to support herself and her boys, Amelia hired out as a nurse.  In this instance, she was looking after a Mr. Bailey, who must have lived near the Unitarian church. He may have lived alone, been ill and needed paid help; otherwise the convention of the day would have meant his female relatives looked after him. When Amelia wasn’t working, she and her youngest son, Samuel, lived with the Alger family near the Gilmore farm. The older son, Charles, had hired out somewhere but would soon come to reside with his uncle Alson Gilmore.

In 1852, nursing was not a formal profession.  Women (nursing was considered the exclusive province of women at the time) undertook nursing because they needed to work and this was one of very few avenues open to them. They based their protocol on personal experience in caring for ill members of their own families. There were no training programs or certification venues available, in no small part because there were so few hospitals. People were cared for at home. It would take the Crimean War in Europe and the Civil War in the U.S. to change attitudes and formalize medical care.

*Courtesy of http://www.nursinglink.monster.com

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

 

December 14, 1851

330px-Mayor_B_Seaver

Benjamin Seaver

Mayor of Boston, 1852 – 1854

Sunday 14 Dec  Have not been to meeting to day on

account of my cough.  Jane went to meeting 

at eight Oclock got breakfast before she went.

I have been writing and reading

Mr Swain & wife have spent the evening here

Mr Swains brother has been there a week or two

I have not seen him  The babe grows very 

fast and is a great wonder

In an unusual occurrence for a Sunday in New England in the 19th century, an election – or an announcement of the results of an election – was held on this day.  A new mayor, Benjamin Seaver, was elected to govern the City of Boston, a post he would hold through 1853. He was a Whig, one of that dying breed whose successful election surely gave the Ames men a lonely branch to cling to in the swirling flood of new political parties.

According to modern historian Jim Vrabel, Seaver won with 3,300 votes and defeated Dr. Jerome Smith and Adam Thaxter. (Only men voted in the election, of course.) Seaver was noteworthy for his interest in erecting a public library for the city. During his administration, a committee would be formed, plans (some already in the works) developed, a first librarian hired, and private funding obtained for the project.

At the same time that Seaver came in, “the entire Board of Aldermen” were voted out, “reportedly for refusing Daniel Webster” – a hometown favorite – ” use of Faneuil Hall because an abolitionist group had earlier been denied its use.”* Webster had advocated for passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, something for which abolitionists never forgave him. Just goes to show that the issue of slavery informed all levels of political intercourse in this decade before the Civil War.

On the home front, besotted new parents Ann and John Swain spent the evening with Evelina and Oakes, talking about their son.  Evelina seemed smitten, too, writing that the baby boy was “a great wonder.” Like the new mayor and the Board of Aldermen, however, she and that baby’s parents couldn’t know what sorrow lay ahead.

 

Jim Vrabel, When in Boston, Boston, p. 157