December 30, 1852

Sunset

Thursday Dec 30th  Mrs A A & Mrs Edwin Gilmore & Abby

& self have passed the day at mothers.  We

got there at 1/4 past 10 Oclock very early I 

call that.  Abby has a very bad boil on her

shoulder  After I got home this evening

went into Olivers & Mrs A L Ames came

in and we stopt untill nearly ten Oclock

Miss Alger has given her 20th lesson

dined in the other part of the house

 

Evelina spent the day with her mother, eighty-year-old Hannah Lothrop Gilmore. Other Gilmore women were present, too: Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, Augusta Pool Gilmore, and Abigail Williams Torrey (a Gilmore niece). They assembled at the family farm for what appears to have been simply a sociable gathering. We might imagine, however, that at least one of the women held a piece of sewing or mending in her lap as they sat and talked. Back at the house in North Easton, meanwhile, Sarah Witherell had the responsibility of overseeing the girls’ piano lesson and hosting the piano teacher for dinner.

The year was drawing to a close, and this entry is the next-to-last one that Evelina will make in her diary. A sad closure – not for Evelina, but for us readers. Over the two years of posting Evelina’s diary, a virtual community has gathered in its own sociable way to watch life pass in North Easton in a time long gone. In addition to hundreds of readers from across the U.S., readers from around the globe – most notably Australia, Brazil, Germany, South Korea, the UK, Italy and Canada – have stopped in regularly to see how Evelina was faring. Not a few of you are direct descendants of Evelina and Oakes, or Old Oliver and Susannah. In the course of writing this blog, it has been clear that you and others, whatever your address, feel a strong bond with the early “Shovel Ameses” of North Easton, and with the town itself.

As she made her daily entries, Evelina could have had no way of knowing that hundreds of us – strangers to her – would one day read her diary. She couldn’t have imagined it, which is a good thing, for then she might have written for an audience instead of for herself. We would find more craft and less honesty in the daily dispatches. As it has happened, we’ve been allowed to interpret and imagine – but not invent – her life. We hope we’ve done it right. Perhaps in the future, the missing diaries will come to light and we’ll be able to learn more about the family. We might be able to clarify or enhance or even contradict the inferences we might have made. History is a fluid thing.

Thank you, readers, for following along and contributing to our understanding of Evelina and her time. Please join Evelina one more time tomorrow as we take a look at how the rest of her life unfolded.

 

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 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?

*

November 21, 1852

IMG_0404

Lady’s Cloak**

Sunday Nov 21st  have been to church and at

intermission went with Mother into Mrs John

Howards.  Have invited Mr & Mrs Whitwells

family to dine here Thanksgiving

After church read & heard Susan practice

her lesson a while  Edwin & wife came

in this evening and I went to Augustus with 

them

 

This Sunday before Thankgiving “was a fair sunny day wind northerly + cool.”* The Ames contingent headed to church as usual and at intermission spread out to different informal gatherings. We don’t know where the men of the family went, or what Susie did, but we do know that Evelina took her elderly mother to the home of John and Caroline Howard, where they would have been offered a cup of tea and a piece of pie or cake.

After church, Evelina heard her daughter practice the piano. Like yesterday, the friction and anxiety between the two over the piano lessons seemed to have dissipated. At least, Evelina doesn’t mention having to force Susan to practice.

Evelina also did a little reading. If she picked up her copy of the November issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, she would have noticed, among many essays, stories and poems, a short article on women’s cloaks:

Never was there a season in which there was so great a variety of graceful cloaks to choose from. Not the heavy, cumbrous garment that once enshrouded and hid all grace or outline in the female figure, but light, yet ample costumes, that answer every purpose of warmth for walking or driving...**

Cloaks were in. If Evelina needed proof that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames had a nose for fashion, there it was. Only a week earlier, Sarah had been in Boston buying a cloak for her daughter Helen. There were many styles to be seen, including the one in the illustration, in the Alboni style. Will Evelina get one for herself or her daughter?

 

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

** Godey’s Lady’s Book, , Cloaks and Mantles, November 1852, pp. 476 – 477

October 13, 1852

 

Blackstrapmolasses

Molasses

Wednesday Oct 13th  Baked this morning in the brick oven

Went with Mother & Lavinia over to Edwins

to get her receipt for making molasses ginger

snaps  left them to see over the house and came

home to have Susan ready to take her third

music lesson  Miss Alger came about nine.

Mother & Lavinia & self rode over to call on Mrs

E Keith. Augustus & wife  Mr Torrey & Abby spent the 

evening  Malvina spent the night with Susan

Ginger snaps came out of the old brick oven this morning and, although Evelina had baked them countless times before, she was trying out a new recipe borrowed from Augusta Pool Gilmore. No doubt the lovely fragrance of baking wafted into the parlor where Susan was taking her piano lesson from Miss Alger.

Although the recipe was different, the use of molasses was not. Molasses was a staple in most American kitchens and had been from colonial days onward. Molasses is the residue from the evaporated sap of sugar cane, available in varying degrees of sweetness and hue. In the days before refined sugar granules gained preference, molasses was the definitive sweetener in most homes.

Molasses was also the substance from which rum was made and, as such, was a primary factor in the historic “Triangular Trade” that went on in England, Africa, and the West Indies. It involved slavery. England sold rum in Africa in return for slaves, whom they took to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations to produce molasses and unrefined sugar. The sugar stuffs then came to America so the colonies could make rum. On top of that, England established a tax on the colonies for the imported sugar which was one of the many grievances that led to the American Revolution.

Botanic historian Judith Sumner writes:

[T]he early American economy was deeply tied to sugar production; in eighteenth and early nineteenth century New England, the sugar trade promoted shipbuilding and spawned a rum industry with serious social ramifications.  Colonies also traded lumber, grains, meat, livestock and horses to supply the sugar plantations in the West Indies, where the owners concentrated exclusively on sugar production.”*

The connection of sugar cane to slavery did not go unnoticed. By the nineteenth century, “sugar was avoided by those who abhorred slavery because of the complex trading triangle that revolved around slaves, molasses, and rum […] Antislavery pamphlets illustrated cruel sugar plantation practices, where slaves were tethered to weights to prevent their escape and prevented from eating sugar cane by wearing heavy head frames.”* Some abolitionist households boycotted the use of sugar.

As we see, sugar processing and molasses production have an often unhappy history in the United States. And we haven’t even touched on Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, pp. 206-207

October 8, 1852

bushel-and-peck

Friday Oct 8th  Have been making barberry sauce

to day only 1 peck but a great many more apples

Julia was here and altered the skirt of my 

Delaine dress.  She scarcely got the skirt

right  Augusta has gone to her fathers this

afternoon to pass a week or so her father came after

her  I have sewed but very little again to day

Why is it that I cannot find more time to sew?

 

Evelina was spending so much time in the kitchen lately that she had “but very little” time for sewing. So it went during harvest season. Fruits and vegetables came piling into the kitchen in all manner of measures, and Evelina and her servants had to cook and store them, or lose them. She writes today of using up a peck of barberries for sauce and even more apples, though it’s unclear if the apples went into the barberry sauce or were used in something else. A year ago at this time, Evelina was doing exactly the same thing, cooking barberries and other fruit in her kitchen, except that at the time, she was ill with nettle rash.

We get pints, quarts, pecks and bushels from our English heritage. No metric system for them, or us. A peck is a dry measure equivalent to eight quarts; four pecks make up a bushel. Modern grocery shoppers don’t often see food sold in a quantity of one peck in a regular supermarket. This time of year, one can find displays of five-pound paper bags of fresh apples in the produce department; one of those bags is equivalent to half a peck. With that in mind, think of how many pounds of apples, barberries and more Evelina had to process in the fall. She had no choice, either. Even a family as wealthy as the Ameses needed that food for the winter.

A half-bushel, by the way, was once called a kenning.

 

October 5, 1852

Golden Piano Keys

Oct 5th  Tuesday  Called this forenoon upon Augusta

and then went into Olivers to dine & all my family

After dinner Mrs Norris & self called at Mr Torreys

and I then carried Mrs N to the cars.  Augusta

went with us.  When I returned Mrs Witherell &

Mrs S Ames called with me at Mr Whitwells on

Mrs Wordsworth & on Mrs Morse  Our pianos came

to night.

A momentous day at the Ames homestead: Two pianos arrived from Boston – drawn by oxen, one would think – and were set up in the respective parlors on each side of the house. One was for Evelina’s daughter, Susan, and the other was for Sarah Ames Witherell’s daughter, Emily. Everyone, even the men of the family who were unlikely to play the instruments, must have been intrigued by the new additions to the parlors.

Modern historian Jack Larkin describes the stylish impact of the addition of a piano to a parlor in the mid-nineteenth century:

“The pianoforte, the direct ancestor of today’s piano, became the most decisive piece of American parlor furniture. That small minority of families – less than one in a hundred – who were able ‘to beautify the room by so superb an ornament,’ as a cynical music teacher suggested in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, had acquired ‘the ultimate badge of gentility…the only thing that distinguishes ‘decent people’ from the lower and less distinguished’ whether it was ever played or not.”*

It was certainly Evelina’s intention that this instrument would be played by her daughter Susan who, she believed, would learn to play it, and play it well. It was presumably Sarah Witherell’s desire as well that Emily would do the same.  Did they imagine piano recitals and concerts taking place within their freshly-papered, newly decorated parlor walls?  Did they believe that their daughters would excel and play as well as Helen Ames next door? Did their daughters share this expectation? Did their daughters even want to learn piano?

*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 143