September 22, 1852


Wednesday Sept 22d Have been to Boston with Mrs

Witherell to get a Pianno  Have got to have

them made  Mrs Kinsley called to see them with

us  Met Mrs Wilson at Lintons to go to select

them. Dined at Mr Orrs while Mrs Witherelll

called on Mrs Dorr  Bought a Piano cloth

and gold thimble for Mrs Ames & C Hobart

and a ring for Helen  Oliver came from Providence


A piano! And not one piano, but two, one for each side of the house. Both Susan Ames and Emily Witherell would be learning to play the instrument. Each girl would have her own piano to practice on. What luxury. What gentility. What fun.

With advice from friends such as Louisa Kinsley, Evelina and Sarah Ames Witherell selected and ordered the instruments in a Boston store. Spending money liberally, Evelina went on to purchase gifts. For her other sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, she bought a cloth to go on top of the piano that those Ameses already owned. For Catharine Hobart, a young family friend who had caught the eye of her son Oakes Angier Ames, she bought a gold thimble. And for her niece Helen Angier Ames – Catharine’s classmate – she bought a ring.

Did her husband Oakes know that Evelina was spending so much money? Did her father-in-law? While her husband must have given his approval, it’s unlikely that Old Oliver would have approved of such a spree. Yet both those men were often generous within the family; in that respect, Evelina was just following suit.

We note today, too, that Oliver (3) returned from a few days at a fair in Providence, where he no doubt saw friends and former classmates from his two semesters at Brown University. We might imagine that he was missing school.



September 2, 1852



Thursday Sept 2d  I was intending to sit down early

this morning to sew but while we were at

breakfast Edwin came in & said his wife was

sick and wanted me to go in there  I found

her sick with the Cholera Morbus.  Came

home & made her some gruel washed her 

dishes & came home and made some pies

& sent Susan in there to stay with her

Just at night called at Augustus

Fred has gone back to Cambridge  Emily went to Boston

Despite its frightening name, Cholera morbus was not the cholera we might recognize as the dreaded disease of epidemic capability, the bacterial scourge that swept through whole cities, but rather a Victorian name for a gastrointestinal disorder that was “characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, [and] elevated temperature.”* It may also have been used to describe appendicitis. Poor Augusta Gilmore had been felled by this miserable sickness, which was alarming enough to send her husband Edwin to the neighbors for help. Augusta must have been a little frightened that her sickness might be related to her pregnancy; she was almost four months along at this date.

Thank goodness for Evelina, ever dependable in a crisis of this nature. Evelina visited Augusta right away, tidied up for her, made her a bowl of gruel – a thin porridge – and sent Susie Ames over to sit with her. No doubt Susie was instructed to report on any change for the worse.

Back in her own home, Evelina baked pies and kept watch on all the neighborhood goings-on. The younger generation was moving around: Emily Witherell went to Boston, and Fred Ames returned to Harvard for another year. His departure may have caused Oliver (3), who had so wanted to return to Brown, some anguish. Fred got to finish college, and Oliver didn’t.

* Sylvan Cazalet, “Old Disease Names,”

July 17, 1852

Wine glass

July 17th Sat  Hannah & Mary picked some currants

yesterday and to day I have made some

currant wine had four quarts of juice

Have done but very little sewing. Have

mended some.  Oliver returned from

school to night He is not looking very well

He brought home his pictures & all his things

is in hopes to go back again but it is uncertain

Evelina’s diary entry today poses two questions for us readers. First, why was she, wife of a strict tee-totaler, making wine? The answer is that from time to time, even a temperance household needed wine for medicinal purposes. It may be, also, that the occasional dish, such as mincemeat, required some alcohol as an ingredient. Even Lydia Maria Child, who abhorred liquor, nonetheless included a recipe for currant wine in her household guide:

Break and squeeze the currants, put three pounds and a half of sugar to two quarts of juice and two quarts of water. Put in a keg or barrel. Do not close the bung tight for three or four days, that the air may escape while it is fermenting.  After it is done fermenting, close it up tight…It should not be used under a year or two. Age improves it.*

The second question is almost unanswerable. Why wasn’t Oliver (3) able to return to Brown University? He wanted to, but clearly the decision wasn’t his to make, nor did it appear to be the school’s choice. Rather, the decision to cease attendance lay with Oliver (3)’s father, Oakes Ames, who had been against his son attending college in the first place. Oakes was once described as having “inherited some measure of that Puritanical contempt for the liberal arts…”**. He had first put his foot down against Oliver going, finally relented for one year, and now was again saying no.

If we can move past Oakes’s prejudice against higher education, we can imagine that he wanted his middle son back at the factory. So much had happened at the shovel works during Oliver (3)’s absence. The old factory had burned down and a temporary one had been quickly rebuilt. A new, state-of-the-art stone factory was being raised, requiring extra supervision. And the manufacture and sale of shovels had had to continue as if nothing had happened. Quite likely, Oakes needed his son’s help. Studying was over.

It’s also possible that an additional factor may have influenced Oakes’s decision, a factor that he couldn’t yet share – at least not with Evelina. Oakes may have been privy to a concern about his son Oakes Angier’s health, a condition that would soon be apparent to all.


*Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, p. 59

** Hon. Hosea M. Knowlton, Address at the Dedication Ceremony for the Oliver Ames High School, December 12, 1896, published  Boston, 1898, p.98


May 7, 1852



Friday May 7th  Was in the garden to work a short

time transplanted some pinks but worked on

Olivers clothes most of the time.  Mr Brown &

Oliver rode to Mr Copelands and got me a polyanthus

and to the furnace in the afternoon to Canton 

and Sharon.  Mrs S Ames returned from Boston to

night & Helen with her  Helens face is very

swollen has not been to school for a week


With her middle son Oliver home from Brown, Evelina had a great deal of mending to tend to. She might have preferred to be in her flower garden, but she only had a short window in which to repair her son’s shirts, hose, and coats. Oliver, meanwhile, rode out with his college roommate, Mr. Brown. They roamed from Easton to Canton and Sharon and in the process picked up a polyanthus, or primrose, for Evelina. They got the latter from a Mr. Copeland, who was perhaps Josiah Copeland, an elderly resident of Easton who lived with his wife and unmarried daughter.

George Witherell continued to be ill in the other part of the house, but he wasn’t the only family member who was ailing.  Helen Angier Ames had to come home from boarding school because of a swollen face. Perhaps she had an infection – an abcess of some sort – or perhaps she was having an allergic reaction to an insect bite or other allergen. Whatever was ailing her, she hadn’t attended class for a week, and her mother had to fetch her home.


May 6, 1852


Queen of the Prairie

1852 May

Thursday 6th Worked in the garden a short time and

about nine went to the shovel shops with Hannah

and her sister  They spent the afternoon here and

Augusta.  Edwin came to tea  Mr Brown,

Olivers room mate, came to night.  We ladies rode

to Mr Clapps, bought Queen of the Prairie for 37 cts

Warm sunshine sent Evelina outdoors for much of the day. She gardened after breakfast, then broke away at nine a.m. to go over to the shovel shops with her niece, Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, and Hannah’s sister, Sarah Lincoln. What were the ladies doing at the factory? Evelina wouldn’t have gone there on her own volition.

The Lincoln sisters, originally from Hingham, spent much of the day with Evelina.  They were joined by Augusta Pool Gilmore, whose husband Edwin Williams Gilmore later came to tea. “We ladies” traveled to the home of Lucius Clapp, another fine gardener with plants to sell, where Evelina purchased a Filipendula rubra, or Queen of the Prairie. Clapp was a well-respected citizen of Stoughton, described by a contemporary historian as “one of the representative farmers of this progressive age.” *

Oliver (3), meanwhile, was briefly home from Brown University.  His roommate, a Mr. Brown, came to North Easton for a visit. It was a full table at tea time.

D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, pp. 424-425


February 20, 1852

View of the College 1792

Brown University


Friday Feb 20th Oliver returned to Brown University this

morning  Have given the sitting room a thourough

sweeping & have made the front chamber bed

and put the room in order.  Also the entry.

After dinner called into Olivers to see her mother

Mrs Solomon & Willard Lothrop spent the afternoon 

Willard said he wanted to come to tea but the spirits

would not let him.  Orinthia came this evening

The house was quieter this morning than it had been for some time.  Evelina’s middle son, Oliver (3), had returned to college. She tidied up, putting away at least some of the sewing things that had been pulled out for mending Oliver’s clothes. She swept and put various rooms “in order.” She must have felt a sense of accomplishment and, perhaps, that contradictory combination of relief, satisfaction and sadness that follows the departure of a child for school.

After midday dinner, Evelina walked next door to greet Sally Williams Lothrop, mother of Sarah Lothrop Ames. A different Lothrop came to call (whether at Evelina’s or Sarah’s is unclear): Mrs. Solomon Lothrop and her son Willard. Willard was invited to stay for tea but declined. As a medium and a follower of Spiritualism, he felt that “the spirits would not let him.”

Willard Lothrop was not alone in his belief that the possibility of communication exists between the living and the dead.*  William Chaffin makes note of the existence of Spiritualism in Easton, where “interest in this subject first appeared on the Bay road. In 1850 Asahel Smith, Amos Hewett, Willard Lothrop, and others became much interested in the matter. Several Easton people soon displayed mediumistic powers.” Evelina was clearly intrigued by the premise.

See also June 13, 1851.

*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1866, p. 370.

February 19, 1852




Thursday Feb 19th  Have been to work on Olivers clothes getting

them ready to go back to school  Have spent the

whole afternoon mending a coat for him which he

has spoiled wearing it in the shop  Augusta was

here this afternoon did not stop to tea.  Lavinia called

came up to bring Mrs Lothrop & son to Willards

Susan & self have spent the evening at Willards

Oliver came after us about nine Oclock

Finally, Oliver Ames (3) was going back to Brown. He had been home in North Easton, on a break, since January 21st. Evelina had her hands full mending a coat “which he has spoiled” so he could take it back to Providence. He wore it while working at the shovel factory and damaged it somehow. There was no time – and probably little inclination – to get a new one made for him. His mother had to fix it.

As Caroline Healey Dall, a contemporaneous female in Boston during this era, commented at one point in her mid-19th century diary, it was “a lonely, dull day – stitch, stitch, stitch.”* For most of the 19th century, all women sewed, and sewed often. Sometimes sewing was fun or companionable or rewarding; sometimes it wasn’t.  It was more often a necessity, a chore, and for Evelina today, the uninteresting and obligatory side of sewing prevailed.

Fortunately, Evelina had a few visits today from her younger female friends and relatives to help the time pass. Augusta Pool Gilmore visited in the afternoon – possibly with her own needle in hand – and niece Lavinia Gilmore called, having come into town from the family farm. In the evening, Evelina and her daughter Susan spent the evening with one of Easton’s more eccentric characters,Willard Lothrop, a medium. Oliver Ames (3) “came after” them after dark, probably anxious that all was ready for his return to college in the morning.

*Caroline Healey Dall, Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth Century Woman , ed. Helen R. Deese, Boston, 2005, p. 314

December 1, 1851



Dec 1st Monday.  Oliver left again this morning

for Brown University.  Jane was able to do the 

housework this morning & Mary has washed

I have been sewing with Mother  Gave the

furnace up to Ann this morning  It has been 

so windy that we could not dry our clothes

Jane has starched the fine clothes to have

them ready to Iron tomorrow  Cold room all day


It’s not surprising that Evelina got Sarah Witherell’s servant, young Ann Orel, to start the coal furnace this morning, for it was a chore she disliked and the weather was so cold that there was no fooling around with getting heat into the house.  Old Oliver reported that “this was a fair day wind verry high from the north west + cold – a verry disagreeable day to be out in – there was an anchor frost this morning”

Anchor frost is a term for “a frost which causes ice to form along the bed of a running stream […] An anchorfrost can only occur when the temperature of the running water and the bed over which it flows is below freezing point. When this is the case, the rapidity of the stream is sometimes sufficient to prevent the swifter upper current congealing, while the lower current, which moves more slowly on account of the friction, becomes frozen to the bed.” *  Old Oliver knew all about running water and was probably not happy to see anchor ice forming in the Queset.

*Image of anchor ice, courtesy of The Aspen Times

** Arthur Benoni Evans, Leicestershire Words, Phrases, and Proverbs, Volume 11, English Dialect Society, 1881.


November 28, 1851


Nov 28th Friday  Had rather of a late breakfast

Oliver did not rise untill past ten Oclock

Have been very busy to day making some

collars for Mr Ames & have been looking

over Olivers clothes some  Mr & Mrs Thom

Ames have spent the afternoon with Mrs Witherell

I have been to see them this evening

Like many middle-class families in 1851, the Ames family probably kept at least one clock against a wall or on a mantel. By its hands Evelina could tell that her middle son, Oliver (3), had slept exceedingly late on this morning after Thanksgiving. She might have looked up from her sewing to notice the minutes move by. Just home from his first term at Brown University, Oliver was keeping collegiate hours that were rather more elastic than the factory time by which the days usually ran. Tired from his studies and his journey home, Oliver slept in. Workers at the shovel shop were not accorded that luxury.

Absent a working clock in the house, how did people in the village and its close environs know what time it was?  Pocket watches were popular, certainly, but many in the village wouldn’t have owned one. The young, single immigrant men who lived in the Ames tenement, for instance, and the working families who lived in the factory houses around town needed temporal oversight. A bell at the factory guided them.

According to historian Gregory Galer:

“Life in North Easton in the 1840s was dominated by the Ames Company.  With the move to a more regular work schedule the company instituted the use of a bell, heard throughout the village, to be sure employees would keep a schedule which would allow them to fullfil their duties at the shovel shop.”*

Evelina’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, noted:

“Every week-day morning at ten minutes before five the shop bell warned the town to yawn itself awake; and at nine in the evening it rang a curfew (as it still does) to advise bedtime.  The factories started at seven, by lamplight in winter, and stopped at six, with an hour out at noon for dinner – a ten-hour day.”**

Winthrop was writing in 1937; in 1952, the Ames factory would close in Easton and move to West Virginia.  No curfew bell rings in North Easton today.


*Greg Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2001, p. 240

*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, privately printed, 1937, p. 128

September 4, 1851



Thurs Sept 4th  This morning Orinthia left for Maine

& Pauline for Roxbury in the stage.  Mr Ames &

Oliver via Mansfield to Providence.  Oliver is

delighted with the idea of going to school & I am

sure he will improve his time  It seems

very lonely to day I have taken the bedstead down from

the boys chamber to clean it swept the parlour & washed

most all the windows in the lower part of the house both sides

Guests and family departed the Ames compound in North Easton today. Schoolteacher Orinthia Foss left to return to Maine, probably to Leeds where her parents and two younger siblings lived.  Houseguest Pauline Dean, left, too, taking the stage with Orinthia as far as Roxbury. Her final destination was unknown.  The most noteworthy departure, however, was that of 20-year-old Oliver Ames, middle son of Oakes and Evelina.  He was going to college.

Oakes Ames, after having resisted giving his son a college education, had evidently made a decision to let Oliver go. Father and son traveled together to Providence.  Perhaps Oakes helped his son find his living quarters, perhaps he explored the campus at Brown in an attempt to know it for himself, if he didn’t know it already. Sarah Lothrop Ames’s brother from Detroit, George Van Ness Lothrop, had once attended the school; Oakes and Oliver must have known that.

Established in 1764, Brown was the third oldest college in New England. Manning Hall, the neoclassical building shown in the photograph above, was the newest building on campus. No doubt it was a building that Oliver went into often, for it held both the library and the chapel. The president of the college at the time was Francis Wayland, a Baptist minister, who was stern but beloved and progressive.

As Evelina noted, Oliver was immensely pleased to be going to Brown, and she, in turn, seemed pleased for him. She was confident that he would study hard and do well.  Her pride didn’t protect her from feeling
“very lonely” today, though.  Choring was the only antidote she could imagine to liven up the quieter house.




Manning Hall, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island