November 18, 1852

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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.

 

 

October 16, 1852

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Darning Egg Designs, from Godey’s Lady’s Book

Sat Oct 16th Have made more barberry sauce to day

have three girls here now Ann came

Wednesday night but I am not to commence

paying her wages untill Monday and Catharine

Middleton is to leave to night  I have been

mending to day

 

Bad weather kept Evelina and her servants indoors. As Old Oliver recorded, “the ground froze some last night and it is verry cold to day for the season wind high from north west and some cloudy.” It was a good day for making barberry sauce, especially with three young women to help. The shelves in Evelina’s pantry – or buttery – and cellar must have been nearly full of jars of preserved fruit. There would be plenty to go around come winter. And winter was coming.

It was a good day, too, to catch up on mending. At least some of the mending consisted of darning the holes in the socks – or hose – worn by everyone in the family. Darning eggs, such as the ones in the illustration from Godey’s, were found in most homemakers’ sewing kits or work baskets. They were held on the inside of a sock to keep it firm while the stitching was done on the outside. Some intricate darning eggs also held needles, thimbles, and other tiny sewing utensils on the inside.

The prosaic simplicity of the day’s chores would not have raised any suspicion on Evelina’s part that seven years from this day, John Brown and a band of cohorts would lead a raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The incident would shock and alarm the nation as it realized that even in the civilized “Old Dominion” – as opposed to places on the wild frontier, like Kansas or Missouri – arms would be raised to eradicate slavery. None of the Ameses knew, of course – no one could – but a civil war between the states of the North and South was drawing near.

 

 

May 27, 1852

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Stoneware or “earthen” jar 

1852 Thursday May 27th  We have cleaned the buttery

to day and we have had a hard job of it.

I have scalded my preserves have several 

lbs of citron & some quince & peach and

this afternoon have given my chamber a

thorough sweeping and washed the paint where

needed.  Have set out some plants from the

house.  Mr Ames went to Canton

The buttery or pantry area off the cook room got cleaned today, and the cleaning wasn’t easy. The women surely had to contend with hardened spills, grease residue and hidden dust pockets. They also would have had to move every bottle, jar, bowl, plate and pan out of the way in order to properly clean the shelves.

In the midst of this domestic upheaval, the women inspected the store of preserves and found that “several lbs of citron & some quince & peach” hadn’t kept well. They were beginning to ferment. To be saved, they needed to be scalded.

Lydia Maria Child, a multi-talented and rather opinionated author, wrote about “Preserves &c” in her classic household guide, The American Frugal Housewife.*  To begin with, she disapproved of preserves, noting that “[e]conomical people will seldom use” them.  “Let those who love to be invalids drink strong green tea, eat pickles, preserves and rich pastry,” she scolded.

But while preserves (and jam and jelly) were expensive and unhealthy, Mrs. Child knew that housewives would persevere in making and serving them.  Preserving fruit with sugar was a practical way to extend the life of a favorite fruit after the crop had ended and to do it in a way that gratified the common human sweet tooth. Resigned to popular preference, she included instructions for dealing with preserves that were going bad:

“When you put preserves in jars, lay a white paper, thoroughly wet with brandy, flat upon the surface of the preserves, and cover them carefully from the air.  If they begin to mould, scald them by setting them in the oven till boiling hot.  Glass is much better than earthen for preserves; they are not half as apt to ferment.”* Evelina evidently disagreed with Mrs. Child about the value of preserves, but no doubt she followed a proper procedure for bringing the preserves back from the bad side of the pantry.

 

*Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, 1829, p. 59

April 20, 1852

Freshet

Tues April 20th

1852  Storms again to day and nearly as hard

as yesterday.  rained poringly last night

Mr Packard came at half past three and Mr Ames

went to the hoe & knife shop to raise planks 

the water being very high  The highest that

has been known for years  Augusta spent

the afternoon  Worked all the forenoon cleaning

out grease from the buttery

The Nor’easter continued.  The Queset Brook, which ran behind the Ames compound, the Shovel Shop Pond and other local bodies of water threatened to overflow under the deluge of rain. The water came down “poringly” and, according to Old Oliver, “it raind about all day.”* To use a word that is not often encountered in the 21st century, a freshet was imminent.

A freshet is a sudden overflow of a creek or stream brought on by a heavy rain and/or the sudden melting of snow. It was a potential hazard that people who lived near waterways worried about every spring, and on this day the fears of such folks in Easton came close to being realized.

The water rose “the highest that has been known for years,” threatening to flood the hoe and knife shops. The men, led by Oakes Ames, responded quickly to adjust the wooden planks at the site of the dams on the pond. Local historians Dwight MacKerron and Frank Mennino corrected this editor’s initial misinterpretation that raising planks meant lifting machinery off the floor, the latter suggesting instead that:

“raising the planks referred to actually allowing water to leave the ponds under a controlled flow via a secondary sluiceway that was employed in most dams just for that purpose. In the case of the hoe shop there was a man made canal that would serve that purpose. It takes pressure off the dam, and might avert a catastrophic failure which would certainly have severe consequences.”

Sydney Packard may have been the man who came to assist Oakes. He was a 40 year-old father of eight and long-time employee of O. Ames & Sons.  Some twenty years later, Packard would be one of the pallbearers at the funeral of Oakes Ames.

So far in 1852, the Ames family had endured first fire and now flood, and their troubles were not over.

Thank you, Dwight MacKerron and Frank Mennino for your input on the workings of waterways of North Easton.