March 30, 1852

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1852

March 30th  Tuesday  Spent the forenoon puttering about

the house doing nothing at all.  Have been to

carry Orinthia to Mrs John Howards.  Mrs S Ames

went with us and we called at Mrs Reed, Whitwell

J. Howard  Mrs Merrill and Mrs Hills  Mrs Ames

stoped here to tea and spent the evening.  Louisa

Swan was at home and Ann Johnson.  Augusta called

Hannah called for a moment this forenoon

Apparently, there was no sewing today; perhaps Evelina’s fingers were sore from working the heavy moreen fabric the day before. She hardly seemed to mind “doing nothing at all,” however, and gave the afternoon over entirely to calling, an occupation she enjoyed. She, her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames, and guest Orinthia Foss called on Caroline Howard, Abigail Reed, Eliza Whitwell, Mrs. Merrill and Mrs. Hills. They may have called on some younger fellow Unitarians, too: Louisa Swan (daughter of Dr. Caleb Swan) and Ann Johnson.

Calling was an essential component of social life in the 19th century, as we’ve noted before.  Some women thrived on it, others only tolerated it, but just about every woman exercised the obligation to call on their friends and neighbors, as due. In Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, “Little Women,” an entire chapter is devoted to two of the March sisters, Amy and Jo, making calls. Amy enjoyed them, but had to persuade Jo to join her:

“Now put on all your best things, and I’ll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will make a good impression.  I want people to like you, and they would if you’d only try to be a little more agreeable. Do your hair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet; its becoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit.  Take your light kids and the embroidered handkerchief. […]

“Jo […] sighed as she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly as she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow, wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar, wrinkled up her features generally as she shook the handkerchief, whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present mission was to her feelings; and when she had squeezed her hands into tight gloves with two buttons and a tassel, as the last touch of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of countenance, saying meekly, –

“‘I’m perfectly miserable; but if you consider me presentable, I die happy.'”*

*Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

March 21, 1852

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1852

March 21 Sunday  Have all been to meeting except

Susan who is not very well  George carried

Amelia home at noon  I had a very pleasant

visit from her of nearly two weeks.  Orinthia

called with me into Edwins after church & we

helped ourselves to apples from the cellar.  Augusta

sent us one filled with sand and cheese.

Called at Mr Whitwells at noon & at Mrs J Howard a moment

Spring had arrived; Amelia Gilmore left the Ames’s home and hospitality and headed back to her own quarters in southeastern Easton. George Oliver Witherell, 14-year old son of Sarah Ames Witherell, obligingly carried her home in a carriage during the intermission at church. Evelina, meanwhile, visited with the Whitwells and the Howards.

After church Evelina and Orinthia went to the home of Edwin and Augusta Gilmore and helped themselves to “apples from the cellar.” That the young couple still had apples from the previous fall suggests that the harvest had been good and the storage arrangements even better. We presume that Evelina and Orinthia took the apples with the permission of the Gilmores; Augusta sending over a barrel “filled with sand and cheese,” corroborates that. But why is a barrel with cheese also filled with sand? Any thoughts, readers?

 

December 10, 1851

Thread

 

Dec 10th  Wednesday.  Mrs S Witherell S Ames and

self have spent the day quilting at Mrs Reeds

on a quilt that belongs to the sewing circle  Have

had a fine time.  Met quite a number of

ladies there. Had a taste of Mrs Howards mince

pie  We stopt the evening.  Mrs Witherell

J R Howard & Mr Harrison Pool came  We carried

Mrs Elijah Howard home

Although Evelina had reported the conclusion of the Sewing Circle season on November 5, today “quite a number” of Unitarian women met again to work on a quilt. They worked all day and into the evening, making the event even more sociable than usual.  Caroline Howard and Nancy Howard were among Evelina’s friends who attended and enjoyed tea and mince pie.

In New York City, meanwhile, Oakes Ames would have been wrapping up his business affairs and preparing to return home, having been away since the 3rd of the month.  Surely, not every moment of his trip had been devoted to shovels. He was no drinker, so the bartenders in the city wouldn’t have poured him any whiskey, but, like his wife, he was sociable.  He might have joined friends or clients for dinner. He also might have done favors for family or friends from home.

Rev. William Chaffin tells us that Oakes once searched out some socks in New York for his father’s coachman, Michael Burns, whom Chaffin described as “an Irishman of the old style.” Not long after Michael had emigrated to Massachusetts, “his mother, still alive in Ireland, knit him several pairs of socks, and sent them over by a friend of Michael’s.  She supposed that anyone coming over would necessarily ‘see my son Michael.’ But the friend found on landing at New York that he was two hundred miles away.  He wrote Michael telling him that he would leave the socks at a certain address.”

Michael approached Oakes “and asked him if he wouldn’t hunt up the socks and bring them home. It was just the sort of kindness Mr. Ames delighted in, and so when he went to New York he hunted up the socks with some difficulty and brought them to the overjoyed Michael.”*

*William L. Chaffin, “Oakes Ames 1804/1873”, Easton Historical Society, North Easton, 1996, pp. 6-7

 

 

 

 

December 5, 1851

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Unidentified group having tea

 

Dec 5th Friday  As usual this morning after being in

Boston felt tired & lazy did not get my

room in order very early.  Before it was

cleaned Mrs S Ames came in and we chatted

awhile.  Went into Edwins to get Mr Scott

to paint the porch & thus the forenoon passed

Have passed the afternoon in father Ames

with Mrs J R Howard her sister & Mrs Whitwell

With her husband away, and only her four nearly-grown children to look after, Evelina chose to relax this morning rather than make her bed, tidy up and get to her chores and sewing. “As usual,” she felt lethargic after her Boston shopping trip, but uncharacteristically, she didn’t try to overcome this lazy spell. An early morning visit from Sarah Lothrop Ames gave her some excuse to take it easy and hang out, as we might say today.

Most of the rest of her day was spent socializing.  In the afternoon Evelina went to the other part of the house to visit with sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell, and other ladies who had gathered: Eliza Whitwell, Caroline Howard and the latter’s sister.  The women may simply have sat and chatted, teacups in hand, but Evelina, perhaps, had some sewing or mending at the ready as she visited.

The one piece of business that Evelina managed to do today was walk down the street to the new house being built by her nephew, Edwin Williams Gilmore, to track down Mr. Scott, a painter who was working there. He and another painter, Randall Holbrook, came over in the afternoon and began working for her. The presence of painters at Edwin’s house suggests that it was nearing completion.  Perhaps Edwin was getting ready to move in, if he hadn’t already.

 

 

December 2, 1851

 FillmorePresident Millard Fillmore

Dec 2d  Tuesday.  It has been cold to day but not near as

cold at yesterday or as windy  Mary has put

her clothes out.  Jane has ironed some shirts

for Mr Ames & I have ironed some collars

cuff & handkerchiefs &c for self  Mother & self

have passed the afternoon at Mr Whitwells

Mr & Mrs John R Howard were there.  Had

a pleasant visit

While the servant Mary – whose last name we never learn – put out most of yesterday’s wet laundry to dry, Jane McHanna rose from bed to iron some of Oakes Ames’s shirts.She had spent part of yesterday placing them in a tub of starch. Evelina took to ironing as well, looking after her own collars, cuffs and handkerchiefs. Ironing, which required a small fleet of flatirons being kept warm on a hot stove, was a welcome chore on a cold day. We don’t often read of Evelina doing the ironing herself.

In Washington, D. C., President Millard Fillmore’s State of the Union address was delivered in writing to Congress.  His speech was quite literal, full of specific details about foreign policy, exports, mining, gold in California, the acquisition of Texas and the surveying and improvements necessary for the territories and frontier.  He lauded the importance of agriculture, noting that “four fifths of our active population are employed in the cultivation of the soil,” and argued for a Bureau of Agriculture.

Fillmore also could not help but write of the growing differences between North and South and the 1850 legislation that was designed to address various aspects of the problem of slavery. He began his address optimistically, writing “the agitation which for a time threatened to disturb the fraternal relations which make us one people is fast subsiding…” but later admitted “that it is not to be disguised that a spirit exists, and has been actively at work, to rend asunder this Union which is our cherished inheritance from our Revolutionary fathers.”

In closing, Fillmore urged patience and reconciliation.  He counseled his countrymen to honor the Compromise of 1850.  “Wide differences and jarring opinions can only be reconciled by yielding something on both sides,” he cautioned.

November 2, 1851

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1851

Sunday Nov 2d  This has been a stormy day, but this evening

has cleared off pleasant  I have been to meeting all

day & went to Mrs John Howards at noon with

Lavinia & Mother  Mr Ames came home at noon and it rained

so hard that he did not go back.  Mr Whitwell

gave us two fine sermons.  Mr Ames & self passed

the evening at Augustus.  Have made an agreement

which I hope we shall both be careful to keep.

At the end of this rainy, chilly Sunday at the start of November, “the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” according to the fictional Margaret March, eldest of Louisa May Alcott’s four sisters in “Little Women,” our non-fictional Evelina and her husband, Oakes, reached an important decision.  Unfortunately, we don’t know what that decision was.

Surely this entry is one of the most tantalizing in Evelina’s diary. She and Oakes “made an agreement” that she hoped they’d “both be careful to keep.”  What did they decide? What promises did they exchange? Oakes had been away from home a great deal lately; did their discussion stem from that? Was this the moment when Oakes determined to become involved in regional politics? Would he have needed Evelina’s approval?  If this was the case, what might he have asked of her, or offered her in exchange?

Or was the decision less historic and more pedestrian? Did their discussion have anything to do with domestic arrangements or the recent spending on the house? Were they going to exercise more prudent care of their “accounts,” as Evelina calls them? Did their agreement have something to do with their children? Did it stem from something Reverend Whitwell said in one of his “fine sermons”? What was this agreement?

And were they able to keep it?

 

October 26, 1851

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*

Sunday Oct 26.  John Ames from Springfield is here at

fathers came last night.  We have all been

to meeting  Mr Whitwell preached two

excellent sermons.  Went at intermission

into Mr John R Howards with Mother and several

others  The first time I have called since

they moved.  It has rained since eleven this

morning, quite hard.

For the first time since September 21, Evelina attended church; even the “hard” rain couldn’t keep her away. She surely was pleased to be back in the family pew, head tilted up to listen to Reverend Whitwell’s “excellent” sermons, happy to visit with friends and acquaintances at intermission. The opportunity to congregate at church was central to Evelina’s social life, and she was quick to catch up.  Her visit at intermission with John and Caroline Howard was her first visit to their new home.

A cousin from Springfield, John Ames, was visiting in the other part of the house. There were several relatives named John Ames with close ties to Old Oliver, including his father and a brother. This John Ames was, most likely, a nephew of Old Oliver, the son of Old Oliver’s much older brother David. His dates were 1800-1890. He was famous for certain inventions pertaining to the manufacture of paper and with a brother, also named David, ran the Ames Paper Company in Springfield. According to one 20th century historian, “[f]rom the outset the firm, which became known as D. and J. Ames, prospered wonderfully, making money rapidly and growing until it was one of the largest and most powerful in the country.”**

A life-long bachelor, John Ames lived with a sister, Mary, and the two managed the family farm well into their old age. Oliver Jr. writes of visiting them in Springfield in 1871. The families stayed in touch.Yet Old Oliver made no mention of his nephew’s visit.  Instead, in his journal, he noted only that “it was cloudy all day to day + raind some in the day time + in the evening + night ther was considerable.” He was more interested in the rain which, given the fact that rain meant more water and more water meant more power for the factory, was perhaps understandable.

Image courtesy Benjamin L. Clark, Massachusetts Book Trade

**Lyman Horace Weeks, The History of Paper-manufacturing in the United States, 1690-1916, New York, 1916, p. 125