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

September 10, 1851

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Wednes Sept 10th  Cousin Harriet spent the forenoon with

us & dined here.  I cut some shirts this

forenoon for Mr Ames, carried two to be made

at the sewing circle.  Met at John R

Howards this afternoon quite a number

there.  Carried mother down and she went 

home with Henrietta.  Mrs Stevens went into

Olivers with H. Mitchell

 

The monthly Sewing Circle, a gathering of women from the Unitarian congregation, met at the home of Caroline Howard, wife of John R. Howard, a book agent who lived near the geographic center of Easton.  Half a year had gone by since Evelina had had her turn hosting the group, back on February 12, when bad weather – and bad feelings, perhaps – prevented anyone from attending. By this time, she seemed to have forgotten that embarrassment and forgiven the friends who had failed to show up.

There was plenty of attendance at today’s meeting, however, including Evelina’s mother, Hannah Gilmore and sister-in-law, Henrietta Gilmore. The Ames sisters-in-law, both named Sarah, probably were there as well. All the women, as the saying went, set great store by these regular gatherings. Did they dress up for the meetings? They might well have, knowing that their fellow females would recognize and appreciate good sewing and fine material better than the men at home were likely to.

The only other regular gathering where women might pay particular attention to their attire would be church, where one’s “Sunday best,” was expected. Surely the Ames women were susceptible to this practice, even if one of the Ames men – Oakes – was not. Yet Evelina, for all the sewing she did, rarely described what she wore on any given day. Did she save her best outfits for Sewing Circle, or church, or both?