November 11, 1852

alcott_lou

Louisa May Alcott

(1832 – 1888)

Thursday Nov 11th

Ann & Catharine has cleaned the shed chamber

and sitting room chamber & I have been 

putting draws & closets in order.

Mr Ames & self at Olivers to tea  Mr &

Mrs Swain & Mrs Meader there

Commenced Susan an Angola yarn stocking

 

For Evelina, this was a productive day. Her servants, Ann Shinkwin and Catharine Murphy, cleaned the shed and the sitting room, while she herself reorganized “draws & closets”. She must have felt quite satisfied having put two key rooms in order. Come evening, she and her husband went next door to tea where they visited not only with the Oliver Ameses, but also with Ann and John Swain and Ann’s mother, Sarah Bliss Meader. Mrs. Meader was from Nantucket; she must have been visiting in the wake of the death of little John Swain.

For Louisa May Alcott, a 19th century author who should need no introduction, this was an important day. Some literary sources have it that Miss Alcott, using the name “Flora Fairfield,” published her first story, The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome, on this exact date, when the author was barely twenty years old. However, closer examination suggests that The Rival Painters first appeared back on May 8 in The Olive Branch, a periodical published in Boston from 1836 through 1857.  A second story, easily confused with the first, was The Rival Prima Donnas, which was published on this date in 1854 in The Saturday Evening Gazette, earning the author five dollars.

Regardless of the scholastic disagreement over the first appearance in print of Louisa May Alcott, we can imagine that Evelina was exposed to her writing at various times from this year onward. Surely Evelina read other short stories and novels by this increasingly famous author. If she developed an affection for the author’s work, Evelina would have read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys and been as familiar with the triumphs and travails of the March family as devoted readers still are 160 years later.

*A fine resource for readers wanting to know more about Louisa May Alcott is “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” by Harriet Reisen, New York, 2009.

 

 

November 10, 1852

Jar

Wedns Nov 10th Catharine […]

& Ann have both been ironing

all day and have got it all done  I have not

done a great deal but fuss round the

house  Have covered my jelly &c with

brandy paper  Alson called and brought 

a [illegible] to exchange  Abby spent

the evening  Miss Alger has given her 10th

lesson dined here

Evelina continued to be a bit cross today. Yesterday she was tired of cooking preserves, today she covered those jelly jars with brandy paper and continued to resent having to “fuss round the house.”At least the servant girls finished the ironing – that was a point of satisfaction. Perhaps Evelina was reacting to the shorter days and lower sunlight, although Old Oliver reported that on this particular day, the weather was “verry pleasant”* throughout the afternoon.

Miss Alger the piano teacher came to give Susie Ames and Emily Witherell their piano lessons, and stayed to dinner. Evelina doesn’t say how her daughter did, which may be a sign that Susie was finally getting the hang the instrument.  No doubt Miss Alger was doing her best to teach Susie and Emily, but she was getting paid and fed – often. For Evelina to be spending the money and effort and to have her daughter not succeed was simply not acceptable. Susie had to learn.

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

November 9, 1852

Peasant_Spreading_Manure_1854_55

Jean Francois Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure, 1854-1855**

Tuesday Nov 9th  Have been to work all day again

with my quinces have made over a bushel

into marmalade jelly &c  I am tired & sick

of quince and I dont believe I shall

ever make so much again  Catharine

has sewed but very little.

Fed up with cooking, Evelina seems to have lost her temper in the kitchen. Since late summer she had boiled one pot or another of peaches, apples, barberries, and now quince. She had had enough, “tired and sick” of too much time stirring something on the stove. It’s unclear why she didn’t let the servant Catharine do the stirring and she do the sewing, but so it was.

Besides putting up preserves, other preparations for winter were underway. Old Oliver noted that “we began to git out oure manure to day.”* This means that the stalls in the barn and the leavings in the barnyard were being mucked out and carted off.  The manure was collected to go onto the fields and garden plots. It was either piled up for later or placed around immediately to help nourish the soil for the next growing season. This was a regular fall task in agrarian societies all over the world; witness the illustration above of a mid-19th century French peasant spreading manure on a field.

Even more important than these domestic efforts, however, was the news that the men had “started the enjoin”* at the shovel shop. A new manufacturing era had begun. No longer would water power be the only source of energy for the production of shovels.

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

**Collection of North Carolina Museum of Art

October 19, 1852

 

Gentiana-crinita-Fringed-Gentian-plant

Fringed gentian (Gentiana Crinita)

Oct 19th Tuesday  Have been sewing on Susans

fall de Laine that I bought last summer

and it appears to me that it will never

be finished  I get along so slowly on it

Ann has ironed the coloured clothes

Catharine sewing

“[P]ritty fair,”* today was. Evelina spent much of the day – more time than she wished, in fact – working on a dress for her daughter Susan. The material was delaine, a light wool that should have been easy to sew, but for some reason Evelina was going along “so slowly” that she just couldn’t see the end of it. Perhaps she wished she could be outdoors, instead. Her servant Catharine Murphy was also sewing, most likely on a project that Evelina would have assigned her to do. Evelina occasionally gave material to her girls to sew their own aprons or simple dresses with.

Another diarist, not far away, definitely preferred to be outdoors. In Concord, Henry David Thoreau went for a walk and found the very last flowers of the season:

“I see the dandelion blossoms in the path. The buds of the skunk-cabbage already show themselves in the meadow […] I found the fringed gentian now somewhat stale and touched by frost […] It may have been in bloom a month. It has been cut off by the mower, and apparently has put out in consequence a mass of short branches full of flowers. This may make it later. I doubt if I can find one naturally grown. At this hour the blossoms are tightly rolled and twisted, and I see that the bees have gnawed round holes in their sides to come at the nectar. They have found them, though I had not. “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen” by man. An hour ago I doubted if fringed gentians were in Concord now, but, having found these, they as it were surrender […] It is too remarkable a flower not to be sought out and admired each year, however rare. It is one of the errands of the walker, as well as of the bees, for it yields him a more celestial nectar still. It is a very singular and agreeable surprise to come upon this conspicuous and handsome and withal blue flower at this season, when flowers have passed out of our minds and memories; the latest of all to begin to bloom, unless it be the witch-hazel, when, excepting the latter, flowers are reduced to the small Spartan cohort, hardy, but the most part unobserved, which linger till the snow buries them, and those interesting reappearing flowers which, though fair and fresh and tender, hardly delude us with the prospect of a new spring, and which we pass by indifferent, as if they only bloomed to die. Vide Bryant’s verses on the Fringed Gentian. […] It is remarkable how tightly the gentians roll and twist up at night, as if that were their constant state. Probably those bees were working late that found it necessary to perforate the flower.”**

Much as Evelina enjoyed flowers, we might doubt that she would have been as eloquent about seeing the late-blooming gentian in the meadow as Thoreau.

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

*Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1852, courtesy of http://hdt.typepad.com/henrys_blog/2010/10/october-19-1852.html

October 18, 1852

apples-easy-stewed-lrg

 

Monday Oct 18th  Ann Shinkwin commenced working

for wages this day, and she does very well

got the washing out with Catharines help

quite early not much past ten. This afternoon

she has been putting some apples to stew

I have been puttering about house and 

sewing some but my work does not amount

to much any way.

The new servant, Ann, was going right to work. She and Catharine Murphy did the laundry, of course, it being Monday. The two women then presumably cooked and served the midday meal, and did the washing up, while Evelina was “puttering about the house.” In the afternoon, Ann began to pare and slice apples to cook.

Evelina says that Ann was going to stew the apples, which sounds like a sensible way to process some of the surfeit of apples that she clearly had on hand. Sarah Josepha Hale, ever ready to advise women on sensible practices in the kitchen, offers the following recipe for stewing fruit:

The best way to stew any kind of fruit is to put the quantity you wish to cook into a wide-mouthed jar, with enough brown sugar to sweeten it; then cover the jar close, set it in a kettle of cold water, and boil it till the fruit is tender. This preserves the flavor of the fruit.

Evelina or her servant may have followed their own recipe for cooking sliced apples. But there’s no question that along with applesauce, apple butter, dried apples and apple pies, stewed apples was one more way that the nineteenth century housewife could serve fruit to her family now and over the winter and spring.

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 91

 

 

October 11, 1852

factory-steam-engine

Early factory steam engine

Monday Oct 11th  Catharine Middleton & Murphy washed

and I sat down quite early to my sewing

with Mother & Louisa  Mended stockings

This afternoon we spent at Augustus

Mother & Louisa are going to spend the 

night  Mr Torrey & Abby were there

Mr Ames & Oakes A went to West B

I have been sewing on the skirt of Susans

fall Delaine

This was a typical Monday as far as domestic matters were concerned. In the morning, the women washed clothes and mended stockings. In the afternoon, they went calling on relatives in the village. But it was a red-letter day at the shovel shop, as men arrived to install the a steam engine – the first – at the factory.

Old Oliver seemed excited: “this was a fair good day for the season the man came here to sett up the enjoin four of them.” The company’s first steam engine was placed in the new Long Shop by the Corliss Nightingale Company of Providence. It was a technological change that Oliver had resisted in the past, but had since come to accept. His son, Horatio, in particular, had urged the change for several years in order “to counter water supply limitations”* In January, 1847 he had written his father and his brother, Oliver Jr., on the topic.

To Old Oliver:

I shall think a steam engine […] of sufficient power to carry 3 hammers and carry all your polishing works shearing and punching and Bisbees works […] would be cheaper and better […] It is too bad that you do not keep nearer supplying the market with shovels when a comparatively small expense would do it in addition to your other works.”*

To Oliver Jr.:

I enclose you with […the] price and terms for a steam engine. It will do you no hurt to compare cost of this and water power. it will take about one ton of coal a day to drive it and the repairs will be no more than a water power if as much[…] You never need fail for water either too much or too little […] I am altogether in favor of this plan over water power in your situation.”*

Horatio was right, as it turned out. The new engine was the beginning of modernization for O. Ames and Sons.

Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2002, p. 251.  Text of Horatio Ames correspondence from Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

October 7, 1852

elm-yellows

 

Oct 7th Thursday  Have been cutting out some shirts

for bosoms.  Catharine Murphy has made

four window curtains for my front chamber

Mrs Witherell Mrs S Ames & self passed the

afternoon & evening at Mr Swains  Mr Ames 

came to tea and Oliver rode down after us and 

stopt awhile Mr & Mrs Meader are there &

Ellen Meader  Augustus wife went to Boston

 

There was quite a bit of socializing today, prompted in part by good weather. “[T]he 7th was a fair pleasant day + verry warm,” noted Old Oliver Ames. Henry David Thoreau, some 40 miles to Oliver’s north, was more discursive about the sunshine:

I sit on Poplar Hill. It is a warm Indian-summerish afternoon. The sun comes out of clouds, and lights up and warms the whole scene. It is perfect autumn. I see a hundred smokes arising through the yellow elm-tops in the village, where the villagers are preparing for tea. It is the mellowing year. The sunshine harmonizes with the imbrowned and fiery foliage.**

The elm trees such as the ones that Thoreau mentions would also have been seen by Old Oliver. In fact, they would have been seen across the state and beyond. Once upon a time, American Elms were ubiquitous in the United States.They were tall trees with a wine-glass profile and a graceful green canopy. In the 20th century, however, most of them were wiped out by Dutch Elm disease. The existence of “Elm Streets” in communities around the country attests to the fact that elms were once as common as maples or pines. As Thoreau suggests, many a small town lived under their shade.

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

**Henry David Thoreau, Journal, courtesy of http://hdt.typepad.com/henrys_blog

 

 

October 4, 1852

searchsearch                                             weal_03_img0569

                       Roger B. Taney                                                                   Benjamin Robbins Curtis                

(1777 – 1864)                                                                       (1809 – 1874)

Oct 4th Monday  Catharine Middleton & C Murphy washed

Mrs Norris and all of us dined with Mrs Witherell

and staid there untill about four and then

Mrs Norris and self went to Augustus’ to tea and

passed the evening  Mrs Lincoln is there

intends spending the winter  I do but very

little sewing have made a pr of plain cambric sleeves to day

 

 

It was the first Monday in October which in North Easton meant another washday. At the Ames compound, the Irish servant girls, Catharine Middleton and Catharine Murphy, tied their aprons on, filled the wash tubs and went to work. The slight rain did not interfere.

In Washington D.C., on this first Monday in October, nine white male justices put on their black robes and also went to work. A new session of the U.S. Supreme Court got underway. Led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland, the 1852-1853 term would deal with, among others, the case of Cooley vs. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia. That decision would confirm the right of states to regulate commerce within their own boundaries. We might imagine that this decision had an impact on businesses such as the shovel works that shipped merchandise.

Taney and three other members of the court – John McLean of Ohio (the longest-serving), James Moor Wayne of Georgia, and John Catron of Tennessee – had been appointed by Andrew Jackson in the 1830’s. Two other justices, John McKinley of Alabama and Peter Vivian Daniel of Virginia, had been appointed by Martin Van Buren and had served almost as long. Newer to the bench were Samuel Nelson of New York, appointed by John Tyler in 1845, and Benjamin Robbins Curtis of Massachusetts, appointed by Millard Fillmore the previous year, 1851.

Associate Justice Curtis was the first and only Whig ever to serve on the Supreme Court. A graduate of Harvard, he was also the first justice to have a formal law degree. The justices up until that time had either “read law” as apprentices or attended law school without getting their degree.  Curtis would further distinguish himself in 1857 when the Taney Court handed down the infamous Dred Scott decision that determined that a black man had no rights of citizenship. Curtis and John McLean dissented from that majority decision, with Curtis so upset that he resigned from the court. He is the only justice to date to resign from the Supreme Court on a matter of principle.

 

 

July 31, 1852

images

Women making potash soap, circa 1900*

1852 July 31st  Saturday  Have made two barrels

of potash soap and have had very good luck  This 

afternoon have been mending  Catharine Murphy came

this afternoon to sew for me and Im sure I hope she

will be worth something for it  Mary has been to work

on her own dress this afternoon   Susan &

self have been to Augustus this evening

and staid until ten  He is getting quite smart

This was a full Saturday for Evelina. She made a large batch of soap and was quite pleased with the result. Soap-making is an art, and Evelina was good at it. She knew enough about it, indeed, to be grateful for her own success. Of course, she could have purchased soap in the city or, perhaps, even in the Ames’s general store, but the farm girl in her resisted spending money on something she could make herself.

Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, devotes a whole page of her slim volume to making soap. “In the country,” she states unequivocally, “I am certain, it is good economy to make one’s own soap.” She offers various measures of ingredients: “To make a barrel of soap, it will require about five or six bushels of ashes, with at least four quarts of unslacked stone lime,” after which “[t]hree pounds of grease should be put into a pailful of lye.”** The trick to making soap depended on the sequence in which the ingredients were mixed, and at what temperature. It was a backyard chemistry experiment.

After the hard work of soap-making, in which Evelina was no doubt assisted by a servant, and an afternoon of mending, Evelina and her daughter Susan went to see her nephew. Augustus had fallen quite ill two weeks earlier with fever, but was now on the mend.

 

Image courtesy of http://www.wildernessarena.com

** Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, 1841