March 20, 1852



from The Philosophy of Laughter and Smiling , 1877


March 20th Saturday  Have cut and basted a purple print

apron for Susan of a pattern that Lavinia

brought from Mary  Abby & Edwin & wife were

here to tea  Orinthia dressed in Franks clothes

and paraded around here awhile.  Send for Mrs

Witherell & Mrs S Ames to see her  We have had

a pretty lively time  Orinthia brought over

Edwin & wife.

The ladies laughed today.  After sewing for hours, breaking only for midday dinner, Evelina and her young friend Orinthia Foss laid down their needles to have tea. Orinthia got it into her head to put on nineteen-year-old Frank Morton Ames’s clothes “and paraded around.” She donned his shop pants, perhaps, and shop coat over one of his white muslin shirts. Evelina and her guests were so amused at the sight that they called in Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell to see the fun. Cross-dressing was a novelty for these women, and Orinthia’s daring act generated hilarity.

All things considered, these women were probably due for some laughter.  It was the first day of spring, and everyone had been pretty well cooped up for months, excepting the occasional trip into town. More recently, they had suffered through a major fire. Some innocent amusement was a good release.

Evelina’s favorite author, Charles Dickens, knew all about laughter: “It is a fair, even-handed adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”**

While the women amused themselves at home,  the best-selling novel of the 19th century was published in book form today, in Boston.  We’ll soon find Evelina reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


* Clockwise: “The Giggling Laugh, excited by Boisterous Fun and Nonsense.” “The Obstreperous Laugh, instigated by Practical Jokes or Extreme Absurdities.” “The Hearty Laugh of the Gentler Sex.” “The Stentorian Laugh of the Stronger Sex.” “The Superlative Laugh, or Highest Degree of Laughter.“ From The Philosophy of Laughter and Smiling, George Vesey, 1877. Courtesy New York Historical Society, courtesy of CABINET: The Art of Laughter, Issue 17, Spring 2005

**Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

March 13, 1852


                    Frank Bellew                            “Raising the Wind; or, Both Sides of the Story”*    


1852 March 13th  Saturday  Have been mending &

sewing on my waists  Have passed the afternoon

in the other part of the house with

Amelia  Mr Ames came to tea  There has been fifty or 

more carpenters to work on the shops the past week

and it has been pleasant weather.

Good weather was a boon to the rapid rebuilding of the shovel shops after the devastating fire of March 2d. Although she remained in the house sewing for much of the day, Evelina and her visiting sister-in-law, Amelia Gilmore, would have been able to hear the hammering and shouting from scores of carpenters hustling to rebuild O. Ames & Sons.

In New York City today, a political cartoon appeared in a weekly newspaper, The New York Lantern. The subject of the cartoon had to do with a request before Congress to augment funding for overseas mail delivery.  Two shipping lines, one American, one British, were competing for the mail trade. The American Collins Line, which was losing money, was subsidized by the U.S. Post Office; the British Cunard Line was also assisted by its own government and was way ahead; its faster, larger fleet was eating into the American market.

In the cartoon, figures representing the two lines faced off over toy ships in a tub. Cunard is represented by John Bull helping a small boy work a bellows. The Collins Line is represented by a small boy, cheeks puffed, blowing at the water by himself. Behind him stands an aloof, apparently disinterested “Uncle Sam.”

Today was Uncle Sam’s first appearance as an illustration. He had existed in name since about 1810, but on this day, a young cartoonist named Frank Bellew turned Uncle Sam into a recognizable American icon. Bellew, whose parents were English, worked his trade as an illustrator and cartoonist in New York City for publications such as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated, but eventually resettled in New Orleans. Charles Dickens knew his work and admired it: “Frank Bellew’s pencil is extraordinary. He probably originated more, of a purely comic nature, than all the rest of the artistic brethren put together.”**

Uncle Sam lives today, thanks to Frank Bellew. The Cunard Line is alive and well, too, now owned by The Carnival Corporation.  The Collins Line, however, ever faltering, failed to survive the Financial Panic of 1857 and went bankrupt the following year.


The New York Lantern, March 13, 1852, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

** Wikipedia, accessed March 6, 2015

February 29, 1852


Feb 29

1852 Sunday  It was quite windy and mother

was unable to attend meeting all day so

I staid at home with her this morning.

This afternoon have been with mother & Augusta

& mother returned home. Since meeting

have written a letter to cousin Harriet Ames

but feel rather doubtful about sending it

1852 happened to be a leap year, which, as most of us know, is so named because the addition of the extra day of February 29 causes days of the week, which normally advance by a single weekday from one year to the next, to “leap” ahead by two.

Leap year is known in more scientific circles as a bissextile or intercalary year. Charles Dickens knew that.  He also knew about a tradition that allowed ladies to propose marriage during Leap Year, a custom otherwise accorded to the male of the species. In 1840, when Queen Victoria announced her “intention” to marry Prince Albert , he commented – tongue-in-very-British-cheek – accordingly:

“That the present is Bissextile, or Leap Year, in which it is held and considered lawful for any lady to offer and submit proposals of marriage to any gentleman, and to enforce and insist upon acceptance of the same, under pain of a certain fine or penalty; to wit, one silk or satin dress of the first quality, to be chosen by the lady and paid (or owed) for, by the gentleman.

“That these and other horrors and dangers with which the said Bissextile, or Leap Year, threatens the gentlemen of England on every occasion of its periodical return, have been greatly aggravated and augmented by the terms of Her Majesty’s said Most Gracious communication, which have filled the heads of divers young ladies in this Realm with certain new ideas destructive to the peace of mankind, that never entered their imagination before.

“That a case has occurred in Camberwell, in which a young lady informed her Papa that ’she intended to ally herself in marriage’ with Mr. Smith of Stepney; and that another, and a very distressing case, has occurred at Tottenham, in which a young lady not only stated her intention of allying herself in marriage with her cousin John, but, taking violent possession of her said cousin, actually married him.

That similar outrages are of constant occurrence, not only in the capital and its neighbourhood, but throughout the kingdom, and that unless the excited female populace be speedily checked and restrained in their lawless proceedings, most deplorable results must ensue therefrom; among which may be anticipated a most alarming increase in the population of the country, with which no efforts of the agricultural or manufacturing interest can possibly keep pace…”

Evelina may have read Dickens’ playful screed on the dangers of Leap Year, probably without taking offense.  She had her own letter to write today to a cousin, one that seemed to trouble her.


* Charles Dickens, Sketches of Young Couples, courtesy of



February 7, 1852



Charles Dickens, ca. 1852

(1812 – 1870)


1852  Sat  Feb 7th  Orinthia Miss Burill Susan & self called this

morning on Mrs J Howard, Whitwell & E Howards

left Susan at Mr Howards, came home with Frank

from a sing this evening.  Abby Augusta & Helen were

here awhile this afternoon  Helen went out to Bridgewater

last night and came up with Mr & Mrs James Mitchell this

forenoon  Orinthia went home about five and this

evening we have been into Olivers.  Mr Mitchell returned at nine.


This was a non-stop sociable Saturday for Evelina; she, her daughter Susan, dear companion Orinthia Foss, and another young schoolteacher, Miss Burrell, made calls all morning long. In the afternoon, she entertained three of her nieces and in the evening, visited next door at Oliver Jr and Sarah Lothrop Ames’s house. Chat, chat, chat.

In the larger world of letters, Charles Dickens turned 40 years old today. Even at mid-career, he was known as “The Inimitable,” so great was his talent, so voracious his readers. Evelina loved his work and benefited from his prolificacy.

By this point in Dickens’ life, among the books he had already published were The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, various Christmas novellas including A Christmas Carol, Dombey and Son, and David Copperfield, which Evelina had read the previous year. At this time he was composing Bleak House which, like most of his novels, was published in serial form over many months. Its first episode would come out in March, 1852, and run through September, 1853.

Still waiting to be born were future classics such as Hard Times (which targeted Unitarianism, among other entities), Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend – and more. Dickens wrote articles, made speeches, toured, and even acted. He was a high-profile tour de force with a fertile imagination and a thirst for success. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who heard Dickens speak in Boston, compared the author’s ability to “a fearful locomotive to which he is bound and can never be free from it nor set to rest.”*

*Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted in Annie Field’s diary, 1868.





December 24, 1851


Christmas illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book, December 1851

Wednesday Dec 24th  This morning gave the sitting room stairs

bedroom &c a thorough sweeping and was about the 

house at work a greater part of the forenoon

knit on my hood when I seated myself at work

read some in Ladys Book which I have

commenced taking for another year.  Emily brung

me a linen collar that her mother made for a

Christmas present


Emily Witherell delivered a Christmas gift from her mother, Sarah Witherell, to her Aunt Evelina, a gesture that may have caught Evelina off guard.  In practice, the Ameses had not been in the habit of observing Christmas, finding this religious celebration too festive for their Puritan-derived tastes. Yet times were changing and, in future years, Evelina would become both a recipient and giver of Christmas presents.

Evelina’s transition from being suspicious of Christmas to celebrating it was stimulated by various factors, not the least of which was its promotion in her favorite magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, the same magazine whose subscription Evelina renewed today. The periodical recognized and encouraged the holiday’s appeal to its well-heeled readers, many of whom would have read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published less than a decade earlier. Unlike Unitarian (and one-time Congregationalist) Evelina, a growing number of Godey’s readers were less hide-bound to a doctrine devoid of celebration. The influx of Irish Catholics, who did honor the holiday, influenced some of this change, too.

While many in the nation made preparations for Christmas, a terrible fire at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., resulted in the destruction of nearly two-thirds of their holdings. Included in the loss was most of Thomas Jefferson’s original library.**



December 4, 1851


Dec 4th  Thursday.  Returned from Boston to night

Have got the greater part of the things

I wanted.  could not suit myself in all.

Mother spent yesterday with Augustus & to day

at Mr Torreys returned here this evening

Left Mr Orrs this morning did not dine there

it takes so much time  Julia is at home

It is three weeks [entry ends here]


After seeing her husband off on his business trip to New York, Evelina spent yesterday and today shopping in Boston. She seemed satisfied with her purchases, though she confessed that she “could not suit myself in all.” Was she buying cloth or ribbon or other fashion accessories, or decorative items for the refurbished parlor, or foodstuffs for the pantry? It was early December, a time in our own culture when we modern folks are apt to be out (or online) shopping for Christmas presents. Evelina may have been buying Christmas gifts for her family, although that is unlikely, as the Ameses barely recognized Christmas, let alone celebrated it.

Although public opinion in New England was changing, a poor opinion of Christmas prevailed among the Yankees of Evelina’s generation, and certainly of Old Oliver’s. It was based on a Puritan tradition that considered Christmas as “an emblem of popery.”  Yankees “were strongly influenced by the traditions of Calvinism and the routine of the established Congregational church, honoring a certain stoicism, hard work, and stern independence.”  Instead of Christmas, “Thanksgiving was the most important day of the year.”* That would change.

But Evelina must have caught the train back to Stoughton, or the stage home to Easton, empty-handed of the kind of Christmas plunder that her favorite author, Charles Dickens, so famously described.


*Jane Nylander, “Our Own Snug Fireside,” 1993, New Haven, p. 8


June 9, 1851



June 9th Mon,  Another cold stormy day  have a fire in the

furnace  Ann had gone & I made the fire

Jane has washed her clothes & put them out

in the suds to let the rain rinse them  I have 

worked about home all the forenoon.  Swept &

 dusted the parlour partially, and the front entry

Sitting room &c.  Was invited into Olivers this afternoon

Did not go untill after tea

Servant Jane McHanna borrowed the rain again this Monday and let it rinse the soapy clothes that she placed outdoors.  Evelina did housework most of the day and even had to start up the coal fire in the furnace, a task she neither enjoyed nor did well.  Ann Orel, the young Irish woman who worked for Sarah Witherell, usually did that job.

Being a “cold stormy day,” Evelina did no gardening.  She probably looked out the window at her flower beds and saw the rain pelt her tender young plantings.  She couldn’t have known that even as she gazed out at the bad weather, her favorite author, Charles Dickens, was giving a speech in front of the Gardeners Benevolent Institution in London on the topic of gardening.

“I feel an unbounded and delightful interest in all the purposes and associations of gardening,” he began. “Probably there is no feeling in the human mind stronger than the love of gardening.[…]at all times and in all ages gardens have been amongst the objects of the greatest interest to mankind.” The Gardeners Royal Benevolent Society, which began in 1839,  still exists in the UK today. It’s a charity dedicated to helping horticulturalists in need.

Evelina had no such resource to turn to, had she needed the help.


* Logo of the Gardeners Royal Benevolent Society 

February 8, 1851


Feb 8th Saturday  Worked about house all the forenoon

sweeping & dusting.  Swept & dusted the parlor

ready for the Sewing Circle.  Put the closets in order &c.

Have a very bad cold and this afternoon took a warm

bath in hopes that it would benefit me but it is much

worse for it.  Mr Ames has been to Boston to day

and brought me a case of Scissors a present from Mr

Benson & 19 spools of Coats cotton  Very cold

Oakes Ames made his usual business trip into Boston today and brought home scissors and thread for his sewing wife.  Nineteen spools of Coats cotton thread, in fact, all of which Evelina could probably use, being an excellent and dedicated needlewoman. It’s just possible, though, that those nineteen spools of thread were intended for the Sewing Circle, whose next meeting was being held at the Ames house.

J & P Coats cotton thread was originally manufactured in Scotland, but the company began selling their merchandise in the United States around 1830, meaning that Evelina had spent most of her married life with Coats thread in her needle.  In the middle of the 20th century, the company merged with Clarks Thread to become Coats & Clarks and today, under the name of Coats PLC, is still a viable manufacturer.

Despite feeling under the weather, Evelina cleaned house this morning.  Their home being right on a busy road near the center of the village, dust and dirt from the street was apt to float into the house, or be brought in on the soles of family feet, even in the winter.  Sweeping and dusting were repeated tasks and even as Evelina wielded her broom across the floor, she probably knew she’d have to do it again before the Sewing Circle ladies gathered in her parlor.  She was determined to have the house look presentable.

After her morning of chores and an un-therapeutic bath, Evelina may have sat down to read the last bit of David Copperfield.  Given its length – and her various obligations – she had moved quickly through the book.  Like countless other Americans, she was a devoted reader of the novels of Charles Dickens, whose own personal favorite was reputed to be David Copperfield.  Ten years or so from this day, in a diary that has since been lost, Evelina confessed to shirking her housework in order to read Dicken’s “newest book” (probably Great Expectations. ) She loved his work.

February 2, 1851


Sunday Feb 2d  It snowed very hard this morning but we

all went to meeting to hear Mr Brigham of Taunton

He gave us two very good sermons  he is very quick in his motions

& very independent in his manner  Mother went to meeting & home.

Since meeting have been reading in David Copperfield

Sarah A & Helen came in and stoped an hour or two.

This evening have hurt my foot quite badly by letting a

flatiron fall on it  It has cleared of[f] quite pleasant.

Snowy weather didn’t prevent attendance at meeting, and the Ames family stayed for both morning and afternoon service.  A visiting minister, Reverend C. H. Brigham, replaced Reverend Whitwell in the pulpit.  Mr. Whitwell, meanwhile, presumably officiated in Taunton.  This kind of swap was accomplished every month or so when ministers in the area switched places.  A Congregational practice that had been in place for years, the swap gave ministers the test of different congregations while, with fresh voice, it reiterated church dogma among a broad population.  Both congregations and ministers benefited however “quick in his motions” a visiting parson might be.

After church, Evelina’s brother Alson Gilmore carried their mother, Hannah, back to the farm in southeastern Easton.  Evelina had a little more time to herself, which she spent with Charles Dickens, at least until her sister-in-law Sarah Ames and daughter Helen stopped by.  Evelina has been reading David Copperfield – an 800 page book – for a week now.  But somehow in the course of the afternoon or evening – perhaps getting prepared for laundry day tomorrow? – Evelina dropped a flatiron on her foot.  Ow.  That took her out of commission for the rest of the day, perhaps allowing even more reading.

January 25, 1851

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield


Jan 25 Saturday.  Have been sweeping and dusting the house and 

have done a little of everything and not much of anything.  Have got

the chambers in pretty good order for once in my life.  Have

mended Mr Ames coat & vest.  Took the time when he was 

from home because he has but one suit beside his go to meeting

poor man!  Called at Mr Torreys just at night.  This eve

have been mending & have had no time to read.  Commenced

reading David Copperfield.  Mr Ames at Boston.  Very warm & fine

Evelina could be critical of others, but she was most critical of herself.  Her self-deprecation often took a humorous tone, as in having done “a little of everything and not much of anything.”  She really tried to get things organized at home today, tackling perhaps one of her biggest challenges: keeping her husband Oakes in decent clothes.

Family lore would have it that Evelina was miserly, lore that is reinforced by Reverend William Chaffin.  Chaffin blamed Evelina for Oakes’ shabby “pantaloons,” believing that Evelina  “being economical kept them well mended instead of encouraging him to buy new ones.”  Yet Chaffin also acknowledged Oakes’s indifference to outfit, telling us that while on a trip into Boston with a friend, Reuben Meader, Oakes responded to Meader’s suggestion that he should wear better clothes by saying: “Oh, I can wear poor clothes if I want to, but some men can’t.”

Oakes spent money on gifts; he was well-known and well-liked for his charitable instincts.  However, unlike his brother, Oliver Jr., who shopped for bespoke outfits in Boston, Oakes didn’t spend a dime on his apparel; he simply didn’t care, so  Chaffin was unjustified to blame Oakes’s appearance on Evelina.  She tried to keep him mended, and we know that she was willing to spend money on clothes; certainly she kept the dressmakers in Easton occupied.  But she must have met resistance if and when she tried to improve her husband’s wardrobe.

Today’s hard work had a reward: opening the pages of David Copperfield, the newest book by Charles Dickens.