December 19, 1851

Coal

Dec 19th Friday  After breakfast went to making

my citron made quite a long job of it nearly two before it

was all done had about 14 or 15 lbs  The coal

affected Jane so much that she nearly fainted 

and had to go to bed & I had to get dinner

After I got through with the citron I put

the things back into the store room from the

shed chamber & put it in order  Spent eve at Olivers

Coal was the fuel of choice at the Ames compound, but it had some negative aspects (beyond its environmental impact, a more modern concern.) Dust and smoke from burning coal was noxious, its particulates containing toxins like lead, mercury and arsenic.  Yet much of America was turning to coal for fuel to support the growth of manufacturing and the expanding rail traffic, and to replace the use of wood in homes.

While working in the kitchen making candied citron, Jane McHanna was overcome by the coal smoke and smell.  She went to bed to recover, leaving Evelina at the stove to finish up and make dinner. No doubt Evelina was concerned for the health of her servant, but no doubt she was somewhat peeved to be doing Jane’s job again.

Citron, meanwhile, was the fruit of choice for fruitcake.  Not as familiar to us nowadays as it was in 1850, it was cooked and candied and used for special baking.  Both Evelina and Jane would have known how to cook it down.

 

July 1, 1851

P1010044-4

*

Tues July 1st  Worked in the garden a long while

this forenoon weeding & transplanting.

This afternoon trimmed Susan a straw and

horsehair bonnet that I purchased at Boston

Sat  Asa & Charles Mitchell came to 

the other part of the house this morning

Charles left this afternoon  I have not seen

Asa as yet

The wound on Evelina’s finger and thumb seemed better today; she spent most of her morning in the flower garden and, after dinner, trimmed a new bonnet for her daughter, Susan.  Straw bonnets were worn in the summer, naturally, and horsehair was a reinforcing fabric that could be used year round. Evelina had to be an expert by now on using horsehair, so adding ribbon or cloth flowers to it would be pretty easy for her, even with a sore hand.

Old Oliver, who seldom took note of the comings and goings of his children or his in-laws, reported in his journal that “Asa Mitchell came here to day from Sharon Pennsylvania.”  Asa was the husband of his youngest daughter, Harriett, who had been staying in Easton and Bridgewater by herself with her three children since the middle of April.  Asa worked in coal, an occupation that seemed to lead him – and his family – around western Pennsylvania and northern Ohio.

Evelina took note of Asa’s arrival; her curiosity was almost palpable as she awaited her turn to see him.  He and his brother Charles visited with Old Oliver and Sarah Witherell first thing.  What did they discuss?

* Horsehair and straw bonnet, modern construction from 1860s design; blog.historicalfashions.com, June 12, 2010, “Couture Historique” by Lindsey Slaugh

February 27, 1851

Coal scuttle

1851

Feb 27 Thursday  Cannot say much for my work to day

Orinthia cleaned the sitting room for me while I

was making the fire in the furnace.  had a good 

deal of trouble with it  Augustus made quite a

long call this morning talking over matters & things

Have finished putting in the bosom & wris[t]bands to 

the old shirt that I commenced Tuesday & mended one

for Mr Ames

It sounds as if Evelina’s normal routine was challenged today.  First, she had to struggle with the coal furnace, or stove, probably stoking it and trying to make it catch and hold.   She was certainly familiar with “making” fires, but coal was not her strong suit.  She had spent most of her life burning wood, and she didn’t manage the new furnace well.

Second, her nephew Augustus came to call in the morning at a time of day when she was likely to still be working about the house.  He was full of conversation about “matters & things,” probably filling her in on his move to Easton,  his decision to leave teaching, and his hopes for the new boot and shoe factory he was setting up in the Lothrop Building. Evelina, fond aunt that she was, was no doubt interested in what Augustus had to relate, but the housewife in her was perhaps worried about not getting through her choring or not finishing the last of the ironing or not getting to the necessary mending while Augustus made his long visit.  Happily, Orinthia Foss was around to help with some of the basic sweeping and dusting.

In the afternoon, her housewifely pace seemed to settle down and she was able to pick up her sewing.  She reworked an old shirt belonging to her husband, replacing the most worn areas with new pieces.  A shirt that today we might throw out or put into the rag bag, she saved.  No wonder Reverend Chaffin accused her of being “very economical.”  She was, with no apologies.  No apologies from her husband, either.