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 5, 1851


Feb 5th Wednesday  This forenoon made a head dress trimmed

with cherry colour, ribbon & flowers.  Cannot say

much for my days work.  Have been doing a little

of everything & not much of any.  Jane has done

part of the ironing  Oakes Angier has been to Canton

to mark Iron  have been reading in David Copperfield

this evening.  I have been looking over my accounts

It is very warm for the season but cloudy

A ho-hum day for Evelina, warm but gray, and she still partly sidelined by a sore foot.  Small wonder that she chose a colorful project for the morning: trimming a head-dress, more commonly referred to as a bonnet.  She used red ribbons and fabricated flowers and although she deprecated her own handiwork, the task must have been a nice change of occupation.

In the 19th century, no lady’s outfit was complete without a bonnet; it played the accessorizing role that shoes and purses play today in women’s fashion.  Given that a woman’s form was covered from neck to toe by a voluminous dress or cloak, the bonnet was an inevitable point of interest atop the whole outfit.  Not only did it stand out like the star on a Christmas tree, it also served to cover hair that was seldom washed.  It rarely kept a head warm, however – that’s what cloaks with hoods were for.

Most women had at least two bonnets, one for winter and one for summer.  Winter bonnets were made of wool, silk or even horsehair, while bonnets for warm weather were typically made of straw or “chip,”  a fine wood splint.  As the 19th century progressed, the transition from winter to summer bonnet solidified around Easter, thus introducing the notion of the Easter bonnet and competition for the prettiest headdress on that important Sunday.

In other news of the day, Oakes Angier Ames rode to Canton on shovel business to “mark Iron.”  Does this mean he looked through a supply of smelted ingots to select the best for the Ames shovels? Anyone out there care to elaborate on what Oakes Angier did?  Was the Kinsley Iron Company the forge that he visited?  Certainly probable.

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 27, 1851


Jan 27th Monday.  As usual this morning have been washing dishes

and working about house all the forenoon.  could not sit

with mother at all.  It was cloudy and looked like rain

but Jane ventured to put her clothes out to night  They

are nearly dry.  This afternoon & evening have finished

Susans gingham apron.  Sarah W came in awhile this

evening and the boys have been reading.  After school

Susan went to see Mary Ann Randall.  Cloudy

Another Monday, meaning that Evelina did the housework while Jane McHanna tackled the laundry.  Evelina was too busy “choring,” as she often called it, to sit down in the morning and sew or read with her mother, Hannah Gilmore, who was visiting for the week.  The women sewed together in the afternoon, however, after the midday meal, and in the evening, they enjoyed a visit from Sarah Witherell.  Oakes was most likely over in the office; he and his brother Oliver Jr. often worked there in the evenings after tea.

The boys were around, of course.  The shovel factory closed at 6 P. M. whereupon Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton walked home. There were no dances on a Monday night, so after tea, they amused themselves by reading.  All three boys read, yet Oliver (3) was reckoned to be the most scholarly.  Even as a child he enjoyed reading and, with Oakes Angier, began to collect books. Years later, a colleague would say of Oliver that “in the company of books he found an absorbing pleasure.”*

On this winter night, everyone indulged in the papers or books, reading by the light of various oil lamps.  Evelina was no doubt eagerly turning the pages of David Copperfield, perhaps reading aloud to her mother whose aging eyesight may have precluded the pastime.  Hannah Gilmore loved to read.   In fact, she had named Evelina after the heroine of a book popular in her youth: Evelina; Or the History of a Young Lady’s  Entrance into the World.  This comic novel by British author Fanny Burney came out in 1778, and continued to find an appreciative audience in both Britain and America.   Evelina had probably read it at some point, if only to see how Evelina Anville captivated Lord Orville.

*Memorial Volume for Governor Oliver Ames, ca. 1896

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.