November 1, 1852

Rain

Monday Nov 1st  Went to Boston for Mrs Swain

to purchase mourning  Dined at Mr Orrs

Julia left there this morning  Miss Alger

came home with me  It is very bad walking

in Boston and my clothes covered with

mud rained all the forenoon  Mrs

S Ames & Helen here this evening

 

Even on a somber errand, Evelina never seemed to mind going into Boston. Still, given her recent lack of sleep and the rainy weather, she was kind to take on this sad business. Her goal was “to purchase mourning” clothes for her young friend, Ann Swain. Mrs. Swain had just lost her one-year old son and, as per the mores of the day, needed proper black apparel to mark her loss. If she followed convention, she would dress in mourning clothes for one whole year. She could ask advice from Sarah Witherell if she needed, for Sarah would still have been dressing in black or gray from the death of her own son back in the spring.

Different from her usual extended shopping trip into the city, Evelina went in and came out all in the same day, stopping only long enough to take supper with family friends, the Orrs. Surely the bad weather hurried her along on her errand. Evelina is emphatic about the misery wrought by the rain she endured while shopping, her outfit “covered with mud.”  Back home in Easton, her father-in-law Old Oliver was, as usual, less ruffled about the precipitation: “it raind some last night + has bin misty all day. wind north east.”* We should presume that more rain hit Boston than North Easton.

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

October 31, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

 

Sunday Oct 31st  Mr Swains child died at 20 minutes

past five this morning  Mrs Witherell

and self passed the night there & laid

him out  Mrs Witherell came home & I 

staid untill about four  Mrs S Ames

& Helen were here awhile this evening

and the rest of the time I read Ravenscliffe

John Howland Swain, Jr., aged one year and 14 days, died at dawn this morning. Cause of death was listed as Teething. What did that mean? He was dehydrated? He had a fever? An infection? Whatever it was, it was too much for the little boy – and for the medical treatments of the day.

In the 19th century, infant death was common, but its ubiquity made it no less easy for parents to bear. Sylvia D. Hoffert, a 20th century historian, has studied the subject. She writes:

“The number of children that couples were likely to bear was beginning to decline in the early nineteenth century. This factor combined with the cult of motherhood, which demanded that women invest considerable time, effort, and affection in their children and measured their contribution to society by their success in fulfilling their maternal obligations, made the death of an infant a particularly tragic occurrence. […] Although […parents] placed great value on their babies’ lives and did what they could to protect them, they were well aware that children commonly died in infancy and that there was little they could really do to ensure the survival of infants. They used the loss of infants as an occasion for demonstrating their willingness to submit to the will of God and found comfort in the belief that their children had gone to join him in heaven. For them, the death of an infant was a private, family matter.”*

The Ames women supported Ann and John Swain as they dealt with the loss of their firstborn son. Both Evelina and Sarah Witherell had themselves buried children of their own, and could comprehend the sorrow inflicted. While Evelina deals with the little boy’s death matter-of-factly, even escaping into her reading later in the day, she had to have been sad for the young Swain couple. She knew.

*Sylvia D. Hoffert, Private Matters, 1989, University of Illinois,  pp. 169-170

September 19, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

 

Sunday 19th Sept  Have been to meeting as usual, rode

home at noon alone with Alson  Rode in

our new carriage for the first time & like it

very well  Mr Dawes & Miss M J Alger called

since meeting  Augusta is more unwell again

and is in great pain and sick to her stomach

Edwin came in after me and I have been there

since Mr Dawes went away

The new carriage took various Ameses to church this morning, and the ride went “very well.” Was it Oakes’s horse Kate who pulled the reins? Evelina herself came home at noon with her brother; perhaps they had something about their mother to attend to. Perhaps Evelina was preparing for company later in the day, or was tending to serious matters in the village.

Hannah Savage, a neighbor, died today after months of illness. Surely, those who knew her were grateful that she was finally out of her misery. Her slow decline from tuberculosis had taxed not only her body and soul, but the goodwill and resources of her family and friends. Consumption was truly a wasting disease.

There was more illness nearby. Augusta Pool Gilmore still hadn’t gotten the best of a gastrointestinal disorder that had kept her in bed for almost three weeks, and today she had a serious relapse. She was in her second trimester of pregnancy, too, which had to have everyone worried. As soon as Evelina said goodbye to her guests, she hurried over to tend to poor Augusta.

August 25, 1852

Letter

Wednesday Aug 25th  We were invited to dine again at

Mrs Mills to day.  Fred & Helen called at Mrs

Stetsons and we went home with them to Mrs

Mills. Afternoon went to Mrs Footes had a 

large & pleasant party and quite a treat

In the evening they acted charades and

we had a merry time  Oakes A bears

the excitement pretty well  Received a letter from 

home saying that Willie Gilmore died last Friday

Evelina heard from the folks at home today and found out that her great-nephew had died. This news was unfortunate, but perhaps not entirely a surprise.  She had been concerned about the little boy before she left on her trip; infant mortality was high in those days. Despite the bad news, surely Evelina was glad from her family, even if the tidings were sad.  We can pretty well assume that she had not been so far from home before, and she may have been missing her family and friends. Who wrote her, do you suppose? Her husband? Her nephew? One of her nieces? Oliver (3) or Frank Morton? Or perhaps Sarah Witherell wrote, knowing that Evelina would want to know about little Willie.

Evelina probably learned of other Easton goings-on as well. Even the weather would have been a topic of some interest. Old Oliver was, as ever, keeping an eye on the sky and tracking rainfall. As she opened her letter, he might have been making note that on this Wednesday, it “was cloudy most of the day + one small shower.”*

A game of charades filled the evening – fun for all including Oakes Angier, who seemed to be feeling well.

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

August 20, 1852

1024px-1879_CV_map_only

Map of the Central Vermont Railroad, circa 1879

1852

Friday Aug 20th  Left Bellows Falls at 1/2 past 7 and

arrived at Burlington about two. Went

to Mrs Stetsons found the house shut up

At the house opposite they told us she had

gone to Mrs Mills and went there and had

some dinner and all went to Mrs Stetsons to

tea  Mrs S Ames Fred & Helen stopt at Pittsford

Willie Gilmore died this afternoon

Evelina would not learn of it for several days, but her young great-nephew, William Lincoln Gilmore, died today of dysentery. (She added the information later.) Barely a year old, Willie had been ill for several weeks, and Evelina had visited his parents, Augustus and Hannah Gilmore, a few times before she left North Easton. His death was sad news.

Not knowing about it, however, and full of her own worry for her own son, Evelina was open to the journey she and other family members were on. By way of the Vermont Central Railroad, presumably, she, Oakes Angier, and Almira Ames traveled another 100+ miles today from Bellows Falls to Burlington, Vermont, while Sarah Lothrop Ames and her two children, Fred and Helen, got off at Pittsford. Although the map in the illustration above dates from 1879, the line itself was first developed in the 1840’s.

Burlington was Oakes Angier’s destination, the place where he would stay for several weeks to rest and, it was hoped, recuperate from his pulmonary illness. The threesome spent the night with Mrs. Stetson, a friend of the family.

May 16, 1852

lclapp-1

1852

Sunday 16th May Mr Whitwell preached a funeral sermon

and very good  At noon mother Henrietta

and self spent at Mr Whitwells  After meeting

Mr Ames Susan & I rode to Mr Clapps made

quite a long call  he has but a very few 

flowers in blossom, pansys were very pretty

Have engaged a trellis of him

The last formal recognition of the death of fourteen year old George Witherell took place in the Unitarian church this Sunday when the minister “preached a funeral sermon.”  Different from the ritual text that probably defined the graveside service just three days earlier, the sermon was presumably a collection of thoughts about death in general and the death of the young man in particular.  Reverend Whitwell knew the family well and, being an articulate and thoughtful wordsmith, must have offered the family some personal comfort and consolation.

Evelina appeared to be recovering her strength. With her husband and daughter, she rode to Stoughton after church to visit Lucius Clapp, where they made “quite a long call.” Evelina discussed flowers and a trellis. Was this trellis ordered in place of the one at the front door that was being built only ten days earlier?  Or was this a new trellis entirely, designed perhaps for the garden?  Was this the year of the trellis?

One imagines that Oakes Ames offered less direction about the trellis than his wife.  What he might have preferred to discuss with Lucius Clapp was their shared interest in the Whig party, or their mutual respect for temperance.  According to one nineteenth century historian, Mr. Clapp was a “kind-hearted”* man with a “modest and retiring nature.”* His politics were informed and liberal:

Formerly a Whig, Mr. Clapp has been identified with the most progressive political creeds. He was one of the original Free Soilers, and chairman of the first Free-Soil meeting held in Stoughton. Since its organization he has supported the Republican party. He has been [a] member of school committees several years, and selectman of Stoughton seven years, and now (1883) holds that position. He has always been pronounced in advocacy of temperance, and has been connected with every movement for the betterment and advancement of his native town. He is an attendant and supporter of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”*

Mr. Clapp and Mr. Ames would have had much to talk over.

 

*D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, 1884, pp. 424-425

May 11, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

Tuesday May 11th  George died this morning about eleven

Has not spoken so that we could understand

since yesterday noon.  died at last very easy

without a struggle or groan.  Mrs S Ames & self

laid him out,  His mother has slept but about

two hours for two days and nights. Have trimmed

my straw bonnet. Miss Copeland sewed it over  Spent

about two hours in Olivers this afternoon.  Helen has a 

blister on her arm  The gardener set out some rose plants.

Prairie Rose Baltimore bell and Fraxinella sent

from Boston

George Oliver Witherell, aged fourteen, died on this day from rheumatic fever.  He had been suffering for many days, but “died at the last very easy.”  His Aunt Evelina had been with him for much of the illness, spelling his exhausted mother, Sarah Ames Witherell. She and her other sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames (who had her own sick child at home), laid out the corpse.

The family must have expected George’s death by this stage of his illness; certainly the attending physician had already predicted it. But anticipation is not the same as actuality, and the death of the young man would have hit everyone hard. Evelina dwelt in her diary on George’s last few minutes, but then added a few mundane notes about her summer bonnet, her niece Helen’s continued battle with an unnamed infection, and some new additions to the flower garden. She might have wished to move on to less painful concerns.

George’s grandfather, Old Oliver, noted his grandson’s death succinctly: “George Witherell dyed to day about eleven O clock.” Oliver rarely included personal items in his daily record; that he wrote of George’s death is a sign of regard, however minimal we might consider it. His grief would have been real.

Of Sarah Ames Witherell’s feelings, we’re told nothing, and must imagine her utter exhaustion and complete sorrow.