August 14, 1852



Dr. Henry Jacob Bigelow

(1818 – 1890)

Aug 14th

1852 Saturday  Oakes A went to see Dr Bigelow

He agrees with Dr Swan that the blood

comes from the lungs and that he must leave the

shop and be very quiet.  Returned from

Boston to night.  Mrs Stevens came here in

the Cars  Mrs Witherell A L Ames & Mrs

S Ames called

Oakes Angier saw a doctor in Boston today about his bad cough and bloody sputum.  He went to a Dr. Bigelow, who could have been either of two well-regarded medical men: Jacob Bigelow or his son, Henry Jacob Bigelow. The son, only a decade older than Oakes Angier himself, was a Harvard grad who was becoming famous for his role in introducing ether into the operating room. Without the modern diagnostic equipment to which we 21st century readers have become accustomed, Dr. Bigelow was nonetheless able to give an informed opinion about Oakes Angier’s pulmonary condition. If the doctor used the word “consumption,” Evelina didn’t write it down.

The illness was serious and Oakes Angier was ordered to ” leave the shop and be very quiet.” Rest and fresh air, in other words, were the treatment. If diagnostic ability was limited, treatments were even more so. Oakes Angier would have to go away and rest and hope for the best.

Back in Easton, the women of the family gathered in the sitting room or parlor to hear what the Boston physician had said, and perhaps to take a look at Evelina’s new bonnet. We can imagine that each member had a notion of what should happen next: where Oakes Angier should go, how he might travel, and what needed to be done to get him ready. In all likelihood, however, the decision on what to do would be decided by Oakes Angier’s father.


August 11, 1852


Aug 11 Wednesday  Was intending to go to Boston

with Oakes Angier to day but last night he had another

attack of bleeding  Dr Swan came and ordered

medicine every two hours  I waited upon him

and of course did not sleep much  He appeared

pretty well this morning and walked to the 

shop  Passed the afternoon with Mrs Dorr

and others at Father Ames

A scary night at the Ames home. Oakes Angier had “another attack of bleeding,” one that was bad enough to call out Dr. Swan. For several weeks now, the Ames’s eldest son had been hacking and periodically coughing up blood; in the night, he did it again. Yet by morning Oakes Angier had recovered enough to go to work, and his mother, Evelina, was obligated to move through her day on very little sleep. She spent most of the afternoon sitting down in the other part of the house.

Serious illness may attack one person, but it impacts everyone around that person. Oakes Angier, the eldest son, had a difficult physical challenge in front of him, but others, too, had to find an acceptable path through these dark nights and troubling possibilities. Evelina, the mother, certainly had a frightening prospect to deal with and, as primary care-giver, an exhausting role to play.

What might be the medicine that Dr. Swan ordered for Oakes Angier? Laudanum? Any thoughts, readers?


May 9, 1852



Sunday May 9th  Our own family all went to meeting

& Oliver  George is much worse and we fear

will never be any better is very much out of his

head  Helen is quite sick with her face

had the Dr  Went into Mrs John Howards

at noon & carried her some flower seeds.

Mr & Mrs Swain made a long call this afternoon 

after they left I went to sit with George to assist

Sarah  They are laying a wet sheet once an hour


George Witherell was getting sicker and sicker. Perhaps to lower his temperature and reduce the involuntary spasms in his limbs and face, his family and physician were “laying a wet sheet once an hour.” They wrapped his body in a cold, wet sheet, and covered him with wool blankets to make him sweat. Everyone was trying to bring down his fever, soothe his nervous system and help him sleep. It was a desperate measure, but in the absence of effective medicines, it was the only option.

A wet-sheet wrap is a form of hydrotherapy, a controversial treatment meant to quiet a violent or agitated person. Opponents of this form of hydrotherapy feel that it’s been misused in certain psychiatric institutions, some patients attesting to being tied up for ten to twelve hours in icy sheets, an application that seems more punitive than restorative. Yet others in the medical profession, such as alternative care-givers in our modern age, tout wet-sheets – if applied properly – as a healthful therapy that induces sleep and calms the nervous system. Its effectiveness seems tied to the intention of the person applying the therapy and the nature of the illness of the person being wrapped.

Helen Angier Ames next door was also “quite sick.”  No wet sheets for her, but she was having her swollen face attended to. It sounds as if she might have had a bad abscess, also a dangerous condition in the era before antibiotics. Dr. Swan, if it was he who was attending the Ameses, was being kept busy.  His little gig would have been pulling up to the Ames compound at all hours of the day and night. Few in the family were getting any rest.  Evelina left the house briefly, to take some flower seeds to Caroline Howard, but returned home to help her sister-in-law.



March 30, 1852



March 30th  Tuesday  Spent the forenoon puttering about

the house doing nothing at all.  Have been to

carry Orinthia to Mrs John Howards.  Mrs S Ames

went with us and we called at Mrs Reed, Whitwell

J. Howard  Mrs Merrill and Mrs Hills  Mrs Ames

stoped here to tea and spent the evening.  Louisa

Swan was at home and Ann Johnson.  Augusta called

Hannah called for a moment this forenoon

Apparently, there was no sewing today; perhaps Evelina’s fingers were sore from working the heavy moreen fabric the day before. She hardly seemed to mind “doing nothing at all,” however, and gave the afternoon over entirely to calling, an occupation she enjoyed. She, her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames, and guest Orinthia Foss called on Caroline Howard, Abigail Reed, Eliza Whitwell, Mrs. Merrill and Mrs. Hills. They may have called on some younger fellow Unitarians, too: Louisa Swan (daughter of Dr. Caleb Swan) and Ann Johnson.

Calling was an essential component of social life in the 19th century, as we’ve noted before.  Some women thrived on it, others only tolerated it, but just about every woman exercised the obligation to call on their friends and neighbors, as due. In Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, “Little Women,” an entire chapter is devoted to two of the March sisters, Amy and Jo, making calls. Amy enjoyed them, but had to persuade Jo to join her:

“Now put on all your best things, and I’ll tell you how to behave at each place, so that you will make a good impression.  I want people to like you, and they would if you’d only try to be a little more agreeable. Do your hair the pretty way, and put the pink rose in your bonnet; its becoming, and you look too sober in your plain suit.  Take your light kids and the embroidered handkerchief. […]

“Jo […] sighed as she rustled into her new organdie, frowned darkly as she tied her bonnet strings in an irreproachable bow, wrestled viciously with pins as she put on her collar, wrinkled up her features generally as she shook the handkerchief, whose embroidery was as irritating to her nose as the present mission was to her feelings; and when she had squeezed her hands into tight gloves with two buttons and a tassel, as the last touch of elegance, she turned to Amy with an imbecile expression of countenance, saying meekly, –

“‘I’m perfectly miserable; but if you consider me presentable, I die happy.'”*

*Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

February 21, 1852


Angelina Grimke (1805-1879)


Feb 21st Sat  Spent all the forenoon mending Mr Ames

shopcoat.  Cut Susan a pink long sleeve apron and

Orinthia sewed on it  Have finished Mr Ames another

dickey which makes seven that I have made lately

This afternoon carr[i]ed Mrs Solomon Lothrop &

Orinthia to mothers.  Orinthia stopt at a sing at

the Schoolhouse near Doct Swans  Frank went and

brought her back.  Mrs S Ames called this evening to 

settle and paid me 1,70 cts which makes us even

Normal wintertime activities went on under a sky that Old Oliver described as “fair in the fornoon + cloudy afternoon + much warmer.”*  Evelina mended, sewed and socialized with her friend and former boarder, Orinthia Foss; she also settled accounts with her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames. Per usual, Oakes Ames went into Boston.

It was in Boston, in fact, on this date fourteen years earlier that for the first time ever in the United States, a woman addressed a legislative body. On February 21, 1838, abolitionist Angelina Grimke presented the Massachusetts Legislature with an anti-slavery petition signed by 20,000 Massachusetts women. In a speech that was lauded by abolitionists, deplored by traditionalists and parsed by all, she not only called for the abolition of slavery, but declared the right of women to act politically. “We are citizens of this republic and as such our honor, happiness, and well-being are bound up in its politics, government and laws.”**

Daughter of a southern slave-holder, Angelina (known as “Nina” in her family) and her older sister, Sarah Grimke, also an active abolitionist, faced predictable opposition as they transgressed convention. Angelina’s speeches in Boston and elsewhere drew taunts, outrage, disbelief, and disrespect. The Congregational clergy of Massachusetts condescended together one Sunday and, across pulpits, accused Grimke of jeopardizing “the female character with widespread and permanent injury.” Others – men and women – were impressed. One member of the audience at the statehouse said, “Angelina Grimke’s serene, commanding eloquence [she spoke for two hours] enchained attention, disarmed prejudice and carried her hearers with her.”**

How might the Ames clan have reacted?


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





January 2, 1852




Jan 2d Friday  Seated myself quite early this morning to work

on Susans hood & finished item about ten Oclock

then ripped my old blue hood and washed the

lining & turned the outside have got it nearly done

We all went into the other part of the house to tea

Mr & Mrs Oliver & Helen there  Frank has a sore

ankle as [sic] does not go to the shop  Dr Swan called there

to see Helen & left Jane some medicine

The family gathered for tea today in “the other part of the house,” meaning that Evelina, Oakes, and their children, Oakes Angier, Frank and Susan went into the southern half of the shared house where Old Oliver and his widowed daughter, Sarah Witherell, lived with her two children, George and Emily. Joining them was the family next door: Oliver Ames, Jr, his wife Sarah and their daughter, Helen Angier Ames, who made an appearance despite being home from school with a cold. Other than missing Oliver (3) and Frederick Lothrop, the sons who were off at college, the group was a normal configuration for a gathering at the homestead.

Evelina’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, would one day describe such a family gathering from less than a decade later, by which time daughters-in-law and grandchildren had arrived:

“Supper, always called Tea, at seven, was the sociable occasion. It usually consisted of cold meats, hot biscuits, preserves and cakes – an easy menu to expand for unexpected guests.  Every week at least, and usually oftener, one household would invite the others and their visitors to tea; and the whole Ames family might assemble, even infant children being brought along and tucked into bed upstairs.  Fifteen or twenty was not at all an unusual gathering.”*

The family was as tightly-knit as any of Evelina’s knitted worsted hoods.

One other note about today’s entry: Dr. Swan left some medicine off for Jane McHanna, the servant, who had been ailing for much of the fall and winter. What did she suffer from?

* Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, privately printed, 1937, p.128


November 26, 1851

Rolling pin

Wedns Nov 26th  Have heat the brick oven three times

to day  Made Squash mince & apple pies

fruit & plain cake & seed cakes  did not

get the last oven in untill about four Oclock

Jane has assisted some about the work  Dr Swan

came to see her says she must exercise but

must not work hard  Oliver came home in the stage

The kitchen was humming today. Evelina baked pies and cakes to feed her family, now back at the full complement of six at table, as Oliver (3) arrived home from college for the holiday. She baked pies and maybe some side dishes to take to the other part of the house, where they would have Thanksgiving dinner the next day with Old Oliver, Sarah Witherell, and Sarah’s children, George and Emily. Jane McHanna “assisted some,” but was still sick enough to have a visit from the doctor – this time, the Ames’s personal physician, Caleb Swan.

In 1851, Thanksgiving was not yet a national holiday. That would happen in 1863, after lobbying by the indefatigable Sarah Josepha Hale convinced Abraham Lincoln to make an institution of a feast that was already celebrated in many – but not all – states. Although the country was suffering from the shock and carnage of a civil war, Lincoln saw good in the idea of a day of gratitude for “fruitful fields and healthful skies”** and, by Executive Order, proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national Day of Thanksgiving, in perpetuity.

The tradition of Thanksgiving evolved from the Puritan practice of holding days of thanksgiving or fasting, according to immediate need. The Puritans were inclined to see God’s influence in every part of their daily lives. When they were good, God would reward them. When they were bad, He would punish them. Depending on how things were going, their ministers were either making sure to thank God or beg for help. In the 17th century, a local congregation could call for a day of thanksgiving or a day of fasting on its own. As time went on, the practice became more formal and by the 19th century, governors, at least in New England, would call for a day of fasting in the spring (before the planting) and a day of thanksgiving in the autumn (after the harvest). In 1851, this was still how it was done.

Toward the end of the 19th century, as immigration began to influence and de-homogenize American culture, some of the old guard became concerned. Like many an established group, its members wanted to preserve their culture and honor traditions such as Thanksgiving.  The fourth Thursday in November became more than just a feast of gratitude with family members. It became a post-Civil War symbol of America’s beginning, an annual celebration that would help new immigrants understand how the country was first settled by white Europeans. Teaching about the holiday in schools became a priority and thus, for more than a century, an account of a first Thanksgiving feast between the Pilgrims and the Indians has become an indelible, if occasionally controversial, feature of American history.

For Evelina and her family, Thanksgiving was the most important holiday of the year. They would celebrate it with Yankee gusto, which generally meant a gathering of family and a fine feast followed by a game of cards for the old folks and perhaps a dance for the young people.

* A wealth of information about Thanksgiving can be found in “Thanksgiving: A Biography” by James W. Baker, New Hampshire, 2009. 

** Abraham Lincoln, A Proclamation, October 3, 1863

October 7, 1851


Tuesday Oct 7th  Have been at work on the dark french

print  This forenoon swept the chambers and put Franks

chamber in order that he left.  Carried my work

into the other part of the house while  My humour

troubles me so that I can scarcely sit still.  Was quite 

sick awhile this evening  We have had very cold

weather for the season for a number of days


Whatever powdered medicine Dr. Swan gave Evelina on Sunday wasn’t working. Her “humour” troubled her all day and she was especially ill in the evening. Her nettlerash made her uncomfortable and sick. With some asperity, she noted the recent “very cold weather,” which wouldn’t have helped her frame of mind.  It’s interesting to note that her father-in-law, Old Oliver described this very same day as “a fair warm day wind northerly part of the day + southerly part of the day.” It’s likely that Evelina’s perception was colored by her overwhelming personal discomfort.

Does any reader think Evelina that might be suffering from shingles?

Nonetheless, she kept busy.  She swept the house and tidied up after her youngest son, Frank. She sat down to sew, though must have found it difficult to concentrate when her skin itched and burned.  She went into the other part of the house, where Miss Susan Orr, an elderly friend (or relative?) from Bridgewater was visiting. No doubt she sought conversation to take her mind off of her own troubles. Perhaps she wished her nephew, George Oliver Witherell, a happy birthday. He turned 14 on this date.


October 6, 1851



Monday Oct 6th  Went down to Dr Swans before 7 or 8 Oclock

so that I might find him at home and he has given

me some powders  When I came back found the

dishes washed and put away  Jane has been remarkable

smart  I have finished my striped french print

and have worn it this afternoon  Mr Brown

commenced school again to day  Passed the evening

at Mr Holmes with Susan


Evelina sought help today from Dr. Caleb Swan, who gave her “some powders” for her nettlerash. She would have mixed a dosage with water and swallowed it.  What was the actual medicine that she ingested? Did it contain the laudanum that was often dispensed to women in that era? Whatever it was, it seemed to make Evelina feel a bit better.

Jane McHanna, the Ames’s servant, washed the breakfast dishes for Evelina while she was at the doctor’s. Jane usually did the cooking and Evelina typically did the washing up, but in this case Jane must have recognized how sick Evelina was.  Evelina was grateful for the assistance and praised Jane for being “remarkable smart.”

The day progressed well afterwards. Little Susie returned to school where Eratus Brown was her teacher. Did she miss her old teacher, Orinthia Foss? Evelina sewed and finished making a “striped french print” dress. Stripes were in fashion that fall, as the illustration above from Godey’s Lady’s Book shows. The illustration also shows that distortion of the female figure for advertising purposes was every bit as popular in 1851 as it is in 2014. The length of the woman’s legs in the drawing is improbable, unless she is standing on stilts under that full skirt. Look at her tiny foot sticking out from the hem!

Evelina even felt well enough to go out in the evening with her daughter.  They went over to the Holmes’s where they probably visited with Harriet Holmes, the neighbor who had been so ill earlier in the summer. The Holmeses had a daughter, Mary, who was about Susie’s age.


Fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, September 1851

September 17, 1851




Wednesday Sept 17th  Mrs Stevens left for Boston

this morning & sorry I am to have her go

Miss Eddy dined with Mrs Mitchell &

took tea at Olivers  I went in to tea but

went in but a few moments before as I have

been very busy all day.  Made about a dozen

Lbs of peach preserve & some grape jelly

Ruth Swan married to night Oakes A & Mrs H Mitchell

gone to the wedding

The Great Railroad and Steamship Jubilee kicked off in Boston today with the arrival of President Millard Fillmore and other dignitaries from the United States and Canada, all ready to express mutual congratulations over the new railroad and steamboat connection between their countries.

Evelina knew about the events in Boston but stayed focused on domestic responsibilities in North Easton. From fruit she had recently obtained, she made preserves and jelly, a day-long task that kept her “very busy”.

In the evening, her son Oakes Angier Ames and sister-in-law Harriett Ames Mitchell went to the wedding of Ruth Barrell Swan and Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont.  Ruth, a daughter of Dr. Caleb Swan and his first, late wife, was 28 years old and, in the culture of the day, was marrying late. Independent of the affection she must have felt for him, she may also have thought that he was worth the wait. Three years later, Justin Morrill was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served until 1867, when he became a U.S. Senator. He served the state of Vermont until his death in 1898. A founder of the Republican party, he was a leader in establishing the land-grant colleges with his Morrill Land Grant bill in 1862. That same year, he authored the Anti-Polygamy Act which was aimed at the Church of the Latter Day Saints. He was clearly a one-woman man, and that woman was from Easton.

Ruth Ballard Swan of Easton who married Justin Smith Morrill.