July 14, 1852



High water (flood level) mark in canal in Lowell, Massachusetts


Wedns July 14th  Julia came again this morning

but we have not got along very fast

on my dress  Have no trimming for the

sleeves have written for Mrs Stevens to

get me some   There is a great deal to

do to finish my dress  Hannah & Mary 

have both been ironing all day and 

have it all done

Evelina was indoors, sewing a new dress with the help of dressmaker Julia Mahoney. Old Oliver was out haying, “jawing” orders at local men gathering up this year’s meager crop. Oakes Angier, Frank Morton and probably Oliver (3), now that he was home from college, were each posted in some area of the factory, making shovels alongside the workers. Oakes and Oliver Jr. were supervising, perhaps striding around the shovel complex watching the new building go up or sitting in the office looking at accounts.

If we modern readers want to find a day that typifies life in North Easton in the middle of the 19th century, we couldn’t do better than this ordinary summer day in 1852. In other years and in other places, July 14th has hosted more momentous events: the storming of the Bastille, the first ascent of the Matterhorn, the shooting of Billy the Kid, the day Jane Goodall arrived in Tanzania to study chimpanzees. Nonesuch in North Easton; according to Old Oliver’s record, July 14, 1852 was simply a “warm good hay”* day. Routine ruled.

This is not to say that history wasn’t happening. It was. Yet as Evelina noted, “we have not got along very fast,” a phrase that is applicable to so much of history. Change often quietly accumulates, transforming what we know in a stealthy fashion. Evelina’s hand-sewing, Old Oliver’s oxen-driven hay-wagons, Oakes’ and Oliver Jr.’s water-powered shovel machinery: all have since disappeared, replaced by modern equipment invented over time. The life that the Ameses lived was already altering, irrevocably, bit by bit.

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



June 16, 1852


Calamanco fabric

June 16th Wednesday  The hottest day we have had

Julia has been here again to day have

finished Susans brilliant dress and cut

my muslin & purple cambric print and altered

the waist to green gingham and now they are

to finish  when will they be done  Mother has

gone to Augustus.  Catharine Middleton came

about nine or ten to sew for me

gentleman from New York to dine


The mercury rose to 96 degrees, and the women stayed inside out of the heat.  Even out of direct sunlight, however, the indoor air had to be stifling, so the women are to be admired for working with layers of fabric in their laps as they sewed. The ladies weren’t nearly as warm, however, as the men outside on the building lot, moving stones, or the men making shovels inside the factory. Everyone baked.

A new servant, Catherine Middleton, arrived to help with the sewing and, as she had been for the past few days, dressmaker Julia Mahoney was present to help Evelina. The women worked on several projects, including a “brilliant” dress for young Susie Ames. Brilliant was a pretty, shiny cloth, recognizable for its glazed and, often, patterned surface. It was a fabric that had been especially popular in the 18th century, but still had its admirers in the 19th.

Known by other names, including calamanco, the cloth originated in Norwich, England,  a center for textiles. Its origins make us wonder if the cloth Evelina was using had been made locally, in Lowell, Mass., say, or Rhode Island, or had been imported.



April 17, 1852



April 17  Saturday  Julia was at work here a year ago to day

has improved very much in dress making since then

I have my black silk nearly finished.  The Delaine

all done except the sleeves & buttons, am waiting

to go to Boston to get the trimmings.  This afternoon 

have been altering some old dresses for Susan

Hannah called to get me to go up by the school

house and select a place for a house for them

Mrs Witherell went with me  A beautiful pleasant day

Sewing continued today, with Julia Mahoney again on hand to assist with Evelina’s new dresses, one of black silk, the other of a light wool they called delaine. The finished projects would have to wait for trimmings to be fetched from Boston. Evelina meanwhile refashioned some old dresses for her daughter, for “[e]very season there was a great remaking of old garments to bring them up to date.”*

The bad weather of the past two days disappeared and was replaced by fair skies. Despite continued cold temperatures, Evelina was finally drawn outside on a fun errand. Invited by her niece, Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, and accompanied by her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell, she went to the local school house to look at some property that her nephew, Alson Augustus Gilmore, and Hannah, his wife, were considering.  They had been renting rooms from Col. John Torrey, but now were planning to build a house.

Everyone in North Easton lately seemed to be wielding a hammer. It was spring.


*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, p. 127



December 23, 1851



Tuesday Dec 23  Julia has been here to day to make Susans cotton

& wool Delaine  I have not sewed much with her

was choring about the house most all the forenoon

painted over some boxes for Mr Scott to grain.  made

the skirt & cuffs to Susans dress then went to knitting

on my hood which I commenced last evening.  Julia

cut and made and gathered the skirt and basted 

it on to the waist, the sleeves are not made


Old Oliver’s wintry weather report for this day suggests a scene worthy of Currier & Ives:”[T]his was a cloudy day + a verry little fine snow. wind north west it cleard of[f] about sunsett. what snow fell to day + last night was 1 ½ inch.” The countryside was covered with snow, appropriate enough for the first full day of winter.  And winter was a season much illustrated by the 19th century printmakers, Nathaniel Currier and James Ives.  Working out of New York, the firm produced enormously popular hand-colored lithographs of mostly American scenes. Currier began the prints in 1835 and was joined by Ives, who had been the firm’s bookkeeper, in 1856. The men soon developed a stable of artists and produced prints through the rest of the 19th century and into the early 20th. Evelina would have been familiar with Currier & Ives images, in the same way that many mid-20th century Americans were familiar with the illustrations of Norman Rockwell. The images were everywhere.

Many, if not most, Currier & Ives prints were scenes of the outdoors. On this day at the Ames’s, however, the action was all indoors, as the women chored, painted, sewed and knitted. Dressmaker Julia Mahoney was at the house to sew a wool dress for nine-year-old Susan Ames. That a child Susie’s age was having a dress made by a “professional” rather than her own mother was certainly a sign of the Ames’s wealth. Helen Ames, Susie’s fifteen-year-old cousin next door, often had her dresses made by Julia. Evelina was keeping up with her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, in providing the best for her daughter.


October 11, 1851




Sat Oct 11th  Baked in the brick oven  brown bread cake & seed

cakes Squash & apple pies  Miss S. Orr, Mrs Witherell

and her children here to tea  Helen came home last

night and Julia is at Olivers making her silk dress.

Mrs Elizabeth Lothrop is there assisting them.  I have

mended Mr Ames a vest and made the skirt

to Susans striped Delaine dress


Today many baked goods came out of the brick oven that Sarah Witherell and Evelina shared. It was getting to be pie season, so Evelina made squash and apple pies, along with more usual fare like brown bread and cake. Special on the menu was seed cake, something that Evelina hasn’t mentioned baking before.  She probably used caraway seeds from some roots she “set out” last April.

Next door Helen Angier Ames, briefly home from boarding school, met with the family’s favorite dressmaker, Julia Mahoney. Only fourteen, Helen was having a silk dress made; perhaps it was a party dress she might use in Boston. Helping Helen and her mother, Sarah Lothrop Ames, was Sarah’s young sister-in-law, Elizabeth Howard Lothrop. Only 22-years-old, Elizabeth was the mother of two very young sons and the recent widow of Sarah’s brother Clinton.

Old Oliver had to be pleased with life at this particular time. Only the day before, “Mr Phillips finisht his work at the great pond,” meaning that the new flume at Great Pond was in place. This was a good achievement for the shovel business which relied on water power to run the factory. Old Oliver was still active in the business he had started and passed on to his sons, yet never took his eye off of the family farm, either. Today he “bought 12 pigs that weighd 1330 pound at 6 ½ cents a lb average weight 112 pounds – cost $86:45.” He would raise those pigs, eventually selling some and slaughtering others to feed his large family. The factory and the farm continued to engage Old Oliver as he grew old.