December 29, 1852

Emma-Snodgrass1

Emma Snodgrass 

 

Wednesday Dec 29th  Julia here to day & cut the

waist to Susans raw silk & partly cut the

waist to my 12 1/2 cts Delaine  My family

& Fathers all dined to Olivers  Mr & Mrs

Whitwell called.  We were all invited to 

Mr Swains this afternoon  I did not go untill

past five Oclock  Mr Ames & Oliver Jr came

there to tea

 

In North Easton, Evelina and her dressmaker, Julia Mahoney, spent the day cutting up cloth for some new dresses – probably one of Evelina’s favorite tasks. Evelina also entertained a visit from Rev. Whitwell and his wife, Eliza. She ended up staying indoors for most of the day, only venturing out after dark for tea at the home of John and Ann Swain.

In Boston on this day, a very different woman on a very different path ended up getting herself arrested, and not for the first time. The petite young perpetrator was Emma Snodgrass, a native of New York City. According to newspaper accounts of the day, her crime was “donning the breeches.” She was dressed in pants and a frock coat, trying to pass herself off as a man.

Her alias was George Green, and she was earning her living, at least for a time, as a sales clerk at John Simmons & Co., a clothier in the city. Newspapers as far away as California seized on the novelty of this aberrant behavior, and published various accounts of Miss Snodgrass’s conduct. What sources they might have used for their stories goes uncited, but nonetheless they delighted in reciting such tidbits as: “Snodgrass used to circulate in all the drinking houses, made several violent attempts to talk ‘horse’ and do other things for which ‘fast boys’ are noted.”*

The shock that Emma Snodgrass’s behavior generated in 1852 demonstrates how times have changed. In 2015, we might see Snodgrass’s cross-dressing as suggestive of what we now call gender identity disorder. Then, it was more likely understood as willful rebellion against the strict division of the roles of the sexes. Snodgrass and others – and there were others – had an impossible time being taken seriously. Many people probably believed that Emma Snodgrass’s parents hadn’t raised her properly.

What did Evelina think?

 

*New York Daily Times, November 30, 1852

 

December 25, 1852

Godeys

Sat Dec 25th Christmas. Have had to do the

housework and have had a busy time of it

Henrietta called in for an hour or two

and then Miss Alger came and was here

to dinner  Alson & wife & Edwin & wife here

to tea.  The girls came in the stage

My feet trouble me so much that I can

scarcely go about house  Sent Mrs Whitwell a delaine dress

 

Christmas Day was pretty much a non-event at the Ames compound. Like last year, the household followed a fairly normal routine. Old Oliver grumped about the poor weather and “bad carting.”* At Evelina’s, the servants were in Canton, at church presumably, with family and friends. They returned via stagecoach late in the day. Before they came back, Eveline “had a busy time” with the meals and cleaning, balancing the latter with a social call from her sister-in-law Henrietta Williams Gilmore. She also must have facilitated another piano lesson – the 19th one – for her daughter Susan and niece Emily. The indefatigable Miss M. J. Alger arrived to teach and stayed for dinner.

Outside of puritanical New England, the celebration of Christmas was on the ascendant. Periodicals like Godey’s and Gleason’s referred to the holiday with poems, stories, and illustrations. Families and friends exchanged gifts, although with much less commercial goading than today. And the following Christmas, 1853, President-elect Franklin Pierce would put up the first-ever Christmas tree in the White House.**

For all their disinterest in what they saw as a Catholic holiday, members of the Ames family did show small signs of acknowledging the occasion. Here and there, they exchanged gifts; we saw it last year and see it again. Evelina made a gift to the minister’s wife, Eliza Whitwell, of a wool dress. As the years would go by and the generation of Fred, Oakes Angier and the others gained primacy, Christmas would come to resemble the holiday that we know, replete with gifts and church pageants and family dinners – but not while Old Oliver was alive.

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

**Credit for the first Christmas tree at the White House is disputed by historians. Some say Benjamin Harrison was the first president to put one up, in the late 1880s.

 

December 12, 1852

 

NYC1852

New York City, 1852

Sunday Dec 12th  We have all been to meeting OAA

came home at noon  Mrs Witherell & self

called to see Mrs Whitwell who was not

well and not out to church  Mother

& Lavinia went home  Mr Ames

& self called to Mr Swains & Augustus

OAA has decided to leave here for NY Tuesday

 

This was Oakes Angier’s last Sunday at church before departing. We might imagine that he was approached by well-wishers at the intermission, or else he escaped the crowd by heading home before they could gather. He might have avoided the afternoon service for that reason, or for fear of having to cough.

Oakes Angier would be sailing from New York City on Wednesday and, cutting it close, decided to depart for the city on Tuesday. There was no time to lose in making last minute arrangements. After church, Evelina and Oakes called on John Swain and Alson Augustus Gilmore, two of Oakes’s most trusted employees.  Did they assist in arranging for passage, or procuring letters of introduction for Oakes Angier? We must remember that none of the travel arrangements could have been quickly accomplished in this age before the telephone and the internet. Such plans were made in person, on foot or horseback. It’s not out of line to think that Oakes and his son had help; it’s possibly why Augustus had gone with Oakes Angier into Boston on Friday, to finalize paperwork necessary for the journey.

Evelina, despite her worries, was able to get out of herself enough to pay a call on Eliza Whitwell, the minister’s wife, who was “not well.” Sarah Witherell went with her.

 

November 29, 1852

il_570xN.860424141_hg5d

Monday Nov 29  I was intending to go to Boston to day

but as the weather was rather unfavorable

early this morning did not but it has been

a beautiful day.  Father has six hogs killed

and we have one.  Rode down to Mr Whitwells

to see her cloak and get the pattern.  Malvina

has come to spend the night with Susan

Mr Ames has presented me with a pr of Silver butter

knives  it is 25 years to day since we were married

 

Evelina and Oakes Ames celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on this date. They had been married on Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1827.  During the first part of the 19th century, Thanksgiving was a common time for couples to marry, as family members were already gathered for the annual feast, and a qualified leisure prevailed since most agrarian obligations were set aside for the winter. There was time to celebrate.

Oakes and Evelina’s wedding would have been a simple one, at home, not unlike one described by an English couple who happened to attend a nuptial ceremony in western Massachusetts in 1827:

“They found a company of kin and neighbors crowded into a farmhouse parlor, some perched on benches, others sitting on chairs ‘as if they were pinned to the wall.’ The bride and groom, with their bridesmaid and groomsman, sat facing the minister, who pulled up ‘a chair before him, on the back of which he leant.’ He then motioned for the company to rise, joined the couple’s hands together and led them through a brief exchange of vows. Most American couples were wed by a clergyman at the home of the bride, in such informal ceremonies of republican simplicity.”*

Oakes was the first of his brothers, and Evelina the last of her sisters, to marry. The couple moved right into the Ames family home, one-half of which had been remodeled to accommodate the newlyweds. Twenty-five years later, they were still in that homestead, as well as four-children-and-many-dollars richer, richer enough for the old groom to buy the old bride a pair of silver butter knives.

Evelina had intended to go into Boston, but couldn’t. Instead, she had to content herself with riding down to see the minister’s wife, Eliza Whitwell, to borrow a pattern for a cloak. Earlier, she had seen a cloak that her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, had bought and she wanted one, too. She would make her own, however, rather than order something bespoke from Boston.

Evelina also notes that her father-in-law has butchered some hogs, yet Old Oliver himself mentions nothing about it – at least on this date in his journal. He does say that he killed six hogs three days later, December 2. It’s possible that Evelina was writing some of these entries several days after the fact, and may have been confused as to dates. Or she may have been anticipating the slaughter.

 

*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 63

November 25, 1852

Turkey

Nov 25

[…] Thanksgiving  Mr & Mrs

Whitwell Father Mrs Witherell Emily Horatio &

Gustavus dined at tea here.  Michael &

sister & Ann Oral at the second table.

Mr W went home at half past three to

marry a couple   Oakes A Emily & Susan went

with him After they left this evening Mrs

Witherell & self called on Mrs Dow in Olivers

Mr & Mrs Dow & family Mr & Mrs H Lothrop & Cyrus

at Olivers 

“[T]his was thanksgiving day,” wrote Old Oliver Ames, after a brief notation that the day “was fair in the morning but clouded up in the afternoon”. Evelina and her servants prepared a feast that fed at least fifteen people. The whole Oakes Ames family was there, naturally, and so was Old Oliver. Dining with them were Sarah and Emily Witherell, Reverend and Mrs. Whitwell, brother Horatio Ames and his youngest son Gustavus, the latter two having arrived from Connecticut the day before. At the “second table”  – which likely means a second seating – the servants partook. Catharine Murphy and Ann Shinkwin were presumably present, as was Michael Burns (Old Oliver’s coachman/ostler), his sister and Ann Orel, a young Irish girl who worked for Sarah Witherell.

Family gathered next door, too. The Oliver Ameses, meaning Oliver Jr.,Sarah Lothrop Ames and their children Fred and Helen, shared the repast with two of Sarah’s brothers, Henry and Cyrus, along with Henry’s wife Eleanor and long-time friends, the Dows. Quite a gathering, all told, as family members dined and visited.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the patron saint of Thanksgiving, describes her understanding of the origin of Thanksgiving in a novel she wrote in 1827 and republished in 1852:

“Soon after the settlement of Boston, the colony was reduced to a state of destitution, and nearly without food. In this strait the pious leaders of the pilgrim band appointed a solemn and general fast. […] The faith that could thus turn to God in the extremity of physical want, must have been of the most glowing kind, […] On the very morning of the appointed day, a vessel from London arrived laden with provisions, and so the fast was changed into a Thanksgiving.”

This may have been the version of Thanksgiving that Mrs. Hale used to persuade Abraham Lincoln to make it a national celebration. It also may have been the story of Thanksgiving with which the Ameses were most familiar.

 

November 21, 1852

IMG_0404

Lady’s Cloak**

Sunday Nov 21st  have been to church and at

intermission went with Mother into Mrs John

Howards.  Have invited Mr & Mrs Whitwells

family to dine here Thanksgiving

After church read & heard Susan practice

her lesson a while  Edwin & wife came

in this evening and I went to Augustus with 

them

 

This Sunday before Thankgiving “was a fair sunny day wind northerly + cool.”* The Ames contingent headed to church as usual and at intermission spread out to different informal gatherings. We don’t know where the men of the family went, or what Susie did, but we do know that Evelina took her elderly mother to the home of John and Caroline Howard, where they would have been offered a cup of tea and a piece of pie or cake.

After church, Evelina heard her daughter practice the piano. Like yesterday, the friction and anxiety between the two over the piano lessons seemed to have dissipated. At least, Evelina doesn’t mention having to force Susan to practice.

Evelina also did a little reading. If she picked up her copy of the November issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, she would have noticed, among many essays, stories and poems, a short article on women’s cloaks:

Never was there a season in which there was so great a variety of graceful cloaks to choose from. Not the heavy, cumbrous garment that once enshrouded and hid all grace or outline in the female figure, but light, yet ample costumes, that answer every purpose of warmth for walking or driving...**

Cloaks were in. If Evelina needed proof that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames had a nose for fashion, there it was. Only a week earlier, Sarah had been in Boston buying a cloak for her daughter Helen. There were many styles to be seen, including the one in the illustration, in the Alboni style. Will Evelina get one for herself or her daughter?

 

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

** Godey’s Lady’s Book, , Cloaks and Mantles, November 1852, pp. 476 – 477

October 26, 1852

 

1860s blue striped muslin dress from St. Albans Museums

Dress with undersleeves, mid-19th c.*

Tuesday Oct 26  We have had a large washing

done to day and not finished untill

after dinner  Miss Alger & self spent

the afternoon in Olivers  Mr Ames

& all the children there to tea  Mr & Mrs 

Whitwell was there an hour or two

I made Susan a pair of undersleeves

and she is delighted with them

 

Because of all the company that had visited over the weekend, the servant girls were unable to launder clothes on Monday. Today, extra sheets and towels were added to the usual load and the washing went on into the afternoon. Not that Evelina rolled up her sleeves; after the midday meal, she and her remaining houseguest, Miss M. J. Alger, went next door to visit with Sarah Lothrop Ames and stayed for tea. All the family partook.

At various points during the day, Evelina had her work box open as she completed a pair of undersleeves for her daughter. Susie was “delighted” with them. Were they a peace offering from mother to daughter, perhaps to make up for Evelina’s insistence on Susan learning to play piano?

We’ve seen Evelina sewing undersleeves before. In the 1850’s and into the Civil War, undersleeves were an essential component of any woman’s dress, fitting independently but securely under the looser outer sleeve of the dress proper. Like the collars of the day, a good pair of undersleeves could be worn with different dresses. Susie must have felt rather grown-up with her new pair.

On the industrial side of American life, meanwhile, today was the 27th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal. The technological wonder of its day, it was already becoming obsolete. Railroads had arrived and, through their own capacity for moving freight, would soon obviate commercial use of the canal for many (though not all) industries. Shipping would change – was changing. The very word “shipping” derives from the fact that, initially, more goods moved by water than by land. This would no longer be true in this country or elsewhere in the developed world.

We should remember that Harriet Ames Mitchell, Old Oliver’s youngest daughter, was living in Erie at the time with her husband Asa and their three children.  Did they mark the day?

 

*Image of striped blue muslin dress with undersleeves courtesy of St. Albans Museum, England