December 8, 1852

imgres

Wednesday Dec 8th  Have been doing to day probably

what I shall while Oakes A stays, to work

on his clothes  He went to Boston this

morning  It is so near the time he is to leave

that I do not like to have him away but 

how little is he sensible to what my feelings are

Miss Alger has given the 15th leson

 

Only one week earlier, Evelina had learned that Oakes Angier’s illness had returned. She had been shocked, rattled, anxious. Today, a week later, she was not much improved and had added a dose of self-pity. She was feeling sorry for herself. While Oakes Angier went off to Boston for the day, probably with his cousin Alson Augustus Gilmore, Evelina stayed at home to mend and sew the clothes he would need for the journey to Cuba. “[H]ow little is he sensible” to her maternal concern and regard, she bemoaned.

Oakes Angier may have been quite aware of his mother’s feelings, and may have wanted a break from them. Fresh air, sunshine and a jaunt into Boston must have appealed to him. He had his own mental adjustments to make to this threat to his young life, independent of everyone else’s personal regard. He had so much at stake.

So mother and son spent some time apart, he exploring some of the larger world he would soon be thrust into, she nursing a heavy heart at home, sewing, of course, perhaps with piano scales running in the background.

The only thing that Old Oliver noted was that it was a “fair good”* day.

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

 

 

December 7, 1852

A0011_image0001

Cuban plantation, mid-19th century

Tuesday Dec 7th  Have been mending and to work on

Oakes A clothes again to day.  Catharine has

gone to Canton and is coming back to night.

Edwin & wife were here this evening 

and Augustus called has been persuading

Oakes A to go to Boston tomorrow

Evelina continued to work on Oakes Angier’s wardrobe. She must have been somewhat stymied to prepare for a climate so markedly different from her own. Oakes Angier would need warm clothes for the journey by water, but light clothes for his new life in Cuba. People in the middle of the 19th century generally had smaller wardrobes than today’s people in the same socio-economic class, but still, a variety of shirts, pants, jackets and undergarments had to be readied and packed. How did Evelina manage, operating as she did with so little knowledge of Cuba’s climate and social guidelines?

What did Oakes Angier know about Cuba, for that matter, other than its purported healthful properties? He may have known one or two people who had gone there, or perhaps was in hopes of acquiring a few letters of introduction. He probably knew that sugar plantations were a major industry, especially as Oakes Ames had a business associate, Elisha Atkins, who invested in sugar there. Not to get ahead of the story, but while Oakes Angier was staying in Cuba, he must have spent time on a plantation or at least visited one occasionally. The sugar business did pique his interest, because some twenty years later, after the Civil War, he and his two brothers would buy a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Surely the seed for that purchase was sown when Oakes Angier first saw sugar cane in Cuba.

 


													

December 6, 1852

 

cuba-1850

Havana Harbor, ca. 1851

Monday Dec 6th  This day have commenced fixing Oakes

Angiers clothes ready for him to go to Cuba

We were all in the other part of the 

house to dine likewise Oliver & wife

Went when dinner was ready and spent

the afternoon & evening probably the last time

we shall all be there together for months

 

The family had decided. Oakes Angier Ames, suffering from what everyone believed to be pulmonary tuberculosis, would leave home, his cold New England home, to try to recover his health in hot, humid Cuba. Twenty-three years old, he was about to travel farther than anyone in his immediate family had ever traveled, to seek not fortune, but well-being. Everyone in that family (and probably a few beyond it) felt a part of his journey. One of their own was leaving home.

Evelina was emotional about Oakes Angier’s pending departure. She had periods of barely being able to cope, but today she seems to appreciate how much time family members were spending together, dining, visiting and having tea, “probably for the last time we shall all be together for months.” Being separated for only “months” was putting the best possible spin on the situation, for every person in that family surely knew that Oakes Angier might never recover or return.

Cuba, meanwhile, must have been the topic of some of the family’s conversation. The political relationship between the United States and the island, which was then a colony of Spain, was uneasy because of a few recent episodes of the island’s Captain-General refusing to accept mail and passengers from the United States. That disagreeable situation was being resolved through an appeal to Spain.

But a larger consideration prevailed in the rhetoric of some southern politicians who were looking for a way to annex Cuba and reinforce the practice of slavery there. So far, their agitation had been unsuccessful. In his State of the Union address – delivered this day to Congress – President Millard Fillmore wrote clearly of his disinterest in acquiring Cuba:

[B]e assured that the United States entertain no designs against Cuba, but that, on the contrary, I should regard its incorporation into the Union at the present time as fraught with serious peril.

Were this island comparatively destitute of inhabitants or occupied by a kindred race, I should regard it, if voluntarily ceded by Spain, as a most desirable acquisition. But under existing circumstances I should look upon its incorporation into our Union as a very hazardous measure. It would bring into the Confederacy a population of a different national stock, speaking a different language, and not likely to harmonize with the other members. It would probably affect in a prejudicial manner the industrial interests of the South, and it might revive those conflicts of opinion between the different sections of the country which lately shook the Union to its center, and which have been so happily compromised.

Expressing the prevalent and unchallenged racism of the time, Fillmore wrote optimistically of the future of the United States. Cuba aside, Fillmore believed that the political division between the North and the South had been solved by the Missouri Compromise of 1850. He was certainly wrong. What did Oakes Angier Ames make of it all?

 

*Millard Fillmore, State of the Union Address, 1852

 

December 4, 1852

IMG_0408

Silk Day Dress, ca. 1853 – 1855*

 

Sat Dec 4th  Have made velvet strings to my

bonnet swept the parlour and done some

sewing on one thing and another   Do not

feel very well  It has been a damp uncomfortable 

day and O A has been in the house reading.

Mr Ames brought me home a blue & brown 

raw silk dress

Feeling poorly, Evelina seemed to move through her day randomly doing “one thing and another.” She was so worried about her son Oakes Angier that she was making herself sick. Her thoughts must have been in an endless loop of Oakes Angier being ill and being ordered to Cuba for a cure. Why had this happened? Would he get better? Did the doctor know what he was doing? How could she cope?

This being Saturday, her husband Oakes went into town on shovel business, as usual. He, too, must have been feeling the shock and fright of their son being sent away for his health, but his thoughts today were on Evelina.  He was worried about her and, as he sometimes did, bought her a present. In the past he had purchased thread or magazines or some other small item. But on this day, he bought something on a scale we haven’t seen before: an expensive silk dress.

We might want details about this purchase: was it a bespoke dress that she could alter to fit, or was it simply the material that she and her dressmaker could create from scratch? Whatever shape that blue raw silk took, Oakes knew how much his Evelina loved dresses and dressmaking and was making a grand gesture of love and concern. We have no greater proof of his regard for his wife.

*Image courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum, Gift of Mark A. Clark in memory of Mrs. Lawrence Halloran.

December 1, 1852

 

1852_Duvotenay_Map_of_the_West_Indies_-_Geographicus_-_WestIndies-duvotenay-1852

Map of West Indies, including Cuba, 1852

Wedns Dec 1st  Oakes & Oliver got left last night

Oakes A went to consult Dr Bigelow and he

advised him to spend the winter in Cuba

He has been raising more blood for two

or three weeks but has said nothing about it.

Mrs S Ames came into Boston this morning

I have selected some silver forks & a pr of spoons

and left them to be marked

 

Bad news today. Oakes Angier was coughing up blood again, and had been, for much of November. Evelina hadn’t known it, although how she missed the evidence of bloody handkerchiefs in the weekly laundry is a question. The servant girls might have guessed it. Oliver (3) must have had an inkling, especially after the two brothers spent so much time together attending a Thanksgiving dance in East Bridgewater. Oakes Angier would have been challenged to dance lively reels and converse in a crowded room without coughing.

How Evelina could have missed the signs became an irrelevant question in the face of the proposed remedy. Oakes Angier had been advised to go to Cuba. For consumptive patients, travel to a different climate was common therapy (for those who could afford it), and Cuba was known as a “site of recuperative possibilities.”* Other ailing Bostonians of means, like Sophia and Mary Peabody some years earlier, had taken the cure there. And William Rice, the vice-president elect, was there even as the Ameses were discussing the situation.  The Peabody sisters recovered; the vice-president would not.

Despite the reassurances that Cuba was the best place for Oakes Angier, to Evelina it must have seemed as far away as the moon. Oakes Angier would have to sail there. Where would he stay? He would be gone for months, if not years. He might never come back. Even as Evelina busied herself with dropping off some silver flatware to be monogrammed, she had to be preoccupied with this unfortunate turn of events.

 

*John George F. Wurdemann, Slaves, Sugar and Colonial Society, p. 107

 

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.