July 5, 1852



Frederick Douglass

(1818 – 1895)

1852 July 5th Monday  Orinthia & Lavinia went to Boston with

lots of others this morning  Orinthia is going to Maine 

on a visit  Mary came to sew or to see what she

can do. I have been sewing some to day and hope 

now that I shall be able to [do] more than I have

Have finished my brown muslin.  Augusta

has been here in this afternoon and this evening

we have been to see the fire works at Mr Russels

The nation was 76 years old. The Fourth of July having fallen on a Sunday, however, the celebration of it was deferred to Monday. Thus Evelina and Oakes and, no doubt, their sons and daughter went to Mr. Russell’s tonight to watch some fireworks. Others traveled into Boston, perhaps to see the fireworks there.

Mr. Russell may have been Edwin Russell, a shoemaker. The Ameses knew the family, certainly, as all three sons had attended a funeral back in January for Edwin’s father, Frank. If it was Edwin who hosted the fireworks, his may not have been as elaborate as those that would be seen in Boston, but he was following a tradition established by John Adams at the very beginning of the republic.

In a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams, on July 3, 1776, John Adams described his grand vision for a commemoration of the nation’s birthday.  It was to be celebrated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the Other from this Time forward forever more.” His vision was realized by 1777 when both Philadelphia and Boston – and other cities or towns, perhaps – set off Fourth of July Fireworks. A tradition was born.

Not everyone celebrated the nation’s birthday, however, as Frederick Douglass, probably the country’s most prominent African-American, pointed out on this date* in a speech now famously known as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”  He said:

“I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.  The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.  The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine.  You may rejoice, I must mourn.”**

Douglass eloquently  described the fissure between white lives and black, yet he did “not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery…” ** He rightly predicted its elimination, but even he could not have predicted the carnage and destruction that the end of slavery would cost.

Frederick Douglass, “What, to the Slave, is your Fourth of July?,” various dates cited for this speech: July 5, 1852 or 1854.


July 4, 1852


July 4 Sunday  Have been to meeting  Orinthia & Lavinia

came home with us at noon  Orinthia had a 

toothache and did not return in the afternoon

Since meeting Alson & wife came up and brought Lavinia

for her to go to Boston tomorrow  Mr Ames called with Orinthia

and self to see the rock they are splitting for the shop and we all

walked down to see the new shop  Mr Clark of Norton preached two

excellent sermons  Oakes A & Helen went to E. Bridgewater

Oakes Ames “came home from N. York”* today, having been there on shovel business; he was the company salesman. After church was over he, Evelina, and her friend, Orinthia Foss, walked down to the shovel shop to see the progress on the new stone building, the Long Shop. They checked out rock that was being split.

“[T]his was a fair cool day wind south west and a drying day…” according to Old Oliver.  It was probably perfect for haying, but it was Sunday, so no one went out to the fields. It was also the Fourth of July, but again, being Sunday, the celebration was postponed.  Fireworks would be held the next day.

Modern historian Jack Larkin describes the importance of the Fourth of July in the American calendar:

“Despite its notably awkward timing for a nation so agricultural – it came in the midst of haying in the North, corn and cotton cultivation elsewhere – Americans made the Fourth their most universal holiday. In ‘fifty thousand cities, towns, villages and hamlets, spread over the surface of America’ citizens observed rituals that varied little, firing cannons, watching parades of prominent citizens and listening to endless orations in town commons and courthouse squares. Americans probably seized their national day with particular relish because it was the only sanctioned way of taking a break from the intensive labor of midsummer…”**

And just as we read yesterday of the beginning of a courtship between Frank Ames and Catharine Copeland, so today we readers may be privy to the genesis of yet another courtship.Evelina writes that Oakes Angier Ames drove his cousin Helen Angier Ames to E. Bridgewater, but doesn’t say why. Perhaps Helen was visiting a friend from school who lived there: Catherine Hobart. This Catherine, too, was destined to become part of the family as Oakes Angier’s wife. Was this their first meeting?


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

**Jack Larkin,The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1988, p. 275


July 4, 1851



July 4th  Have been transplanting some pinks &c to day We have had several heavy showers  Oakes A & Frank rode to Dr Swans to make a call and carry his chaise home  Oliver & wife Harriet & Helen went to Mr Lothrops this afternoon  Mr Ames & self to mothers.  Orinthia has gone to Cohasset with Mr Brett.  Helen came home last night   On the Fourth of July in 1851, the new 31-star flag was raised over America for the first time.  It recognized the addition of California to the union.  Previously known as the California Military District, and before that as the short-lived California Republic, the new state had been officially added back on September 9, 1850, less than three years after gold was discovered there. California’s statehood had been a political struggle in that age of slavery. Only after significant wrangling by Congress and Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, did compromise legislation, spear-headed by Senator Henry Clay, finally carry the day. There was to be no slavery in California. The 31-star flag would remain the standard until 1858, when Minnesota joined the union. The nation’s 75th birthday was recognized in Washington, D.C. with a ceremony for the laying of a cornerstone of the new addition to the Capitol. Massachusetts’ own Daniel Webster gave a speech. A long speech it was, in the style of the day, in which, among other things, Webster exhorted his audience to acknowledge that the formation of the United States had wrought “astonishing changes […] in the condition and prospects of the American people” and to advise “ye men of the South” that the progress of the country was worth staying in the union for. Ten years before the Civil War, Webster opined that “the secession of Virginia, whether alone or in company, is the most improbable, the greatest of all improbabilities.”  Webster didn’t live long enough to see how wrong he had been. Back in Easton, the shovel shop was closed. Many employees may have tried to picnic despite the rain. In the Ames family, most everyone had someplace to go. Evelina and Oakes rode to the Gilmore farm to visit Evelina’s mother. Oakes Angier and Frank Morton, no doubt tired from their long day yesterday, took the borrowed chaise back to Caleb Swan. Oliver Ames Jr., his wife Sarah and daughter Helen rode over to Sarah’s parents’s house, taking Harriett Ames Mitchell with them. Where was her husband, Asa? Where were her young children? With the Mitchell in-laws in Bridgewater, perhaps. Why weren’t they all together? Even Orinthia Foss was out and about, gone to Cohasset with a Mr. Brett.   * If you want to see other designs for the 31-star flag, check out the Zaricor Flag collection at flagcollection.com