January 17, 1852


John Ames Mitchell


Jan 17 Saturday  Finished Susans morino hood and mended

stockings & some other things  Finished Susans Delaine

dress that Julia Mahoney cut Dec 23  Mr Ames brought

Sarah W some fitch cuffs from Boston  Frederick

came home to night  Ruth Swan that was and

her husband came home to night  Heard of Mrs

Colin Harlowes death

Some months back Evelina’s sister-in-law, Harriett Ames Mitchell, had departed Easton with her three children to join her husband, Asa, in Erie, Pennsylvania  One of those children was John Ames Mitchell, who turned seven years old on this date.

John Ames Mitchell would lead an irregular childhood, moving around western Pennsylvania but eventually landing back in Massachusetts, in Bridgewater. His father, a coal trader who had worked for the Ames family, would succumb to mental illness or dementia and spend out his days in the Taunton Hospital for the Insane, his residence there supported by his brother-in-law, Oliver Ames Jr..  John’s mother, Harriett, and older brother, Frank Ames Mitchell, a Civil War veteran, would also live lives greatly indebted to the financial support of family; John, too, looked to his uncle for support on occasion.

John attended Harvard, but didn’t graduate, and studied abroad. Endowed with artistic and literary talent, he became an architect.  Under the guiding patronage of his Uncle Oliver Jr., John designed the Unitarian Church on Main Street in Easton in 1875, and worked on other projects in the Boston area before returning to Europe again, this time to study at the Beaux Arts. When he finally returned to the States, he used his ample talent to write novels, draw illustrations and, most lasting of all, create Life magazine.

With a racehorse owner named Andrew Miller, John started publishing Life in 1883. John and his staff, which included the Harvard grad and founder of Harvard Lampoon, Edward Sandford Martin,  saw Life as a publication that would “have something to say about religion, about politics, fashion, society, literature, the state, the stock exchange, and the police station.” He vowed “to speak out what is in our mind as fairly, as truthfully, and as decently as we know how.”* He also worked to bring wonderful illustrators on board, most famously Charles Dana Gibson, whose Gibson Girl would come to life in Life.

John also was a co-founder with Horace Greeley of the Fresh Air Fund.  He married but never had children of his own. His 75% ownership of Life lasted until his death in 1917.

October 10, 1851


Friday Oct 10th  This forenoon made the skirt to my

cashmere dress and sewed some for Harriet.  This 

afternoon Mrs H Mitchell and children left with

William for Erie.  They are to stop a few days in 

Goshen with William and then go on to meet Asa at

Erie  Hannah called with Eddy a few moments when

she returned I went as far as the store & got some

Linings for my sleeves & Susans dress

Back on April 19, Harriett Ames Mitchell and her three children, Frank, John and Anna, had arrived in North Easton from Pittsburgh.  Harriett’s husband, Asa Mitchell, had not arrived with them, although he visited North Easton briefly later in the summer. Harriett and the children had spent six months in North Easton, mostly without Asa, staying off and on with Harriett’s father, Old Oliver, and her sister Sarah Witherell. They had also stayed in Bridgewater, where the Mitchell family lived.  Now, the family was traveling back to Pennsylvania, this time to Erie, where they would meet up with Asa. Harriett’s next oldest brother, William Leonard Ames, who had been visiting Old Oliver, too, “went from here with them.”*

Erie, Pennsylvania had just that year been chartered as a city, and was becoming a thriving manufacturing spot. As one modern historian has noted, “Erie was, of course, aided greatly by its proximity to the coal fields of Pennsylvania.”**  It was that proximity to coal that must have drawn Asa Mitchell to the town; he was a dealer in the coal market. Evelina speaks very little about Asa and from that it’s tempting to infer that Asa didn’t have a strong roll in the Ames family life.  He may have played a part in the business dynamics of the various Ames enterprises, however, but if Evelina knew about that, she didn’t mention it.

What did Evelina think about her sister-in-law moving away again? Evelina had a brother, John, who also had moved away from the area, but most of her family was nearby.  Did she ever think about life beyond eastern Massachusetts?  Did she ever want to board a train to see where it might take her? She doesn’t seem to have suffered from wanderlust.


*Oliver Ames, Journal, courtesy of Stonehill College Archives

** http://www.theeriebook.com, published by Matthew D. Walker Publishing Company, 2014


August 4, 1851


[No entry]

Evelina made no entry today in her diary, for reasons we’ll never know.  Too hot? Too cross? Too busy? Too much laundry? We can only guess.

Instead of commentary, we’ve posted an image of the Ames family tree familiar to many Ames descendants, especially those who own copies of Winthrop Ames’s 1937 family history, The Ames Family of Easton, which includes a fold-out version of this illustration.  The tree features the lineage of the two Ames brothers who stayed in North Easton: Oakes and Oliver Jr., but doesn’t include the other sons and daughters of Old Oliver and Susannah who also produced issue: Horatio, William Leonard, Sarah Witherell and Harriett Mitchell.

Some readers have asked for clarification on who was who within the family. What follows is a list of the children and grandchildren of Old Oliver and Susannah.  More information about this group and their descendants can be found in a detailed family geneaology produced by William Motley Ames and Chilton Mosely Ames in the late 1980s.

Old Oliver and Susannah’s children and their children in birth order:

Oakes Ames and Evelina Gilmore Ames had five children:

Oakes Angier, Oliver (3), Frank Morton, Henry Gilmore (d. young) and Susan Eveline Ames

Horatio Ames and Sally Hewes Ames had three children:

Susan Angier, Horatio Jr., and Gustavus Ames

Oliver Jr. and Sarah Lothrop Ames had two children:

Frederick Lothrop and Helen Angier Ames

William Leonard Ames and Amelia Hall Ames had seven children:

William Leonard Jr., Angier, Oliver, John Hall, Amelia Hall, Fisher, and Herbert M. Ames

William Leonard Ames and Anna Pratt Hines had one child:

Oakes Keene Ames

Sarah Angier Ames and Nathaniel Witherell, Jr. had three children:

George Oliver, Sarah Emily, and Channing Witherell (d. young)

Harriett Ames and Asa Mitchell had three children:

Frank Ames, John Ames, and Anna Mitchell

Two other children of Old Oliver and Susannah, Angier Ames and John Ames, died without issue.

June 27, 1851

weedy flower bed


June 27 Friday  John left here this morning

Worked a long time in the garden

this morning for the weeds were very plenty

afterwards finished picking over the hair and

a long job it has been.  This afternoon put the hair

into the hair cloth cover and just commenced tying

it when Mrs Clark and Mrs Stetson came from

Sharon and of course had to leave it and go

into the other house house to see them. Mother & I stoped to tea

Pigweed, thistle, crabgrass, and purslane: Such weeds – and more – are the collective bane of the flower gardener. Evelina tackled some of them this morning as she addressed the “very plenty” weeds that were pushing into her flower beds. Perhaps she ruminated about her brother John and his short visit while her fingers dug into the soil.

After midday dinner she turned to her sewing, as usual, going right to her haircloth slipcover project, but abandoned it with alacrity when an opportunity for socializing turned up.  “Had to leave it and go..” she noted, when two friends from nearby Sharon arrived next door.  She and her mother, Hannah Lothrop Gilmore, went over for tea.

Frank Ames Mitchell, a nephew of Oakes and Evelina, turned ten years old today.  One of two grandsons of Old Oliver named Frank (the other being Frank Morton Ames,) he was the eldest son of Oakes’ sister, Harriett Ames Mitchell. He, his mother, and two younger siblings were living temporarily in Bridgewater while their father, Asa Mitchell, was working in coal in western Pennsylvania.

Our knowledge about Frank Mitchell is limited, as he never married or had any known issue. We do know that he was the only Ames grandson to fight in the Civil War.  He served in both the 44th and the 56th Massachusetts Regiments, and ultimately made captain.  In 1864, he was wounded at Cold Harbor.  Hospitalized in Washington DC, where his mother rushed to his side, he eventually recovered but remained in indifferent health for the rest of his life.

After the war, Frank bought a plantation in Tallullah, Louisiana, an effort that was underwritten and ultimately bought out by his Uncle Oliver Ames, Jr.  Family records show that Frank subsequently depended on financial support from his cousin Fred Ames. The remainder of his life consisted of traveling from one healthful climate or resort to another in search of good health.


* A modern flower garden, full of weeds, from canoecorner.blogspot

June 6, 1851




June 6 Friday  Worked in the garden an hour or two this morning

mended some cotton stockings swept & dusted &c

About three or four Oclock went with Olivers wife

& Mrs Mitchell to North Bridgewater called at

Mr Summers to take Frank Mitchell home & at Mrs

Carrs & Susan Copelands to get my bonnet  The bonnet

is done well  When I returned home found Orinthia

here.  Jane Howard brought her up. 

At last, a bonnet to take home and trim.  Evelina was clearly pleased.  She picked it up in North Bridgewater (today’s Brockton) with her sisters-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames and Harriett Ames Mitchell.  The ladies retrieved Harriett’s eldest son, Frank Ames Mitchell, in the process. Not yet ten years old, whom had he been visiting?

Otherwise, Evelina’s day was full of quotidian activities: mending, sweeping, dusting. Nothing out of the ordinary popped up in the domestic department. Gardening, too, continued. On this day, Evelina may have planted the asters she picked up yesterday at the Howards’, compliments of a Howard daughter, Louisa.

Joseph Breck in his Breck’s Book of Flowers, 1851, admired the China Aster: “The varieties are now very numerous, and possess exceeding beauty, some of them being almost as large as a small Dahlia, and much more graceful.”

Breck warned against letting the asters “degenerate in to inferior flowers,” and recommended sowing the seeds in May, “in patches,” and transplanting them to “a bed well prepared the last of June.” It may be that Evelina was transplanting the seedlings a little early.  Time would tell.

* Image from edenbrothers.com


April 19, 1851





April 19  Harriet and her children came from Pittsburgh this

morning, came by the way of Stonington to Mansfield

and got someone to bring them.  It s too bad we did

not send for them, but Father thought the storm

might prevent their coming  Called in to see them this

afternoon.  Harriet does not look near as well

as she did before she went.  Augustus went to Boston

& Mr Ames  Tolerably pleasant


The youngest offspring of Old Oliver and Susannah Ames came back to town today.  Harriett (Ames) Mitchell, all of 31 years old, traveled by rail from Pittsburgh to Easton, finding her own way from the station in nearby Mansfield. (The railroad had not yet been built to North Easton.) In tow were her three children, Frank Ames Mitchell, John Ames Mitchell, and Anna Mitchell, aged 9, 6, and not quite 4, respectively. Given the rigors of traveling a long distance on a train with small children, it’s little wonder that Harriett did “not look near as well as she did before she went.”

Weather and travel conditions aside, the question is why Harriett returned home and left her husband, Asa Mitchell, behind. We know only a little about Asa Mitchell. He was a member of the well-regarded Mitchell family of Bridgewater. A coal dealer, he had recently moved west from Cambridge to Pittsburgh, Erie or someplace in Pennsylvania.  His employment seemed unsettled, and perhaps was driven by the vagaries of the coal industry.

Asa and Harriett had been married for eleven years and, like any of the Ames marriages, we can only conjecture what their relationship was like. We do know that Harriett and their children spent many months away from Asa, eventually staying in a house in Bridgewater that Old Oliver obtained for her. Asa spent some time there, too, but by 1867 he was an inmate at the Taunton Insane Asylum, where his expenses were met by Oliver Jr. We don’t know what his mental illness was; it may have been as debilitating as senility, as sudden as brain trauma or as complicated – and untreatable then – as schizophrenia or bipolar disease.  His condition would erase him from Harriett’s life and, by extension, the lives of his children. He died in June, 1877 in Taunton.

So on this cloudy day, with the “wind north east and cold,” and an uncertain future in front of her, Harriett brought her children home and was made welcome. She and her older sister Sarah Witherell were close and, no doubt, were glad to see each other.

* Leslie’s, 1878