October 29, 1852


Daniel Webster

(1782 – 1852)

1852 Friday Oct 29th  Mr Dawes came from Boston

about ten Oclock  Miss Alger expected

him before and began to feel uneasy

They went to the shops after dinner

Helen Susan & Emily went to the shop

& then rode to call at Mr Roachs

They were all in here this evening to

hear Mr Dawes play on the guitar  Mrs S

Ames & self called Swains, to see their child

Mrs Lothrop & Brett called with her babe


Old Oliver must have been an admirer of Daniel Webster, else why would he mention the man in his daily weather journal? He wrote, “the 29th was a verry plesant warm day. it clouded up some toward night – Daniel Webster was buried to day”.

Daniel Webster, lawyer, diplomat, statesman, orator and Whig leader, was indeed buried on this day. He had died three days earlier after a fall from a horse and was buried with “impressive ceremonies”* at Marshfield, about 35 miles east of Easton. Considered by many to be one of the finest senators ever, Webster had also been a Secretary of State, U.S. representative, constitutional lawyer par excellence, and a devoted preservationist of the union. To the latter end, he co-authored and spoke eloquently on behalf of the Compromise of 1850, which included the controversial Fugitive Slave Act. As a result, he lost the support of many New Englanders; abolitionists washed their hands of him.

On this day in Boston, however, it would have been hard to find his enemies. According to a newspaper account the next day, a united citizenry mourned:

Boston never before presented – probably never will present – such a funeral aspect as was worn in her streets yesterday. Most of the stores and shops were closed, as well as the institutions, offices, and markets, and a large proportion of the city was dressed in the habiliments of wo. [sic] Though the work was only voluntarily the act of individuals, it was very general – Washington, Hanover, and many other streets being covered in black, interspersed with mottoes, flags, portraits, and other mementoes, as the taste of each led him to adopt and carry out.  It was one of the last acts which Boston can perform to express her sorrow for the loss of the great statesman, and it is praise enough to say that it was well and appropriately done. The streets were thronged nearly all the day, crowds of people being present from other places, – and our young men wore the insignia of mourning which had been adopted, and grieved countenances were observed at every turn of the street…*


*New York Times, October 28, 1852


December 2, 1851

 FillmorePresident Millard Fillmore

Dec 2d  Tuesday.  It has been cold to day but not near as

cold at yesterday or as windy  Mary has put

her clothes out.  Jane has ironed some shirts

for Mr Ames & I have ironed some collars

cuff & handkerchiefs &c for self  Mother & self

have passed the afternoon at Mr Whitwells

Mr & Mrs John R Howard were there.  Had

a pleasant visit

While the servant Mary – whose last name we never learn – put out most of yesterday’s wet laundry to dry, Jane McHanna rose from bed to iron some of Oakes Ames’s shirts.She had spent part of yesterday placing them in a tub of starch. Evelina took to ironing as well, looking after her own collars, cuffs and handkerchiefs. Ironing, which required a small fleet of flatirons being kept warm on a hot stove, was a welcome chore on a cold day. We don’t often read of Evelina doing the ironing herself.

In Washington, D. C., President Millard Fillmore’s State of the Union address was delivered in writing to Congress.  His speech was quite literal, full of specific details about foreign policy, exports, mining, gold in California, the acquisition of Texas and the surveying and improvements necessary for the territories and frontier.  He lauded the importance of agriculture, noting that “four fifths of our active population are employed in the cultivation of the soil,” and argued for a Bureau of Agriculture.

Fillmore also could not help but write of the growing differences between North and South and the 1850 legislation that was designed to address various aspects of the problem of slavery. He began his address optimistically, writing “the agitation which for a time threatened to disturb the fraternal relations which make us one people is fast subsiding…” but later admitted “that it is not to be disguised that a spirit exists, and has been actively at work, to rend asunder this Union which is our cherished inheritance from our Revolutionary fathers.”

In closing, Fillmore urged patience and reconciliation.  He counseled his countrymen to honor the Compromise of 1850.  “Wide differences and jarring opinions can only be reconciled by yielding something on both sides,” he cautioned.

April 24, 1851


1851 Thursday  April 24th  Julia here to finish Susans dresses

She is very slow We have got the waist done

to her Delaine & finished the print dress & cut

the lining to my dress This afternoon called 

at Augustus’ & Mr Whitwell with Mrs Peckham

A[u]gustus returned from New York this morning

and is here again to dine Hannah went to

Alsons while he was gone Pleasant weather


Evelina and Julia Mahoney sewed today, perhaps trying to make up for time lost yesterday. Evelina’s nephew, Augustus, returned to the Ames’s dinner table after a business trip to New York. Meanwhile, his expectant wife, Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, and son Eddie were staying out at the Gilmore farm with his parents, Alson and Henrietta.

Had Augustus run into any abolitionist fervor while in New York?  Probably not as great as in Boston, where controversy continued in the aftermath of the Fugitive Slave Act and the capture and rescue of Shadrach Minkins. While some of the most prominent abolitionists of the day, like William Lloyd Garrison, lived in Boston, the city was nonetheless home to many citizens who were less adamant about the issue.  They might not have liked slavery, but they feared the radicalism of the anti-slavery rhetoric more.  They were law-abiding, and the law said that slaves were property and had to be returned to their owners. Daniel Webster had decreed it, and they supported the law accordingly. The controversy pulled at everyone.

When another escaped slave, Thomas Simms, was caught in Boston, the Mayor of Boston, John P. Bigelow, ordered him sent back south. The aldermen and the police supported the move, and the black population of the city became even more nervous than before, as the poster above illustrates. Have TOP EYE Open!

April 13, 1851




April 13th Sunday.  Have been to church all day Frank

staid at home in the morning Mrs G Ames went

with us to meeting all day and liked Mr Whitwell

I staid at noon with Mother most of the time

Called at Mr Whitwells with Louisa Howard

Mrs Dr Deans & Mrs H Pool. Mrs Whitwell

has no help now & is not very well. rather cold

On this cold spring day, the Ames family, minus Frank Morton, went to church with Almira Ames, widow of Oakes’s cousin George Ames.  Perhaps Almira joined Evelina and her mother during the midday intermission when many women were welcomed into the parsonage by Eliza Whitwell, wife of the minister. Eliza was under the weather but still was under a social obligation to open her house to fellow Unitarians who could not get home and back during the pause between the morning and afternoon services.

Mrs. Dr. Deans, otherwise known as Hannah (Wheaton) Deans, wife of Dr. Samuel Deans, was also present at the Whitwell’s.  The “Dr.” title in front of her name didn’t mean that Hannah was a physician; far from it. It meant that she was married to a physician.  She was a daughter of old Daniel Wheaton who lived out on the Bay Road.

Evelina often admired Rev. Whitwell’s sermons but seldom related their content. In these tumultuous months following the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, did Mr. Whitwell ever speak about slavery or abolition? We know that other Unitarian ministers were quite vocal about abolishing slavery.  On this same Sunday in Philadelphia, three hundred miles to the south, Rev. William H. Furness gave a discourse on the Fugitive Slave Law, speaking from the pulpit with all the authority that his robed position could give him.  A graduate of Harvard and friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Furness was, like William Whitwell, an accomplished theologian.  He was also a passionate abolitionist; was Reverend Whitwell?


*First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, ca. 1886

March 19, 1851



March 19 Wednesday  This morning commenced another

shirt that was cut out last fall & the

sleeves finished & the body nearly ready for the

bosom. Made the bosom & collar and finished

it all off this evening. Mr Ames went to

Boston this morning The snow is not deep but

much banked Augustus here to breakfast & dinner

Orinthia finished the shirt that she worked on yesterday

The last days of winter in Easton appeared calm, with the final snowfall (they hoped) on the ground, nephew Augustus still pulling up a chair to the Ames dinner table, and Evelina and Orinthia sitting near the windows, sewing more men’s shirts. But all wasn’t well in the nation. Since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act the previous fall, discord over the issue of slavery had increased.  In Boston, where Oakes Ames went today, passions ran high among abolitionists.

What did Oakes and Evelina think of the debate? The Ames men admired Daniel Webster, but the famous Whig senator had helped engineer the political compromise that led to the slave act and been roundly denounced for what many in Massachusetts saw as a sell-out. In the interest of preserving national unity, Webster urged his constituents to obey the federal law. If the story that historian William Chaffin tells is true, Oakes Ames disobeyed it. Writes Chaffin:

“Rev L. B. Bates was once here as Methodist minister.  He says that one night not long after the passage of the infamous Fugitive Slave Law a poor slave called him up at midnight for food and help. Rev. Bates fed him and then took him to Oakes Ames who gave him money and sent him on his way rejoicing.”

Lewis Bates was certainly a respected minister in North Easton, but he wasn’t appointed until 1859, so the timing in his recollection of Oakes Ames assisting a runaway slave close on the heels of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act doesn’t jibe. Either Bates got it wrong in the telling or, because he was writing the story many decades later, Chaffin got it wrong in the remembering. The whole tale may be apocryphal, but two ministers believed it to be true. Helping a slave would have been in keeping with Oakes’s generous spirit.

February 15, 1851



Sat Feb 15  This morning mended a pair of pants for Frank

and some other things.  Finished two chemise for Susan

made her a skirt out of an old quilted one of mine.

It has been a very stormy day.  the public school

finished this afternoon.  Oakes A, Mr Pratt, Davidson,

Barrows, R. Willis, Lillie & one or two others visited the 

school.  There were no ladies on account of the rain

Mr Ames went to Boston.  Brought Miss Eaton some maple sugar

While her husband went into Boston today despite poor weather, Evelina stayed in, mended clothes and completed two chemises for Susan. The chemise, a forerunner of today’s slip, was a standard undergarment for women and girls in the 19th century, worn right under the dress (and under the corset, when corsets were worn.)  As Evelina suggests, some undergarments were quilted for warmth, an essential consideration in cold New England. On stormy days like this one, women needed all the padding they could accommodate under their wide skirts.

Oakes Angier Ames visited the local schoolhouse today with men from the school’s superintending committee: Amos Pratt, a teacher; Thomas Davidson, the town’s postmaster; Joseph Barrows, a “shovelmaster” with legal training who lived in a house built by Old Oliver; Rufus Willis, a shoe manufacturer; and Daniel Lillie, another employee of O. Ames & Sons.  Daniel and Oakes Angier were in their early twenties, while the other men were older.  Daniel would be close to the Ames family over the years, and ultimately serve as a pallbearer at Oakes Ames’s funeral in 1873.  Today, however, in the rain, without their wives, the men appeared at the public school on the last day of this session.  Why was Oakes Angier along?  He wasn’t a member of the committee, but perhaps he was developing an interest in local politics.

Oakes Ames, meanwhile, returned from Boston in the evening, bringing with him a gift of maple sugar – a sign of spring – for the failing Miss Eaton.   He may also have returned with news of a serious incident in the city.  Shadrach Minkins, a fugitive slave living and working in Boston, was arrested today by federal marshals at a coffeehouse on Cornhill Street. Minkins would be taken to court, only to be rescued by an anti-slavery group, the Boston Vigilance Committee, who hid him and helped him escape to Montreal.  The controversial new Fugitive Slave Law was being tested.  Had Oakes witnessed any of this?