December 20, 1852

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Monday Dec 20th  Was puttering about house most of the time

this forenoon  made some cake of sour cream

This afternoon here to tea  Mrs H & A L Ames

Mrs Witherell Emily & father & Oliver & wife

Have cut a pattern from Mrs Whitwells

cloak for Susan  Have not done much

sewing of course

Life seemed to be getting back to normal. The servants did the laundry while Evelina puttered about the house and did a little baking. In the evening, the family assembled for tea at Evelina and Oakes’s. Sarah Ames Witherell, Emily Witherell, Oliver Ames Jr., Sarah Lothrop Ames, and Old Oliver himself attended. So did Sally Hewes Ames and Almira Ames, who were still visiting; Almira would stay at the Ames compound well into the new year. Missing were Fred and Helen Ames – off at school, presumably – and Oakes Angier, of course.

The family was weighed down by personal difficulties: Oakes Angier an invalid in far-off Cuba and Sally Hewes Ames fed up and seeking divorce, not to mention the lingering loss of George Oliver Witherell earlier in the year. Perhaps other concerns occupied their thoughts, too. Like many other families, the Ameses drew strength from simply standing together. In the same way they had risen from the fire at the shovel factory back in March, they would do their best to prevail over the latest adversity. What a year it had been for them.

Yet on the horizon, a greater ill loomed which it is our readers’ advantage to know and the Ames family’s innocence not to foresee. Eight years later, on this exact date, the State of South Carolina would issue a proclamation of secession from the United States, kicking off the calamitous American Civil War.

 

October 12, 1852

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Gravestone of George Oliver Witherell

Tuesday Oct 12th  Mother & Louisa dined at Mr Torreys

and I went there to tea I was ready to go

when Mrs Roland & Miss Louisa Howard & Mrs

Dunham from N. Bedford called and stopt

some time  Mrs Witherell & Ames were gone

to Norton to see about Georges grave stone

Augustus & wife & her mother were at Mr Torreys

also

It could be that excitement over the new steam engine that was installed yesterday in the Long Shop continued, but Evelina tells us nothing about it. As usual, she maintains a disinterested distance from business matters. Not that she didn’t care, perhaps, but the business was up to her husband, his brother and her father-in-law. Commerce was in their sphere, the running of the household was in hers, and neither she nor her husband crossed the line between the two. So it was in most households in the middle of the 19th century.

“[I]t was foggy this morning but cleard of[f] warm before noon wind south west,”* reported Old Oliver. Sarah Ames Witherell and Sarah Lothrop Ames rode together to Norton to select a gravestone for Mrs. Witherell’s son, George, who had died at age fourteen the previous spring of rheumatic fever. The task could not have been pleasant, but perhaps Sarah Witherell found solace in marking her son’s passing in such a permanent way. The gravestone – if it is the one that she picked out, as the grave site was eventually moved – can be seen in the Village Cemetery behind the Unitarian Church in North Easton.

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

July 1, 1852

 

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Thursday July 1st  Transplanted some in the garden

this morning but there came up a shower

and put a stop to it  I then went to

mending on some of Susans clothes  Susan

was quite sick last night and not well

enough to go to school to day.  This afternoon 

Mrs Witherell S Ames A Ames rode to make calls

found all the ladies that we were to call on at Mr E Howards

 

In Washington, D. C., Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky became the first person ever to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda.  A giant in his day, he had served in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and as Secretary of State. He was the man who had created the Whig Party and aspired to the presidency, who always spoke passionately for the Union and was willing to compromise to preserve it. As he himself noted in a speech in 1844, “It has been my invariable role to do all for the Union. If any man wants the key of my heart, let him take the key of the Union, and that is the key to my heart…”* He had dedicated his life to public service and the country thanked him.

The next such person to lie in state in the rotunda would be Abraham Lincoln.

Less august (but no less meaningful to Evelina) events transpired in North Easton today. Evelina, Almira Ames, Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell “rode to make calls.” This activity marks the first time that Sarah Witherell had ventured out socially since the death of her son, George, six weeks earlier.

Old Oliver made note of the rain that had interrupted Evelina’s early morning work in the garden: “It raind a little last night + there was a little rain this forenoon it was a warm day + cloudy most of the time.”**

*Henry Clay, from 1844 speech, as quoted in “Henry Clay,” by Robert V. Rimini, New York, 1991

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

June 11, 1852

Coffeepot

 

 

June 11th Friday  This morning had quite a fuss with

Jane about her coffee & beef &c and cannot put

up with such work and to night have engaged

a new girl  Helen & self carried Mr & Mrs

Orr to the Stoughton cars this afternoon […]

We went to the shops this morning & called

on Augustus Abby & Mrs Witherell

 

A red letter day for Evelina: She fired Jane McHanna. In Evelina’s mind, Jane’s work had fallen off – particularly when compared to the accomplishments of Mrs. Patterson – and today, after a “fuss” about breakfast, Jane had to go. Their relationship had ever had its ups and downs; today it ended.

The kerfuffle between Evelina and Jane must have been observed, or overheard, by houseguests Robert and Melinda Orr. Perhaps their presence influenced Evelina’s decision to dismiss Jane, Evelina wanting to exhibit higher standards of domestic efficiency than Jane was used to producing. However it came about, the result was that Jane would go. Evelina found a replacement by nightfall, but would Jane be equally lucky?  A lone woman without means, could she find a new position quickly?

The morning’s upset may have lingered in Evelina’s mind throughout the day, but she continued to entertain her Boston guests according to the means at her disposal. Besides calling on various family members, they walked around the shovel works, a tour which would have interested Robert Orr.  He lived in Boston, but his family in Bridgewater and elsewhere had worked with iron for many years.

In the afternoon, Evelina and her niece Helen Angier Ames “carried” the Orrs to the railroad stop in Stoughton and bid them goodbye. It was one month ago today that George Witherell died.

May 19, 1852

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Wednesday 19th May  Washed the windows in the 

parlour and cleaned it   all that is necessary this spring

Was about house until about four Oclock

when Mrs Swain came and spent the 

afternoon  Mr Swain came to tea  Worked

on the garden about an hour  Susan has

the nose bleed almost every day.  This afternoon

came home before the school was done

 

Spring cleaning was late this year, as the women’s attention had been given over to family illness. The kitchen had been repainted some weeks earlier, but other rooms hadn’t been dealt with. Evelina set out to rectify the delay and, probably with support from Jane McHanna, donned her apron to tackle the best room in the house, the parlor, much of which had been redecorated back in February, so needed little attention beyond its windows and a basic cleaning.

One imagines Evelina and Jane in working clothes as they went about with their brushes, rags and mops. But what did Evelina wear under her apron, or after she changed out of her choring dress? Was she wearing any mourning attire? Did her outfit signify at all the recent loss of her nephew George?

In the 19th century, “[m]ourning was particularly a woman’s affair,”* perhaps because of a societal norm that women were sentimental and emotional, and men were not. There were rules about attire to be followed after the loss of a loved one. At the beginning, black crepe dresses, black veils or headgear, and even black jewelry – onyx, usually, or pins netted with a lock of hair of the departed – were expected to be displayed in some manner. After a certain period, black was put away and lavender, grey or purple dresses were acceptable. The closer the relative was to the deceased, the more exacting the expectation.

In her fine book about death in the Civil War, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust notes:

“By convention, a mother mourned for a child for a year, a child for a parent the same, a sister six months for a brother. A widow mourned for two and a half years, moving through proscribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment. A widower, by contrast, was expected to mourn only for three months, simply by displaying black crape on his hat or armband.”**

By these calculations, Sarah Ames Witherell had been dressed in black or lavender too often before. Her husband had died in August, 1848, her young son Channing in May, 1849 and now her son George. Sad to say, she would have had a black dress or two, plus the appropriate accessories, in her cupboard. But what was Evelina obliged to wear? Perhaps not a black dress – although she had one – but an armband? Or a black ribbon in her bonnet? What was the expectation for an aunt?

 

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 102

**Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 147

 

 

 

 

May 18, 1852

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Pinks

 

1852 Tuesday 18 May  Have accomplished but a very little work

to day  Made a long call in Olivers & the other

part of the house talking over my visit yesterday

Set out some pink slips &c that I got there

About three started for N Bridgewater met

Alson & wife turned about and came back

Spent the rest of the afternoon at Edwins.  called

at Augustus,  her sister Elizabeth there

The visit to the Kinsley family that Evelina had made the day before lingered in her mind. She talked about it with both sisters-in-law, no doubt describing the family, the conversation, and the twelve pots of flowers she got to bring home. Was she bragging or sharing? Were Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell interested or only tolerant? The Kinsleys were well-to-do, prominent citizens of Canton, so one suspects that both sisters-in-law had some curiosity about them. Yet it had only been a week since George Witherell had died, so Sarah Witherell may have had limited attention for Evelina’s gadding about.

After her “long call” with her relatives, Evelina spent time in her garden planting “some pink slips &c” that she got in Canton.  Pinks are bright little flowers that we know better as carnations and more formally as dianthus.  The name comes from the “pinked” or serrated edge of the petals, as if trimmed with pinking shears. Pinks are a traditional flower for a cottage garden; botanist Joseph Breck declared that “There is no flower more desirable in the flower-garden that the Carnation. A well-grown, superior variety, cannot be surpassed, in elegance, beauty, or odor, by any other flower.”*

The pretty little flowers in Evelina’s garden must have brightened up the yard of a home whose occupants needed cheering up.

 

Joseph Breck, The Flower Garden or Breck’s Book of Flowers, Boston, 1851, p. 111

 

May 16, 1852

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1852

Sunday 16th May Mr Whitwell preached a funeral sermon

and very good  At noon mother Henrietta

and self spent at Mr Whitwells  After meeting

Mr Ames Susan & I rode to Mr Clapps made

quite a long call  he has but a very few 

flowers in blossom, pansys were very pretty

Have engaged a trellis of him

The last formal recognition of the death of fourteen year old George Witherell took place in the Unitarian church this Sunday when the minister “preached a funeral sermon.”  Different from the ritual text that probably defined the graveside service just three days earlier, the sermon was presumably a collection of thoughts about death in general and the death of the young man in particular.  Reverend Whitwell knew the family well and, being an articulate and thoughtful wordsmith, must have offered the family some personal comfort and consolation.

Evelina appeared to be recovering her strength. With her husband and daughter, she rode to Stoughton after church to visit Lucius Clapp, where they made “quite a long call.” Evelina discussed flowers and a trellis. Was this trellis ordered in place of the one at the front door that was being built only ten days earlier?  Or was this a new trellis entirely, designed perhaps for the garden?  Was this the year of the trellis?

One imagines that Oakes Ames offered less direction about the trellis than his wife.  What he might have preferred to discuss with Lucius Clapp was their shared interest in the Whig party, or their mutual respect for temperance.  According to one nineteenth century historian, Mr. Clapp was a “kind-hearted”* man with a “modest and retiring nature.”* His politics were informed and liberal:

Formerly a Whig, Mr. Clapp has been identified with the most progressive political creeds. He was one of the original Free Soilers, and chairman of the first Free-Soil meeting held in Stoughton. Since its organization he has supported the Republican party. He has been [a] member of school committees several years, and selectman of Stoughton seven years, and now (1883) holds that position. He has always been pronounced in advocacy of temperance, and has been connected with every movement for the betterment and advancement of his native town. He is an attendant and supporter of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”*

Mr. Clapp and Mr. Ames would have had much to talk over.

 

*D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, 1884, pp. 424-425