October 22, 1852

 

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Tibetan Sheep, 21st century

Friday Oct 22d Julia Mahoney was here to work

this forenoon on Susans Maroon Thibot

making a new waist and put a new yoke

and making over the waist to her dark

striped wool deLaine  Carried home the

waist to finish to her Thibot dress  I spent

the afternoon at Olivers with Hannah + Augustus

Mr Whitwell called

 

Julia Mahoney, a local dressmaker, worked at Evelina’s sewing at least two dresses for Susan Ames. Susie, who was ten-going-on-eleven, was growing taller and more mature. The dresses she had worn the previous winter needed to be altered, the waists expanded, the tucks let out, a new yoke put in. One of her dresses was made of delaine, a wool that Evelina sewed often for herself and her daughter. It was a popular, open-weave, light-weight wool that came in many patterns and colors; it may or may not have been imported.

The “Thibot” cloth that Evelina describes was more unusual. It was of “[w]ool material, worsted with soft and smooth plain-finished face; made from mountain sheep of Thibet, Asia*.” This textile was imported and would have been more expensive, suggesting that Susie’s little maroon dress may have been meant for “Sunday best.” It was special enough that the dressmaker took it home to work on.

In Boston at this time, sources for wool were both domestic and foreign.  There were approximately 15 wool merchants in the city, most of whom were prospering. According to an early 20th century history:

“The quantity of domestic wool showed a steady decrease for several years subsequent to the enactment of the tariff of 1846. The effect of the gold discoveries upon general commerce in 1849, stimulating the manufacturing industry, is reflected in the rapidly increased imports of home grown wools. The imports of foreign wools show considerable yearly fluctuation, corresponding in the main to the varying quantities of domestic wools.”**

Some years later, Susie would marry a wool merchant named Henry French. She and Evelina would then – presumably – have access to whatever wool they needed or wanted, foreign or domestic.

*Betty J. Mills, Calico Chronicle: Texas Women and Their Fashions, 1830-1910, Texas Tech University Press, 1988, p. 183

**Joseph T. Shaw, The Wool Trade of the United States: History of a Great Industry:Its Rise and Progress in Boston, Now the Second Market in the World, 1909, p. 52

October 13, 1852

 

Blackstrapmolasses

Molasses

Wednesday Oct 13th  Baked this morning in the brick oven

Went with Mother & Lavinia over to Edwins

to get her receipt for making molasses ginger

snaps  left them to see over the house and came

home to have Susan ready to take her third

music lesson  Miss Alger came about nine.

Mother & Lavinia & self rode over to call on Mrs

E Keith. Augustus & wife  Mr Torrey & Abby spent the 

evening  Malvina spent the night with Susan

Ginger snaps came out of the old brick oven this morning and, although Evelina had baked them countless times before, she was trying out a new recipe borrowed from Augusta Pool Gilmore. No doubt the lovely fragrance of baking wafted into the parlor where Susan was taking her piano lesson from Miss Alger.

Although the recipe was different, the use of molasses was not. Molasses was a staple in most American kitchens and had been from colonial days onward. Molasses is the residue from the evaporated sap of sugar cane, available in varying degrees of sweetness and hue. In the days before refined sugar granules gained preference, molasses was the definitive sweetener in most homes.

Molasses was also the substance from which rum was made and, as such, was a primary factor in the historic “Triangular Trade” that went on in England, Africa, and the West Indies. It involved slavery. England sold rum in Africa in return for slaves, whom they took to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations to produce molasses and unrefined sugar. The sugar stuffs then came to America so the colonies could make rum. On top of that, England established a tax on the colonies for the imported sugar which was one of the many grievances that led to the American Revolution.

Botanic historian Judith Sumner writes:

[T]he early American economy was deeply tied to sugar production; in eighteenth and early nineteenth century New England, the sugar trade promoted shipbuilding and spawned a rum industry with serious social ramifications.  Colonies also traded lumber, grains, meat, livestock and horses to supply the sugar plantations in the West Indies, where the owners concentrated exclusively on sugar production.”*

The connection of sugar cane to slavery did not go unnoticed. By the nineteenth century, “sugar was avoided by those who abhorred slavery because of the complex trading triangle that revolved around slaves, molasses, and rum […] Antislavery pamphlets illustrated cruel sugar plantation practices, where slaves were tethered to weights to prevent their escape and prevented from eating sugar cane by wearing heavy head frames.”* Some abolitionist households boycotted the use of sugar.

As we see, sugar processing and molasses production have an often unhappy history in the United States. And we haven’t even touched on Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, pp. 206-207

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

October 7, 1852

elm-yellows

 

Oct 7th Thursday  Have been cutting out some shirts

for bosoms.  Catharine Murphy has made

four window curtains for my front chamber

Mrs Witherell Mrs S Ames & self passed the

afternoon & evening at Mr Swains  Mr Ames 

came to tea and Oliver rode down after us and 

stopt awhile Mr & Mrs Meader are there &

Ellen Meader  Augustus wife went to Boston

 

There was quite a bit of socializing today, prompted in part by good weather. “[T]he 7th was a fair pleasant day + verry warm,” noted Old Oliver Ames. Henry David Thoreau, some 40 miles to Oliver’s north, was more discursive about the sunshine:

I sit on Poplar Hill. It is a warm Indian-summerish afternoon. The sun comes out of clouds, and lights up and warms the whole scene. It is perfect autumn. I see a hundred smokes arising through the yellow elm-tops in the village, where the villagers are preparing for tea. It is the mellowing year. The sunshine harmonizes with the imbrowned and fiery foliage.**

The elm trees such as the ones that Thoreau mentions would also have been seen by Old Oliver. In fact, they would have been seen across the state and beyond. Once upon a time, American Elms were ubiquitous in the United States.They were tall trees with a wine-glass profile and a graceful green canopy. In the 20th century, however, most of them were wiped out by Dutch Elm disease. The existence of “Elm Streets” in communities around the country attests to the fact that elms were once as common as maples or pines. As Thoreau suggests, many a small town lived under their shade.

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

**Henry David Thoreau, Journal, courtesy of http://hdt.typepad.com/henrys_blog

 

 

October 2, 1852

doc-2-dakotapaul

Oct 2d Saturday  Have had quite a party this after 

noon  Mrs Norris, Mrs Mower, Miss Foss, Linscott

& Lavinia here to dine & Hannah Augusta Abby

& Malvina here to tea  Carried Augusta out to

ride the first that she has been out for a long time

We have been to the shops and making calls

and I have done no sewing to day  Mrs Mower

went home with Lavinia  Made my peach preserves

Mr Ames came home from New York

 

 

Friends of Evelina descended on the house today, some for dinner and some for tea. Carriages full of females trotted along Main Street, coming or going to the Ames residence. Evelina’s friend, Orinthia Foss and her fellow school teacher, Frances Linscott, came from Bridgewater and spent the night. Niece Lavinia Gilmore arrived to help with house guests Melinda Norris and Louisa Mower, the latter from Maine. At tea time, Evelina’s sister-in-law Hannah Lincoln Gilmore and two nieces, Abby and Melvina Torrey, joined the group. For the second time this week, many women filled the parlor. We might imagine that Evelina was really enjoying herself.

What did the men of the family do to cope with all the socializing? Join the crowd or disappear into the office next door? What must Oakes Ames have thought when he walked in, home from his business trip?

Augusta Pool Gilmore, who had been ailing for many weeks now, was on the mend. She, too, came for tea and later was taken out for a drive. Like yesterday, the weather was mild and sunny and Augusta must have felt reborn to finally get out of her sick room and back with the living.

Even with a big midday meal and many for tea, the servants – and perhaps Evelina herself – still managed to put up some peach preserves. What a busy kitchen!

 

September 30, 1852

Spiced-Butternut-Squash-Pie-450

Squash Pie*

Thursday Sept 30th  Have swept the parlour

and Catharine has swept the chambers

and we have baked squash and apple pies

in the brick oven.  Hannah Welch came

last night and has done part of the ironing

to day.  this evening she heard her sister

was sick and she has left and gone back 

to Lynn.  Mrs Lincoln called with Hannah

 

Life at the Ames house returned to normal after yesterday’s meeting of the Sewing Circle. Evelina and a servant, Catharine Middleton, swept and tidied up while a new servant, Hannah Welch, tended to the ironing. Hannah would leave abruptly however, never to return, making her one-day employment the shortest on Evelina’s growing list of departed servants.

The household carried on. Today was a baking day, back in the capacious brick oven that Evelina shared with her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell, in the other part of the house. Squash and apple pies were on the menu, naturally, both being part of the fall harvest. Squash pies were as routine as pumpkin pies; every contemporary cookbook offered a recipe. Sarah Josepha Hale, though critical of pies in general as being too rich, allowed that they were acceptable in the colder months “because then we can bear a rich concentrated diet, better than during hot weather.”** Her recipe:

Pare, take out the seeds and stew the squash until very soft and dry. Strain or rub it through a sieve or colander. Mix this with good milk till it is thick with batter: sweeten it with sugar.  Allow three eggs to a quart of milk, beat the eggs well, add them to the squash, and season with rose water, cinnamon, nutmeg, or whatever spices you like. Line a pie-plate with crust, fill and bake about an hour.**

The rich pies probably hit the spot with the family. Certainly, the timing was perfect because on this night, “there was a pritty havy frost.”*** Fall had arrived.

 

*Image courtesy of  www.lostrecipesfound.com

**Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, pp. 81-82

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

September 14, 1852

Grapes

Tuesday Sept 14th  Alson came this forenoon and carried

mother home  I have ironed 13 fine shirts made

grape jelly and have been hard at work all

day  Mr Torrey came and staid a long while

talking over the news of the neighborhood

Mrs Stevens & self called on Augustus & wife and

went over [to] Mr Carrs where they have commenced

mowing  Mr Torrey & Abby were away, door fastened

New carriage & Buggy chaise came to night

 

Evelina didn’t stop moving today. She saw her mother depart for home, ironed a baker’s dozen of shirts, made grape jelly, did her usual picking up around the house, entertained guests, and paid a call on her nephew and others. It’s hard to imagine that her kitchen could accommodate the ironing of white shirts and the boiling of purple jelly at the same time, yet we read that this was so.

We readers should also note that for once, it’s Evelina, and not her father-in-law, who tells us that there is mowing going on in the neighborhood. The men were working quickly, one imagines, as “there was Some frost last night.”* Officially, it was still summer, but winter was on the far horizon, and preparations were underway.

And there was new equipage! A carriage and a buggy or chaise arrived. Who had just bought them?  Old Oliver?  Oakes or Oliver, Jr., or one of the sons, or all of the above? How, exactly, might the ownership of the vehicles have worked?

 

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