October 26, 1852


1860s blue striped muslin dress from St. Albans Museums

Dress with undersleeves, mid-19th c.*

Tuesday Oct 26  We have had a large washing

done to day and not finished untill

after dinner  Miss Alger & self spent

the afternoon in Olivers  Mr Ames

& all the children there to tea  Mr & Mrs 

Whitwell was there an hour or two

I made Susan a pair of undersleeves

and she is delighted with them


Because of all the company that had visited over the weekend, the servant girls were unable to launder clothes on Monday. Today, extra sheets and towels were added to the usual load and the washing went on into the afternoon. Not that Evelina rolled up her sleeves; after the midday meal, she and her remaining houseguest, Miss M. J. Alger, went next door to visit with Sarah Lothrop Ames and stayed for tea. All the family partook.

At various points during the day, Evelina had her work box open as she completed a pair of undersleeves for her daughter. Susie was “delighted” with them. Were they a peace offering from mother to daughter, perhaps to make up for Evelina’s insistence on Susan learning to play piano?

We’ve seen Evelina sewing undersleeves before. In the 1850’s and into the Civil War, undersleeves were an essential component of any woman’s dress, fitting independently but securely under the looser outer sleeve of the dress proper. Like the collars of the day, a good pair of undersleeves could be worn with different dresses. Susie must have felt rather grown-up with her new pair.

On the industrial side of American life, meanwhile, today was the 27th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal. The technological wonder of its day, it was already becoming obsolete. Railroads had arrived and, through their own capacity for moving freight, would soon obviate commercial use of the canal for many (though not all) industries. Shipping would change – was changing. The very word “shipping” derives from the fact that, initially, more goods moved by water than by land. This would no longer be true in this country or elsewhere in the developed world.

We should remember that Harriet Ames Mitchell, Old Oliver’s youngest daughter, was living in Erie at the time with her husband Asa and their three children.  Did they mark the day?


*Image of striped blue muslin dress with undersleeves courtesy of St. Albans Museum, England




July 27, 1852



Tuesday July 27th  Mrs Savage had quite a

comfortable night & I came home a

little before 5 Oclock & went to bed

did not rise untill nearly nine

Elizabeth Pool & Augusta came

in this forenoon with their work

Mrs Whitwell Reed Howard & Miss

Jarvis called on us all & Alsons wife

was here to tea & Mother at Augustus’

Evelina’s all-nighter at the bedside of Mrs. Savage didn’t seem to impinge on her day.  After a catch-up sleep in the early morning, she was back on her feet.  Augusta Gilmore and her young sister Elizabeth came over “with their work,” meaning that they brought some sewing with them, and the women sat, sewed, and visited. Later in the day, several ladies from her Unitarian circle of friends “called on us”.  Her brother Alson’s wife, Henrietta Williams Gilmore, came by for tea. A most sociable day, it was.

In the other part of the house, “Horatio Ames Jun r came here to day.”* Horatio was, obviously, the eldest son of Horatio Ames, who was the brother of Oakes, Oliver Jr., Sarah Witherell, Harriet Mitchell and William Leonard Ames. Repeating previous posts, Horatio ran a forge in Connecticut, far from the shovel shop in Easton, but still connected to it financially and emotionally. He and his son were not on friendly terms, and it’s hard to determine just what had brought Horatio Jr to Easton.  He arrived in the evening and for some reason Evelina didn’t mention it in her diary.


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


June 12, 1852

 3124164293_b3d771db50Lace bonnet

June 12th Sat  Jane has left and gone to Mr Savages

Mrs Patterson is here yet  Cousin Susan Orr

and Harriet Mitchell came to the other part

of the house this morning  I have spent the

afternoon there and Augusta stoped there awhile

Have finished my bonnet & lined & trimmed

Susans last summer bonnet

Jane McHanna, the Irish servant whom Evelina had fired the previous day, found immediate employment in the village at the home of William and Hannah Savage. Mr. Savage worked at the shovel factory; Mrs. Savage was a homemaker with a teenage daughter, Abby.  Mrs. Savage, unfortunately, was ailing, and needed help around the house.

That Jane found another position so quickly speaks not just to the circumstances of the Savage family, but also to her own capabilities.  She may have been more adept than Evelina had lately given her credit for, and others knew it. By 1855, Jane would be working for Oliver Ames Jr. and his wife Sarah Lothrop Ames, a couple with high standards. How would that play out for the two sisters-in-law?

But meanwhile, Evelina had Mrs. Patterson to depend on, and a whole afternoon in which to finish her – and Susan’s – latest bonnets.  She also got to sit and visit in the other part of the house with Sarah Witherell, where both were visited by Susan Orr, Harriett Mitchell and the young bride, Augusta Pool Gilmore.  Did Augusta share the information that she was now in her first trimester of pregnancy? Probably not, and impossible to know, but fun to imagine the conversation if she did.

April 4, 1852




April 4th Sunday.  Orinthia and self went to the

Catholic meeting this forenoon after waiting more than

an hour the priest came and driveled over a mess

of nonsense in latin, they distributed palm as they called

it being nothing more than cedar & pine twigs.

Sat there three tedious hours, came home and

went to our church in the afternoon. since have

written a letter to Sister H. &c  Susan went over to Anna.

Evelina’s ill-tempered condescension continued today when she and her sidekick, Orinthia Foss, attended a morning service at the little Catholic church on Pond Street. It was Palm Sunday. Father Thomas was late – not unusual for an itinerant priest – and the service was in Latin, a language that Evelina didn’t understand, all for a holy day that Unitarians didn’t acknowledge. Most vexing of all, perhaps, was that the palms weren’t even real.

By her own account, Evelina was better satisfied by a service in the afternoon at her own church. The question is, why did Evelina attend the Catholic service to begin with? Out of curiosity? Out of respect for her own Catholic servant, Jane McHanna? Was this Orinthia’s idea?

Whatever her motive, Evelina came away from her “three tedious hours” as anti-Catholic as ever. Such feelings would not have been encouraged by her husband, Oakes, who was more welcoming of the Irish newcomers. But Evelina would have found reinforcement at home from her father-in-law, Old Oliver, who was no fan of the Irish Catholics in Easton, for all the work they did at the shovel shops.

In Easton, in Boston and all over New England, differences between the old Puritan customs and the transplanted Irish culture were pronounced and, for many, unyielding. In strictly religious terms, Unitarians couldn’t imagine a religion that kowtowed to a foreign leader, as they deemed the pope, while Catholics were incredulous that Protestants could just shake off the time-honored and revered practices of the original church. The melding of the two cultures would be a long time coming, and in some circles is still a work in progress.

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


October 9, 1851


Thursday Oct 9th  Jane has been sick to day went to bed directly

after washing the breakfast dishes and I had to get

dinner  After dinner she was much better and was

able to […do] the dishes  This afternoon I have passed

in Olivers with Miss S. Orr.  Mrs Witherell & Mitchell

Mr Ames & William there to tea Have trimmed

Susans bonnet with dark ribbon


Jane McHanna was sick.  The domestic team at the Oakes Ames house was barely operational, what with Evelina herself still feeling the effects of a mean case of nettlerash. But between them, the two women, servant and mistress, managed to make meals appear on the dinner table in a timely fashion. Did the men of the house appreciate the extra effort going on behind the kitchen door?

Tea was a special event today, served next door at Oliver, Jr. and Sarah Lothrop Ames’s. Present were five of Old Oliver’s six surviving children: Sarah Witherell, Harriett Mitchell, Oakes Ames, William Leonard Ames, and the host, Oliver Ames, Jr. William was visiting, if not from New Jersey, then from his current way station on his journey to Minnesota. Harriett, too, held visitor status;  she and her children were about to return to her husband in Pennsylvania. Only Sarah Witherell, Oakes, and Oliver Jr. lived in North Easton and saw one another regularly.

Missing from the group was Horatio Ames, who lived down in Connecticut. No one’s favorite sibling, some – Oakes, particularly – may even have appreciated his absence. Interesting that Old Oliver himself isn’t mentioned as being present.

Another guest who was also there at this rare gathering of the clan was Miss Susan Orr, a long-time family friend (or relative?) who had known the group when they were children. She could remember Oakes Ames as a baby. Susan had been staying with Sarah Witherell and Old Oliver for about ten days. Meanwhile, a different Susan, only nine-years-old, got her bonnet trimmed with a new ribbon.


October 4, 1851


Oct 4th Sat.  Preserved 25 pounds of peaches and 16 lbs

barbaries & about 23 lbs Apples with them.  Have

been about sick all day  Expect I have taken

the nettlerash from Susan have been troubled

with it three or four days.  Called this afternoon

at Augustus find them quite comfortably settled

Harriet trimmed my Bonnet with the ribbon I

wore last fall  Charles Mitchell came to see Mrs Mitchell


Evelina hadn’t felt very well for several days and began to feel even worse today. She believed she had “taken the nettlerash from Susan,” meaning that she now had hives, just as her daughter had had a week earlier. It made her feel “about sick” yet she stayed upright and worked in the kitchen most of the day. The fruit they had picked or gathered from friends and family wouldn’t keep, so the cooking had to get done.

In the kitchen, Evelina, probably with significant help from Jane McHanna, put up 64 pounds of fruit. She didn’t make jam, which would have consisted of cooked fruit pulp, nor did she make jelly, which would have been made from fruit juice.  She made preserves, which in this instance were pared peaches and apples, the latter mixed with barberries, that were placed whole or in chunks in sugar – lots of sugar – and then boiled down. And because “ingredients in […] loaf sugar are not always very clean,”* most cookbooks of the day strongly urged that the sugar be clarified.

Mrs. Cornelius, in her 1846 The Young Housekeeper’s Friend,* noted that “[t]he chief art in making nice preserves, and such as will keep, consists in the proper preparation of the syrup.  All sugars are better for being clarified.”* Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, more than ten years later in her cookbook, Christianity in the Kitchen, agreed with the necessity of clarifying the sugar The process was labor intensive; even with the help of Jane McHanna, Evelina would have had hours of work if she followed Mrs. Mann’s “receipt”:

“Put half a pint of water to every pound of sugar.  Stir in the white of an egg for every five pounds of sugar, and let it boil; when it rises, put in half a teacup of water and let it boil again, and repeat this process two or three times.  Set the kettle aside for fifteen minutes, then take the scum from the top.  Pout off the syrup; wash the kettle, and put in the fruit you wish to preserve.”**

After sitting at the kitchen table paring the fruit, or standing over the stove clarifying the sugar, or placing the fruit into the stoneware or glass jars, Evelina needed a break. She took a walk to the village to see her nephew Augustus and his family. Even if she wasn’t feeling well, the fresh air must have felt good after the heat and bustle of the kitchen.



Mary Hooker Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846

** Mary Peabody Mann, Christianity in the Kitchen, 1858

September 27, 1851


 $20 Gold Piece, 1850

Sat Sept 27  Have been very busy to day but can

scarcely tell what I have done have been working

about house most of the time  Have bought

Mrs Mitchells beaureau and to night it has

come and it looks better than I expected  agreed

to pay her 18 dollars but shall give her 20 for it

Mr Ames carried back the chairs to Bigelows

and bought me one at Courrier & Trouts for […] 25 Dols

William Chaffin, Unitarian minister and town historian, once described Evelina as “very economical.”* He claimed that she mended her husband’s pants so that he wouldn’t have to spend money on new ones. Some Ames descendants and others knowledgeable about the family history also consider Evelina to be the personification of Yankee frugality. She sewed tucks into dresses, reused old pieces of carpet, made her own soap and kept careful household accounts. She mended coats, upholstered a lounge for the parlor and roped relatives and friends into helping her make shirts for all the men in her house. She did work that she could have paid others to do for her. Was she being cheap or was work a habit with her? Or both?

Evelina could and did spend money, as last week’s flurry of shopping in Boston demonstrates. She bought dress fabric, chairs for the parlor and new wallpaper. And today, only one week later, she paid her sister-in-law, Harriett, $2 more for a chest of drawers than the price they had agreed upon. The gesture was generous, and underscores the possibility that Evelina was not quite the cheapskate that family tradition has allowed.

As the acquisition of the used “beaureau” shows, Evelina was having a burst of redecorating. What had set this off? The shovel shop was doing well, obviously, so they could afford to buy new things. Beyond having the means, what encouraged her to make these alterations? Was she being encouraged by her husband? He seemed to be right there with her at the store.  Was Oakes’s participation prompted by an easy complacency about his wife’s spending or a shared enthusiasm for the new purchases? Was an influx of wealth changing the way they lived?

* William Chaffin, Oakes Ames, private publication, Courtesy of Easton Historical Society

September 26, 1851



Friday 26th  Mrs S Ames & Mrs Mitchell went into Boston & Cambridge

Wednesday & returned last night  Julia is to work

for Helen to day  they talk of sending her to Boston

to school  I have been to work on my dresses some

to day and have varnished my desk & beaureau

& some other things, taken up some plants 

from the garden  It is very cold and we had 

some frost last night

It had been a week ago today that Evelina, Oakes, and other Ameses had stood in Boston for hours watching a grand parade celebrating the railroad.  Since that time, Evelina had returned home, rearranged furniture and nursed her daughter through an uncomfortable spell of sickness.  She must have finally felt that her life was getting back to normal.

Evelina sewed a bit today, of course, and continued to redecorate, varnishing two pieces of furniture. Even more pressing, however, was her garden. She brought some plants into the house in hopes that they would winter over and, most likely, pulled out other annuals that she had planted months earlier.  She was feeling the cold and noted the frost, although her father-in-law, Old Oliver, contradicted her in his assessment of today’s weather as “cloudy most of the day but not cold.”

Old Oliver also noted that “Horatio was here to day, ” something that Evelina neglected to mention. Horatio and Oakes Ames didn’t get along, so the men would have avoided one another if possible. Perhaps Evelina didn’t see Horatio, although, given his great size and odd voice, he would have been hard to miss. As described by Winthrop Ames, Horatio “was an enormous man, so large that when he walked beside his father he made the latter appear of almost ordinary stature; but with a piping voice which seemed especially incongruous with his great frame.”**

Evelina did quickly see sisters-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames and Harriett Ames Mitchell who returned from an overnight in the city. Sarah may have been scouting boarding schools for her daughter, Helen.


* Courtesy of cherrycroft.blogspot.com

** Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1937, p.107