May 24, 1851

Calf

 

May 24th Saturday.  Have been about the house at work

most of day.  After dinner carried my old sitting

room carpet out on the grass to wash the spots

and worked awhile in the garden  About two

Oclock Orinthia came.  She walked to Mr Elijah

Howards before breakfast and he brought her up 

She stoped to dine with Abby.  We called at the

store and at Mr Holmes.  Cow calved.

Housework and gardening informed most of Evelina’s day until a visit from Orinthia in the afternoon, at which point Evelina put down the stained carpet pieces or sat up from weeding to welcome back her young friend. The two women went shopping in the village at the Ames company store, and called on Harriet Holmes.  They must have been glad to be back together, even though Orinthia had only left a week earlier. Perhaps Abby Torrey joined them on their errands and calls.

Evelina’s work on the old carpet took place out of doors, somewhere in the yard of the house on Main Street. It only made sense to wash a large piece of rug outside in good light with a place for the water to run off.  The job was messy by definition, but needed to be done and to Evelina, how the project might have looked to passersby was perhaps less important than how effectively the spots were removed. Front yards were becoming more formal, so perhaps Evelina worked on the carpet in the back of the house where the laundry, presumably, was hung, out of sight of the street. We might imagine that Sarah Lothrop Ames, next door, would certainly be discreet in her management of a similar task, a task, in fact, she would most likely delegate to others.

Old Oliver had to have been pleased today. One of his cows calved, adding to his herd. It’s curious that Evelina, who rarely mentions the agricultural side of their lives, made mention of what must have been a predictable springtime event. She wasn’t often engaged by the external activities of either the farm or the factory.  She stayed focused on her house and her yard, but today something about the new calf drew her attention.

May 14, 1851

 

Evelina, Oakes and Susan Ames, ca. 1860 Archives at Stonehill College, Easton, Massachusetts

Evelina, Oakes and Susan Ames, ca. 1860
Archives at Stonehill College, Easton, Massachusetts

Wednesday May 14  Susans birth day and she has had a little

party.  Julia has been here to work on Orinthias

dresses.  Ellen Howard called this evening

came from Jasons. Mrs Holmes called a 

few moments this morning.  I have swept

and dusted the front chamber and taken the 

carpet from the stairs and painted them It

has been a confused day. Pleasant this afternoon

Augustus gone to Boston

 

Another interruptious day, filled by “confused” and overlapping events: Susie Ames’s birthday party, Julia Mahoney’s work on dresses for Orinthia Foss, calls from Ellen Howard and Harriet Holmes, the usual choring in the downstairs rooms, not to mention Evelina’s removing the carpet from the stairs and painting the treads. What commotion.

Susan Eveline Ames, the only daughter and youngest child of Evelina and Oakes Ames, turned nine years old today and was treated to a little party. Did she have friends over or was the party strictly en famille? Did she have cake? Ginger snaps? Presents? What was a nine-year-old’s birthday party like in 1851?

Born in 1842, Susie Ames came along several years after all her big brothers were born. From the beginning, she was raised differently from them. While they were slated to work, earn and provide, her education and training were oriented toward a future of domestic responsibilities. Like most girls of the time, she was brought up assuming that she would marry and raise a family. If she failed to marry, she would have to make her way as a spinster aunt living with one or more of her brothers, or become a schoolteacher like Orinthia Foss. Which route was hers?  Marriage.

On January 1, 1861, Susan married Henry W. French, a wool merchant. She was 18 years old; he was 27. For many years, the couple lived in the Ames house with her parents, and possibly looked after the house during the periods when congressman Oakes and Evelina were in Washington. For a time, Susan and Henry lived in their own home on Main Street, on the site where the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall came to be built circa 1880.

As Evelina moved into widowhood and grappled with illness and age, Susan looked after her. She and Henry never had any children, so the particulars of her story weren’t passed on to interested offspring. She only comes to life in her mother and brother Oliver’s journals.

 

 

 

 

February 26, 1851

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Feb 26  Wednesday.  Have been baking  Heat the oven twice

made 18 mince pies.  Cake brown bread & ginger snaps

Mr Whitwell called & brought home some books.

I called to see Miss Eaton this afternoon she has failed

very much since I saw her nearly two weeks since.  Mrs. 

Wright is sick with the pleurisy & lung fever, both have watches

Abby & Malvina spent this evening here   The boys have

all gone to the meeting house to a sing  Pleasant & mild

A[u]gustus here to dine

Eighteen mincemeat pies! Hard to fathom a domestic pantry, pie safe or cold shelf  that could hold 18 mince meat pies all at once, let alone an oven that would bake even half that number at one time.  Cake, cookies, and bread, too.

The brown bread that Evelina baked today was a staple of the New England kitchen, and was made from some combination of Indian (corn) meal and rye.  While other geographic areas of the United States, like the south, the mid-Atlantic and the expanding west, had turned to wheat as their preferred grain for baking bread, Yankee housewives, “who valued and esteemed brown bread as the food of their Puritan ancestors,*” held to the familiar cornmeal and rye.  So it was in Evelina’s kitchen.

According to Sarah Josepha Hale, who published The Good Housekeeper in 1841, brown bread was “an excellent article of diet for the dyspeptic and the costive.”   Mary Peabody Mann, in Christianity in the Kitchen pronounced brown bread to be “a nutritive bread, though inferior in this respect to wheat,” and agreed that it produced “a laxative effect upon the system.”  Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, liked brown bread for its economy and tradition.  She advised that it “be put into a very hot oven, and baked three or four hours.”

After she got away from the cook room, Evelina was visited by Reverend Whitwell who either borrowed some books from her or lent some to her – the passage is unclear. Both of their homes must have housed a collection of books, and borrowing and sharing was common.  A decade or so earlier, Easton had boasted of two or three lending libraries but these institutions had pretty well ceased to operate.  Other, better organized libraries would be formed later that century, but in 1851, if someone wanted a book to read, he or she borrowed it from a friend or bought the publication.

In the neighborhood, Miss Eaton was still failing and now, under the same roof,  Mrs. Wright, mother of Harriet Holmes, was believed to be dying, also.  Neighbors were helping Mrs. Holmes with the care and feeding of the two invalids.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, p. 48

January 21, 1851

Potato

Jan 21  Tuesday.  This morning commenced working on

Susans sack but had some things to do about house so

that I could not accomplish much.  Mrs. Holmes called

to get some potatoes for Miss Eaton  says she (Miss E) is

failing and the Dr had told her that he could not help

her  Mr Robinson came this afternoon to varnish the

chimney pieces & spilled the varnish over my carpet

which prevented me from going to have Susans doll

dressed

Harriet Holmes, a neighbor, came to the Ames house to fetch potatoes for the ailing Miss Eaton, the same Miss Eaton on whom Evelina and Sarah Ames called during the cold spell earlier in the month. The spinster lived with Harriet and Bradford Holmes, their children, Harriet’s mother and a shovel worker named Oliver Eaton – a relative, possibly.  Mr. Holmes was a teamster who probably worked with Old Oliver’s oxen. Many folks who lived in North Easton were connected to the shovel works in some way.

The potatoes that Evelina gave away would have been grown either by Old Oliver or by Alson Gilmore, Evelina’s brother, who owned the Gilmore family farm.  Potatoes were common fare at the dinner table, and particularly a favorite for winter use.  The Irish called them “pratties.” The challenge for a housewife lay in how to serve potatoes: mashed, roasted, and boiled were familiar variations, then and today.  Sarah Josepha Hale underscored the dietary importance of potatoes in her book, The Good Housekeeper.  “To boil Potatoes in the best manner, is a very great perfection in cookery,” she said.

In the Ames sitting room, hapless Mr. Robinson had to contend with a displeased housewife after he spilled varnish on the carpet.  He was already in Evelina’s bad graces from having taken too long to paint around the fireplaces. How do you suppose Evelina got the varnish cleaned up?