December 23, 1852

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Thursday Dec 23d  Have been at work part of the

time on Susans sack & part of the time

fixing work for Catharine  She has got Susans

skirt ready for gathering and run the breadths

of my raw silk  Helen came home in

the stage to night Heard Susan practice

an hour this evening she does not take as

much interest as I could wish

 

Orville L. Holley, editor of theTroy [N.Y.] Sentinel, didn’t know who had written the poem. It had been sent in by a friend of the anonymous author. But Holley was looking for good Christmas copy, so on this date in 1823, he published A Visit from St. Nicholas,* with “cordial thanks to whoever had sent him these Christmas verses.”* He knew the piece was good, but he couldn’t have imagined the lasting fame it would receive. He couldn’t have foretold how iconic Twas the Night Before Christmas would become.

It would be another fourteen years, more or less, until the public discovered the name of the author. He was Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of oriental and Greek literature at General Theological Seminary in New York City and author of several academic works such as Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language. He was also a poet, and the father of nine children. He had written A Visit from St. Nicholas for his older children and read it to them on Christmas Eve, 1822. A friend of the family had heard the poem, copied it, and sent it to the newspaper. Aren’t we lucky she saved it? Professor Moore, by the way, was born in 1779 and died in 1863 – the same life span as Old Oliver Ames.

Did Evelina know this poem? Was she familiar with St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and other Christmas lore that immigrated from the Old World to the New? Reader that she was, she was bound to know about Christmas. But so far in her life, it was a holiday that others, and not she, celebrated.

Her grandchildren would one day know the poem by heart. Dash away, dash away, dash away all!

 

*Information on Clement Clarke Moore and A Visit from St. Nicholas can be found at http://www.poetryfoundation.org

 

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.

 

November 25, 1852

Turkey

Nov 25

[…] Thanksgiving  Mr & Mrs

Whitwell Father Mrs Witherell Emily Horatio &

Gustavus dined at tea here.  Michael &

sister & Ann Oral at the second table.

Mr W went home at half past three to

marry a couple   Oakes A Emily & Susan went

with him After they left this evening Mrs

Witherell & self called on Mrs Dow in Olivers

Mr & Mrs Dow & family Mr & Mrs H Lothrop & Cyrus

at Olivers 

“[T]his was thanksgiving day,” wrote Old Oliver Ames, after a brief notation that the day “was fair in the morning but clouded up in the afternoon”. Evelina and her servants prepared a feast that fed at least fifteen people. The whole Oakes Ames family was there, naturally, and so was Old Oliver. Dining with them were Sarah and Emily Witherell, Reverend and Mrs. Whitwell, brother Horatio Ames and his youngest son Gustavus, the latter two having arrived from Connecticut the day before. At the “second table”  – which likely means a second seating – the servants partook. Catharine Murphy and Ann Shinkwin were presumably present, as was Michael Burns (Old Oliver’s coachman/ostler), his sister and Ann Orel, a young Irish girl who worked for Sarah Witherell.

Family gathered next door, too. The Oliver Ameses, meaning Oliver Jr.,Sarah Lothrop Ames and their children Fred and Helen, shared the repast with two of Sarah’s brothers, Henry and Cyrus, along with Henry’s wife Eleanor and long-time friends, the Dows. Quite a gathering, all told, as family members dined and visited.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the patron saint of Thanksgiving, describes her understanding of the origin of Thanksgiving in a novel she wrote in 1827 and republished in 1852:

“Soon after the settlement of Boston, the colony was reduced to a state of destitution, and nearly without food. In this strait the pious leaders of the pilgrim band appointed a solemn and general fast. […] The faith that could thus turn to God in the extremity of physical want, must have been of the most glowing kind, […] On the very morning of the appointed day, a vessel from London arrived laden with provisions, and so the fast was changed into a Thanksgiving.”

This may have been the version of Thanksgiving that Mrs. Hale used to persuade Abraham Lincoln to make it a national celebration. It also may have been the story of Thanksgiving with which the Ameses were most familiar.

 

November 23, 1852

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Tues Nov 23  Catharine & self have been mending

shirts &c all day  It being very stormy I

thought it a good time to mend

Frederick & Helen came home to night

Susan & self have been in to see them

Fred brought me a crumb brush cost 75 cts

Ann has done the housework and cut

squash & apple for tomorrow

 

“[T]he ground was white with snow this morning, but was a raining + took it all of[f] by noon there was a bout half an inch of water fell”* on this late November day; people in Easton had yet to see a serious snowfall.  Although the storm kept Evelina indoors, the lack of snow was actually a help to travelers like Fred and Helen Ames, who were making their way home for the holiday.

Fred Ames brought his Aunt Evelina a gift. What was better, that she received a crumb brush or that her nephew spent 75 cents on it? That amount would translate to about $17.50 in today’s (2015) market. Either way, she was pleased with the gift, which she would no doubt place with pride on her dining table.

Most of us modern readers probably don’t keep a crumb brush handy at our dinner tables, although we’ve seen modern versions in use in restaurants. But then, most of us probably no longer dine on pressed and laundered tablecloths at home, at least on a regular basis. Placemats are more common. (Readers weigh in here, please.) But in 1852, formal dining on snowy white tablecloths was aspired to as the middle class rose above their agrarian past of eating without linens. The dining room itself became more popular as families found the means to support more servants and rise to a style of living that involved a clear separation between cooking and dining. The notion of today’s open kitchen, where guests sip wine on stools and watch the hostess  – or host! – cook dinner would be absolutely foreign to Evelina. Our lack of damask would shock her and her contemporaries.

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

November 21, 1852

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Lady’s Cloak**

Sunday Nov 21st  have been to church and at

intermission went with Mother into Mrs John

Howards.  Have invited Mr & Mrs Whitwells

family to dine here Thanksgiving

After church read & heard Susan practice

her lesson a while  Edwin & wife came

in this evening and I went to Augustus with 

them

 

This Sunday before Thankgiving “was a fair sunny day wind northerly + cool.”* The Ames contingent headed to church as usual and at intermission spread out to different informal gatherings. We don’t know where the men of the family went, or what Susie did, but we do know that Evelina took her elderly mother to the home of John and Caroline Howard, where they would have been offered a cup of tea and a piece of pie or cake.

After church, Evelina heard her daughter practice the piano. Like yesterday, the friction and anxiety between the two over the piano lessons seemed to have dissipated. At least, Evelina doesn’t mention having to force Susan to practice.

Evelina also did a little reading. If she picked up her copy of the November issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, she would have noticed, among many essays, stories and poems, a short article on women’s cloaks:

Never was there a season in which there was so great a variety of graceful cloaks to choose from. Not the heavy, cumbrous garment that once enshrouded and hid all grace or outline in the female figure, but light, yet ample costumes, that answer every purpose of warmth for walking or driving...**

Cloaks were in. If Evelina needed proof that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames had a nose for fashion, there it was. Only a week earlier, Sarah had been in Boston buying a cloak for her daughter Helen. There were many styles to be seen, including the one in the illustration, in the Alboni style. Will Evelina get one for herself or her daughter?

 

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

** Godey’s Lady’s Book, , Cloaks and Mantles, November 1852, pp. 476 – 477

November 13, 1852

Turnip

Sat Nov 13th  Have cleaned the parlour

but did not take up the carpet

gave it a thourough sweeping and

washed the paint  Miss Alger has

been here and given the girls their

eleventh lesson  Mrs Oliver Ames

has been to Boston  got Helen a cloak

 

Evelina stayed indoors today, perhaps envious that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames was shopping in Boston. Sarah bought her daughter Helen a cloak. Do we imagine that Evelina might soon head for the city to buy one for her daughter Susan?

Old Oliver, meanwhile, was still busy outdoors on several fronts, including the harvesting of turnips, as he reported: “this was a fair day but pritty chilly we got in some [of] our turnips to day*”. Turnips were an important vegetable crop that kept well over the winter, making it a staple in most households. Botanist Judith Sumner notes that “as early as 1609, colonists […] cultivated turnips. […] Cold weather improved their flavor, so it may not be coincidental that a November 1637 letter from John Winthrop to his wife instructed her to harvest their crop while he was away.”** Native Americans adopted the vegetable themselves, preferring it to other edible roots that they had previously gathered.

Turnips were still standard fare at the 19th century New England dinner table, typically prepared just as Sarah Josepha Hale suggests:

Turnips should be pared; put into boiling water, with a little salt; boiled till tender; then squeeze them thoroughly from the water, mash them smooth, add a piece of butter and a little pepper and salt.***

Surely there would be mashed turnips served at Thanksgiving.

 

 

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

**Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, Portland, Oregon, 2004, p. 30

*** Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 74

 

November 5, 1852

Oliver Ames, Jr.

Oliver Ames, Jr.

(1807 – 1877)

Friday Nov 5th Susan has taken her ninth lesson

in music and I fear she is rather dull

does not call her letters well at all

Mrs Swain called this afternoon to settle

with me about her things and to night sent

me as a present as much as a half bushel […]

quinces  We passed the evening in Olivers

After stopping by to pay for the mourning apparel Evelina had picked up in Boston, Ann Swain sent Evelina two pecks of quinces to further thank her for her kindness. This thoughtful gesture may have distracted Evelina from her ongoing annoyance at her daughter’s “dull” piano playing. Susan had not yet learned her scales. At night, Evelina and Oakes, and perhaps other family members, “passed the evening” next door at Oliver Ames Jr’s.

Today, in fact, was Oliver Ames Jr.’s 45th birthday. He and his wife, Sarah Lothrop Ames, lived next door to Oakes and Evelina. At this juncture, Oliver Jr. was serving his first term as State Senator; he would serve a second term in 1857. According to Reverend William Chaffin, who knew the Ames family well, “Oliver Ames stood among the foremost in his reputation for a manly and unblemished character and for business ability…a strong, substantial, able, and honorable man.”****

The third of Old Oliver’s eight children, Oliver Jr. had originally been the brother who tinkered with the possibility of a career away from the shovel factory. In his teens, he suffered a “severe fall,”**** and was unable to work. He was sent to the Franklin Academy in North Andover after which he began to read law with William Baylies, Esq., of West Bridgewater. Reading and debating – good lawyering skills, both – had always been sources of pleasure for Oliver, but “[t]he confinement of office proving unfavorable to his health, together with the increasing demands of business at home,”**** he returned to North Easton. In 1833, he married Sarah Lothrop, the daughter of the Honorable Howard Lothrop and Sally Williams Lothrop. They had two children, Frederick Lothrop and Helen Angier Ames.

Relative to his brother, Oakes, Oliver Jr was reckoned to be “pretty dignified, and takes a good deal after his father, but Oakes is always ‘hail fellow well met.”** Another contemporary acquaintance of both men said simply that Oliver Jr. was “the conservative one.”***They made a good business pair. Over time, Oliver Jr. and Oakes, under the watchful eye of their father, turned the shovel shops into an industrial powerhouse, even as they groomed the next generation, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Fred, to take over when the time was right. They invested in technological improvements and hired more help, especially from the newly arrived Irish population. They improved supply and delivery; in 1855, Oliver Jr. helped create the Easton Branch Railroad spur from Stoughton to North Easton.  In 1863, he oversaw the creation of a railroad line through the Great Cedar Swamp to Raynham. His interest in railroads led him to join his brother in the plan to build a transcontinental railroad when Oakes, by that time a U. S. Congressman, was tapped by Lincoln to lead the way.

The rest, as they say, is history. Both brothers became “deservedly famous”*****for their involvement with the Union Pacific. More than one contemporaneous historian has noted: “In 1866, Oliver Ames was elected president of that railroad, an office he held with significant ability until March, 1871.  During this time the road passed through some of its stormiest days and severest trials. His sound judgment, great business capacity, and inflexible integrity were of immense service in carrying this great enterprise safely through difficulty and peril to final success.”*****

On this dark autumn night in 1852, the “difficulty and peril [and…] success” lay ahead for both brothers as they sipped tea with their wives and watched “a few flakes of snow” fall.*

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

**“Ames at Easton: The Shovel Makers and Their Works. Life and Habits of the Congressman. Cursed Abroad – Applauded at Home,” The Boston Times, February, 1873

***Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, Reminiscences of Forty Years, 1891, Boston, p. 137

****William Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, p. 655.

*****Duane Hamilton Hurd, History of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Vol. II, 1883, pp. 430 – 431 (also Chaffin, p. 656)