November 1, 1852

Rain

Monday Nov 1st  Went to Boston for Mrs Swain

to purchase mourning  Dined at Mr Orrs

Julia left there this morning  Miss Alger

came home with me  It is very bad walking

in Boston and my clothes covered with

mud rained all the forenoon  Mrs

S Ames & Helen here this evening

 

Even on a somber errand, Evelina never seemed to mind going into Boston. Still, given her recent lack of sleep and the rainy weather, she was kind to take on this sad business. Her goal was “to purchase mourning” clothes for her young friend, Ann Swain. Mrs. Swain had just lost her one-year old son and, as per the mores of the day, needed proper black apparel to mark her loss. If she followed convention, she would dress in mourning clothes for one whole year. She could ask advice from Sarah Witherell if she needed, for Sarah would still have been dressing in black or gray from the death of her own son back in the spring.

Different from her usual extended shopping trip into the city, Evelina went in and came out all in the same day, stopping only long enough to take supper with family friends, the Orrs. Surely the bad weather hurried her along on her errand. Evelina is emphatic about the misery wrought by the rain she endured while shopping, her outfit “covered with mud.”  Back home in Easton, her father-in-law Old Oliver was, as usual, less ruffled about the precipitation: “it raind some last night + has bin misty all day. wind north east.”* We should presume that more rain hit Boston than North Easton.

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

October 31, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

 

Sunday Oct 31st  Mr Swains child died at 20 minutes

past five this morning  Mrs Witherell

and self passed the night there & laid

him out  Mrs Witherell came home & I 

staid untill about four  Mrs S Ames

& Helen were here awhile this evening

and the rest of the time I read Ravenscliffe

John Howland Swain, Jr., aged one year and 14 days, died at dawn this morning. Cause of death was listed as Teething. What did that mean? He was dehydrated? He had a fever? An infection? Whatever it was, it was too much for the little boy – and for the medical treatments of the day.

In the 19th century, infant death was common, but its ubiquity made it no less easy for parents to bear. Sylvia D. Hoffert, a 20th century historian, has studied the subject. She writes:

“The number of children that couples were likely to bear was beginning to decline in the early nineteenth century. This factor combined with the cult of motherhood, which demanded that women invest considerable time, effort, and affection in their children and measured their contribution to society by their success in fulfilling their maternal obligations, made the death of an infant a particularly tragic occurrence. […] Although […parents] placed great value on their babies’ lives and did what they could to protect them, they were well aware that children commonly died in infancy and that there was little they could really do to ensure the survival of infants. They used the loss of infants as an occasion for demonstrating their willingness to submit to the will of God and found comfort in the belief that their children had gone to join him in heaven. For them, the death of an infant was a private, family matter.”*

The Ames women supported Ann and John Swain as they dealt with the loss of their firstborn son. Both Evelina and Sarah Witherell had themselves buried children of their own, and could comprehend the sorrow inflicted. While Evelina deals with the little boy’s death matter-of-factly, even escaping into her reading later in the day, she had to have been sad for the young Swain couple. She knew.

*Sylvia D. Hoffert, Private Matters, 1989, University of Illinois,  pp. 169-170

October 29, 1852

255px-Daniel_Webster_-_circa_1847

Daniel Webster

(1782 – 1852)

1852 Friday Oct 29th  Mr Dawes came from Boston

about ten Oclock  Miss Alger expected

him before and began to feel uneasy

They went to the shops after dinner

Helen Susan & Emily went to the shop

& then rode to call at Mr Roachs

They were all in here this evening to

hear Mr Dawes play on the guitar  Mrs S

Ames & self called Swains, to see their child

Mrs Lothrop & Brett called with her babe

 

Old Oliver must have been an admirer of Daniel Webster, else why would he mention the man in his daily weather journal? He wrote, “the 29th was a verry plesant warm day. it clouded up some toward night – Daniel Webster was buried to day”.

Daniel Webster, lawyer, diplomat, statesman, orator and Whig leader, was indeed buried on this day. He had died three days earlier after a fall from a horse and was buried with “impressive ceremonies”* at Marshfield, about 35 miles east of Easton. Considered by many to be one of the finest senators ever, Webster had also been a Secretary of State, U.S. representative, constitutional lawyer par excellence, and a devoted preservationist of the union. To the latter end, he co-authored and spoke eloquently on behalf of the Compromise of 1850, which included the controversial Fugitive Slave Act. As a result, he lost the support of many New Englanders; abolitionists washed their hands of him.

On this day in Boston, however, it would have been hard to find his enemies. According to a newspaper account the next day, a united citizenry mourned:

Boston never before presented – probably never will present – such a funeral aspect as was worn in her streets yesterday. Most of the stores and shops were closed, as well as the institutions, offices, and markets, and a large proportion of the city was dressed in the habiliments of wo. [sic] Though the work was only voluntarily the act of individuals, it was very general – Washington, Hanover, and many other streets being covered in black, interspersed with mottoes, flags, portraits, and other mementoes, as the taste of each led him to adopt and carry out.  It was one of the last acts which Boston can perform to express her sorrow for the loss of the great statesman, and it is praise enough to say that it was well and appropriately done. The streets were thronged nearly all the day, crowds of people being present from other places, – and our young men wore the insignia of mourning which had been adopted, and grieved countenances were observed at every turn of the street…*

 

*New York Times, October 28, 1852

 

October 28, 1852

 

Stage

Thursday Oct 28th  Miss Alger dined in the other

part of the house and myself and family

have been there to tea  Helen came home

in the stage and Oliver & family were there

also.  Oliver Miss A Susan and Augusta called

with me this evening at Mr Torreys & Augustus

Made half bushel more of barberries

A rather docile day, this was, “a pritty warm day for the season,”* according to Old Oliver. Evelina cooked more barberry preserves but otherwise was mostly occupied in social activity. She and the extended family took tea in the other part of the house at her father-in-law’s table, under the management of his daughter, Sarah Ames Witherell. Afterwards, Evelina and a group called on her brother-in-law, Col. Torrey, in the village.

Helen Angier Ames returned home from boarding school; her brother Fred had just come back, too, from Harvard.  He took the train to Stoughton while she rode in the stage coach. His mode of transportation was the way of the future, hers of the past.

Like the Erie Canal, the stagecoach was on its way out. A mode of transportation that had been imported from England, early American stagecoaches were not much more than sturdy passenger wagons. As the need for travel conveyances increased, the stagecoach evolved, improved in comfort and efficiency and became widespread. In 1827, in the middle of what is considered the “Golden Age” of the stagecoach, the Abbott and Downing Company of New Hampshire built the first of an eventual 700 Concord stagecoaches. A Concord stagecoach was considered to be the best of the breed, “a cradle on wheels,” as Mark Twain described it. Pulled by a good team of horses or mules, a Concord stagecoach could travel from 6 to 8 miles per hour.

In remote areas, especially in the less well settled areas of the Wild West, the stagecoach remained important, but it couldn’t beat the faster and far more efficient railroad. Passengers trains had arrived and were growing exponentially. In 1847, Abbott and Downing ceased operations, although its famous stagecoaches remained in use for a few decades yet.

 

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

 

 

October 21, 1852


Sarah Emily Witherell                                           Susan Eveline Ames French

Emily Witherell                                                                                   Susan Ames

 

1852

Thursday Oct 21st  Miss Alger came to day to give

her fifth lesson and Susan is now as far

as Emily but unless she takes more

interest it will be very hard for her

to keep up with her.  Mrs Witherell feels

to blame Miss Alger that she does not

give Emily longer lessons

 

Relationships among the females who lived under the roof of the Ames homestead were becoming strained. Susie Ames wasn’t much interested in learning to play the piano, while Emily Witherell was. Yet the cousins took their lessons together, yoked into learning side by side. Emily was facile and wanted more challenging fare, but was slowed down by Susie’s reluctant participation. The disparity in the girls’ interest and ability was no doubt challenging for poor Miss Alger. The situation wasn’t helped by the mothers hovering over the girls as they took their lessons.

The two mothers had their own set of expectations. Sarah Witherell, who had endured so much loss in her life, had nourished hope that her daughter would develop a taste and talent for music. Evelina probably felt the same way, hoping to see her daughter become “accomplished.” Sarah was unhappy that Miss Alger wasn’t giving Emily enough to do, and, also, was surely displeased with Susie holding Emily back. Evelina had to be disappointed by Susie’s disinterest, nervous, perhaps, that she had made an expensive mistake in buying a piano. Evelina was learning, probably not for the first time, that a parent can have aspirations for a child that the child doesn’t share or follow.

All was not lost, however. For all the initial struggle, both girls eventually learned to play piano with some credibility, yet neither grew up to be a great pianist. They never outshone their older cousin, Helen Angier Ames, who had started earlier and, evidently, concentrated harder on perfecting her skill. Family historian Winthrop Ames, who was a first cousin once-removed of the three pianists, noted that by 1861, at the “Unitarian meeting-house […] Helen, Emily and Susan took turns in playing the reed organ, though Helen was acknowledged to be the best performer.”*

 

Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1938, p. 130

 

October 10, 1852

Daniel_Pierce_Thompson

Daniel Pierce Thompson

(1795 – 1868)

Sunday Oct 10th  It is quite unpleasant to day and

as mother & Mrs Mower was not going to meeting

I staid with them  Mrs Ames Oakes A & Frank

went this forenoon, and Mr Ames returned alone

this afternoon  I have been reading some in

the Rangers Torys Daughter and writing

Helen came in and played on the piano

this evening  Mrs Witherell & Ames came in a while

Evelina skipped church to stay home with her mother and houseguest, not minding too much because of poor weather, which Old Oliver described as  “cloud[y] damp + verry warm wind.”

The women did not sew, but they probably chatted a bit and read a lot. Evelina was reading The Rangers: Or, The Tory’s Daughter: A Tale Illustrative of the Revolutionary History of Vermont and the Northern Campaign of 1777, by Daniel Pierce Thompson. Mr. Thompson was a famous writer in the period before the Civil War, especially in New England. His novels were as well-known as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, but his turgid prose, popular in its day, has caused him to fall far out of fashion. He was also a political figure in Vermont and an active abolitionist, but his novels are not much remembered.

The first two sentences of the book that Evelina was reading illustrate his dated style:

Towards night, on the twelfth of March, 1775, a richly equipped double sleigh, filled with a goodly company of well dressed persons of the different sexes, was seen descending from the eastern side of the Green Mountains, along what may now be considered the principal thoroughfare leading from the upper navigable portions of the Hudson to those of the Connecticut River. The progress of the travellers was not only slow, but extremely toilsome, as was plainly evinced by the appearance of the reeking and jaded horses, as they laboured and floundered along the sloppy and slumping snow paths of the winter road, which was obviously now fast resolving itself into the element of which it was composed.

In the evening Evelina put down the book – which must have been slow going – and whatever letters she was writing, and the whole family listened as Helen Angier Ames played the new piano.

 

October 9, 1852

imgres-1

Piano scales

Sat Oct 9th  Miss Alger came to day to give her second

lesson. Mother Amelia Henrietta & Louisa

J Mower spent the day came about eleven

Henrietta went to Augustus to tea  Mother & Louisa

will stop here untill she returns to Maine

Oakes A returned from his journey & Helen

came with him. Have baked in the brick oven

Oakes Angier Ames came home today from points south. He had been on a business trip with his father to New York and New Jersey, but his father had returned several days earlier. What had Oakes Angier been doing? Was he meeting customers and delivering shovels, all on his own? And why was his cousin Helen Angier Ames with him? Perhaps he came back by way of Boston where Helen – and her friend, Catherine Hobart – were at school.

The day was cloudy and cool and the ladies who came to visit with Evelina must have sat inside. Two Gilmore sisters-in-law, Amelia, young widow of Joshua, Jr., and Henrietta, wife of Alson, were there along with the elderly Hannah Lothrop Gilmore and a guest from Maine, Louisa J. Mower. The latter two women would spend the night.

The girls of the house, meanwhile, had another piano lesson today. The sound of Susie and Emily practicing their scales would have been background sound for the chatter in the parlor.