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)

December 25, 1851



Dec 25th Thursday  The Irish are expecting to have a great

time to day Jane went to the meeting house about

eight but the priest did not come she stoped an

hour. Carried my knitting into Olivers awhile this

forenoon. This afternoon have been to mothers

with Mr Ames & Frank as they were going to West

Bridgewater.  Finished knitting the front & back of

my hood  Made a present to Lavinia of Turnpike Dividend $800

Christmas Day! But as Evelina points out, the Irish Catholics in town would be celebrating, but the Ames family wouldn’t. Jane McHanna left the house to attend a Christmas mass for which, unfortunately, the priest was either late or didn’t show up at all.  Jane returned home to prepare dinner. Evelina, meanwhile, visited Sarah Lothrop Ames next door, knitting in hand.

After dinner Evelina rode along with her husband and youngest son as they went on an errand to West Bridgewater.  They dropped her off to see her mother at the family farm. There may have been some recognition of the holiday in this gesture, although Evelina makes no mention of gift-giving, with one significant exception. Evelina gave an $800 dividend to her niece Lavinia Gilmore.

The dividend came, somehow, from proceeds from the Taunton and South Boston Turnpike, a road that had run through part of Easton since the early 1800s, between “‘Taunton Green, so called, to the Blue Hill Turnpike,'” according to town historian William Chaffin.* Its origin was controversial and involved a long-standing disagreement with the Town of Raynham, but its impact on the Gilmore family was generally positive, as various Gilmores, including Evelina’s father and brother, served as toll-gate keepers. As Chaffin points out, however, “[t]he toll-gate naturally became unpopular.” It was closed in October of 1851.

How Evelina came to possess $800 from the road is unclear. Was this a regular dividend that Evelina received, or was the family compensated for the road’s discontinuance? That Evelina passed this money on to her niece, however, is a clear demonstration that for all her economical instincts, Evelina was capable of great generosity.


*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, Mass, 1866, pp. 454 – 458.

April 7, 1851


“Dress – The Maker” illustration from Godeys, 1851


April 7 Monday  Have had a dress maker to work for Susan

She has cut a new waist to her gingham and fitted

the waist of a light purple dress  I think she has

done very well for Irish.  She appears to be a pleasant 

girl  This evening Orinthia and I have been to Mr

Barrows & Torreys to make a call.  Abby was

very lively & has improved very much in her appearance

within a year or two


After weeks of sewing shirts and mending coats for the men of the family, Evelina turned her attention to outfitting her daughter who, at nearly nine years old, had probably outgrown the previous year’s dresses.  It was time to rework Susie’s old dresses and perhaps make some new.  For this task, Evelina brought in help: a new, young dressmaker named Julia Mahoney.

Like many young women in the village of North Easton, Julia was Irish.  Like many of the older women in the village, Evelina held the Irish in some disdain.  Without necessarily meaning to be unkind, but clearly feeling some superiority, Evelina expressed her prejudice in a backhanded compliment of surprise at Julia’s fine work and pleasant demeanor.  Julia did “very well for Irish.”

Evelina had imbibed some of the Yankee resentment against the Irish immigrants who had moved into Massachusetts, and elsewhere, so rapidly and in such numbers.  While her husband Oakes seemed free from the prejudice, other Ameses, particularly Old Oliver, were not.  His displeasure with the Irish employees at the shovel shop was legendary and the bias came through at home as well.  The old Yankee ways were threatened by the new foreign residents, and antipathy thrived accordingly.

March 17, 1851



March 17  Monday  A very cloudy windy morning  Jane could

not put her clothes out.  Orinthia washed the dishes

& I made the beds &c. Commenced working on a

fine unbleached shirt that was cut out

last Nov & partly finished.  It is all done but

[…] putting in the sleeves & making Collar and 

binding  Cut out some receipts for my scrap 

book from the Ploughman  A[u]gustus here to dine

The Massachusetts Ploughman was an agricultural newspaper published in Boston that provided reading material for a number of Ameses.  It was probably subscribed to by Old Oliver, who maintained an interest in farming that he couldn’t seem to pass on to any of his children. Although the Ames shovel business had helped turn once-rural North Easton into a productive, if small, industrial village, agriculture still ruled the show as the “largest single sector of the economy even in the highly commercial states of Massachusetts and Connecticut.”** Most people still farmed, raised livestock, worried about bringing in the hay, and looked for guidance from experts such as those behind the Ploughman masthead.  Evelina turned to the paper for recipes.

It may have been St. Patrick’s Day, but no celebrating would have gone on in the Ames compound.  At the factory, however, things might have been different. Thirteen years from this date, in the middle of the Civil War and less than a year after Old Oliver’s death, Oliver Jr. would note in his diary that on “St Patricks day did not run Engines in Shop.”  Was that also true in 1851, or did Old Oliver’s animosity toward the Irish preclude such an indulgence?

* A late-19th century copy of the Massachusetts Ploughman after it merged with the New England Journal of Agriculture.

** Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840, 

February 12, 1851



Feb 12th This was the day for the sewing circle & what a crowded

house! Not one here except Mr Whitwell and our own

families  Father Ames came in to tea & Sarah W

George, Emily & Oliver & wife  Poldens boy was buried

to day  Isabell & Ann went to the funeral & took tea

with Jane after they came back.  I prepared enough

for 40 and think it is very provoking to have none

 of the members  It is a delightful day.  Letter from Miss Foss

No one came to Evelina’s party.

“Very provoking,” indeed.  Mortifying, even, that not a single member of the Sewing Circle attended today’s meeting, unless you count Reverend Whitwell.  All the preparations, the baking, the cleaning, the spools of thread from Boston, all in vain.

Evelina took the rejection with a lacing of humor: “What a crowded house!”  Although disappointed and upset, she must have been grateful for the way the Ames clan filed in to partake of the feast. From Old Oliver (who almost never came to tea) and all three Witherells to Oliver Jr and Sarah Lothrop Ames to her own children and husband, presumably, the family closed ranks around her and filled her parlor with warm bodies.  Even the Irish servant girls on their way home from a wake partook of the spread of food – in the kitchen with Jane McHanna, of course.

So what happened?  Evelina said the day was delightful but her father-in-law, a dependable chronicler of the daily weather, described “the going” that day as “rough + bad” even though the weather itself was “fair”.  After days of terrible weather that had swung from rain to ice and back again, some of the absentee members probably couldn’t drive their wagons out of their own yards.  Bad roads might account for some, if not all, of the truancy.

Nevertheless, the incident raises questions about Evelina’s popularity and social standing.  She was married to one of the most important men in town, and she and Oakes enjoyed the friendship of many.  Is it possible that some of the women in the Unitarian Circle resented her, or felt themselves superior to her?  Where were the women she had grown up with? Were they jealous of her? Did she fail socially in comparison to her sisters-in-law, each whom had a more refined upbringing? Sarah Ames and Sarah Witherell never failed to attract a lively turnout for their Sewing Circles.

All these possibilities must have swirled in her mind.  The true test would come when the Sewing Circle met again at Evelina’s, many months from this day, this awkward day that Evelina surely hoped to forget.

January 21, 1851


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


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?

January 19, 1851


1851 Jan 19th Sunday.  It was rather earlier than common this morning

when we had our breakfast as Jane was going to

meeting   We have all been to meeting all day

Mr Whitwell gave us two good sermons, though not

as interesting as usual.  After hearing the class in

the Sunday school I called at Mr Whitwells

This evening have been into Mr Bucks to a prayer meeting

Three Ladies spoke & a number of men.  Very pleasant

Before the Ames family left for church, their servant Jane McHanna was on her way to a Catholic service.  Every few weeks, an itinerant priest would ride into town to conduct Sunday mass in the dining room of a boarding house owned by the Ames shovel company.  Although North Easton offered several Protestant options to its church-going citizens, it had no Catholic church for the influx of faithful who had recently immigrated from Ireland.

The number of Roman Catholics in North Easton, as elsewhere in Massachusetts, was rapidly expanding.  In 1849, Reverend William Chaffin tells us, there were 45 Catholics in town.  By 1852, there were 150; when the Civil War began, there were 400.   As the number of Irish immigrants grew, a dedicated facility was clearly needed.  Recognizing this, in 1850 the Ames family donated a piece of land on Pond Street to the Irish to build their own church.  It was under construction as the year 1851 opened.

Evelina’s day was full of religious activity.  Not only did she hear “two good sermons,” she visited the Sunday school and, in the evening, went out to a prayer meeting held by Benjamin and Mary “Polly” Buck, who lived in a house in the near neighborhood that they rented from Old Oliver.