May 26, 1852



Wedns  May 26th  Jane has done part of the ironing  I have

put down the carpet in the front chamber & sitting

room and the bedroom carpet partly down and 

got the rooms in pretty good order  Mr Scott

& Holbrook commenced painting in the other

part of the house yesterday   Mrs Patterson

staid at home to do her washing & ironing

Mr Ames went to Bridgewater West


Spring cleaning continued; Evelina laid carpet today, often one of the last chores on the list. She could almost check the sitting room off the list, and seemed pleased that the house was “in pretty good order.”

Another spring ritual, this one involving bird hunting, may or may not have taken place on this date; by 1852, it may have been outlawed.  But the hunt, which always took place on the last Wednesday in May, was recent enough to have included various Ameses, if we assume they chose to participate.  Town historian William Chaffin describes the ritual in his 1886 History of Easton:

“At different times in the history of the town rewards were offered for killing crows and blackbirds, which were supposed to be very destructive to corn […]

“Scarcely two generations ago [which would place the event somewhere as late as the 1840s] the custom prevailed of young men choosing sides, and each side on a given day starting out and killing all the birds they could. The day chosen was the old ‘Election day’ so called, the last Wednesday in May, once the time for the convening of the State Legislature, and which came to be known as ‘Nigger ‘lection.’  It was one of the greatest holidays of the year for the boys. […] [T]hose taking part in the shooting started out at daybreak and killed as many birds as possible.  They usually met at some appointed place before dinner, to count the birds and see which side had won the victory.  In North Easton, the rendezvous was at Howards’ store […]

“The understanding was that only harmful birds should be killed; but it was easy to include nearly all birds in this category, because, it was argued, bobolinks and swallows destroyed bees, and robins stole cherries, etc. In some places the party beaten paid for the dinner and drinks of all.”*

In the 21st century, it’s difficult to fathom both the wanton waste of this offensively-nicknamed holiday, and the glee that evidently accompanied it. That hunting has an appeal, we don’t question, but that songbirds were the quarry is hard for modern folks to accept. **


William Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, pp. 776-777

** This editor freely confesses to being a birder and particularly fond of bobolinks.

December 17, 1851


Dec 17th  Wednesday.  Mary went to ironing this

morning and Jane did the housework and I have been

knitting on Susans hood have got the front done and 

commenced the back  Abby spent the afternoon

& Malvina came in past eight  Jane ironed 7

shirts this afternoon  Very cold weather

Old Oliver Ames didn’t always agree with his senior daughter-in-law, but on this day he and she shared the same opinion about the temperature outside. “[T]he coldest day we have had this winter,” he wrote in his journal. Not surprising that Evelina and her servants stayed inside and focused on their indoor domestic responsibilities. All three women seemed to have recovered from their recent colds and illness and they probably wanted to keep it that way.

Some people went outside, though.  Evelina’s nieces, Abby and Malvina Torrey, spent part of their day with her.  They must have walked over from the village – a short walk, fortunately, in the windy, freezing sunshine.  Other Eastonians who were out and about would have moved around best in their sleighs, as a buildup of snow had hardened into a smooth, slick surface on the roadways.  Old Oliver himself may have gotten around that way.  He noted that “light slays run pritty well now.”


December 2, 1851

 FillmorePresident Millard Fillmore

Dec 2d  Tuesday.  It has been cold to day but not near as

cold at yesterday or as windy  Mary has put

her clothes out.  Jane has ironed some shirts

for Mr Ames & I have ironed some collars

cuff & handkerchiefs &c for self  Mother & self

have passed the afternoon at Mr Whitwells

Mr & Mrs John R Howard were there.  Had

a pleasant visit

While the servant Mary – whose last name we never learn – put out most of yesterday’s wet laundry to dry, Jane McHanna rose from bed to iron some of Oakes Ames’s shirts.She had spent part of yesterday placing them in a tub of starch. Evelina took to ironing as well, looking after her own collars, cuffs and handkerchiefs. Ironing, which required a small fleet of flatirons being kept warm on a hot stove, was a welcome chore on a cold day. We don’t often read of Evelina doing the ironing herself.

In Washington, D. C., President Millard Fillmore’s State of the Union address was delivered in writing to Congress.  His speech was quite literal, full of specific details about foreign policy, exports, mining, gold in California, the acquisition of Texas and the surveying and improvements necessary for the territories and frontier.  He lauded the importance of agriculture, noting that “four fifths of our active population are employed in the cultivation of the soil,” and argued for a Bureau of Agriculture.

Fillmore also could not help but write of the growing differences between North and South and the 1850 legislation that was designed to address various aspects of the problem of slavery. He began his address optimistically, writing “the agitation which for a time threatened to disturb the fraternal relations which make us one people is fast subsiding…” but later admitted “that it is not to be disguised that a spirit exists, and has been actively at work, to rend asunder this Union which is our cherished inheritance from our Revolutionary fathers.”

In closing, Fillmore urged patience and reconciliation.  He counseled his countrymen to honor the Compromise of 1850.  “Wide differences and jarring opinions can only be reconciled by yielding something on both sides,” he cautioned.

December 1, 1851



Dec 1st Monday.  Oliver left again this morning

for Brown University.  Jane was able to do the 

housework this morning & Mary has washed

I have been sewing with Mother  Gave the

furnace up to Ann this morning  It has been 

so windy that we could not dry our clothes

Jane has starched the fine clothes to have

them ready to Iron tomorrow  Cold room all day


It’s not surprising that Evelina got Sarah Witherell’s servant, young Ann Orel, to start the coal furnace this morning, for it was a chore she disliked and the weather was so cold that there was no fooling around with getting heat into the house.  Old Oliver reported that “this was a fair day wind verry high from the north west + cold – a verry disagreeable day to be out in – there was an anchor frost this morning”

Anchor frost is a term for “a frost which causes ice to form along the bed of a running stream […] An anchorfrost can only occur when the temperature of the running water and the bed over which it flows is below freezing point. When this is the case, the rapidity of the stream is sometimes sufficient to prevent the swifter upper current congealing, while the lower current, which moves more slowly on account of the friction, becomes frozen to the bed.” *  Old Oliver knew all about running water and was probably not happy to see anchor ice forming in the Queset.

*Image of anchor ice, courtesy of The Aspen Times

** Arthur Benoni Evans, Leicestershire Words, Phrases, and Proverbs, Volume 11, English Dialect Society, 1881.


November 25, 1851




Tues Nov 25th  Mary has done the ironing to day except

the fine clothes and they look much better than usual

Jane is rather better to day and has washed the dishes

and assisted some about the housework.  I have made a

dickey for Mr Ames. Passed the afternoon at Father Ames

with Mr & Mrs Swain & Mrs Meader  Mrs S Ames,

Fred & Helen came home to night

Family members began to gather in anticipation of Thanksgiving. Fred and Helen Ames came home from their respective schools in Cambridge and Boston, adding animation to the quieter house next door.  Surely their parents, Sarah Lothrop and Oliver Ames, Jr., were pleased to see them.  Oliver (3), away at school in Providence, was getting ready for his travel home.

No one was making merry yet, however.  Everyone still had work to do. The new girl, Mary, did some ironing, evidently better than Jane McHanna usually did.  Jane herself, still recovering from an illness that had laid her low for almost ten days, was able to wash dishes and help out a bit. Evelina, after supervising Mary and Jane, was finally freed up to sew and socialize.  She was in a happier state of mind.

The men of the family were working as well.  While Oakes, Oliver Jr, Oakes Angier, and Frank Morton were at the shovel shop, Old Oliver and some of his men began “a building an ice hous.”**

“About sunsett,” it began to snow.


*Image of a mid-19th century kitchen, Courtesy of

**Oliver Ames, Journal, Courtesy of Stonehill College Archives, Tofias Collection





June 17, 1851


1851 June 17th  Worked untill about nine Oclock in

the flower garden  Then cut the tick to the mattress

a[nd] basted it ready to make  Jane was ironing and 

I assisted about dinner  After dinner made three button

holes in Mrs S Ames dress.  Went to Mr

Wm Reeds to tea with Mr Ames, Oliver & wife

Mrs W, Mitchell & Mr & Mrs Whitwell & Alson & wife


Gardening, sewing, ironing and cooking made up today’s housework at the Ames’s home on Main Street.  Buttonholes, too, which could be challenging, were a particular specialty of Evelina; many people brought her their buttonholes.  The fact that Sarah Lothrop Ames took her buttonholes to Evelina rather than to a hired dressmaker underscores Evelina’s talent in this department.

William and Abigail Reed must have enjoyed Evelina’s company on Sunday between services, for they invited her back to a small tea party.  The whole Ames family was invited, in fact, and then some. Minus Old Oliver, and the young people, naturally, siblings Oakes, Oliver Jr., Sarah Witherell, and Harriett Mitchell, with wives Evelina and Sarah Ames, gathered at the old professor’s home for a “cuppa.” Reverend William Whitwell and his wife, Eliza, went too, as did Alson and Henrietta Gilmore. That was a good crowd for a 19th century parlor.

Tea was generally the most sociable meal of the day.




April 4, 1851



April 4th

Friday  Have been working about house this forenoon

Gave my parlour a thorough sweeping & bedroom

& stairs &c  Have not been at all well and had

hard work to sweep.  Jane finished the ironing

We have had a hard weeks work  This afternoon

I mended the stockings  Called at Olivers awhile

Mrs Peckham called here.  Very Pleasant

Evelina was feeling the effects of a laborious week of domestic duties. Over the past several days, she and Jane McHanna had really turned to in the kitchen, preserving a pig, trying lard, making sausage and doing the bi-weekly baking. On top of that the women had seen to their regular chores, which included ironing and sweeping the rooms free of the spring dust. Evelina managed all this while recovering from the cold of the weekend before. Sitting down to do some mending must have felt good.

She found some compensation by briefly visiting her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames, next door. And at home, Susan Peckham came to call. Mrs. Peckham was the wife of John Peckham, the Ames’s head clerk and bookkeeper. What was the purpose of her call? Susan may simply have desired to be sociable, or she may have had something she needed to communicate. At a time when today’s instantaneous ability to telephone or text someone was unimagined, even the simplest request or slightest inclination to talk to a friend, a relative, or, in this case, the boss’s wife took time and effort. Susan Peckham, whatever her purpose was, had only two options open to her: writing Evelina a note, or calling on her.  She chose the latter.

What might the women have discussed?  Evelina didn’t say.


April 2, 1851


1851 Wednesday

April 2nd  Jane & myself have been taking care of a hog

that was killed yesterday.  Have the lard tried

sausages made  fat back & hams salted and the whole

hog already for cooking.  This afternoon Jane ironed

seven fine bosom shirts.  This evening have been reading

being to[o] much fatigued to work.  Augustus went to 


It was a busy day in the Ames kitchen as Evelina and her servant, Jane McHanna, set about preserving one of the pigs that Evelina’s father-in-law, Old Oliver, had slaughtered the day before.  He sold some of the pork, but held back at least one of the animals for his own household.  Evelina and Jane had a long day’s work processing the animal, which had weighed about 300 pounds when slaughtered.

As the women broke the animal down into workable pieces, they “tried the lard,” which meant that they boiled much of the pork fat in water on the top of the stove, taking care to avoid the spattering as the fat popped and the water drew down. The resulting lard was cooled and stored, probably in stoneware jars, for future household use.

Also to be cooked in the future were the big hams, ribs, hocks and more.  The large hams were salted and hung in a safe place like the cellar or a smokehouse until ready to be baked or boiled and eaten, while smaller pieces like the ham hocks would have gone into glass jars or stoneware. Everything got prepared, even sausages, which was a process unto itself, what with grinding the meat, mixing in the herbs and spices, and packing the mixture into the intestinal casing.

In addition to all this, Jane found both time and energy to iron “seven fine bosom shirts.” The cookstove, which had been heated for trying the lard, must have been hot enough to heat up the flatirons.  Perhaps not wanting to waste that good energy, Jane set up the table to iron.

Those two women must have slept well this night.


January 8, 1851



Jan 8th Wednesday

Made some cambric cuffs & collars and

starched & ironed some.  Worked on them most of the

day.  Jane ironed the coloured & coarse clothes

Head aches this evening trying to sew on fine work   gave

it up & went to reading a Thanksgiving story that

Mr Whitwell brought me to read.  Bought 25 cts worth Crackers

Settled with Sarah Ames she paid me for Cheese &c

Have been looking over my expense account  Pleasant

Evelina was an excellent needlewoman.  Like most women in the days before “ready-bought” apparel, she made her own clothes.  She made clothes for everyone in her family, in fact.  By. Hand.  No sewing machine was yet on the market; Isaac Singer and Elias Howe had each invented one but a drawn-out patent dispute was holding up its production.  By the advent of the Civil War, however, and the consequent need for mass production of uniforms, the sewing machine would come into its own, and the production of clothing would become an industry.  The three Ames sisters-in-law would eventually acquire a machine to share.

In the meanwhile, in the last decade before this change, Evelina sewed almost every day.  She occasionally relied on the help of a dressmaker – all the sisters-in-law did.  But Evelina easily made dresses, aprons, and underclothes for herself and her daughter, as well as work shirts and underclothes for her husband and sons.  Collars, handkerchiefs, sheets, linens and more were cut out, run together, fitted, taken up, untucked, hemmed, mended, refitted and re-mended.  The projects were endless, especially as the children were growing, but fortunately, sewing was an occupation that Evelina appeared to enjoy.  She spent more time at it than any other chore – certainly more than doing laundry, which she relegated to Jane McHanna, and probably more than cooking, which she typically undertook only when short-handed.  Sewing was her primary responsibility.

The “Pleasant” at the end of today’s entry describes Evelina’s take on the day’s weather, by the way, and not the prospect of looking over her expense account.  Other Ames diarists of this period followed the practice of describing the day’s weather, Old Oliver especially, but Oliver Jr, too.  Practiced agrarians, they all watched the sky.

New Year’s Day, 1851


January 1st 1851

Did not rise as early as I ought to commence a new year …

it being about 7 Oclock before we had our breakfast   All wide

awake to get the start of wishing Happy New Year.  Finished

our ironing, and swept the chambers   A A Gilmore & wife

called P M stoped about two hours.  Mrs Witherell finished 

the underclothes for Susans doll.  Elisa at Olivers [Jr] cutting

Helens dress  Commenced a letter to Pauline in answer to one

received last night  Pleasant but very cold.

Most of the people named in Evelina Ames’s first diary entry are family members.  A. A. Gilmore, for instance, is her 30-year old nephew Augustus.  Mrs. Witherell is her sister-in-law, Sarah, busy with doll clothes for Evelina’s youngest child, Susan.  Oliver, Jr. is Evelina’s brother-in-law; his daughter Helen is having a dress made.  They all live in the small, industrial village of North Easton, Massachusetts.  Most live within the Ames family’s substantial compound.

Evelina herself is 42 years old.  Raised on a farm several miles south of the center of town, she has been married to Oakes Ames, a shovel-maker, since 1827.  With three sons and one daughter, she and Oakes live in the family homestead that they share with Evelina’s father-in-law and his aforementioned, widowed daughter, Sarah Witherell, along with her two children.  The Ames men work at the shovel shop, the younger children go to school, and the women tend the home.  Everyone is occupied.

The diary that Evelina kept during 1851 and 1852 offers a modest but illuminating window on daily family life in New England in the ten years before the American Civil War, which they will call “The Great Rebellion.”  It was a decade that marked the end of much of what had come before.  Evelina’s remote, quotidian and predictable life was changing as the railroads moved in, travel became expedited, goods became more accessible and plentiful, and religious thinking was challenged.  As far as her personal circumstances are concerned, much more will change for the family in the years ahead than anyone could have imagined on that cold New Year’s day in 1851.  Of course, we know this now, looking back with perspective, but Evelina didn’t.  She only knew about each day as it happened – which is much of the charm of reading her record.

Hope you will enjoy following along.