June 2, 1852

Thread

1852

Wednesday June 2d  Lazy this day as usual after being

in Boston   Have been with Mrs S Ames

to the sewing circle at Mr Wm Reeds.  Had

a very pleasant time as we always do there

not very many present. Mrs Patterson here

again to day.  yesterday she staid home to

do her washing  She & Jane have done very

little ironing this afternoon

The intense labor of spring cleaning was over, at least for Evelina.  She was “[l]azy this day” after yesterday’s trip into Boston with her sisters-in-law. Shopping wore her out more than washing windows or scrubbing floors, it would seem. She summoned enough energy to attend the Sewing Circle at Abigail Reed’s, though.

Sarah Witherell didn’t attend the Sewing Circle; she probably wasn’t socializing outside the family yet. So Sarah Ames and Evelina went without her and enjoyed themselves “as we always do.” Back at the house, however, Evelina’s servants didn’t attend to the ironing as Evelina had hoped they would. Evelina wasn’t pleased. When she worked, she worked very hard, and expected others to do the same. She felt that Mrs Patterson and Mrs McHanna should have been able to do more in her absence.

In the other part of the house, to which Sarah Witherell had retreated after yesterday’s outing, Old Oliver was watching the weather.  He noted the welcome arrival of “a little rain […] that wett the ground about an inch deep.”*  The spring had been dry.

 

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

 

 

May 31, 1852

Woodhouse

1852

May 31st Monday  Mrs Patterson & Jane have done

the washing and I have been about house

all day  Mr Scott has painted the dining

room over the second time  Jane will

go against the door in spite of all that I

can do  Shall I ever get settled again so that

I can sew some  Have got an Ice closet in the 

wood house

Spring cleaning was almost finished, and Evelina sounded ready to have it be done. Mr Scott had to paint a second coat in the dining room, perhaps because Jane McHanna kept banging the door against the wall. Evelina was irritated with Jane and longed to get back to her sewing.

The weather had been dry for some time.  Old Oliver, uncharacteristically, hadn’t written in his daily journal for nine days.  When he finally picked up his pen, he noted that the fair skies had been “verry drying.” Being without rain at the start of the growing season endangered the crops and put him in an ill humor.  Perhaps Evelina was feeling some of that, too.  And, perhaps, she was still grieving.

One thing that pleased Evelina, though, was getting a new ice closet at the back of the house, in the wood shed. And one thing that pleased Old Oliver was that “Mr Seve began to frame the Cariage hous”* on this day.  This building was going up on Ames property off of Main Street, on land behind the residence of Oliver Ames Jr and his wife, Sarah Lothrop Ames.

Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives

 

May 29, 1852

Buttonhole

1852

Sat May 29th  Have had the woodhouse cleaned of the old

chips ready for the ice closet  Baked rhubarb and 

custard pies and this afternoon Mrs Patterson has

cleaned the tin.  Mr Scott painted the china closet

over the second time between the shelves and the 

walls of the porch  I have varnished the oil cloths and 

desks tables &c &c  finished Augustas button holes

Baking, sweeping, scrubbing, painting, varnishing, and sewing were each on the domestic agenda today. Last year’s spring cleaning, which had been steady enough, seemed lackluster compared to the fierce pace of this year’s effort. Evelina didn’t necessarily complete each task personally – Jane McHanna, Mrs. Patterson, Mr. Scott and others helped – but she oversaw each piece of it. She was right in there. Today, it looks as if the only time she sat down was when she helped Augusta Pool Gilmore with her buttonholes.

Evelina excelled at making buttonholes and, at one time or another, helped other women, like Sarah Lothrop Ames next door, sew them. She must have taken pride in that particular skill, just as she must have had a real sense of accomplishment at all the tasks that were dealt with today. The to-do list got shorter.

As Evelina helped her young neighbor with needle and thread, the aroma from the baking would have competed with the fumes of the varnish.  Happily, it was fair and warm outside and hopefully, she opened the windows to let fresh air in.

 

May 28, 1852

images-1

1852  May 28th

Friday  This forenoon cleaned the shed chamber  Mrs

Patterson assisted me and helped about house

down stairs  I baked cake & brown bread

in Mrs Witherells oven and Mrs McHanna

made a custard & some rhubarb pies.

Augusta brought her dress in and I partly

made the button holes  Oakes A went to Boston

yesterday returned to night

Time for rhubarb. The edible plant, with its long red stalks, was coming up in the garden and needed to be harvested and cooked. Household advisor Lydia Maria Child had this to say about it:

“Rhubarb stalks, or the Persian apple, is the earliest in gradient for pies, which the spring offers. The skin should be carefully stripped, and the stalks cut into small bits, and stewed very tender.  These are dear pies, for they take an enormous quantity of sugar.  Seasoned like apple pies Gooseberries, currants, &c., are stewed sweetened and seasoned […] in proportions suited to the sweetness of the fruit; there is no way to judge but by your own taste.  Always remember it is more easy to add seasoning than to diminish it.”*

Jane McHanna made today’s pies and a custard, too. Evelina baked her usual cake and brown bread. Spring cleaning was not forgotten, however, as Evelina and Mrs. Patterson cleaned out the shed. One wonders what they found in there after the long winter.

The younger generation, meanwhile, was stirring. Augusta Pool Gilmore came over from across the street to get Evelina’s help on a dress she was making.  Oakes Angier Ames struck farther afield, going into Boston for the night.  The 23-year-old was there on shovel business, presumably, and, being conscientious, he would have accomplished whatever task he was sent in to do. But he was young, too, and may have enjoyed the freedom of being on his own in the big city.

*Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, 1829, p. 51

 

 

May 26, 1852

Bird

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.

May 24, 1852

Chimney

May 24th 1852

Monday  We have carried on a large stroke of business

to day  Mr Healy helped put the oilcloth in the 

dining room plained the floor & fitted the blinds

for the side lights  Mrs Patterson & Jane washed

and we have taken up the sitting room & bedroom

carpets & cleaned the clothes closet  Mr Scott

had partly painted the dining room & Mr Burnham

had built the chimney higher in the cook room

After a day off for the Sabbath, the women in the Ames house went back to spring cleaning. Today there were men on hand to help.  Henry Healey, frequent carpenter for the Ameses, planed the floor in the dining room and laid down the new oilcloth that Evelina had just bought in Bridgewater. He also fitted the blinds for the sidelights of the front door; perhaps they had been damaged in the fierce nor’easter back in April, when water beat into the house. That, or he just put up something new over those side panels.

In the dining room, Mr. Scott was painting and in the kitchen, Mr. Burnham was raising the chimney, perhaps repointing some of the older bricks in the process.  How Jane McHanna and Mrs. Patterson managed to do the weekly laundry around that activity is a mystery. Perhaps they worked outside in the yard. It was indeed a “large stroke of business.”

May 22, 1852

large-1057

Infant wear from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, 1851

Sat May 22d

1852  Mrs Paterson here again to day and has cleaned 

Susans chamber, windows & doors in Franks and

taken up the carpet and cleaned the front

chamber except the floor  Lavinia & Orinthia

came about eleven,  Edwin & Augusta here to tea

and went home with Lavinia  Mrs McHanna stood

godmother for McCabes child

 

Spring cleaning continued.  Mrs. Patterson returned to help Evelina clean, and the two women worked hard. Windows, doors, carpets and more were scrubbed, wiped or beaten, as appropriate.

Jane McHanna, the Ames’s regular servant, must have had time off today. She attended a baptism, presumably at the little Catholic church on Pond Street, to act as a godmother for a child of the McCabes. About this time, there was an Irish family in Easton, Bernard and Hannah McCabe, who had young children. Perhaps Jane became a godmother for three-year old William McCabe or, more likely, a younger sibling. There were several McCabe families in Bristol and Plymouth counties at this time, however, so we can’t be certain who this young child was.

The baptism or christening of infants was an important rite for both Catholics and Protestants. They had different approaches, certainly, but the intent was the same: to bless a child and erase its original sin. Unitarians differed from the Catholics and Calvinist-based Puritanism on this latter issue, as Unitarians didn’t accept the notion that children were born depraved. It was a critical doctrinal point. Jane McHanna would have accepted the more traditional view, and probably considered it an honor to have been selected as godmother.

May 19, 1852

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Wednesday 19th May  Washed the windows in the 

parlour and cleaned it   all that is necessary this spring

Was about house until about four Oclock

when Mrs Swain came and spent the 

afternoon  Mr Swain came to tea  Worked

on the garden about an hour  Susan has

the nose bleed almost every day.  This afternoon

came home before the school was done

 

Spring cleaning was late this year, as the women’s attention had been given over to family illness. The kitchen had been repainted some weeks earlier, but other rooms hadn’t been dealt with. Evelina set out to rectify the delay and, probably with support from Jane McHanna, donned her apron to tackle the best room in the house, the parlor, much of which had been redecorated back in February, so needed little attention beyond its windows and a basic cleaning.

One imagines Evelina and Jane in working clothes as they went about with their brushes, rags and mops. But what did Evelina wear under her apron, or after she changed out of her choring dress? Was she wearing any mourning attire? Did her outfit signify at all the recent loss of her nephew George?

In the 19th century, “[m]ourning was particularly a woman’s affair,”* perhaps because of a societal norm that women were sentimental and emotional, and men were not. There were rules about attire to be followed after the loss of a loved one. At the beginning, black crepe dresses, black veils or headgear, and even black jewelry – onyx, usually, or pins netted with a lock of hair of the departed – were expected to be displayed in some manner. After a certain period, black was put away and lavender, grey or purple dresses were acceptable. The closer the relative was to the deceased, the more exacting the expectation.

In her fine book about death in the Civil War, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust notes:

“By convention, a mother mourned for a child for a year, a child for a parent the same, a sister six months for a brother. A widow mourned for two and a half years, moving through proscribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment. A widower, by contrast, was expected to mourn only for three months, simply by displaying black crape on his hat or armband.”**

By these calculations, Sarah Ames Witherell had been dressed in black or lavender too often before. Her husband had died in August, 1848, her young son Channing in May, 1849 and now her son George. Sad to say, she would have had a black dress or two, plus the appropriate accessories, in her cupboard. But what was Evelina obliged to wear? Perhaps not a black dress – although she had one – but an armband? Or a black ribbon in her bonnet? What was the expectation for an aunt?

 

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 102

**Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering, New York, 2008, p. 147

 

 

 

 

May 12, 1852

Corpse

Wednesday May 12th  Helped Mrs Witherell make Georges robe

Planted some seeds that Mrs Howard gave me

and African rose sent from Andover.  Have ripped

the skirt from Susans borage delaine to lengthen

it Swept & dusted my chamber &c &c Jane had

finished the ironing  Have not felt very well

have not got over being broken of my rest.  It has

rained since nine Oclock quite fast

A new gardener commenced work today

What sad sewing went on today. Sarah Ames Witherell, a thoughtful, dutiful woman who had sewn so many things for friends and family, now sat and made a shroud for her first-born child, George. Only fourteen years-old, he had died the day before after a painful bout of rheumatic fever. Of the three children Sarah had borne, only her middle child, Emily, was still alive.

The steady rain must have enhanced the gloom. Old Oliver wrote that “it began to rain before noon wind north east and it grew cold and raind all the afternoon.”* Evelina must have done her planting first thing in the morning, after which she helped Sarah with the robe for George. She also worked on a skirt for Susan, and swept and dusted while Jane McHanna ironed. She was probably not the only family member who was recovering from “being broken of my rest.” Everyone was trying to return to a normal routine after the disruption and sorrow of George’s illness, although next door, Helen Angier Ames was still suffering from a case of blisters and facial swelling.

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

 

May 3, 1852

frontispiece_of_edward_shaw's_'the_modern_architect'_(1854)-141D753C60C6EA2D682

The Modern Architect”*

1852

May 3d Monday Our cook room being painted  Jane

had to wash in the bathing room.  Susan washed

the dishes and I did the rest that was done

about the work which was not much.  Rode

to Mr J Howards to get Rural Architect for Mr

Healy called at Mr Clarks and got some Gladiolus

bulbs and at Jason Howards to see their garden

afternoon planted some sweet peas & lilly seed

Oliver came home to night from Providence

 

More planting, this time of sweet peas and lilies, went on this afternoon. Gardening was preferable to choring on any given day, but it was probably especially true on this Monday. The kitchen, or “cook room” as Evelina called it, was being painted, making the usual chores more difficult. Servant Jane McHanna had to wash the weekly laundry in the bath tub. Evelina must have been pleased to be outdoors in the sunshine, viewing other gardens and planting flowers in her own. She also would have been pleased to greet her son, Oliver (3), home from college on a break.

At some point during the day, Evelina rode south to John and Caroline Howard’s to borrow a book written by Richard Upjohn, a prominent architect. “Upjohn’s Rural Architecture: Designs, working drawings and specifications for a wooden church, and other rural structures” was a popular new publication featuring home designs in the latest styles. Upjohn, who became the first president of the American Institute of Architects, favored Italianate and Gothic style cottages. His book appealed to the up-and-coming middle class as well as to the wealthy. Evelina borrowed it to show her carpenter, Henry Healey. She had something in mind for Healey to build.

 

*Frontispiece from “The Modern Architect,” by Edward Shaw, 1854