January 17, 1852


John Ames Mitchell


Jan 17 Saturday  Finished Susans morino hood and mended

stockings & some other things  Finished Susans Delaine

dress that Julia Mahoney cut Dec 23  Mr Ames brought

Sarah W some fitch cuffs from Boston  Frederick

came home to night  Ruth Swan that was and

her husband came home to night  Heard of Mrs

Colin Harlowes death

Some months back Evelina’s sister-in-law, Harriett Ames Mitchell, had departed Easton with her three children to join her husband, Asa, in Erie, Pennsylvania  One of those children was John Ames Mitchell, who turned seven years old on this date.

John Ames Mitchell would lead an irregular childhood, moving around western Pennsylvania but eventually landing back in Massachusetts, in Bridgewater. His father, a coal trader who had worked for the Ames family, would succumb to mental illness or dementia and spend out his days in the Taunton Hospital for the Insane, his residence there supported by his brother-in-law, Oliver Ames Jr..  John’s mother, Harriett, and older brother, Frank Ames Mitchell, a Civil War veteran, would also live lives greatly indebted to the financial support of family; John, too, looked to his uncle for support on occasion.

John attended Harvard, but didn’t graduate, and studied abroad. Endowed with artistic and literary talent, he became an architect.  Under the guiding patronage of his Uncle Oliver Jr., John designed the Unitarian Church on Main Street in Easton in 1875, and worked on other projects in the Boston area before returning to Europe again, this time to study at the Beaux Arts. When he finally returned to the States, he used his ample talent to write novels, draw illustrations and, most lasting of all, create Life magazine.

With a racehorse owner named Andrew Miller, John started publishing Life in 1883. John and his staff, which included the Harvard grad and founder of Harvard Lampoon, Edward Sandford Martin,  saw Life as a publication that would “have something to say about religion, about politics, fashion, society, literature, the state, the stock exchange, and the police station.” He vowed “to speak out what is in our mind as fairly, as truthfully, and as decently as we know how.”* He also worked to bring wonderful illustrators on board, most famously Charles Dana Gibson, whose Gibson Girl would come to life in Life.

John also was a co-founder with Horace Greeley of the Fresh Air Fund.  He married but never had children of his own. His 75% ownership of Life lasted until his death in 1917.

October 10, 1851


Friday Oct 10th  This forenoon made the skirt to my

cashmere dress and sewed some for Harriet.  This 

afternoon Mrs H Mitchell and children left with

William for Erie.  They are to stop a few days in 

Goshen with William and then go on to meet Asa at

Erie  Hannah called with Eddy a few moments when

she returned I went as far as the store & got some

Linings for my sleeves & Susans dress

Back on April 19, Harriett Ames Mitchell and her three children, Frank, John and Anna, had arrived in North Easton from Pittsburgh.  Harriett’s husband, Asa Mitchell, had not arrived with them, although he visited North Easton briefly later in the summer. Harriett and the children had spent six months in North Easton, mostly without Asa, staying off and on with Harriett’s father, Old Oliver, and her sister Sarah Witherell. They had also stayed in Bridgewater, where the Mitchell family lived.  Now, the family was traveling back to Pennsylvania, this time to Erie, where they would meet up with Asa. Harriett’s next oldest brother, William Leonard Ames, who had been visiting Old Oliver, too, “went from here with them.”*

Erie, Pennsylvania had just that year been chartered as a city, and was becoming a thriving manufacturing spot. As one modern historian has noted, “Erie was, of course, aided greatly by its proximity to the coal fields of Pennsylvania.”**  It was that proximity to coal that must have drawn Asa Mitchell to the town; he was a dealer in the coal market. Evelina speaks very little about Asa and from that it’s tempting to infer that Asa didn’t have a strong roll in the Ames family life.  He may have played a part in the business dynamics of the various Ames enterprises, however, but if Evelina knew about that, she didn’t mention it.

What did Evelina think about her sister-in-law moving away again? Evelina had a brother, John, who also had moved away from the area, but most of her family was nearby.  Did she ever think about life beyond eastern Massachusetts?  Did she ever want to board a train to see where it might take her? She doesn’t seem to have suffered from wanderlust.


*Oliver Ames, Journal, courtesy of Stonehill College Archives

** http://www.theeriebook.com, published by Matthew D. Walker Publishing Company, 2014


August 14, 1851


Thursday 14th  Worked about house awhile and then went

to sewing & fixing some work for Ellen cut a 

chimise for self &c. Charles Mitchell brought

Sister Harriet and Johnny from Bridgewater

Harriet has gone back to attend a party 

at Robbins pond tomorrow.  We all have an

invitation but I think I had best not go though

it would give me pleasure

Evelina put out some fabric today for the new girl, Ellen, to cut into pattern pieces. She noted that her sister-in-law, Harriett Ames Mitchell, came over briefly from Bridgewater with her middle child, John Ames Mitchell, but soon went back to prepare for a party.

Although his birthday went unmentioned in the diary, Frank Morton Ames, the third child of Evelina and Oakes Ames, turned 18 today. Taking his place in a patriarchal society behind two bright older brothers, Frank had to vie for recognition almost from the beginning. Like Oakes Angier and Oliver (3), Frank attended local and boarding school, in the latter case Andover, and had just completed his schooling the year before Evelina took up her diary.

Unlike Oakes Angier and Oliver (3), Frank was a troublemaker “who needed more discipline.”  According to historian William Chaffin, Frank and a friend once sneaked out of their respective homes, took a horse and buggy to a dance in Canton, and returned “very late.” When Oakes Ames learned about it, he and the other father, William S. Andrews, took their sons down to the shop where they “were horsewhipped in the presence of the workmen.”  As Chaffin notes, “Discipline was apt to be severe in those days.”*

One of the pleasures of Frank’s life was his participation in the local militia, a company of which was formed in 1852.  Again he had to stand behind a brother, in this case Oliver (3), who was made captain while he was appointed quartermaster, but eventually Frank made major. He resigned that position in 1860, by which time he was married and living in Canton.  Neither he nor his brothers served in the Civil War.

Frank would go on to have checkered success in several fields away from the shovel factory. With his brothers, he worked to rebuild his father’s reputation.  Despite the severity of treatment he had experienced from his father, he remained devoted to Oakes’s memory.

* William Chaffin, “Oakes Ames 1804-1873”, private publication


August 4, 1851


[No entry]

Evelina made no entry today in her diary, for reasons we’ll never know.  Too hot? Too cross? Too busy? Too much laundry? We can only guess.

Instead of commentary, we’ve posted an image of the Ames family tree familiar to many Ames descendants, especially those who own copies of Winthrop Ames’s 1937 family history, The Ames Family of Easton, which includes a fold-out version of this illustration.  The tree features the lineage of the two Ames brothers who stayed in North Easton: Oakes and Oliver Jr., but doesn’t include the other sons and daughters of Old Oliver and Susannah who also produced issue: Horatio, William Leonard, Sarah Witherell and Harriett Mitchell.

Some readers have asked for clarification on who was who within the family. What follows is a list of the children and grandchildren of Old Oliver and Susannah.  More information about this group and their descendants can be found in a detailed family geneaology produced by William Motley Ames and Chilton Mosely Ames in the late 1980s.

Old Oliver and Susannah’s children and their children in birth order:

Oakes Ames and Evelina Gilmore Ames had five children:

Oakes Angier, Oliver (3), Frank Morton, Henry Gilmore (d. young) and Susan Eveline Ames

Horatio Ames and Sally Hewes Ames had three children:

Susan Angier, Horatio Jr., and Gustavus Ames

Oliver Jr. and Sarah Lothrop Ames had two children:

Frederick Lothrop and Helen Angier Ames

William Leonard Ames and Amelia Hall Ames had seven children:

William Leonard Jr., Angier, Oliver, John Hall, Amelia Hall, Fisher, and Herbert M. Ames

William Leonard Ames and Anna Pratt Hines had one child:

Oakes Keene Ames

Sarah Angier Ames and Nathaniel Witherell, Jr. had three children:

George Oliver, Sarah Emily, and Channing Witherell (d. young)

Harriett Ames and Asa Mitchell had three children:

Frank Ames, John Ames, and Anna Mitchell

Two other children of Old Oliver and Susannah, Angier Ames and John Ames, died without issue.

April 20, 1851



April 20  Sunday  Another severe storm it snows some

but most of the day it has rained in torrents

Not one of the family have been to church.

The children have been pretty wide awake for 

the sabbath and made not a little noise.  Harriet

& Anna were here to supper  had Lobster.

Rec d a letter from Pauline this morning.

The weather this April just wouldn’t quit.  The prospect of all the Ameses trapped indoors yet again by “another severe storm,” is dreary.  Surely Evelina missed being able to get to church. Oakes could escape to his office, at least, but Evelina was in the house with many family members. The little children coped, however. After their train trip, Frank, John and Anna Mitchell seemed delighted with the relative freedom and novelty of visiting their relatives. They romped and played, making “not a little noise.”

Lobster was served for supper, a change of pace from more usual fare of beef, bread and pie. Until very recently, lobster had been considered a dish fit only for the lower classes, a sure sign of poverty. It was so cheap that it was often served in prisons. In the novel Little Women, Amy March was embarrassed when a handsome young man bumped into her on the omnibus while she was carrying one in her basket.  Only at mid-century did the crustacean’s “vulgar size and brilliancy”* begin to appeal to the more affluent. Whether Evelina served it because it was beginning to be fashionable to do so or because it was still a very economical meal is hard to say.  Certainly, it was easy enough to obtain. Oakes probably picked it up the day before while in Boston.

The indefatigable Sarah Josepha Hale offered a recipe for stewing lobster that included the direction: “If you have no gravy, use more butter.” She also suggested that lobster could be eaten cold, “with a dressing of vinegar, mustard, sweet oil, and a little salt and cayenne. The meat of the lobster must be minced very fine; and care must be taken to eat but a little of this dish.”**


*Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1868-1869

** Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841



April 19, 1851





April 19  Harriet and her children came from Pittsburgh this

morning, came by the way of Stonington to Mansfield

and got someone to bring them.  It s too bad we did

not send for them, but Father thought the storm

might prevent their coming  Called in to see them this

afternoon.  Harriet does not look near as well

as she did before she went.  Augustus went to Boston

& Mr Ames  Tolerably pleasant


The youngest offspring of Old Oliver and Susannah Ames came back to town today.  Harriett (Ames) Mitchell, all of 31 years old, traveled by rail from Pittsburgh to Easton, finding her own way from the station in nearby Mansfield. (The railroad had not yet been built to North Easton.) In tow were her three children, Frank Ames Mitchell, John Ames Mitchell, and Anna Mitchell, aged 9, 6, and not quite 4, respectively. Given the rigors of traveling a long distance on a train with small children, it’s little wonder that Harriett did “not look near as well as she did before she went.”

Weather and travel conditions aside, the question is why Harriett returned home and left her husband, Asa Mitchell, behind. We know only a little about Asa Mitchell. He was a member of the well-regarded Mitchell family of Bridgewater. A coal dealer, he had recently moved west from Cambridge to Pittsburgh, Erie or someplace in Pennsylvania.  His employment seemed unsettled, and perhaps was driven by the vagaries of the coal industry.

Asa and Harriett had been married for eleven years and, like any of the Ames marriages, we can only conjecture what their relationship was like. We do know that Harriett and their children spent many months away from Asa, eventually staying in a house in Bridgewater that Old Oliver obtained for her. Asa spent some time there, too, but by 1867 he was an inmate at the Taunton Insane Asylum, where his expenses were met by Oliver Jr. We don’t know what his mental illness was; it may have been as debilitating as senility, as sudden as brain trauma or as complicated – and untreatable then – as schizophrenia or bipolar disease.  His condition would erase him from Harriett’s life and, by extension, the lives of his children. He died in June, 1877 in Taunton.

So on this cloudy day, with the “wind north east and cold,” and an uncertain future in front of her, Harriett brought her children home and was made welcome. She and her older sister Sarah Witherell were close and, no doubt, were glad to see each other.

* Leslie’s, 1878