November 10, 1851


George S. Boutwell, Governor of Massachusetts, 1850 – 1852

Daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes, circa 1851


Monday Nov 10th  Election day and the whigs have got

whiped and look rather down.  It has been very

stormy.  Our new horse came home sick from town

meeting.  Oakes A, Mr Barrows & Augustus went to Taunton

this evening to carry & get the news.  Jane came home

from Mansfield to night.  Bridget is better to day

she has done the housework and I have cleaned

the shed chamber &c &c  Passed the evening at Olivers

There were full-bore politics in Massachusetts today, with the Whigs getting “whiped,” much to the disappointment of the Ames men and others. The politics of the era were untenable as the country cantered toward civil war. The Fugitive Slave Act and the Compromise of 1850, a misguided legislative expression of an unsustainable gulf between north and south, had resulted in upheaval and disarray among the existing political parties.

According to George S. Boutwell, then governor of Massachusetts, the Whigs – a pro-business, market-oriented group – had fallen into two camps over slavery: the Conscience Whigs and the Cotton Whigs.* The Conscience Whigs generally supported, and many eventually became, Free-Soilers (those who opposed the extension of slavery into new states or territories), while the Cotton Whigs held with the pro-slavery policies of the south. By 1855, a new Republican Party had risen from the ashes of the old Whigs, bringing along a few disenchanted Democrats and advocating many of the issues that Conscience Whigs had stood for. Oakes and Oliver Ames, Jr. became Republicans.

Although less well known today than fellow Massachusetts politician Charles Sumner, George Boutwell would go on to have a distinguished career, one that often involved interaction with the Ames brothers. A crackerjack lawyer by profession, an abolitionist by passion, he spent most of his life as a statesman. Besides being governor, he was, over time, the first head of the Internal Revenue Service, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and Secretary of the Treasury under President Grant.  While in Congress, he would spearhead the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

Also while in Congress, Boutwell would be approached by Oakes Ames to buy shares in the Union Pacific but, according to several period sources, he would turn the offer down because he thought it a poor investment. He left Congress in 1869 to serve as Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held during the Credit Mobilier scandal in 1873.  Ten years later, at the dedication of the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall in North Easton, Boutwell would speak in memory of Oakes, describing him as “tolerant of hostility, forgetful of injuries, and persistent in his friendships.”**

All this was ahead for the Ames men, Boutwell, and the nation.

*George S. Boutwell, Reminiscences of Sixty Years of Public Affairs, 1900

**Oakes Ames, A Memoir, 1883


February 15, 1851



Sat Feb 15  This morning mended a pair of pants for Frank

and some other things.  Finished two chemise for Susan

made her a skirt out of an old quilted one of mine.

It has been a very stormy day.  the public school

finished this afternoon.  Oakes A, Mr Pratt, Davidson,

Barrows, R. Willis, Lillie & one or two others visited the 

school.  There were no ladies on account of the rain

Mr Ames went to Boston.  Brought Miss Eaton some maple sugar

While her husband went into Boston today despite poor weather, Evelina stayed in, mended clothes and completed two chemises for Susan. The chemise, a forerunner of today’s slip, was a standard undergarment for women and girls in the 19th century, worn right under the dress (and under the corset, when corsets were worn.)  As Evelina suggests, some undergarments were quilted for warmth, an essential consideration in cold New England. On stormy days like this one, women needed all the padding they could accommodate under their wide skirts.

Oakes Angier Ames visited the local schoolhouse today with men from the school’s superintending committee: Amos Pratt, a teacher; Thomas Davidson, the town’s postmaster; Joseph Barrows, a “shovelmaster” with legal training who lived in a house built by Old Oliver; Rufus Willis, a shoe manufacturer; and Daniel Lillie, another employee of O. Ames & Sons.  Daniel and Oakes Angier were in their early twenties, while the other men were older.  Daniel would be close to the Ames family over the years, and ultimately serve as a pallbearer at Oakes Ames’s funeral in 1873.  Today, however, in the rain, without their wives, the men appeared at the public school on the last day of this session.  Why was Oakes Angier along?  He wasn’t a member of the committee, but perhaps he was developing an interest in local politics.

Oakes Ames, meanwhile, returned from Boston in the evening, bringing with him a gift of maple sugar – a sign of spring – for the failing Miss Eaton.   He may also have returned with news of a serious incident in the city.  Shadrach Minkins, a fugitive slave living and working in Boston, was arrested today by federal marshals at a coffeehouse on Cornhill Street. Minkins would be taken to court, only to be rescued by an anti-slavery group, the Boston Vigilance Committee, who hid him and helped him escape to Montreal.  The controversial new Fugitive Slave Law was being tested.  Had Oakes witnessed any of this?