December 14, 1852

 

Train

 

Tuesday Dec 14th  Went to Boston with Mr Ames & Oakes A

and all dined at Mr Orrs  Was undecided 

whether to go with them to New York untill it

was nearly time for the cars to start but feared

if I did not go that I might reflect on it

hereafter  Mr & Mrs Norris accompanied us

to the cars  O A Ames & self called at Mrs Dorrs

just before we started.  Bought some crockery

at Collamores & Perkins

 

Old Oliver recorded the momentous departure of his oldest grandson: “[T]his was a fair day wind north west, midling cold  Oakes Angier Started for Cuba to day and his Father went to New York with him”*  Oakes Angier was ill and had been advised to seek a more healthful climate in Cuba. After a week of preparation, he and both his parents headed into Boston to catch the train for New York, where Oakes Angier would board a ship bound for the West Indies.

Initially hesitant, Evelina had been afraid to commit to traveling to New York with her husband and son. But the real possibility of never seeing Oakes Angier again impelled Evelina to board “the cars” and go – a huge step for the small town soul. She managed a bit of shopping in Boston before boarding; the familiarity and ease of that activity may have helped allay her agitation about traveling.

The train that the family took would likely have been the early Hartford and New Haven Railroad, which connected to a train in Springfield or a steamship in southern Connecticut.** Caleb and Melinda Norris (she of the brand new dressing case) went with them to the station. Evelina and her family must have felt reassured to wave goodbye to caring friends. Everyone was hoping for the very best for Oakes Angier.

 

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

** Ed. note: The development of railroad and steamship lines was rapid and ever-changing during this period; ownerships and lines merged and competed constantly. It’s difficult to pin down the exact route that the Ameses would have traveled between Boston and New York. Railroad buffs, please weigh in.

 

 

December 9, 1852

936572_l

Dressing case, mid-19th c.*

Thursday Dec 9th  Mrs Witherell & Mrs Ames

have been to Boston and Oakes A came

home with them  Mrs Norris has a present

from Mr Norris of a beautiful dressing case

Have got the forks & spoons &c from Bigelows

for which they charge 77 dollars 77 cts

Miss Alger brought Mother & Lavinia up

yesterday  Lavinia & Edwin & wife were here

and I went [to] Augustus after Mother this forenoon 

 

Evelina seemed to be in better spirits, perhaps because Oakes Angier returned from Boston. She was savoring every minute with him before he left for Cuba.

Her sisters-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell and Sarah Lothrop Ames, had also been in the city. They returned with the news that Caleb Norris, son-in-law of Robert and Melinda Orr, had given his wife, also named Melinda, a dressing case for her 28th birthday. Norris was a dry goods merchant and the young couple lived with her parents on Columbus Avenue. Given Norris’s connections in wholesale and retail, he must have been able to procure his wife a fine box, perhaps at a friendly price. However he managed it, he impressed the Ames women mightily.

A dressing case was a fashionable item for women**, one that could be placed on a dressing table or clasped closed to travel. Most cases, such as the one in the illustration, contained bottles and vials to hold perfume and lotion, and brushes and combs for the grooming of increasingly complicated hairstyles. All items deemed necessary for the beautification and maintenance of a woman’s hair, face and hands were thoughtfully and expensively included, topped off in this case with silver lids.

Their friends weren’t the only ones spending money on luxury items. Evelina tells us what it cost to buy some new flatware and have it monogrammed: $77.77. In today’s dollars (2015), that would amount to approximately $2,430. The Ameses were becoming quite wealthy to be able to spend that amount. The purchase certainly overpowers that 75 cent crumb brush that Evelina received from her nephew Fred, but to her credit she seemed equally pleased with both acquisitions.

 

*courtesy of http://www.antiquebox.org 

** There were also dressing cases for men, with different contents, naturally.

October 5, 1852

Golden Piano Keys

Oct 5th  Tuesday  Called this forenoon upon Augusta

and then went into Olivers to dine & all my family

After dinner Mrs Norris & self called at Mr Torreys

and I then carried Mrs N to the cars.  Augusta

went with us.  When I returned Mrs Witherell &

Mrs S Ames called with me at Mr Whitwells on

Mrs Wordsworth & on Mrs Morse  Our pianos came

to night.

A momentous day at the Ames homestead: Two pianos arrived from Boston – drawn by oxen, one would think – and were set up in the respective parlors on each side of the house. One was for Evelina’s daughter, Susan, and the other was for Sarah Ames Witherell’s daughter, Emily. Everyone, even the men of the family who were unlikely to play the instruments, must have been intrigued by the new additions to the parlors.

Modern historian Jack Larkin describes the stylish impact of the addition of a piano to a parlor in the mid-nineteenth century:

“The pianoforte, the direct ancestor of today’s piano, became the most decisive piece of American parlor furniture. That small minority of families – less than one in a hundred – who were able ‘to beautify the room by so superb an ornament,’ as a cynical music teacher suggested in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, had acquired ‘the ultimate badge of gentility…the only thing that distinguishes ‘decent people’ from the lower and less distinguished’ whether it was ever played or not.”*

It was certainly Evelina’s intention that this instrument would be played by her daughter Susan who, she believed, would learn to play it, and play it well. It was presumably Sarah Witherell’s desire as well that Emily would do the same.  Did they imagine piano recitals and concerts taking place within their freshly-papered, newly decorated parlor walls?  Did they believe that their daughters would excel and play as well as Helen Ames next door? Did their daughters share this expectation? Did their daughters even want to learn piano?

*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 143

October 3, 1852

Play

Oct 3d Sunday  We have all been to meeting to day

Mrs Norris Mr Ames & self came home at noon but did not

have a dinner cooked  After meeting Frank carried Miss Linscott

& Orinthia to Bridgewater & Melinda & self went to Mothers and

called on Miss M J Alger while Frank went to carry them home

Mrs A[l]ger had her piano & played Horatio Jr is here came last night

More comings and goings today. Everyone went to church, of course, but afterwards dispersed in different directions. Frank Morton Ames obliged the young, single ladies in the group by driving them home to Bridgewater. While he headed east, Evelina and her friend Melinda Norris rode south to the family farm to visit the elderly Mrs. Gilmore. They also stopped to visit Miss M J Alger, the woman who would be giving piano lessons to Susie Ames and Emily Witherell. She, or her mother, played a piano for them.

Old Oliver reported that “this was a fair pleasant day for season Oakes came home from N. York las[t] night.” Oakes Angier stayed behind, on business or pleasure we don’t know. Evelina reported, as her father-in-law did not, that Horatio Ames Jr. was back for a visit. He was the son of Horatio Ames, a brother of Oakes and Oliver Jr. It’s unclear if Horatio Jr. was living in Boston at this point or was still in Connecticut at the family home there.

 

 

June 1, 1852

Mathew_Brady_-_Franklin_Pierce_-_alternate_crop

Franklin Pierce (1804-1869)

Photograph by Matthew Brady

1852

Tuesday June 1st  Have been to Boston with

Mrs Witherell Mrs S Ames Helen & Emily

Called at Mr Orrs the first place met

the other ladies at half past nine at Mr

Daniells & Co.  Was trying to get a bonnet

most all day at last got materials for a lace 

one  Went to Doe & Hasletons about my consol

Mrs Norris met us at half past two

Most of the Ames females decamped North Easton today and went into the city.  Even Sarah Witherell, dressed in black, rode into Boston to go shopping. Were her sisters-in-law hoping to cheer her up with an outing?

While Evelina and “the other ladies” went about Boston “most all day” in earnest pursuit of bonnets, furniture and more, a group of politicians was gathered in Baltimore some 400 miles south. The Democrats were holding their national convention for the nomination of their next presidential candidate.  Among the ten to twelve gentlemen in the running were Senators Lewis Cass of Michigan, Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, Henry Dodge of Wisconsin, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Sam Houston of Texas, Governor Philip Allen of Rhode Island, former Secretary of State James Buchanan, and former Senator Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. The latter, a dark horse candidate, was chosen.

Franklin Pierce would win the next election and serve as President from 1853 through 1857. Known as “Handsome Frank,” a sociable fellow with a difficult personal life and a probable addiction to alcohol, Pierce was an accomplished politician and fierce opponent of abolition. Once in office, he signed the inflammatory Kansas-Nebraska Act, then failed to be renominated for a second term. His purported response was “There’s nothing left to do but get drunk.”

After the Democrats’ gathering, another presidential convention would shortly be held in the same Baltimore hall, the Maryland Institute for the Mechanical Arts.  This time, the Whig Party would meet and nominate Gen.Winfield Scott, hero of the Mexican-American War.  Scott was the candidate that the Ames men would support.  The Ames women couldn’t vote, of course.

August 19, 1851

4gbhistory

 

*

Tues 19th Aug  Sat down quite early to fix some work for

Ellen, about 11 Oclock Mrs Norris and a Mr Young from

Bridgewater came  Dined here and left about three

they wanted the boys to go Fishing Thursday but Clinton Lothrop

is not expected to live through the day and they

thought it best to defer going untill Monday

Mrs Witherell & Mitchell & myself went into

school this afternoon  Very warm

Melinda Orr Norris and a Mr. Young had midday dinner with the Ameses, during which they invited the Ames sons to go fishing. The boys accepted but deferred the trip to the following week.  Clinton Lothrop, their Aunt Sarah Lothrop Ames’s younger brother, was deathly ill and they wanted to wait until after his anticipated passing.

It was a hot summer day, with no such thing as air conditioning or window fans. In their full-skirted dresses, the Ames women surely were hot as they chored around the house or sat with visitors. They possibly opened their parlor windows to let in some air, but would have let in the insects, too, if they did so.  “Wove wire” had appeared here and there on the market as an alternative to horsehair weaves, but wouldn’t be commonplace until the Civil War. Around 1861, Gilbert & Bennet, a sieve-making firm in Georgetown, Connecticut, lost its southern customers and began to manufacture window screens as a way to use its surplus wire mesh cloth. Window screens took off. Before then, how did people cope?

Evelina and her sisters-in-law, Sarah Witherell and Harriett Mitchell, left the closed air of their homes and went to the local school house in the afternoon. Evelina doesn’t explain the purpose of the trip. Surely the hot sun beat down on them outdoors, but their bonnets kept their heads protected, at least.

* Gilbert & Bennet’s Red Mill on the Norwalk River where woven wire cloth was first developed as a commercial substitute for horsehair. Photo from historyofredding.com.  

July 14, 1851

Knives

1851

July 14 Monday  Mr Norris left in the stage this

morning  Mr & Mrs Harris & Mrs Norris for

Bridgewater.  Jane has not done her washing as she

usually does but we have put the house in order

Scoured all the knives &c &c.  Have passed most 

of the afternoon in the other part of the house

the whole family took tea there

The Harrises and Norrises left this morning, releasing Evelina from her hostessing obligations. The house was in disarray; probably, one of the couples slept in a bed in the parlour, the other stayed who-knows-where.  Furniture had to be put back, linens stripped and so on.  Jane McHanna had so much to do in the aftermath of the houseguests that she couldn’t do the Monday washing.  That was unheard of.

Jane and Evelina picked up in the kitchen, too.  One of them scoured the knives. In 1851, knives were made of mild steel, typically high in iron. Stainless steel, which has an alloy of low iron and high chromium, had not yet been developed, and wouldn’t appear until the turn of the 20th century. Knives in the 19th century corroded easily and needed to be cleaned periodically, often by being rubbed with fine sand.  Evelina or Jane might have sharpened them, too.

In the afternoon, Evelina and her whole family had tea at her father-in-law’s, served by her sister-in-law Sarah Witherell.  After a weekend of catering to houseguests, being served tea must have been a pleasure.