November 18, 1852


Thursday Nov 18th  Catharine & Ann have cleaned

the buttery and it has taken them both all

day and I see to putting most of the dishes

back  Mixed my meat for mince pies

Wrote a note to Mrs Ames to send by

Mr Swain tomorrow with a gold thimble

Called in Olivers  Augusta there this evening


For all the sewing that Evelina did, this is the first entry where she mentions a thimble. The approximate particulars seem to be that Evelina asked her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, to get a gold thimble to be sent – as a gift? – to Ann Swain. Sarah Ames must have been planning to go to Boston the next day. Readers, your interpretation?

Whatever the circumstances were around this gold thimble, there’s no question that women used thimbles to sew. A thimble was worn on the tip of the finger to push the needle through the fabric. Simple enough, and time-honored. Thimbles have been found dating from BC, the earliest ones made of metal or leather or wood. Brass eventually became a standard material, although versions made of glass, ceramic, or even whalebone were made as well. Silver and gold, of course, were at the high end of the spectrum and often became heirlooms. Although the sewing machine would soon enter the market and alter the sewing habits of most women, thimbles would remain a tool for anyone using a needle and thread.

Not all the day was spent on sewing concerns. Evelina and her servants cleaned the buttery (or pantry) and made mincemeat. Old Oliver and his men were still outside where, in a “chilly” wind, they “finisht geting the manure of[f] our hog yard.” Surely everyone was pleased to finish that noisome task.



April 29, 1852


Peter Mark Roget

(1779 – 1869)


Thurs April 29 Baked twice in the brick oven.

Mince pies, cake bread &c   Mr & Mrs 

Kinsley with their family made quite a long

call  They are very pleasant.  After they left went

to Mr Torreys  Augustus, wife & her sister  Augusta

& Rachel there, brought home some rose slips

The aroma of baking filled the Ames house today as Evelina produced pies, cakes, bread and more. Or should we say that the smell, or the scent, or the fragrance, or the odor of baking bread was apparent to anyone who stepped into the house? Roget’s Thesaurus would offer us any one of those synonyms for the word aroma.

The first edition of Roget’s Thesaurus was published on this date in 1852. Peter Mark Roget, a British physician, inventor and theologian, began to compile synonyms as a young man as one way of combatting the depression that plagued him for much of his life.  Beginning the work in 1805, not long after he had completed his medical studies, he spent nearly fifty years bringing the publication to fruition.  The first edition had approximately 15,000 words; it has been continually expanded, updated regularly ever since.

The Kinsleys of Canton came to visit in the afternoon and, no doubt, they could smell the fresh baked bread. Lyman Kinsley was an iron trader who had many dealings with the Ames family; within the decade, his business would be owned by the Ameses and overseen by Frank Morton Ames. That was in the future, however. On this day, he, his wife, Louisa, daughter Lucy and younger sons, perhaps, all came for “quite a long call.”  Evelina enjoyed their company, but after they left she bounced right out of the house to go into the village to visit relatives and bring home rose slips. The garden!


February 6, 1852


Feb 1852

Friday Feb 6  Jane has baked some mince to day of

meat that was left last week and has done

very well.  Cut out a shirt for Oliver to day

and intended to finish it tomorrow but this

afternoon Miss Foss came and Miss Burrell

from W Bridgewater  We called at Edwins

this evening  commenced raining about five

Domestic tranquility reigned today as Jane McHanna made some fine mincemeat and Evelina cut cloth for a shirt, until interrupted by the arrival of Orinthia Foss and her friend Miss Burrell. For Evelina, chores gave way to social intercourse.

Besides keeping a record of various domestic details such as her sewing, Evelina often lists in her daily diary entries the names of the friends and relatives who come to call – in this case, Orinthia Foss and Miss Burrell. She writes of the women with whom she spends time, in fact, more often than she is apt to describe interactions with her immediate family (unless, of course, her husband forgets to pick her up to go out on a social call.) She includes the names of female friends, including her sisters-in-law, as much if not more often than she mentions the names of her children. Her social life, as in “We called at Edwins this evening,” is terribly important to her. She narrates it to her diary in order to remember it and savor it. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about her family; she does. But looking after her almost-grown children is not noteworthy.

Evelina’s diary is simple, even for the nineteenth century, when the “practice” of keeping a diary was “to record personal feelings and explore intellectual growth.”* Eveline doesn’t concern herself with external events the way Mary Chesnut of South Carolina did in her diary of the Civil War, nor does she describe or question the secondary status of women as other Bostonians such as Caroline Healey Dall did in her diary. The intellectual pursuits and considerations of the brilliant Margaret Fuller never interested her – it was beyond her ken.  Evelina was literate and engaged in her life, but in a diffident and unsophisticated way. She wrote in a manner that more closely resembled her father-in-law, Old Oliver; her brother-in-law, Oliver Ames, Jr.; and, eventually, her son, Oliver (3). She simply wrote down whom she saw and what she did.


Steven Stone, Making Sense of Letters and Diaries,

Other resources for information about diaries in the nineteenth century:

Schlesinger Library, Harvard University,

January 7, 1852




Wednesday Jan 7th

Heat the brick oven baked a loaf

of brown bread two loaves of fruit cake for

Augusta & mince pies  A & L were at Edwins

this forenoon. This afternoon have sewed for me on 

Susans dress.  I have been making frosting for

the cake  Helen has been in and the girls have had

a nice time over it  Frank carried them home


Augusta Pool and Lavinia Gilmore were once again helping Lavinia’s Aunt Evelina. Helen Angier Ames, too, came over from next door, and the young maidens had “a nice time over it.” They did a little sewing for Evelina – that must have pleased her – and helped prepare frosting for Augusta’s wedding cake, which Evelina had kindly undertaken to make, along with all the regular baking she was doing for her family. Augusta was to be married the next day to Evelina’s nephew, Edwin Williams Gilmore.

If the women were following the instructions of Sarah Josepha Hale, they would have made “Iceing for Cakes,” according to the following instructions:

Beat the whites of four eggs to a stiff foam, and add gradually three quarters of a pound of the best double-refined loaf sugar, pounded and sifted; mix in the juice of half a lemon, or a tea-spoonful of rose water.  Beat the mixture till very light and white; place the cake before the fire, pour over the iceing, and smooth over the top and sides with the back of a spoon.”**

When it got late, Frank Morton Ames took Augusta and Cousin Lavinia back to their respective families in the countryside. The light of a full moon guided them along in a sleigh over snow that was “now about a futt deep.”***

* Image of 19th century wedding cake courtesy of

**Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 101

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



December 10, 1851



Dec 10th  Wednesday.  Mrs S Witherell S Ames and

self have spent the day quilting at Mrs Reeds

on a quilt that belongs to the sewing circle  Have

had a fine time.  Met quite a number of

ladies there. Had a taste of Mrs Howards mince

pie  We stopt the evening.  Mrs Witherell

J R Howard & Mr Harrison Pool came  We carried

Mrs Elijah Howard home

Although Evelina had reported the conclusion of the Sewing Circle season on November 5, today “quite a number” of Unitarian women met again to work on a quilt. They worked all day and into the evening, making the event even more sociable than usual.  Caroline Howard and Nancy Howard were among Evelina’s friends who attended and enjoyed tea and mince pie.

In New York City, meanwhile, Oakes Ames would have been wrapping up his business affairs and preparing to return home, having been away since the 3rd of the month.  Surely, not every moment of his trip had been devoted to shovels. He was no drinker, so the bartenders in the city wouldn’t have poured him any whiskey, but, like his wife, he was sociable.  He might have joined friends or clients for dinner. He also might have done favors for family or friends from home.

Rev. William Chaffin tells us that Oakes once searched out some socks in New York for his father’s coachman, Michael Burns, whom Chaffin described as “an Irishman of the old style.” Not long after Michael had emigrated to Massachusetts, “his mother, still alive in Ireland, knit him several pairs of socks, and sent them over by a friend of Michael’s.  She supposed that anyone coming over would necessarily ‘see my son Michael.’ But the friend found on landing at New York that he was two hundred miles away.  He wrote Michael telling him that he would leave the socks at a certain address.”

Michael approached Oakes “and asked him if he wouldn’t hunt up the socks and bring them home. It was just the sort of kindness Mr. Ames delighted in, and so when he went to New York he hunted up the socks with some difficulty and brought them to the overjoyed Michael.”*

*William L. Chaffin, “Oakes Ames 1804/1873”, Easton Historical Society, North Easton, 1996, pp. 6-7





February 26, 1851


Feb 26  Wednesday.  Have been baking  Heat the oven twice

made 18 mince pies.  Cake brown bread & ginger snaps

Mr Whitwell called & brought home some books.

I called to see Miss Eaton this afternoon she has failed

very much since I saw her nearly two weeks since.  Mrs. 

Wright is sick with the pleurisy & lung fever, both have watches

Abby & Malvina spent this evening here   The boys have

all gone to the meeting house to a sing  Pleasant & mild

A[u]gustus here to dine

Eighteen mincemeat pies! Hard to fathom a domestic pantry, pie safe or cold shelf  that could hold 18 mince meat pies all at once, let alone an oven that would bake even half that number at one time.  Cake, cookies, and bread, too.

The brown bread that Evelina baked today was a staple of the New England kitchen, and was made from some combination of Indian (corn) meal and rye.  While other geographic areas of the United States, like the south, the mid-Atlantic and the expanding west, had turned to wheat as their preferred grain for baking bread, Yankee housewives, “who valued and esteemed brown bread as the food of their Puritan ancestors,*” held to the familiar cornmeal and rye.  So it was in Evelina’s kitchen.

According to Sarah Josepha Hale, who published The Good Housekeeper in 1841, brown bread was “an excellent article of diet for the dyspeptic and the costive.”   Mary Peabody Mann, in Christianity in the Kitchen pronounced brown bread to be “a nutritive bread, though inferior in this respect to wheat,” and agreed that it produced “a laxative effect upon the system.”  Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, liked brown bread for its economy and tradition.  She advised that it “be put into a very hot oven, and baked three or four hours.”

After she got away from the cook room, Evelina was visited by Reverend Whitwell who either borrowed some books from her or lent some to her – the passage is unclear. Both of their homes must have housed a collection of books, and borrowing and sharing was common.  A decade or so earlier, Easton had boasted of two or three lending libraries but these institutions had pretty well ceased to operate.  Other, better organized libraries would be formed later that century, but in 1851, if someone wanted a book to read, he or she borrowed it from a friend or bought the publication.

In the neighborhood, Miss Eaton was still failing and now, under the same roof,  Mrs. Wright, mother of Harriet Holmes, was believed to be dying, also.  Neighbors were helping Mrs. Holmes with the care and feeding of the two invalids.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, p. 48

February 24, 1851


Feb 24th Monday.  This morning Orinthia commenced a

private school at the school house had twenty

scholars.  Was choring about house all the forenoon

This afternoon made over a valance for

Franks bed and did some mending.

Martin Guild was burried at two Oclock.  None

of us attended the funeral  Helen & Sarah Ames

called a few moments this evening.  Heavy rain.

Looks like little Susie was back in school today, this time under the tutelage of Orinthia Foss, the new teacher.  Not only would Susie see Miss Foss in the school room every day, but also at home for breakfast, dinner, and tea. During her tenure in Easton, Orinthia would take turns boarding with different families in town beginning with the Oakes Ameses. The exact location of the schoolhouse where she taught is undetermined, but it may have been located right in the heart of the village, at the Rockery.*

As usual, Evelina spent this busy Monday doing housework, or “choring,” as she called it, in the morning, or “forenoon,” while Jane McHanna labored with the weekly washing. What do you suppose was served for midday dinner on Mondays, when the women of the house were preoccupied with everything except cooking?  Perhaps the family ate one of those mincemeat pies that had been prepared days in advance and kept very cold somewhere. Yankee housewives were known to keep some baked goods frozen for months, either by placing them on shelves in an ice house, or simply by storing them in unheated spaces not far from the kitchen. A risky practice, one might think, especially with the varied temperatures and rainy weather that has characterized this particular February.

Also as usual, Evelina turned in the afternoon to her mending and sewing. She refurbished a valance for Frank Morton’s bed.  Although his brothers Oakes Angier and Oliver (3) shared a bedroom, Frank had a space, if not a room, to himself.  A valance was an essential component of his bedstead, naturally offering some warmth and privacy that might otherwise be lacking.

* Information from Frank Mennino, Curator of the Easton Historical Society.  Thank you, Frank.

January 9, 1851



Jan 9th Thursday

This morning after cleaning my room & doing

my usual mornings work, finished my collars & the

book Mr Whitwell brought.  Cut Susan a sack out of

her plaid cloak.  Prepared some mince pie meat ready

for baking & this evening have been writing in this book.

Had to take the foregoing from memory.  Mr Ames, ague in his face

and come home from the office very early.  Has been

troubled with it several days.  Unpleasant this afternoon

Oakes Ames still had his head cold and came home early from work, something almost unheard of.  He was always on the go. Evelina, meanwhile, worked in the cook room preparing mince meat, a lengthy process that calls for a lot of chopping of meat and suet, not to mention the “stoning” of raisins.

Sarah Josepha Hale, intrepid editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, had nothing nice to say about mince meat pies. In her book, The Good Housekeeper (1841), she urged American housewives to serve mincemeat only on special occasions:

“The custom of eating mince pies at Christmas, like that of plumb puddings, was too firmly rooted for the ‘Pilgrim fathers’ to abolish; so it would be vain for me to attempt it.  At Thanksgiving, too, they are considered indispensable; but I may be allowed to hope that during the remainder of the year, this rich, expensive and exceedingly unhealthy diet will be used very sparingly by all who wish to enjoy sound sleep or pleasant dreams.”

Evelina was a regular reader of  Godey’s Lady’s Book, but she paid scant attention to Mrs. Hale’s admonishment against mince meat pies.  She served them often; they were a familiar presence at the Ames dinner table.  Considering  the large family to be fed, including three physically active sons between ages 17 and 21, and the ready availability of meat and suet from the oxen provided by her father-in-law, it’s small wonder that Evelina turned to a dish that was hearty and filling.   Mincemeat was a standard in many farming families.