December 30, 1852

Sunset

Thursday Dec 30th  Mrs A A & Mrs Edwin Gilmore & Abby

& self have passed the day at mothers.  We

got there at 1/4 past 10 Oclock very early I 

call that.  Abby has a very bad boil on her

shoulder  After I got home this evening

went into Olivers & Mrs A L Ames came

in and we stopt untill nearly ten Oclock

Miss Alger has given her 20th lesson

dined in the other part of the house

 

Evelina spent the day with her mother, eighty-year-old Hannah Lothrop Gilmore. Other Gilmore women were present, too: Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, Augusta Pool Gilmore, and Abigail Williams Torrey (a Gilmore niece). They assembled at the family farm for what appears to have been simply a sociable gathering. We might imagine, however, that at least one of the women held a piece of sewing or mending in her lap as they sat and talked. Back at the house in North Easton, meanwhile, Sarah Witherell had the responsibility of overseeing the girls’ piano lesson and hosting the piano teacher for dinner.

The year was drawing to a close, and this entry is the next-to-last one that Evelina will make in her diary. A sad closure – not for Evelina, but for us readers. Over the two years of posting Evelina’s diary, a virtual community has gathered in its own sociable way to watch life pass in North Easton in a time long gone. In addition to hundreds of readers from across the U.S., readers from around the globe – most notably Australia, Brazil, Germany, South Korea, the UK, Italy and Canada – have stopped in regularly to see how Evelina was faring. Not a few of you are direct descendants of Evelina and Oakes, or Old Oliver and Susannah. In the course of writing this blog, it has been clear that you and others, whatever your address, feel a strong bond with the early “Shovel Ameses” of North Easton, and with the town itself.

As she made her daily entries, Evelina could have had no way of knowing that hundreds of us – strangers to her – would one day read her diary. She couldn’t have imagined it, which is a good thing, for then she might have written for an audience instead of for herself. We would find more craft and less honesty in the daily dispatches. As it has happened, we’ve been allowed to interpret and imagine – but not invent – her life. We hope we’ve done it right. Perhaps in the future, the missing diaries will come to light and we’ll be able to learn more about the family. We might be able to clarify or enhance or even contradict the inferences we might have made. History is a fluid thing.

Thank you, readers, for following along and contributing to our understanding of Evelina and her time. Please join Evelina one more time tomorrow as we take a look at how the rest of her life unfolded.

 

December 25, 1852

Godeys

Sat Dec 25th Christmas. Have had to do the

housework and have had a busy time of it

Henrietta called in for an hour or two

and then Miss Alger came and was here

to dinner  Alson & wife & Edwin & wife here

to tea.  The girls came in the stage

My feet trouble me so much that I can

scarcely go about house  Sent Mrs Whitwell a delaine dress

 

Christmas Day was pretty much a non-event at the Ames compound. Like last year, the household followed a fairly normal routine. Old Oliver grumped about the poor weather and “bad carting.”* At Evelina’s, the servants were in Canton, at church presumably, with family and friends. They returned via stagecoach late in the day. Before they came back, Eveline “had a busy time” with the meals and cleaning, balancing the latter with a social call from her sister-in-law Henrietta Williams Gilmore. She also must have facilitated another piano lesson – the 19th one – for her daughter Susan and niece Emily. The indefatigable Miss M. J. Alger arrived to teach and stayed for dinner.

Outside of puritanical New England, the celebration of Christmas was on the ascendant. Periodicals like Godey’s and Gleason’s referred to the holiday with poems, stories, and illustrations. Families and friends exchanged gifts, although with much less commercial goading than today. And the following Christmas, 1853, President-elect Franklin Pierce would put up the first-ever Christmas tree in the White House.**

For all their disinterest in what they saw as a Catholic holiday, members of the Ames family did show small signs of acknowledging the occasion. Here and there, they exchanged gifts; we saw it last year and see it again. Evelina made a gift to the minister’s wife, Eliza Whitwell, of a wool dress. As the years would go by and the generation of Fred, Oakes Angier and the others gained primacy, Christmas would come to resemble the holiday that we know, replete with gifts and church pageants and family dinners – but not while Old Oliver was alive.

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

**Credit for the first Christmas tree at the White House is disputed by historians. Some say Benjamin Harrison was the first president to put one up, in the late 1880s.

 

December 22, 1852

new-england-clam-chowder-3-550

 

Wednesday Dec 22d  Miss Alge[r] came again to day

to give another lesson which makes the 

18th  She stopt to dinner we had fish

chowder & I had to attend to it while she

was giving Susan her lesson and did not hear

it  The families all took tea at Olivers

I have done but very little on Susans sack

Susan scratched Emilys Pianno

 

Readers might wonder how Oakes Angier Ames was faring on his voyage to Cuba. We’ll learn later that by this date, he had reached Charleston, South Carolina and was to depart this day for Havana.

So much attention had been focused lately on Oakes Angier Ames that we also might wonder what the other two Ames sons were up to. Local historian William Chaffin obligingly tells us. They were helping form a local militia:

A charter for an infantry company, signed by Governor Boutwell, was secured December 3, 1852, and the company was organized on the 22d. The following officers were chosen: William E. Bump, captain; Francis Tilden, first lieutenant; Oliver Ames, 3d, second lieutenant; John Carr, third lieutenant; Rufus Willis, fourth lieutenant. This company and one then recently formed at Canton were organized as the second battalion of light infantry, second brigade, and first division, the Easton company being known as Company B.

Of this battalion Oliver Ames, 3d, was chosen adjutant. He was afterward promoted to be major, and the lieutenant-colonel; and Frank M. Ames was made quartermaster and then major. The State furnished this company with fifty guns, bayonets, and other accoutrements, besides swords for the officers.  The record book states that the State also forwarded “1 Brass Kittle drum in good order, and 1 Fife, crooked and unfit for use.”*

A militia, typically, is a group of civilian volunteers who band together, with some kind of government blessing and support, to supplement a regular military army. Such militias had formed before in Easton and elsewhere and, according to Chaffin, a “military spirit began to revive again in 1852.”* What was motivating this activity? Were the young men responding to the increased agitation between the North and the South, or were they simply feeling their oats?

Susan Ames was feeling something today, too.  By accident or design, she scratched her cousin Emily’s piano. Not good. Evelina may not have witnessed the incident, as she was busy in the kitchen making fish chowder for dinner. The chowder was partaken of by the family and by the piano teacher, who often timed her lessons around the midday meal. Perhaps a regular meal was part of her pay.

 

*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, 1866,  pp. 512 – 513

December 18, 1852

Stage

 

Sat Dec 18th  Had a good nights rest but still feel

very much fatigued and cannot make up

my mind to do much  Miss Alger came to give

the 17th lesson and stopt to dinner.

Mrs Horatio Ames & son Horatio came in the 

stage to night  She has left her home and

how unhappy she must be

With the demanding travel of the last several days, and the emotional drain of seeing her son off, Evelina was “very much fatigued” today. She fell back into a routine of sorts, noting that Miss Alger gave another piano lesson to Susie Ames and Emily Witherell and stayed for midday dinner. But she had trouble engaging in her usual occupations: sewing, choring, mending or reading.

A new difficulty arrived, evidently to everyone’s surprise. Sally Hewes Ames and her eldest son, Horatio Ames Jr., arrived by stagecoach from Connecticut, bringing the news that she had left her husband Horatio. She intended to divorce him. Divorce! In a era when such an act was rare and invariably scandalous, Evelina’s foremost reaction was to feel sorry for her sister-in-law. “How unhappy she must be.”

Old Oliver records none of this drama, only the day’s weather, noting that it “was a cold day + a high north west wind + much the coldest day we have this season.” Winter was finally beginning to bite.

December 8, 1852

imgres

Wednesday Dec 8th  Have been doing to day probably

what I shall while Oakes A stays, to work

on his clothes  He went to Boston this

morning  It is so near the time he is to leave

that I do not like to have him away but 

how little is he sensible to what my feelings are

Miss Alger has given the 15th leson

 

Only one week earlier, Evelina had learned that Oakes Angier’s illness had returned. She had been shocked, rattled, anxious. Today, a week later, she was not much improved and had added a dose of self-pity. She was feeling sorry for herself. While Oakes Angier went off to Boston for the day, probably with his cousin Alson Augustus Gilmore, Evelina stayed at home to mend and sew the clothes he would need for the journey to Cuba. “[H]ow little is he sensible” to her maternal concern and regard, she bemoaned.

Oakes Angier may have been quite aware of his mother’s feelings, and may have wanted a break from them. Fresh air, sunshine and a jaunt into Boston must have appealed to him. He had his own mental adjustments to make to this threat to his young life, independent of everyone else’s personal regard. He had so much at stake.

So mother and son spent some time apart, he exploring some of the larger world he would soon be thrust into, she nursing a heavy heart at home, sewing, of course, perhaps with piano scales running in the background.

The only thing that Old Oliver noted was that it was a “fair good”* day.

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

 

 

December 2, 1852

Fire

Thursday Dec 2d  Have been very nervous to day

thinking about Oakes A   cannot reconcile myself

to his leaving home.  Have done as well as I

could about taking care of the hog but made

poor headway  Augustus & wife  Edwin & wife

Mrs Witherell & Mrs S Ames all came unexpectedly

to spend the evening and I have not even changed

my dress. But who cares?  Miss Alger has

given her 14th lesson

 

Back in North Easton, Evelina was still rattled by the bad news her son had received. She tried to deal with a butchered hog that her father-in-law sent her but could barely cope.

Oakes Angier had been told he had consumption. He was advised to go to Cuba, whose warm, humid climate was believed to be good for pulmonary tuberculosis. No other effective treatment was available. The Ames men – Oakes Ames, certainly – would have been active today investigating possible arrangements. Oakes and Oliver Jr. had a business associate, a shipping merchant named Elisha Atkins, who traded in sugar in Cuba, at a port called Cienfuegos on the southern side of the island. Perhaps they contacted him for advice.

All the Ameses, and the Gilmore clan, too, were upset by the diagnosis. Family members on both sides “all came unexpectedly” at night to show affection and alarm for Oakes Angier, the eldest cousin of his generation. The family pulled together, although Evelina was too shocked to appreciate the support, too sad to rise to the occasion. “I have not even changed my dress,” she noted pitifully.

Completely preoccupied by Oakes Angier’s illness, the folks at the Ames compound may not have paid much attention to the news that the Chickering Piano Company building in Boston had caught fire and burned to the ground.

“3 o’clock A.M. — Thursday Morning — The whole of the manufactory—an immense block structure, five stores high—is one mass of ruins. Mr. Jonas Chickering owned the building, and occupied all of it except the stores, which were improved by Messrs Thomas &Merriam, grocers, Edward Butman, crockery ware dealer, Amos Cummings, grocer. Very little property, in the building was saved. The devouring element spread through the building with terrific rapidity and soon the heated walls began to fall so as to endanger the lives of those who approached.

The building occupied the space on Washington street, between Norfolk place and Sweetser court. A portion of the side wall on Sweetser court first fell doing no injury, and the gable end of the side wall, on Norfolk place, fell over and crushed in the roof of the brick building on the opposite corner, which was on fire, and forced out the gable end. Both buildings were now one mass of fire, presenting an awfully grand sight. A part of the wall on Washington street, next fell and the flames swept across Washington street, threatening the destruction of the Adams House and other buildings on the opposite side, but they were saved. The attic windows of the Adams House were badly scorched.

The greater portion of the wall on Norfolk street next fell over on the opposite building, crushing it completely to pieces, and the walls of the next adjoining northerly, a three story, old fashioned block, and buried underneath the ruins, two watchmen, named Alfred Turner and Benjamin F. Foster, of the Boylston division. A large force immediately set to work to remove the rubbish, and after some time, were able to converse with Turner, and in an hour’s time reached one of his arms, but before the ruins could be cleared away, he fell into the cellar, and not just before putting our [news]paper to press been dug out. Foster, it is supposed lived but a short time.

The building on the corner of Norfolk place, opposite Chickering’s was five stories high, belonged to Deming Jarvis, and was occupied, the store by P.R. Morley, plumber, and the upper stories by Mr. Ladd, pianoforte key maker. They saved but a small amount of their stock. The building was insured. The old brick building next adjoining, which was leveled to the ground by the falling wall was occupied by Mrs. Wyman, as a boy’s clothing store and a dwelling house.”*

Was the Chickering Piano Company the place where Evelina and Sarah Witherell had purchased their pianos?

*

November 27, 1852

c893600e2c447ff3fb48778c1a724e2d

Example of cambric sleeve

Nov 27th Saturday  Have been sewing quite

steadily to day and so has Catharine  We

have made a pair of cambrick sleeves for

Susan & self and mended lots of clothes

Mrs Witherell has been in with her

work for about an hour and it is a

rarity  Susan has practiced very well

to day and is gaining quite fast in reading 

her notes

 

Susie Ames was finally getting the hang of playing piano. After the sturm und drang  of the earlier lessons, her mother had to be pleased to hear her practice “very well.” No doubt the piano teacher, Miss Alger, would be happy that her student could finally read the notes.

Inclement weather prevented them from going outside for any reason, at least in the morning. According to Old Oliver, “it raind all last night wind South east and there was 2 1/8 inches of water fell it cleard of to day before noon wind west + not cold”*.  As we might guess, Evelina used the time indoors to mend and sew.  For a time, she had the company of her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell. As she has suggested before, Evelina felt that both her sisters-in-law did not visit her as often as she would have liked.

Cambric is a light fabric with an open weave, often used for underclothes such as chemisettes. It served well as an undersleeve worn under an outer sleeve of more substantial fabric. It would have been a relatively easy garment for Evelina to sew, especially as her version would have been simpler than the one in the illustration, probably lacking in the eyelet detail.

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