October 9, 1851


Thursday Oct 9th  Jane has been sick to day went to bed directly

after washing the breakfast dishes and I had to get

dinner  After dinner she was much better and was

able to […do] the dishes  This afternoon I have passed

in Olivers with Miss S. Orr.  Mrs Witherell & Mitchell

Mr Ames & William there to tea Have trimmed

Susans bonnet with dark ribbon


Jane McHanna was sick.  The domestic team at the Oakes Ames house was barely operational, what with Evelina herself still feeling the effects of a mean case of nettlerash. But between them, the two women, servant and mistress, managed to make meals appear on the dinner table in a timely fashion. Did the men of the house appreciate the extra effort going on behind the kitchen door?

Tea was a special event today, served next door at Oliver, Jr. and Sarah Lothrop Ames’s. Present were five of Old Oliver’s six surviving children: Sarah Witherell, Harriett Mitchell, Oakes Ames, William Leonard Ames, and the host, Oliver Ames, Jr. William was visiting, if not from New Jersey, then from his current way station on his journey to Minnesota. Harriett, too, held visitor status;  she and her children were about to return to her husband in Pennsylvania. Only Sarah Witherell, Oakes, and Oliver Jr. lived in North Easton and saw one another regularly.

Missing from the group was Horatio Ames, who lived down in Connecticut. No one’s favorite sibling, some – Oakes, particularly – may even have appreciated his absence. Interesting that Old Oliver himself isn’t mentioned as being present.

Another guest who was also there at this rare gathering of the clan was Miss Susan Orr, a long-time family friend (or relative?) who had known the group when they were children. She could remember Oakes Ames as a baby. Susan had been staying with Sarah Witherell and Old Oliver for about ten days. Meanwhile, a different Susan, only nine-years-old, got her bonnet trimmed with a new ribbon.


October 8, 1851



Wednes Oct 8th  Have been sewing pretty steady to day have finished

my dark french print dress and have worn it this

evening  This afternoon called at Mrs Swains with

Mrs S Ames  Her brothers wife is there from Nantucket

with two children & her nurse is there and with her

father & mother made quite a family, nine of them

Mrs Swain said  She appears quite smart

She doesn’t mention her condition in her journal today, but Evelina was still afflicted with nettlerash, and would continue to be for another several days.  Why was her version of this troublesome condition so much more severe than her daughter’s had been?  Did the two, in fact, even have the same illness?

The only way to cope was to keep moving forward.  As least Evelina seemed able to sit and sew, enough to complete a “dark french print dress” she had been working on for some time. (Perhaps the fabric was not unlike the example of a 19th century French print fabric in the above illustration.) She even changed into the new dress for the evening.  Sarah Lothrop Ames may have stopped in from next door for the two sisters-in-law went to call on Ann Swain, wife of John Swain, the new bookkeeper and clerk at the shovel company.

Ann Swain was pregnant, almost at full term and doing well, appearing “quite smart.” She was surrounded by relatives – “nine of them” – who had evidently traveled from Nantucket in order to assist at the birth. The baby would be Mrs. Swain’s first, and her parents as well as others were on hand to help. Neither Sarah nor Evelina would be needed.

Courtesy of http://www.french-treasures.blogspot.com


October 6, 1851



Monday Oct 6th  Went down to Dr Swans before 7 or 8 Oclock

so that I might find him at home and he has given

me some powders  When I came back found the

dishes washed and put away  Jane has been remarkable

smart  I have finished my striped french print

and have worn it this afternoon  Mr Brown

commenced school again to day  Passed the evening

at Mr Holmes with Susan


Evelina sought help today from Dr. Caleb Swan, who gave her “some powders” for her nettlerash. She would have mixed a dosage with water and swallowed it.  What was the actual medicine that she ingested? Did it contain the laudanum that was often dispensed to women in that era? Whatever it was, it seemed to make Evelina feel a bit better.

Jane McHanna, the Ames’s servant, washed the breakfast dishes for Evelina while she was at the doctor’s. Jane usually did the cooking and Evelina typically did the washing up, but in this case Jane must have recognized how sick Evelina was.  Evelina was grateful for the assistance and praised Jane for being “remarkable smart.”

The day progressed well afterwards. Little Susie returned to school where Eratus Brown was her teacher. Did she miss her old teacher, Orinthia Foss? Evelina sewed and finished making a “striped french print” dress. Stripes were in fashion that fall, as the illustration above from Godey’s Lady’s Book shows. The illustration also shows that distortion of the female figure for advertising purposes was every bit as popular in 1851 as it is in 2014. The length of the woman’s legs in the drawing is improbable, unless she is standing on stilts under that full skirt. Look at her tiny foot sticking out from the hem!

Evelina even felt well enough to go out in the evening with her daughter.  They went over to the Holmes’s where they probably visited with Harriet Holmes, the neighbor who had been so ill earlier in the summer. The Holmeses had a daughter, Mary, who was about Susie’s age.


Fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, September 1851

September 25, 1851


Thursday Sept 25th  Julia has been here to day and has

cut two french print dresses.  She had but

very little trouble with them and I think they

sett very well  she also cut Susans doll a frock

Susan had a very comfortable night & appears

quite smart to day  The Dr came here to day

which makes the third visit says it is not necessary

for him to come again

Julia Mahoney, a young dressmaker who had recently immigrated from Ireland, worked at Evelina’s today.  She immediately set about cutting sections for two dresses to be made from the French print fabric that Evelina had just bought in Boston. Evelina was pleased with Julia’s work today, which wasn’t always the case.  To help keep little Susie Ames occupied as she recovered from a terrible case of nettle rash, Julia cut “a frock” for Susie’s doll.

The doctor – we don’t know which one in Easton had been called – visited today and confirmed Susie’s imminent recovery.  The little girl was appearing “quite smart,” a phrase that Evelina occasionally used to note marked improvement in someone’s appearance, health, or wits.

There was no question that fall had arrived.  Not only had the autumnal equinox occurred, officially ushering in the season, but Old Oliver had recorded several small frosts recently, including “a large frost last night.”  Daylight was shrinking slightly every day. As she quilted today, Evelina must have been turning her thoughts toward winter.  She may also have paused to remember that ten years ago on this date, her fourth son, Henry Gilmore Ames, had died at age 2 1/2.

September 23, 1851



Tues Sept 23d  Susan has passed a dreadful night has not slept

any at all and this morning we sent for the Doctor

and he pronounces it the nettle rash  She has suffered 

very much to day would not let me leave her for

one moment  Mr & Mrs Whitwell are spending the 

day at the other part of the house  Oakes A & Mrs

H Mitchell called there last evening and visited them

She called in to see Susan

Little Susie Ames was in agony.  She had nettle rash, a 19th century term for hives, an acute, raised rash that erupts from the skin in painful splotches. It can appear in many places on the body; Susie’s landed on her backside and spread from there. Known medically as urticaria, the condition is often symptomatic of an allergic reaction, but it can have viral or idiopathic origins, too. It’s hard to say what might have caused the nine-year old’s sudden breakout.

The poor girl’s skin itched, stung and burned, making her unable to rest or sleep without discomfort. Tending her daughter all night and day, Evelina didn’t get any rest, either, and the regular domestic pattern of the day was disrupted. A quick visit from Harriett Ames Mitchell must have been helpful, at least, in capturing Susie’s attention for a few minutes.

In the house next door, Sarah Lothrop Ames turned 39 years old today. Given the recent death of one of her brothers, it’s doubtful that any great fuss was made over the occasion. Sarah and her immediate family were probably still wearing some form of mourning apparel at this point.





September 22, 1851



Mon Sept 22nd  This morning sat down to sewing and fixing some work

for Ellen cut the breadths for a bedquilt and was in 

hopes to have a quiet day & week to sew but it has 

not commenced very fair  About noon Susan was

complained of an itching & burning and on examination

I find her back was broken out in great blotches &

this evening she is completely covered & in great agony

A Mr Bronson is stopping here from Pennsylvania

Monday morning at the Ames’s meant that after breakfast, Jane McHanna turned to doing laundry and Evelina, after doing dishes and other chores, sat down to sew.  She had in mind to make a quilt – perhaps she had liked one of the quilt designs featured in this month’s Godey’s Lady’s Magazine. She cut out some “breadths” of fabric and imagined she’d have most of the day to work on the project.

At midday, however, just at the time when dinner was usually put on table and the men returned from the shovel shop for the big meal of the day, nine-year old Susie reported not feeling well. Something on her back itched and burned. It got worse as the hours passed and by bedtime she was suffering. What was going on?

To complicate matters, the Ameses had a houseguest staying for the night, a Mr. Bronson who was most likely in town on shovel business.  How difficult it must have been for Evelina to give him proper attention and tend to her daughter at the same time. So much for sewing.

Quilt designs from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1851