November 28, 1851


Nov 28th Friday  Had rather of a late breakfast

Oliver did not rise untill past ten Oclock

Have been very busy to day making some

collars for Mr Ames & have been looking

over Olivers clothes some  Mr & Mrs Thom

Ames have spent the afternoon with Mrs Witherell

I have been to see them this evening

Like many middle-class families in 1851, the Ames family probably kept at least one clock against a wall or on a mantel. By its hands Evelina could tell that her middle son, Oliver (3), had slept exceedingly late on this morning after Thanksgiving. She might have looked up from her sewing to notice the minutes move by. Just home from his first term at Brown University, Oliver was keeping collegiate hours that were rather more elastic than the factory time by which the days usually ran. Tired from his studies and his journey home, Oliver slept in. Workers at the shovel shop were not accorded that luxury.

Absent a working clock in the house, how did people in the village and its close environs know what time it was?  Pocket watches were popular, certainly, but many in the village wouldn’t have owned one. The young, single immigrant men who lived in the Ames tenement, for instance, and the working families who lived in the factory houses around town needed temporal oversight. A bell at the factory guided them.

According to historian Gregory Galer:

“Life in North Easton in the 1840s was dominated by the Ames Company.  With the move to a more regular work schedule the company instituted the use of a bell, heard throughout the village, to be sure employees would keep a schedule which would allow them to fullfil their duties at the shovel shop.”*

Evelina’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, noted:

“Every week-day morning at ten minutes before five the shop bell warned the town to yawn itself awake; and at nine in the evening it rang a curfew (as it still does) to advise bedtime.  The factories started at seven, by lamplight in winter, and stopped at six, with an hour out at noon for dinner – a ten-hour day.”**

Winthrop was writing in 1937; in 1952, the Ames factory would close in Easton and move to West Virginia.  No curfew bell rings in North Easton today.


*Greg Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2001, p. 240

*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, privately printed, 1937, p. 128

August 25, 1851



Monday Aug 25  Did not wash this morning on account 

of having so much company  Warren left in the stage

cousin Jerry went to Mr Thesis with Oakes Angier

and Frank on their way fishing.  Alson dined here.

We Ladies all called at Mr Torreys & on Elisha

at the Boot shop.  Mr & Mrs & Miss Kinsley & Miss

Billings from Canton were here to tea – came

about 6 Oclock went to the shop with them

Another Monday and for the second time that summer, washing day got deferred.  Tidying up from “having so much company” took precedence over routine. The young relatives, Jerry and Warren Lothrop, left in the morning.  Another visitor, Pauline Dean, remained.

Oakes Angier and Frank Morton Ames left to go fishing, a trip they had deferred from last week. They had waited then for the imminent death of Dewitt “Clinton” Lothrop, which hadn’t happened.  Clinton, though deathly ill with typhus, was hanging on. The boys decided to wait no further, and departed.

Evelina and “We Ladies” – which could only mean Pauline and probably niece Lavinia – went to see Col. John Torrey in the village and called on Elisha Andrews at the boot factory. Elisha, who was 27 years old and single, had started up the factory with Augustus Gilmore and Oakes Angier Ames. In recounting the visit to the boot shop in her diary, Evelina underlined Elisha’s name. Why? The visit was significant in some way; perhaps one of the women – Lavinia? – was romantically interested in Elisha.

More socializing continued late in the day when the Kinsley family visited.  Lyman Kinsley, his wife Louisa, daughter Lucy Adelaide and a Miss Billings (a niece of Louisa, most likely) came for tea. Mr. Kinsley ran an iron and machine shop in Canton, an enterprise that the Ameses would eventually own. After tea, they all walked over to the factory.

* Currier and Ives, “Starting Out,” print, ca. 1852

August 15, 1851

Vintage Ames Shovel

Vintage Ames Shovel

Friday 15th Aug  Julia here to work to day cutting me

a purple loos dress & cutting a pink french

calico for Susan.  Made a childs waist to it.

Oakes Frank & Oliver went this afternoon

to Robbins pond in E Bridgewater to a party.

Oakes A is to go from there to Boston tomorrow

I have passed the afternoon at Mr Peckhams

had a pleasant visit

Robbins Pond, where the Ames sons and their Aunt Harriett went today for a party, is in Bridgewater and is known today for its bass fishing.  Who hosted the party there in 1851 isn’t known, but all the Ameses, including Evelina, were invited.  Evelina declined, however, suggesting yesterday that she might enjoy herself too much if she went. She went to call on the Peckhams instead.

On a much more serious note, today marks the one year anniversary of a terrible accident at the shovel factory. According to Old Oliver, an employee named William Loftis “was hurt so bad yesterday by leting a shovel catch in the polishing wheel that he dyed.” Loftis was an illiterate laborer in his late twenties. Like the Middleton and Maccready families with whom he lived, he had immigrated from Ireland.

Old Oliver seemed to blame Loftis for getting caught in the machinery, perhaps through inattention or carelessness. He doesn’t suggest that the factory was at all at fault, or that the machinery could be reconfigured in a way to make it less dangerous. As far as Old Oliver and most factory owners at the time were concerned, employment carried a certain level of risk, risk that was assumed by any man who received a pay check.

It’s doubtful that the Ames family was indifferent to the fate of William Loftis, however. It’s likely that Evelina or one of her sisters-in-law sewed a shroud for the body for a proper burial. Knowing Oakes Ames’s instinctive kindness to strangers and employees, he probably would have reached out to Loftis’s family. The absence of a widow and children, however, suggests that Loftis was simply buried and simply forgotten.


April 28, 1851




April 28th Monday  Have had Mrs Connors here to help

about washing, Janes finger being sore  She came

at half past 6 and left about half past two charged

42 cts.  I helped about the washing  Willard Randall

came this afternoon to work over the earth in the

flower garden.  Frank came from the shop about

five and worked some on the beds.  I have set out

some carraway roots that Alson gave me.  Helen came

home with Cyrus


According to some calculations, the 42 cents that Mrs. Connors was paid to do the Ames’s laundry translates to a labor value of $13.20 today. Mrs. Connors was paid little better than a nickel an hour. Evelina worked on the washing today, too, much as she disliked it.

Once the laundry was set out to dry, Evelina got back to the garden.  Her son Frank Morton helped her when he got home from work; he seemed to enjoy being in the garden as much as she did. That, or helping his mother till the soil was his assigned chore. Willard Randall, another shovel shop employee and member of the extensive Randall clan, came up again to continue working “over the earth.”  Was Willard pleased to walk up to the Ames’s yard to turn over the soil in the boss’s wife’s flower garden? Did he have a garden of his own at home that needing tending?

The caraway roots that Evelina picked up on Saturday at the Gilmore farm went into the ground today, probably in an area close to the kitchen, a time-honored location for every housewife’s herb garden.  The rhubarb and horseradish would go in there too.

Helen Angier Ames, the niece who lived next door, returned home today from boarding school in New Bedford.  Her uncle, Cyrus Lothrop, “carried her” home, as the phrase went.


April 26, 1851


Sat Apr 26th  This morning a man came from the shops 

to spade my flower garden & hoe the currant

bushes Miss Foss Susan & self rode to Edwin Manlys

to speak for some plants and then went to Mothers

got there about half past twelve. Brought

home some Horseradish, Carraway roots & some

few plants Made the skirt to Susans green 

borage Delaine Miss Foss has finished the two shirts.

At last, gardening in earnest. A shovel shop employee was taken off his usual task to go up to the Ames homestead to turn over the soil in Evelina’s flower beds.  He used an Ames shovel, no doubt, and also an Ames hoe to loosen the dirt around the currant bushes behind the house.

Evelina celebrated the spring day with her daughter Susie and boarder Orinthia Foss; the three took a wagon, most likely, north to the home of Edwin Manly.  At the time, Manly lived close to the town line with Stoughton, and was employed at the shovel shop. He was obviously interested in plants and kept an informal nursery on his farm, raising flowers to sell.  His green thumb brought in customers like Evelina. Not too long after this, however, he hurt his hand and had to leave his job at O. Ames & Sons. Fascinated by biology, chemistry and science in general, he studied medicine at Harvard, became a physician and set up an office in North Easton in the early 1860s. Later he moved to Taunton, where he worked as the town librarian for a number of years. Eventually, he moved to California.

Flowers weren’t all that the women brought home in the wagon.  They drove south to the other end of Easton to visit Evelina’s mother, Hannah Gilmore, at the Gilmore farm, where they picked up the horseradish and caraway roots and “some few plants.”   That Evelina and Orinthia had time to sew after all that riding around says a lot about their stamina and work ethic.

April 15, 1851




April 15 Tuesday  Oakes A 22 years old. This morning

tore the paper off the dark bedroom & had it cleared

ready for the paper.  Have been working about 

the house most of the day.  Cut of[f] the breadths of

the carpet for the bedroom and have partly 

made it.  Moved the stove from my chamber

& cleaned the dark bedroom chamber.  It is 

quite stormy & windy.  Cut two coarse shirts.


Oakes Angier Ames, eldest son of Evelina and Oakes Ames, was born on this date in 1829, when Evelina was 19 and Oakes was 25. The couple had been married for about a year-and-a-half and were already settled into their own quarters within the Ames family homestead. On this, his 22nd birthday, and as yet unmarried, Oakes Angier was still living in the house in which he had been born.

Oldest of all 24 grandchildren of Old Oliver and Susannah Ames, Oakes Angier grew up amid multiple siblings and cousins, among whom he retained primogeniture in an uncontested patriarchal hierarchy. His mother called him Oakes Angier; everyone else seemed to call him just plain “Oakes.” He was marked from birth to run the family business.

Although Oakes Angier had attended school locally and away, at Fruithill and Leicester academies, he left behind no indication that he longed to further his studies. After graduation, he went straight to work at the shovel factory. There, one 19th century historian noted,  “with a view to making himself master of the process of manufacturing shovels, he spent from three to six months in each of the various departments of the factory.”*

Reverend William Chaffin, Unitarian minister and town historian, knew Oakes Angier and his family well. He described Oakes Angier as “shrewd, conservative [and] sound in judgment.”* Although in their later years Oakes Angier shared the responsibility for O. Ames & Sons with his brother Oliver (3) and cousin Fred Ames, Chaffin makes a point of noting that to the shovel shop employees, Oakes Angier was the man who embodied management.  It was Oakes Angier who was on the ground overseeing the daily operations during the company’s most ambitious years, Oakes Angier who was “one of the superintendents who superintends.” He ran the place.

The same historian who wrote of Oakes Angier mastering the process of shovel manufacturing also described him as someone who stayed focused on his immediate responsibilities and did not, like his brothers, cousin and father, diversify his pursuits.  As the 19th c. historian saw it, Oakes Angier gave “his whole time to the demands of his business, and yield[ed] to no temptation to embarrass himself […] by the complications and annoyances which beset the paths of the politician, and of the projector of enterprises outside of his legitimate occupation.”* In other words, Oakes Angier learned to avoid both politics and risky investments.

On this particular birthday, Oakes Angier was on the cusp of adulthood, preparing to leave the nest. He spent many free evenings squiring different young women to and from the dances and sings that were available in the neighborhood, seemingly ready to find a young woman to settle down with. He and his brothers were what some parents would have described as eligible young men.



William Thomas Davis, ed., The New England States, Vol. I, 1897.


January 19, 1851


1851 Jan 19th Sunday.  It was rather earlier than common this morning

when we had our breakfast as Jane was going to

meeting   We have all been to meeting all day

Mr Whitwell gave us two good sermons, though not

as interesting as usual.  After hearing the class in

the Sunday school I called at Mr Whitwells

This evening have been into Mr Bucks to a prayer meeting

Three Ladies spoke & a number of men.  Very pleasant

Before the Ames family left for church, their servant Jane McHanna was on her way to a Catholic service.  Every few weeks, an itinerant priest would ride into town to conduct Sunday mass in the dining room of a boarding house owned by the Ames shovel company.  Although North Easton offered several Protestant options to its church-going citizens, it had no Catholic church for the influx of faithful who had recently immigrated from Ireland.

The number of Roman Catholics in North Easton, as elsewhere in Massachusetts, was rapidly expanding.  In 1849, Reverend William Chaffin tells us, there were 45 Catholics in town.  By 1852, there were 150; when the Civil War began, there were 400.   As the number of Irish immigrants grew, a dedicated facility was clearly needed.  Recognizing this, in 1850 the Ames family donated a piece of land on Pond Street to the Irish to build their own church.  It was under construction as the year 1851 opened.

Evelina’s day was full of religious activity.  Not only did she hear “two good sermons,” she visited the Sunday school and, in the evening, went out to a prayer meeting held by Benjamin and Mary “Polly” Buck, who lived in a house in the near neighborhood that they rented from Old Oliver.