December 5, 1852

Cheese

Sunday Dec 5th  have been to meeting all day

as usual. Staid in the meeting house

at noon with Augustus wife. Was very

sleepy this afternoon could not possibly 

keep awake.  Have been writing John &

wife this evening & Mr Ames has written some

& sent him a check for 86 doll 39 cts and are

to pay Alson 25 doll for him, for butter & cheese

dried apples &c.

 

“[T]his was a cloudy foggy day wind north east, not cold.”* Evelina doesn’t mention her eldest son today. She went to church and “staid in the meeting house” with a niece-in-law, Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, during intermission, which was unusual for her. Most other Sundays she went out and socialized; today, not. Perhaps she was avoiding friends and neighbors who, by now, would have heard about Oakes Angier’s illness, and would have wanted to extend sympathy and advice to her, which perhaps she just couldn’t handle yet. She still didn’t have her own thoughts and feelings in order and was so exhausted that she couldn’t stay awake during the afternoon sermon.

As she had done before during times of stress, Evelina turned her attention to money, in this case settling a domestic financial transaction. She spent time in the evening attempting to reconcile an account between her brother John Gilmore, who lived out of town, and her other brother, Alson, who lived on the family farm. There had been, evidently, a three-way trade of “butter & cheese dried apples &c,” a transaction that involved Oakes Ames writing a couple of sizable checks. Might Oakes Ames have helped support some of Evelina’s relatives from time to time?

 

December 4, 1852

IMG_0408

Silk Day Dress, ca. 1853 – 1855*

 

Sat Dec 4th  Have made velvet strings to my

bonnet swept the parlour and done some

sewing on one thing and another   Do not

feel very well  It has been a damp uncomfortable 

day and O A has been in the house reading.

Mr Ames brought me home a blue & brown 

raw silk dress

Feeling poorly, Evelina seemed to move through her day randomly doing “one thing and another.” She was so worried about her son Oakes Angier that she was making herself sick. Her thoughts must have been in an endless loop of Oakes Angier being ill and being ordered to Cuba for a cure. Why had this happened? Would he get better? Did the doctor know what he was doing? How could she cope?

This being Saturday, her husband Oakes went into town on shovel business, as usual. He, too, must have been feeling the shock and fright of their son being sent away for his health, but his thoughts today were on Evelina.  He was worried about her and, as he sometimes did, bought her a present. In the past he had purchased thread or magazines or some other small item. But on this day, he bought something on a scale we haven’t seen before: an expensive silk dress.

We might want details about this purchase: was it a bespoke dress that she could alter to fit, or was it simply the material that she and her dressmaker could create from scratch? Whatever shape that blue raw silk took, Oakes knew how much his Evelina loved dresses and dressmaking and was making a grand gesture of love and concern. We have no greater proof of his regard for his wife.

*Image courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum, Gift of Mark A. Clark in memory of Mrs. Lawrence Halloran.

December 3, 1852

Hog

Friday Dec 3d  Finished taking care of the pork this

forenoon had 60 lbs sausage meat  Weighed

16 lb pork tried it out and it (the lard) weighed 14 lbs

Went to mothers this afternoon with Oakes

Angier as he was going to West Bridgewater

My bonnet came from Boston to night

that I left to be made  Susan practiced

an hour this evening to me & I went into the other 

part of the house

Yesterday Old Oliver “kild six hogs [… and] the everage weight of the whole 12 was 413 pounds the heavyest weighd 489.” Oliver had given each offspring – Oakes, Oliver Jr., and Sarah Witherell – a pig to cut up and preserve. Upset as she was over the news about her eldest son, Oakes Angier, Evelina and her two servants worked to break down their pig into a manageable, edible assortment of pork. Sausage, of course, was a standard way to process and keep pork over time. So yesterday and today, the women cut and grounded meat, ending up with 60 pounds of sausage and 14 pounds of lard.

No doubt Evelina was preoccupied with thoughts of her son, but she may have found some comfort in keeping her hands busy with the necessary chores of the kitchen.  She took the opportunity of riding with Oakes Angier to the family farm, perhaps to share the news with her mother and brother Alson. Oakes Angier rode on to West Bridgewater. Might he have traveled to call on the Hobart family as well? He must have had to tell Catharine Hobart that he was leaving for Cuba and an uncertain future.

Susan Ames, once so rebellious at the piano, “practiced an hour this evening to” her mother. Do we imagine too much to think that she was trying to make her mother happy?

 

November 29, 1852

il_570xN.860424141_hg5d

Monday Nov 29  I was intending to go to Boston to day

but as the weather was rather unfavorable

early this morning did not but it has been

a beautiful day.  Father has six hogs killed

and we have one.  Rode down to Mr Whitwells

to see her cloak and get the pattern.  Malvina

has come to spend the night with Susan

Mr Ames has presented me with a pr of Silver butter

knives  it is 25 years to day since we were married

 

Evelina and Oakes Ames celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on this date. They had been married on Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1827.  During the first part of the 19th century, Thanksgiving was a common time for couples to marry, as family members were already gathered for the annual feast, and a qualified leisure prevailed since most agrarian obligations were set aside for the winter. There was time to celebrate.

Oakes and Evelina’s wedding would have been a simple one, at home, not unlike one described by an English couple who happened to attend a nuptial ceremony in western Massachusetts in 1827:

“They found a company of kin and neighbors crowded into a farmhouse parlor, some perched on benches, others sitting on chairs ‘as if they were pinned to the wall.’ The bride and groom, with their bridesmaid and groomsman, sat facing the minister, who pulled up ‘a chair before him, on the back of which he leant.’ He then motioned for the company to rise, joined the couple’s hands together and led them through a brief exchange of vows. Most American couples were wed by a clergyman at the home of the bride, in such informal ceremonies of republican simplicity.”*

Oakes was the first of his brothers, and Evelina the last of her sisters, to marry. The couple moved right into the Ames family home, one-half of which had been remodeled to accommodate the newlyweds. Twenty-five years later, they were still in that homestead, as well as four-children-and-many-dollars richer, richer enough for the old groom to buy the old bride a pair of silver butter knives.

Evelina had intended to go into Boston, but couldn’t. Instead, she had to content herself with riding down to see the minister’s wife, Eliza Whitwell, to borrow a pattern for a cloak. Earlier, she had seen a cloak that her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, had bought and she wanted one, too. She would make her own, however, rather than order something bespoke from Boston.

Evelina also notes that her father-in-law has butchered some hogs, yet Old Oliver himself mentions nothing about it – at least on this date in his journal. He does say that he killed six hogs three days later, December 2. It’s possible that Evelina was writing some of these entries several days after the fact, and may have been confused as to dates. Or she may have been anticipating the slaughter.

 

*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 63

November 25, 1852

Turkey

Nov 25

[…] Thanksgiving  Mr & Mrs

Whitwell Father Mrs Witherell Emily Horatio &

Gustavus dined at tea here.  Michael &

sister & Ann Oral at the second table.

Mr W went home at half past three to

marry a couple   Oakes A Emily & Susan went

with him After they left this evening Mrs

Witherell & self called on Mrs Dow in Olivers

Mr & Mrs Dow & family Mr & Mrs H Lothrop & Cyrus

at Olivers 

“[T]his was thanksgiving day,” wrote Old Oliver Ames, after a brief notation that the day “was fair in the morning but clouded up in the afternoon”. Evelina and her servants prepared a feast that fed at least fifteen people. The whole Oakes Ames family was there, naturally, and so was Old Oliver. Dining with them were Sarah and Emily Witherell, Reverend and Mrs. Whitwell, brother Horatio Ames and his youngest son Gustavus, the latter two having arrived from Connecticut the day before. At the “second table”  – which likely means a second seating – the servants partook. Catharine Murphy and Ann Shinkwin were presumably present, as was Michael Burns (Old Oliver’s coachman/ostler), his sister and Ann Orel, a young Irish girl who worked for Sarah Witherell.

Family gathered next door, too. The Oliver Ameses, meaning Oliver Jr.,Sarah Lothrop Ames and their children Fred and Helen, shared the repast with two of Sarah’s brothers, Henry and Cyrus, along with Henry’s wife Eleanor and long-time friends, the Dows. Quite a gathering, all told, as family members dined and visited.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the patron saint of Thanksgiving, describes her understanding of the origin of Thanksgiving in a novel she wrote in 1827 and republished in 1852:

“Soon after the settlement of Boston, the colony was reduced to a state of destitution, and nearly without food. In this strait the pious leaders of the pilgrim band appointed a solemn and general fast. […] The faith that could thus turn to God in the extremity of physical want, must have been of the most glowing kind, […] On the very morning of the appointed day, a vessel from London arrived laden with provisions, and so the fast was changed into a Thanksgiving.”

This may have been the version of Thanksgiving that Mrs. Hale used to persuade Abraham Lincoln to make it a national celebration. It also may have been the story of Thanksgiving with which the Ameses were most familiar.

 

November 19, 1852

 

images

 

Friday Nov 19th  Have heat the brick oven

three times have baked Apple squash

& mince pies & […] bread & ginger snaps

Mr Adriance here from New York to

spend the night  I guess he thinks

we are nice folks here & that I look 

neat.  Catharine [entry incomplete]

Thanksgiving was less than a week away, so housewives and servants across Easton were beginning to prepare. Just as we do in the 21st century, family members would gather for the holiday, often arriving to stay for a number of days. Thus not only did the grand feast itself have to be prepared, but all the breakfasts, dinners and teas leading up to and following Thanksgiving had to be amplified as well. No wonder Evelina was baking such an abundance of food. Her immediate family was already all in place, but others would be joining them.

In fact, the Ameses had company today, a Mr. Adriance from New York – probably a business associate of Oakes, perhaps someone who purchased shovels. Evelina never seemed to mind setting an extra place at the table and Mr. Adriance evidently admired her. She looked “neat.” What fun for her to be complimented this way. Do we think that Oakes noticed?

 

November 11, 1852

alcott_lou

Louisa May Alcott

(1832 – 1888)

Thursday Nov 11th

Ann & Catharine has cleaned the shed chamber

and sitting room chamber & I have been 

putting draws & closets in order.

Mr Ames & self at Olivers to tea  Mr &

Mrs Swain & Mrs Meader there

Commenced Susan an Angola yarn stocking

 

For Evelina, this was a productive day. Her servants, Ann Shinkwin and Catharine Murphy, cleaned the shed and the sitting room, while she herself reorganized “draws & closets”. She must have felt quite satisfied having put two key rooms in order. Come evening, she and her husband went next door to tea where they visited not only with the Oliver Ameses, but also with Ann and John Swain and Ann’s mother, Sarah Bliss Meader. Mrs. Meader was from Nantucket; she must have been visiting in the wake of the death of little John Swain.

For Louisa May Alcott, a 19th century author who should need no introduction, this was an important day. Some literary sources have it that Miss Alcott, using the name “Flora Fairfield,” published her first story, The Rival Painters: A Story of Rome, on this exact date, when the author was barely twenty years old. However, closer examination suggests that The Rival Painters first appeared back on May 8 in The Olive Branch, a periodical published in Boston from 1836 through 1857.  A second story, easily confused with the first, was The Rival Prima Donnas, which was published on this date in 1854 in The Saturday Evening Gazette, earning the author five dollars.

Regardless of the scholastic disagreement over the first appearance in print of Louisa May Alcott, we can imagine that Evelina was exposed to her writing at various times from this year onward. Surely Evelina read other short stories and novels by this increasingly famous author. If she developed an affection for the author’s work, Evelina would have read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys and been as familiar with the triumphs and travails of the March family as devoted readers still are 160 years later.

*A fine resource for readers wanting to know more about Louisa May Alcott is “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” by Harriet Reisen, New York, 2009.