November 28, 1852

Family_portrait_by_T.Myagkov

*

Sunday Nov 28  Went to meeting this forenoon

came home at noon and did not return wrote

some & read and was doing some other things

that perhaps would have been as well to do

another day  Augustus & wife & her sister &c

called and we went into Olivers with them

this evening found quite a party there.

Mr Dows family Cyrus Elizabeth and all of 

our folks except Frank

 

Evelina spent this Sunday in her usual manner, although she attended only the morning service at church. Once home, she “wrote some” letters to friends or family and read – always a favorite leisure activity – and then probably did a few chores that may or may not have been permissible for the Sabbath. Every so often, Evelina would work on a Sunday and feel guilty about doing so.

She had no guilt about spending a sociable evening next door, however. The high activity that had begun the week before around Thanksgiving continued at the Ames compound as friends and family gathered. The evening seemed to be impromptu, influenced in part by the continued presence of visiting family members. Sarah Lothrop Ames’ bachelor brother, Cyrus, and her widowed sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Mrs. Dewitt Clinton Lothrop), were still on the premises, as was the Dow family. Evelina and her own crew of relatives – nearly “all of our folks” –  found their way to the party, too. Much tea would have been consumed (although the setting would have been minus the samovar in the illustration above.)

It seems only fair that this Sunday was so lively and fun, for bad news would arrive within the week.

*T. Myaghov, Russian, Family Portrait with Samovar, 1844, courtesy of Wikipedia, accessed 11.27.2015

 

November 18, 1852

5251656_f520

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

November 5, 1852

Oliver Ames, Jr.

Oliver Ames, Jr.

(1807 – 1877)

Friday Nov 5th Susan has taken her ninth lesson

in music and I fear she is rather dull

does not call her letters well at all

Mrs Swain called this afternoon to settle

with me about her things and to night sent

me as a present as much as a half bushel […]

quinces  We passed the evening in Olivers

After stopping by to pay for the mourning apparel Evelina had picked up in Boston, Ann Swain sent Evelina two pecks of quinces to further thank her for her kindness. This thoughtful gesture may have distracted Evelina from her ongoing annoyance at her daughter’s “dull” piano playing. Susan had not yet learned her scales. At night, Evelina and Oakes, and perhaps other family members, “passed the evening” next door at Oliver Ames Jr’s.

Today, in fact, was Oliver Ames Jr.’s 45th birthday. He and his wife, Sarah Lothrop Ames, lived next door to Oakes and Evelina. At this juncture, Oliver Jr. was serving his first term as State Senator; he would serve a second term in 1857. According to Reverend William Chaffin, who knew the Ames family well, “Oliver Ames stood among the foremost in his reputation for a manly and unblemished character and for business ability…a strong, substantial, able, and honorable man.”****

The third of Old Oliver’s eight children, Oliver Jr. had originally been the brother who tinkered with the possibility of a career away from the shovel factory. In his teens, he suffered a “severe fall,”**** and was unable to work. He was sent to the Franklin Academy in North Andover after which he began to read law with William Baylies, Esq., of West Bridgewater. Reading and debating – good lawyering skills, both – had always been sources of pleasure for Oliver, but “[t]he confinement of office proving unfavorable to his health, together with the increasing demands of business at home,”**** he returned to North Easton. In 1833, he married Sarah Lothrop, the daughter of the Honorable Howard Lothrop and Sally Williams Lothrop. They had two children, Frederick Lothrop and Helen Angier Ames.

Relative to his brother, Oakes, Oliver Jr was reckoned to be “pretty dignified, and takes a good deal after his father, but Oakes is always ‘hail fellow well met.”** Another contemporary acquaintance of both men said simply that Oliver Jr. was “the conservative one.”***They made a good business pair. Over time, Oliver Jr. and Oakes, under the watchful eye of their father, turned the shovel shops into an industrial powerhouse, even as they groomed the next generation, Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Fred, to take over when the time was right. They invested in technological improvements and hired more help, especially from the newly arrived Irish population. They improved supply and delivery; in 1855, Oliver Jr. helped create the Easton Branch Railroad spur from Stoughton to North Easton.  In 1863, he oversaw the creation of a railroad line through the Great Cedar Swamp to Raynham. His interest in railroads led him to join his brother in the plan to build a transcontinental railroad when Oakes, by that time a U. S. Congressman, was tapped by Lincoln to lead the way.

The rest, as they say, is history. Both brothers became “deservedly famous”*****for their involvement with the Union Pacific. More than one contemporaneous historian has noted: “In 1866, Oliver Ames was elected president of that railroad, an office he held with significant ability until March, 1871.  During this time the road passed through some of its stormiest days and severest trials. His sound judgment, great business capacity, and inflexible integrity were of immense service in carrying this great enterprise safely through difficulty and peril to final success.”*****

On this dark autumn night in 1852, the “difficulty and peril [and…] success” lay ahead for both brothers as they sipped tea with their wives and watched “a few flakes of snow” fall.*

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

**“Ames at Easton: The Shovel Makers and Their Works. Life and Habits of the Congressman. Cursed Abroad – Applauded at Home,” The Boston Times, February, 1873

***Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, Reminiscences of Forty Years, 1891, Boston, p. 137

****William Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, p. 655.

*****Duane Hamilton Hurd, History of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Vol. II, 1883, pp. 430 – 431 (also Chaffin, p. 656)

November 2, 1852

490px-William_Rufus_DeVane_King_1839_portrait

William R. King

(1786 – 1853)

Tuesday Nov 2d  Sewed on cambric sleeves for

Susan this forenoon very quietly with

Miss Alger  It has rained since Saturday

morn but this afternoon has cleared 

off Mrs Ames & self have been to Mr

Swains & called at Doct Wales & Augustus

Miss Alger & O Angier took tea in Olivers

 

Back from her quick day trip into Boston, Evelina spent the morning “very quietly” in her sitting room, sewing. The piano teacher, Miss Alger, was still visiting.  Outside, “it rain[ed] by spells […] wind north east it stormd all the forenoon and was cloudy about all day – there has bin one inch + a quarter of water fell since Sunday”*

After midday dinner, when the storm had stopped, Evelina and her sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames, went out to check on Ann and John Swain, whose infant son had died on Saturday. Evelina would have taken with her the mourning accoutrements she had purchased for Ann in the city. No doubt the Ames women continued to comfort the forlorn parents. From the Swains they paid other calls in North Easton, to the home of Ephraim and Maria Wales and to see Evelina’s nephew, Alson “Augustus” Gilmore and his wife Hannah. Hannah had lost her infant son Willie back in the summer. The women would have had much to talk about.

On the national scene, the day was momentous. As we have read previously in this blog, General Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, was elected President of the United States, defeating Whig candidate General Winfield Scott (incumbent Whig Millard Fillmore hadn’t been renominated) and Free Soil candidate John P. Hale. Easton historian William Chaffin writes: “In 1852 the vote for President was one hundred and seventy-one for Winfield Scott, one hundred and forty-three for John P. Hale, forty-nine for Franklin Pierce, and four for Daniel Webster, who was dead. This vote shows the political complexion of the town, and confirms the statement of the adoption of the Free Soil position by many Democrats.”**

The vice-president-elect was William R. King, a senator from Alabama who believed strongly in the Union. He had helped draft the Compromise of 1850. Unfortunately, King was suffering from tuberculosis and would soon die in office, one of the shortest-termed vice-presidents and the only Alabaman. He was also the only vice-president to take the oath of office on foreign soil; he was in Cuba taking the cure when he was inaugurated.

 

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

**William L. Chaffin, History of Easton Massachusetts, 1886, p. 630

 

October 28, 1852

 

Stage

Thursday Oct 28th  Miss Alger dined in the other

part of the house and myself and family

have been there to tea  Helen came home

in the stage and Oliver & family were there

also.  Oliver Miss A Susan and Augusta called

with me this evening at Mr Torreys & Augustus

Made half bushel more of barberries

A rather docile day, this was, “a pritty warm day for the season,”* according to Old Oliver. Evelina cooked more barberry preserves but otherwise was mostly occupied in social activity. She and the extended family took tea in the other part of the house at her father-in-law’s table, under the management of his daughter, Sarah Ames Witherell. Afterwards, Evelina and a group called on her brother-in-law, Col. Torrey, in the village.

Helen Angier Ames returned home from boarding school; her brother Fred had just come back, too, from Harvard.  He took the train to Stoughton while she rode in the stage coach. His mode of transportation was the way of the future, hers of the past.

Like the Erie Canal, the stagecoach was on its way out. A mode of transportation that had been imported from England, early American stagecoaches were not much more than sturdy passenger wagons. As the need for travel conveyances increased, the stagecoach evolved, improved in comfort and efficiency and became widespread. In 1827, in the middle of what is considered the “Golden Age” of the stagecoach, the Abbott and Downing Company of New Hampshire built the first of an eventual 700 Concord stagecoaches. A Concord stagecoach was considered to be the best of the breed, “a cradle on wheels,” as Mark Twain described it. Pulled by a good team of horses or mules, a Concord stagecoach could travel from 6 to 8 miles per hour.

In remote areas, especially in the less well settled areas of the Wild West, the stagecoach remained important, but it couldn’t beat the faster and far more efficient railroad. Passengers trains had arrived and were growing exponentially. In 1847, Abbott and Downing ceased operations, although its famous stagecoaches remained in use for a few decades yet.

 

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

 

 

October 26, 1852

 

1860s blue striped muslin dress from St. Albans Museums

Dress with undersleeves, mid-19th c.*

Tuesday Oct 26  We have had a large washing

done to day and not finished untill

after dinner  Miss Alger & self spent

the afternoon in Olivers  Mr Ames

& all the children there to tea  Mr & Mrs 

Whitwell was there an hour or two

I made Susan a pair of undersleeves

and she is delighted with them

 

Because of all the company that had visited over the weekend, the servant girls were unable to launder clothes on Monday. Today, extra sheets and towels were added to the usual load and the washing went on into the afternoon. Not that Evelina rolled up her sleeves; after the midday meal, she and her remaining houseguest, Miss M. J. Alger, went next door to visit with Sarah Lothrop Ames and stayed for tea. All the family partook.

At various points during the day, Evelina had her work box open as she completed a pair of undersleeves for her daughter. Susie was “delighted” with them. Were they a peace offering from mother to daughter, perhaps to make up for Evelina’s insistence on Susan learning to play piano?

We’ve seen Evelina sewing undersleeves before. In the 1850’s and into the Civil War, undersleeves were an essential component of any woman’s dress, fitting independently but securely under the looser outer sleeve of the dress proper. Like the collars of the day, a good pair of undersleeves could be worn with different dresses. Susie must have felt rather grown-up with her new pair.

On the industrial side of American life, meanwhile, today was the 27th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal. The technological wonder of its day, it was already becoming obsolete. Railroads had arrived and, through their own capacity for moving freight, would soon obviate commercial use of the canal for many (though not all) industries. Shipping would change – was changing. The very word “shipping” derives from the fact that, initially, more goods moved by water than by land. This would no longer be true in this country or elsewhere in the developed world.

We should remember that Harriet Ames Mitchell, Old Oliver’s youngest daughter, was living in Erie at the time with her husband Asa and their three children.  Did they mark the day?

 

*Image of striped blue muslin dress with undersleeves courtesy of St. Albans Museum, England