October 23, 1852

Railway_Station,_Stoughton,_MA

Stoughton Railroad Station, built 1888*

 

1852

Saturday Oct 23d Baked in the brick oven brown

bread cake & pies  After I got the first

oven full I had pies enough for a second

and I put the brown bread with the

stove oven and heat the brick oven again

Oakes A & Susan went to Stoughton after

Fred and then after Miss Alger and she has

given her sixth lesson Mr & Mrs Davenport &

child came this evening from Attleboro

Bread, cake, pies and more pies. There was so much baking going on at the Ames house that Evelina used both ovens, the new cast iron one and the original brick oven – the latter twice. What was all the baking about? Company was coming.

A young couple from Attleboro came for a visit: Edward Davenport, a jeweler, with his wife Celestine and their toddler, Annie. What was their connection to the Ames family? They stayed for several days. Also arriving for a stay was the piano teacher, Miss M. J. Alger. We might wonder how Susie Ames felt about that.

Susie helped pick up Miss Alger, in fact. She and her brother Oakes Angier drove around today, first to the train depot in Stoughton and then to Miss Alger’s house. At Stoughton, they met their cousin Fred Ames, who must have been coming home on a break from Harvard. The depot they went to was the earliest iteration of a train station in that town, built in the mid-1840s for the Old Colony Railroad. It was later replaced; today, the Romanesque stone building erected in 1888 is on the National Register, reminding us of the tremendous role that the railroad played in the second half of the 19th century – and well into the 20th.

What a full house Evelina had tonight. Where did she fit everyone?

*Image from 1901, courtesy of Wikipedia

 

 

October 21, 1852


Sarah Emily Witherell                                           Susan Eveline Ames French

Emily Witherell                                                                                   Susan Ames

 

1852

Thursday Oct 21st  Miss Alger came to day to give

her fifth lesson and Susan is now as far

as Emily but unless she takes more

interest it will be very hard for her

to keep up with her.  Mrs Witherell feels

to blame Miss Alger that she does not

give Emily longer lessons

 

Relationships among the females who lived under the roof of the Ames homestead were becoming strained. Susie Ames wasn’t much interested in learning to play the piano, while Emily Witherell was. Yet the cousins took their lessons together, yoked into learning side by side. Emily was facile and wanted more challenging fare, but was slowed down by Susie’s reluctant participation. The disparity in the girls’ interest and ability was no doubt challenging for poor Miss Alger. The situation wasn’t helped by the mothers hovering over the girls as they took their lessons.

The two mothers had their own set of expectations. Sarah Witherell, who had endured so much loss in her life, had nourished hope that her daughter would develop a taste and talent for music. Evelina probably felt the same way, hoping to see her daughter become “accomplished.” Sarah was unhappy that Miss Alger wasn’t giving Emily enough to do, and, also, was surely displeased with Susie holding Emily back. Evelina had to be disappointed by Susie’s disinterest, nervous, perhaps, that she had made an expensive mistake in buying a piano. Evelina was learning, probably not for the first time, that a parent can have aspirations for a child that the child doesn’t share or follow.

All was not lost, however. For all the initial struggle, both girls eventually learned to play piano with some credibility, yet neither grew up to be a great pianist. They never outshone their older cousin, Helen Angier Ames, who had started earlier and, evidently, concentrated harder on perfecting her skill. Family historian Winthrop Ames, who was a first cousin once-removed of the three pianists, noted that by 1861, at the “Unitarian meeting-house […] Helen, Emily and Susan took turns in playing the reed organ, though Helen was acknowledged to be the best performer.”*

 

Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1938, p. 130

 

October 20, 1852

piano_voice_guitar_lessons

Wednesday Oct 20th  Have been expecting Miss Alger

all day but she has not come  Have been

trying to assist Susan some about her

music lessons and it hinders me about

my work very much  I wish it was not

such an effort for her to practice.

A gentleman here to dine from New York.

 

It’s easy to imagine the affable Oakes Ames inviting visitors to dine. He was a sociable man, for all his competitive spirit, and had a fine sense of humor.  He knew that his wife took pride in her home, that she could act the hostess and that she – or her servants – prepared a midday meal hearty enough to feed him and his grown sons. How much warning he might have given her that he was bringing someone over from the shovel office for dinner, we can’t know. But Evelina seemed prepared to feed guests as well as her own family, and she no doubt welcomed the gentleman from New York.

The meal preparations were usually left to the servants, of course, although Evelina supervised. Today, however, her focus was on her daughter and the new piano. She was unhappy with Susan’s evident disinterest in the instrument. The girl wasn’t practicing her scales and lessons as she should have been.

When Evelina and her sister-in-law, Sarah Witherell, purchased the pianos and arranged for Susan and Emily to take lessons, Evelina likely had imagined that she was doing her daughter a favor, giving her a gift that she herself had never gotten. But Evelina was disappointed, as things didn’t turn out the way she expected. Susan wouldn’t practice so, for now, Evelina had to intervene and “assist.”

 

October 15, 1852

9378923_3

Friday Oct 15th  We had a very stormy forenoon and

I presume Mrs Mower did not start for home

Miss Alger came this afternoon to give her

fourth lesson and Mother returned home

with her Emily got ahead of Susan fast of 

a lesson but Susan now got up with her

 

North Easton and its environs had crummy weather for the middle of October. After a night of steady rain, along came “a little snow there was an inch.”* Everyone would have been wet and cold, and forced to reckon with the approach of winter.

Evelina was probably correct that her friend Louisa Mower was unable to depart for Maine, whether by rail or ship. Despite the weather, however, Miss Alger, the piano teacher, slogged up from her home in southeastern Easton to give Susie Ames and Emily Witherell their lesson. On her trip home, Miss Alger took old Mrs. Gilmore back to the family farm.

How did the girls do on the fourth lesson? Evelina wrote an observation, then crossed it out. Why? Despite that strike through the writing, we can still read that Emily was pulling ahead of Susan in her scales and overall skill. Did Evelina write that in a fit of pique, perhaps, and change her mind later? Was she disappointed in her daughter, or annoyed at her niece?

 

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

October 13, 1852

 

Blackstrapmolasses

Molasses

Wednesday Oct 13th  Baked this morning in the brick oven

Went with Mother & Lavinia over to Edwins

to get her receipt for making molasses ginger

snaps  left them to see over the house and came

home to have Susan ready to take her third

music lesson  Miss Alger came about nine.

Mother & Lavinia & self rode over to call on Mrs

E Keith. Augustus & wife  Mr Torrey & Abby spent the 

evening  Malvina spent the night with Susan

Ginger snaps came out of the old brick oven this morning and, although Evelina had baked them countless times before, she was trying out a new recipe borrowed from Augusta Pool Gilmore. No doubt the lovely fragrance of baking wafted into the parlor where Susan was taking her piano lesson from Miss Alger.

Although the recipe was different, the use of molasses was not. Molasses was a staple in most American kitchens and had been from colonial days onward. Molasses is the residue from the evaporated sap of sugar cane, available in varying degrees of sweetness and hue. In the days before refined sugar granules gained preference, molasses was the definitive sweetener in most homes.

Molasses was also the substance from which rum was made and, as such, was a primary factor in the historic “Triangular Trade” that went on in England, Africa, and the West Indies. It involved slavery. England sold rum in Africa in return for slaves, whom they took to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations to produce molasses and unrefined sugar. The sugar stuffs then came to America so the colonies could make rum. On top of that, England established a tax on the colonies for the imported sugar which was one of the many grievances that led to the American Revolution.

Botanic historian Judith Sumner writes:

[T]he early American economy was deeply tied to sugar production; in eighteenth and early nineteenth century New England, the sugar trade promoted shipbuilding and spawned a rum industry with serious social ramifications.  Colonies also traded lumber, grains, meat, livestock and horses to supply the sugar plantations in the West Indies, where the owners concentrated exclusively on sugar production.”*

The connection of sugar cane to slavery did not go unnoticed. By the nineteenth century, “sugar was avoided by those who abhorred slavery because of the complex trading triangle that revolved around slaves, molasses, and rum […] Antislavery pamphlets illustrated cruel sugar plantation practices, where slaves were tethered to weights to prevent their escape and prevented from eating sugar cane by wearing heavy head frames.”* Some abolitionist households boycotted the use of sugar.

As we see, sugar processing and molasses production have an often unhappy history in the United States. And we haven’t even touched on Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, pp. 206-207

October 10, 1852

Daniel_Pierce_Thompson

Daniel Pierce Thompson

(1795 – 1868)

Sunday Oct 10th  It is quite unpleasant to day and

as mother & Mrs Mower was not going to meeting

I staid with them  Mrs Ames Oakes A & Frank

went this forenoon, and Mr Ames returned alone

this afternoon  I have been reading some in

the Rangers Torys Daughter and writing

Helen came in and played on the piano

this evening  Mrs Witherell & Ames came in a while

Evelina skipped church to stay home with her mother and houseguest, not minding too much because of poor weather, which Old Oliver described as  “cloud[y] damp + verry warm wind.”

The women did not sew, but they probably chatted a bit and read a lot. Evelina was reading The Rangers: Or, The Tory’s Daughter: A Tale Illustrative of the Revolutionary History of Vermont and the Northern Campaign of 1777, by Daniel Pierce Thompson. Mr. Thompson was a famous writer in the period before the Civil War, especially in New England. His novels were as well-known as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, but his turgid prose, popular in its day, has caused him to fall far out of fashion. He was also a political figure in Vermont and an active abolitionist, but his novels are not much remembered.

The first two sentences of the book that Evelina was reading illustrate his dated style:

Towards night, on the twelfth of March, 1775, a richly equipped double sleigh, filled with a goodly company of well dressed persons of the different sexes, was seen descending from the eastern side of the Green Mountains, along what may now be considered the principal thoroughfare leading from the upper navigable portions of the Hudson to those of the Connecticut River. The progress of the travellers was not only slow, but extremely toilsome, as was plainly evinced by the appearance of the reeking and jaded horses, as they laboured and floundered along the sloppy and slumping snow paths of the winter road, which was obviously now fast resolving itself into the element of which it was composed.

In the evening Evelina put down the book – which must have been slow going – and whatever letters she was writing, and the whole family listened as Helen Angier Ames played the new piano.

 

October 9, 1852

imgres-1

Piano scales

Sat Oct 9th  Miss Alger came to day to give her second

lesson. Mother Amelia Henrietta & Louisa

J Mower spent the day came about eleven

Henrietta went to Augustus to tea  Mother & Louisa

will stop here untill she returns to Maine

Oakes A returned from his journey & Helen

came with him. Have baked in the brick oven

Oakes Angier Ames came home today from points south. He had been on a business trip with his father to New York and New Jersey, but his father had returned several days earlier. What had Oakes Angier been doing? Was he meeting customers and delivering shovels, all on his own? And why was his cousin Helen Angier Ames with him? Perhaps he came back by way of Boston where Helen – and her friend, Catherine Hobart – were at school.

The day was cloudy and cool and the ladies who came to visit with Evelina must have sat inside. Two Gilmore sisters-in-law, Amelia, young widow of Joshua, Jr., and Henrietta, wife of Alson, were there along with the elderly Hannah Lothrop Gilmore and a guest from Maine, Louisa J. Mower. The latter two women would spend the night.

The girls of the house, meanwhile, had another piano lesson today. The sound of Susie and Emily practicing their scales would have been background sound for the chatter in the parlor.

October 6, 1852

IMG_0444

Oct 6th  Wednesday  Miss Alger came to day to give Emily

& Susan their first lessons in music  Made

tomato ketchup and doing one thing and another

about house  Have sewed but very little

Mrs Swain called and invited me to visit her

tomorrow  I called on Mrs Milo Williams

to inquire about the girl that has been living with her

Ketchup, or catsup, was on the stove today. The tomatoes from the garden were ripe and ready to be preserved. The resulting ketchup would be bottled and put in the cellar or the buttery for use at the dinner table over the winter. Sarah Josepha Hale approved of the condiment:

This is a very good and healthy flavor for meats, sauces, &c.  Take two quarts of skinned tomatos, two table-spoonfulls of salt, two of black pepper, and two of ground mustard; also one spoonful of allspice, and four pods of red pepper.  Mix and rub these well together, and stew them slowly in a pint of vinegar for three hours.  Then strain the liquor through a sieve, and simmer down to one quart of catsup. Put this in bottles and cork tightly.*

While the aroma of tomatoes filled the house, Susie Ames and Emily Witherell sat down at their pianos today for their first music lesson. Aside from singing that must have happened from time to time, the sound from the new piano keys would have been the first music ever to be heard in the Ames parlor. As far as we know, no one else in the house played an instrument. We in the 21st century take for granted our ability to access and listen to a broad range of music in our homes via stereos or ITunes, on CDs or over the radio. In 1852, in a small parlor in a clapboard house on the main street of a country village, making music must have been almost magical. Only at church or at an occasional band concert would Susie or Emily have otherwise listened to live music, and now they were learning to make it themselves.

* Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 71

October 5, 1852

Golden Piano Keys

Oct 5th  Tuesday  Called this forenoon upon Augusta

and then went into Olivers to dine & all my family

After dinner Mrs Norris & self called at Mr Torreys

and I then carried Mrs N to the cars.  Augusta

went with us.  When I returned Mrs Witherell &

Mrs S Ames called with me at Mr Whitwells on

Mrs Wordsworth & on Mrs Morse  Our pianos came

to night.

A momentous day at the Ames homestead: Two pianos arrived from Boston – drawn by oxen, one would think – and were set up in the respective parlors on each side of the house. One was for Evelina’s daughter, Susan, and the other was for Sarah Ames Witherell’s daughter, Emily. Everyone, even the men of the family who were unlikely to play the instruments, must have been intrigued by the new additions to the parlors.

Modern historian Jack Larkin describes the stylish impact of the addition of a piano to a parlor in the mid-nineteenth century:

“The pianoforte, the direct ancestor of today’s piano, became the most decisive piece of American parlor furniture. That small minority of families – less than one in a hundred – who were able ‘to beautify the room by so superb an ornament,’ as a cynical music teacher suggested in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, had acquired ‘the ultimate badge of gentility…the only thing that distinguishes ‘decent people’ from the lower and less distinguished’ whether it was ever played or not.”*

It was certainly Evelina’s intention that this instrument would be played by her daughter Susan who, she believed, would learn to play it, and play it well. It was presumably Sarah Witherell’s desire as well that Emily would do the same.  Did they imagine piano recitals and concerts taking place within their freshly-papered, newly decorated parlor walls?  Did they believe that their daughters would excel and play as well as Helen Ames next door? Did their daughters share this expectation? Did their daughters even want to learn piano?

*Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, New York, 1988, p. 143

October 1, 1852

Wax candle

 

Oct 1st  Friday   Went to Boston with Mrs Witherell to

see our pianos.  Miss Kinsley was going to the 

city and we asked her to try them for us.  She

thinks they are fine toned  Mrs S Ames also went

with us and Helen & Miss Hobart after school

Miss C Hobart is a very pleasant girl

I bought some wax candles at 62 per lb

Mrs Mower & Norris came home with us

 

Despite last night’s frost, this Friday proved to be “fair” and “pritty warm.”*  Evelina and her sisters-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell and Sarah Lothrop Ames, took advantage of the pleasant weather to trip into Boston “to see our pianos” and do some shopping. Meeting them at the music store was Lucy Adelaide Kinsley (soon to become Mrs. Francis Howard Peabody) from Canton. A pianist herself, she approved of the purchases.

Joining the sisters-in-law later in the day, after school was over, were teen-agers** Helen Angier Ames and her friend Catharine Hobart. Evelina was growing fond of Helen’s friend; did she imagine that “Miss C Hobart” would one day be her daughter-in-law and mother of her grandchildren?

The two mothers were excited about the pianos. We can imagine that at least one or two of the expensive wax candles that Evelina bought were destined to be placed in candlesticks – or candelabra – near the new instrument. The old homestead was growing more elegant by the week. And it was back to that homestead that the women headed at the end of the day. Ordinarily, they would have stayed over in the city but instead, they returned to North Easton with houseguests in tow.

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

** Teenager was not a term that Evelina would have used – it didn’t become a word until the 20th century.