December 2, 1852

Fire

Thursday Dec 2d  Have been very nervous to day

thinking about Oakes A   cannot reconcile myself

to his leaving home.  Have done as well as I

could about taking care of the hog but made

poor headway  Augustus & wife  Edwin & wife

Mrs Witherell & Mrs S Ames all came unexpectedly

to spend the evening and I have not even changed

my dress. But who cares?  Miss Alger has

given her 14th lesson

 

Back in North Easton, Evelina was still rattled by the bad news her son had received. She tried to deal with a butchered hog that her father-in-law sent her but could barely cope.

Oakes Angier had been told he had consumption. He was advised to go to Cuba, whose warm, humid climate was believed to be good for pulmonary tuberculosis. No other effective treatment was available. The Ames men – Oakes Ames, certainly – would have been active today investigating possible arrangements. Oakes and Oliver Jr. had a business associate, a shipping merchant named Elisha Atkins, who traded in sugar in Cuba, at a port called Cienfuegos on the southern side of the island. Perhaps they contacted him for advice.

All the Ameses, and the Gilmore clan, too, were upset by the diagnosis. Family members on both sides “all came unexpectedly” at night to show affection and alarm for Oakes Angier, the eldest cousin of his generation. The family pulled together, although Evelina was too shocked to appreciate the support, too sad to rise to the occasion. “I have not even changed my dress,” she noted pitifully.

Completely preoccupied by Oakes Angier’s illness, the folks at the Ames compound may not have paid much attention to the news that the Chickering Piano Company building in Boston had caught fire and burned to the ground.

“3 o’clock A.M. — Thursday Morning — The whole of the manufactory—an immense block structure, five stores high—is one mass of ruins. Mr. Jonas Chickering owned the building, and occupied all of it except the stores, which were improved by Messrs Thomas &Merriam, grocers, Edward Butman, crockery ware dealer, Amos Cummings, grocer. Very little property, in the building was saved. The devouring element spread through the building with terrific rapidity and soon the heated walls began to fall so as to endanger the lives of those who approached.

The building occupied the space on Washington street, between Norfolk place and Sweetser court. A portion of the side wall on Sweetser court first fell doing no injury, and the gable end of the side wall, on Norfolk place, fell over and crushed in the roof of the brick building on the opposite corner, which was on fire, and forced out the gable end. Both buildings were now one mass of fire, presenting an awfully grand sight. A part of the wall on Washington street, next fell and the flames swept across Washington street, threatening the destruction of the Adams House and other buildings on the opposite side, but they were saved. The attic windows of the Adams House were badly scorched.

The greater portion of the wall on Norfolk street next fell over on the opposite building, crushing it completely to pieces, and the walls of the next adjoining northerly, a three story, old fashioned block, and buried underneath the ruins, two watchmen, named Alfred Turner and Benjamin F. Foster, of the Boylston division. A large force immediately set to work to remove the rubbish, and after some time, were able to converse with Turner, and in an hour’s time reached one of his arms, but before the ruins could be cleared away, he fell into the cellar, and not just before putting our [news]paper to press been dug out. Foster, it is supposed lived but a short time.

The building on the corner of Norfolk place, opposite Chickering’s was five stories high, belonged to Deming Jarvis, and was occupied, the store by P.R. Morley, plumber, and the upper stories by Mr. Ladd, pianoforte key maker. They saved but a small amount of their stock. The building was insured. The old brick building next adjoining, which was leveled to the ground by the falling wall was occupied by Mrs. Wyman, as a boy’s clothing store and a dwelling house.”*

Was the Chickering Piano Company the place where Evelina and Sarah Witherell had purchased their pianos?

*

November 27, 1852

c893600e2c447ff3fb48778c1a724e2d

Example of cambric sleeve

Nov 27th Saturday  Have been sewing quite

steadily to day and so has Catharine  We

have made a pair of cambrick sleeves for

Susan & self and mended lots of clothes

Mrs Witherell has been in with her

work for about an hour and it is a

rarity  Susan has practiced very well

to day and is gaining quite fast in reading 

her notes

 

Susie Ames was finally getting the hang of playing piano. After the sturm und drang  of the earlier lessons, her mother had to be pleased to hear her practice “very well.” No doubt the piano teacher, Miss Alger, would be happy that her student could finally read the notes.

Inclement weather prevented them from going outside for any reason, at least in the morning. According to Old Oliver, “it raind all last night wind South east and there was 2 1/8 inches of water fell it cleard of to day before noon wind west + not cold”*.  As we might guess, Evelina used the time indoors to mend and sew.  For a time, she had the company of her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell. As she has suggested before, Evelina felt that both her sisters-in-law did not visit her as often as she would have liked.

Cambric is a light fabric with an open weave, often used for underclothes such as chemisettes. It served well as an undersleeve worn under an outer sleeve of more substantial fabric. It would have been a relatively easy garment for Evelina to sew, especially as her version would have been simpler than the one in the illustration, probably lacking in the eyelet detail.

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

 

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 4, 1852

67877_mendclothes_mth

Thursday Nov 4th  I was very busy about house this

forenoon making cake & scalding barbaries

&c &c Miss Alger not very well

Mrs John Howard called here & at Olivers

dined with Mrs Witherell  She is having

Julia cut her a dress I have been mending

some this afternoon but do not sew much

The piano teacher, Miss Alger, was staying with the Ames family, and today she was unwell. Evelina had to cope with this, knowing as she did that her daughter Susan resented, in some degree, the presence of Miss Alger. Was Evelina beginning to resent her as well? Miss Alger had been staying with them for quite a while. But perhaps Evelina was too “busy about house” to allow herself any unkind thoughts. Ever domestic, she baked, cooked and mended for most of the day.

Caroline Howard, a fellow Unitarian and Sewing Circle member, made a social call at the Ames compound, visiting Evelina and Sarah Lothrop Ames, then having midday dinner with Sarah Ames Witherell. Mrs. Howard was planning to have a dress made by Julia Mahoney, the Ames women’s favorite dressmaker. Caroline was the wife of John Howard, a laborer (according to the 1850 census) and appeared to have no children. She would far outlive the ladies she was visiting, not dying until age 95 in 1897. Her life span basically covered the whole of the 19th century. What changes she saw!

November 1, 1852

Rain

Monday Nov 1st  Went to Boston for Mrs Swain

to purchase mourning  Dined at Mr Orrs

Julia left there this morning  Miss Alger

came home with me  It is very bad walking

in Boston and my clothes covered with

mud rained all the forenoon  Mrs

S Ames & Helen here this evening

 

Even on a somber errand, Evelina never seemed to mind going into Boston. Still, given her recent lack of sleep and the rainy weather, she was kind to take on this sad business. Her goal was “to purchase mourning” clothes for her young friend, Ann Swain. Mrs. Swain had just lost her one-year old son and, as per the mores of the day, needed proper black apparel to mark her loss. If she followed convention, she would dress in mourning clothes for one whole year. She could ask advice from Sarah Witherell if she needed, for Sarah would still have been dressing in black or gray from the death of her own son back in the spring.

Different from her usual extended shopping trip into the city, Evelina went in and came out all in the same day, stopping only long enough to take supper with family friends, the Orrs. Surely the bad weather hurried her along on her errand. Evelina is emphatic about the misery wrought by the rain she endured while shopping, her outfit “covered with mud.”  Back home in Easton, her father-in-law Old Oliver was, as usual, less ruffled about the precipitation: “it raind some last night + has bin misty all day. wind north east.”* We should presume that more rain hit Boston than North Easton.

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

October 31, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

 

Sunday Oct 31st  Mr Swains child died at 20 minutes

past five this morning  Mrs Witherell

and self passed the night there & laid

him out  Mrs Witherell came home & I 

staid untill about four  Mrs S Ames

& Helen were here awhile this evening

and the rest of the time I read Ravenscliffe

John Howland Swain, Jr., aged one year and 14 days, died at dawn this morning. Cause of death was listed as Teething. What did that mean? He was dehydrated? He had a fever? An infection? Whatever it was, it was too much for the little boy – and for the medical treatments of the day.

In the 19th century, infant death was common, but its ubiquity made it no less easy for parents to bear. Sylvia D. Hoffert, a 20th century historian, has studied the subject. She writes:

“The number of children that couples were likely to bear was beginning to decline in the early nineteenth century. This factor combined with the cult of motherhood, which demanded that women invest considerable time, effort, and affection in their children and measured their contribution to society by their success in fulfilling their maternal obligations, made the death of an infant a particularly tragic occurrence. […] Although […parents] placed great value on their babies’ lives and did what they could to protect them, they were well aware that children commonly died in infancy and that there was little they could really do to ensure the survival of infants. They used the loss of infants as an occasion for demonstrating their willingness to submit to the will of God and found comfort in the belief that their children had gone to join him in heaven. For them, the death of an infant was a private, family matter.”*

The Ames women supported Ann and John Swain as they dealt with the loss of their firstborn son. Both Evelina and Sarah Witherell had themselves buried children of their own, and could comprehend the sorrow inflicted. While Evelina deals with the little boy’s death matter-of-factly, even escaping into her reading later in the day, she had to have been sad for the young Swain couple. She knew.

*Sylvia D. Hoffert, Private Matters, 1989, University of Illinois,  pp. 169-170

October 30, 1852

Nurse

Sat Oct 30th Mr Dawes & Miss A[l]ger left for

Boston this morning  Mrs S Ames watched 

last night with Mr Swains child and Mrs Witherell

is there to day  I have been very busy about

house to day and wish I was able to do

a great deal more as it is much out of order

Yesterday the Ames women visited Ann and John Swain’s house to see their ailing infant son. Today Sarah Lothrop Ames and Sarah Ames Witherell were back, taking turns watching. The outlook for the one-year old wasn’t good, evidently. Evelina would go over to the Swains for the night, being too busy during the day to help.

Evelina was straightening up her house after the departure of the latest houseguests, Mr. Dawes and Miss M. J. Alger. It was the first time in days that her home was back to normal, with only family in residence.  She found everything to be “much out of order,” and no doubt she and her servants bustled about choring and setting things to rights. She seemed too busy even to worry about whether or not her daughter Susie was practicing the piano.

In unrelated news from the Pacific Northwest, this 1852 date marks the first time that the name “Seattle” appeared in print, in a pair of advertisements in The Columbian, a nascent newspaper in Olympia. The city we know today, then just a small settlement, had been known informally as Duwamps, but had been recently renamed after Chief Seattle, a leader of the local Suquamish tribe. How remote and unconnected Evelina would have considered the beginnings of a city so far from her kin and beyond her ken.

 

 

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 14, 1852

fig05

Cambridgeport, ca. 1854*

Thursday Oct 14th Mrs Mower left for Maine this

morning or rather she is to stop over night in 

Cambridgeport and home tomorrow  Mrs Witherell &

Mrs S Ames came in for an hour or two this afternoon

I feel that I have not seen Mrs Mower as much

as I wish  I have given her my winter bonnet

3 dollars in Cash and other things & paid her

passage from Boston

Louisa Mower, an old friend of Evelina, left for home. Evelina bought Louisa the ticket from Boston to Maine, gave Louisa some cash and her own old bonnet.  Evelina was often generous to friends and family this way – to the females, at any rate. She looked after the women she cared about and in her entry today, she sounds a bit sad to see this particular friend depart.

“[T]his was a cloudy cool day wind north east and some misty just at night”* wrote Old Oliver in his journal; he doesn’t suggest it, but the sky and wind portended a winter storm, the first of the season. Louisa’s travel to Maine would be delayed on account of it.

Cambridgeport, where Louisa was staying while waiting, is a neighborhood within the city of Cambridge that today borders the Charles River east from Massachusetts Avenue to Central Square. In the 19th century, it was part wetlands, part residential, and part transportation hub. It was the site of the relatively new Grand Junction Railroad and Depot Company, which connected trains heading west and north – a line that’s still active in our 21st century. A few years later, Cambridgeport was also the location of the F. A. Kennedy Steam Bakery, where Fig Newtons and Lorna Doones were born.

 

*Image courtesy of http://www.mit.edu

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

 

October 12, 1852

DSCF1683small

Gravestone of George Oliver Witherell

Tuesday Oct 12th  Mother & Louisa dined at Mr Torreys

and I went there to tea I was ready to go

when Mrs Roland & Miss Louisa Howard & Mrs

Dunham from N. Bedford called and stopt

some time  Mrs Witherell & Ames were gone

to Norton to see about Georges grave stone

Augustus & wife & her mother were at Mr Torreys

also

It could be that excitement over the new steam engine that was installed yesterday in the Long Shop continued, but Evelina tells us nothing about it. As usual, she maintains a disinterested distance from business matters. Not that she didn’t care, perhaps, but the business was up to her husband, his brother and her father-in-law. Commerce was in their sphere, the running of the household was in hers, and neither she nor her husband crossed the line between the two. So it was in most households in the middle of the 19th century.

“[I]t was foggy this morning but cleard of[f] warm before noon wind south west,”* reported Old Oliver. Sarah Ames Witherell and Sarah Lothrop Ames rode together to Norton to select a gravestone for Mrs. Witherell’s son, George, who had died at age fourteen the previous spring of rheumatic fever. The task could not have been pleasant, but perhaps Sarah Witherell found solace in marking her son’s passing in such a permanent way. The gravestone – if it is the one that she picked out, as the grave site was eventually moved – can be seen in the Village Cemetery behind the Unitarian Church in North Easton.

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