July 20, 1852

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Pre-Civil War Ames Shovel with “D” wooden handle*

1852

July 20th Tuesday  I was in hopes to do something this

week but did not commence right yesterday

In the first place yesterday afternoon Mr

Whitwell called & Mr Ames took him & Oliver

to Bridgewater  Then uncle Ephraim called and I

must needs run in to laugh at Mrs Ames and

found Mrs Sheldon there and to day I

have not done much but talk over yesterdays affairs.

 

According to Old Oliver, the day was “fair with a verry hot sun wind easterly.”** Full summer, in other words. Everyone would begin to feel the heat, including the factory workers putting in their ten hour days at: “hammering, plating, drawing (backstraps), welding, smoothing, setting, opening, filing, riveting, finishing (handles), [and] handling”*** the shovels. Unlike workers elsewhere in the state, these workers seemed content with the hours they worked and the pay they received. “The relationship between the Ames family and shovel shop workers appears to have been amicable, for much of the business’s history.” ****

To date, no one had ever gone on strike at the shovel works, while in Amesbury to the north, textile workers had walked off their jobs in June. They were striking for better hours, having become fed up with twelve hour days for everyone, including children. They lost that strike at the woolen mill, which was owned by the Salisbury Corporation, but gained the support of their town government and launched the career of George McNeill, a fourteen year old carder who became the father of the eight-hour movement. Working out of Boston, McNeill would spend his life advocating and agitating for more humane conditions for factory workers.

In 1853, a limited strike took place at O. Ames and Sons. As Old Oliver noted on June 16, 1853, “Our outdore men struck for the 10 hour system to day and we settled with them and lett them go.” Evidently the men who worked outside the factory proper – those who would have been responsible for transporting the shovels, for instance – wanted the same hours as those who worked in the production line. Historian Greg Galer interprets this record to mean that the workers were granted their ten hour limit and were sent home for the day. Winthrop Ames, in his family history, on the other hand, interpreted that sentence to mean that the men were fired.

On a lighter note, Evelina was getting a lot of mileage out of Uncle Ephraim’s interest in Almira Ames. She seemed to spend most of her day doing little more than “talk over yesterdays affairs.”

* Image courtesy of etsy.com

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

*** Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2002, p. 263.

**** Ibid., p. 265

November 5, 1851

Thread

Wednesday Nov 5th  This forenoon I painted the water pails and 

several kegs or butter firkins  Looked over my sheets

and put them in order.  Afternoon went to the sewing 

circle at Mr Horace Pools our last meeting for the 

season  Mrs Elijah Howard had the bag and we

had no work  We were invited to Mr Sheldons Mrs

Hubbell Ames & Witherell went  Father has

changed Dominic for another horse of Nelson Howard

Evelina demonstrated her range of housekeeping skills today.  She put fresh paint on wooden pails, kegs and firkins for her pantry, cellar and shed, and organized her linen closet.  Her house was in order for the coming winter.

The last Sewing Circle of the year met this afternoon at Abby and Horace Pool’s house.  As always, the Unitarian ladies gathered in fellowship to sew and have tea, probably in the company of Rev. William Whitwell.  Today, however, they had no shared sewing to do, as Nancy Howard, whose turn it was to bring “the bag” of work, failed to deliver it.  No matter; the women seemed to cope.  Some went on to visit Luther Sheldon and, presumably, his wife Sarah.

The Reverend Luther Sheldon was the minister of the local Orthodox Congregational Church. A conservative and devout man in his mid-sixties, Sheldon had been involved two decades earlier in a controversial schism within Easton’s Congregational Church that resulted in the splitting off of a new congregation of Unitarians – including the Ameses.  Old Oliver and his sons had taken a leading role in encouraging Unitarianism, and made some enemies in the process.  Rev. William Chaffin, who came to town many years later, included an extensive examination of the controversy in his 1866 town history.

What did Old Oliver think of his daughter, Sarah Witherell, and their houseguests paying a call on the Sheldons? Or did he pay any attention at all to their socializing?  He may have been too busy horse-trading.