December 24, 1852

Image from Aunt Louisas Alphabet book - Alphabet og Games and Sports, London, 1870

The Yule Log, English illustration, ca. 1870

Friday Dec 24th  Have finished the sack for Susan

and I feel that I have a good job done

Catharine has basted the lining & outside

of my dress together  Ann & Catharine

went to Canton this afternoon. Alson &

wife came up this morning to go to the lecture

they stopt at Augustus & Henrietta & Helen came

here   Malvina here to tea.  Mr Ames went to Boston

lecture by J C Parks

on the dignity of labour

Some people were preparing for Christmas, but Evelina wasn’t one of them. As we saw last December, the Ames family didn’t celebrate Christmas, certainly not the way we celebrate it in 2015. Nor did other Unitarians and fellow Protestants in New England. Catholics celebrated it, however, and this afternoon, Irish servants Catharine Murphy and Ann Shinkwin departed for Canton where they must have had family or friends to meet. They wouldn’t return until late the next day. In one sense, Christmas to the Ameses meant a lack of servants and no work – or reduced production, perhaps – at the shovel shop. It was a holiday with a negative impact.

So in the Ames compound, life went on as usual, even on Christmas Eve. Evelina sewed and Oakes Ames went into Boston. A few Gilmore relatives, including Evelina’s youngest nieces, Henrietta Hall Gilmore and Helen Jane Gilmore, came by. There was a lecture in town which Evelina’s brother Alson and his wife Henrietta Williams Gilmore attended in which Mr. J.C. Parks spoke on “the dignity of labour.” An interesting theme for a day when much of the work force was so-called idle. Surely the quiet at the factory got under Old Oliver’s skin, but with his usual understatement, he only mentioned the weather in his journal:  “[I]t raind ¾ of an inch last night it was cloudy in the forenoon + fair in the afternoon wind south west and it took the snow + ice all off.”*

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

December 23, 1852

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Thursday Dec 23d  Have been at work part of the

time on Susans sack & part of the time

fixing work for Catharine  She has got Susans

skirt ready for gathering and run the breadths

of my raw silk  Helen came home in

the stage to night Heard Susan practice

an hour this evening she does not take as

much interest as I could wish

 

Orville L. Holley, editor of theTroy [N.Y.] Sentinel, didn’t know who had written the poem. It had been sent in by a friend of the anonymous author. But Holley was looking for good Christmas copy, so on this date in 1823, he published A Visit from St. Nicholas,* with “cordial thanks to whoever had sent him these Christmas verses.”* He knew the piece was good, but he couldn’t have imagined the lasting fame it would receive. He couldn’t have foretold how iconic Twas the Night Before Christmas would become.

It would be another fourteen years, more or less, until the public discovered the name of the author. He was Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of oriental and Greek literature at General Theological Seminary in New York City and author of several academic works such as Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language. He was also a poet, and the father of nine children. He had written A Visit from St. Nicholas for his older children and read it to them on Christmas Eve, 1822. A friend of the family had heard the poem, copied it, and sent it to the newspaper. Aren’t we lucky she saved it? Professor Moore, by the way, was born in 1779 and died in 1863 – the same life span as Old Oliver Ames.

Did Evelina know this poem? Was she familiar with St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and other Christmas lore that immigrated from the Old World to the New? Reader that she was, she was bound to know about Christmas. But so far in her life, it was a holiday that others, and not she, celebrated.

Her grandchildren would one day know the poem by heart. Dash away, dash away, dash away all!

 

*Information on Clement Clarke Moore and A Visit from St. Nicholas can be found at http://www.poetryfoundation.org

 

December 21, 1852

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Tuesday, Dec 21st  Mrs Horatio Ames left this morning

for Taunton where she is going to stop a week

or two  Catharine & self have quilted the

lining for Susans sack  We were about

it most all day  This evening have been

in awhile to see Mrs Ames & Witherell

It was the darkest day of the year: winter solstice. Sally Hewes Ames departed for friends or relatives in Taunton, her life in upheaval as she sought a divorce. Would she ever spend time with her husband’s relatives again? Was this the last she saw of them? One wonders how her relationship with Horatio’s family would play out.

Evelina tried again to settle back into her normal routine in North Easton. Picking up a needle and thread and sewing “most all day” probably felt like heaven to her. After the drama and disruption of the past three weeks, she was back doing what she did best: sew. She and her servant Catharine Murphy put together a winter sack, or apron-like jumper, for Susan Ames. They quilted it to make it warmer and sturdier.

In the evening, Evelina sat with her sisters-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames and Sarah Ames Witherell. They certainly had much to talk over. Old Oliver, meanwhile, recorded the day’s weather: “[I]t raind a verry little last night and this morning there is a thin coat of snow + ice on the ground wind north east + chilly it snod a little about all day but did not gain much.”*

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

December 20, 1852

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Monday Dec 20th  Was puttering about house most of the time

this forenoon  made some cake of sour cream

This afternoon here to tea  Mrs H & A L Ames

Mrs Witherell Emily & father & Oliver & wife

Have cut a pattern from Mrs Whitwells

cloak for Susan  Have not done much

sewing of course

Life seemed to be getting back to normal. The servants did the laundry while Evelina puttered about the house and did a little baking. In the evening, the family assembled for tea at Evelina and Oakes’s. Sarah Ames Witherell, Emily Witherell, Oliver Ames Jr., Sarah Lothrop Ames, and Old Oliver himself attended. So did Sally Hewes Ames and Almira Ames, who were still visiting; Almira would stay at the Ames compound well into the new year. Missing were Fred and Helen Ames – off at school, presumably – and Oakes Angier, of course.

The family was weighed down by personal difficulties: Oakes Angier an invalid in far-off Cuba and Sally Hewes Ames fed up and seeking divorce, not to mention the lingering loss of George Oliver Witherell earlier in the year. Perhaps other concerns occupied their thoughts, too. Like many other families, the Ameses drew strength from simply standing together. In the same way they had risen from the fire at the shovel factory back in March, they would do their best to prevail over the latest adversity. What a year it had been for them.

Yet on the horizon, a greater ill loomed which it is our readers’ advantage to know and the Ames family’s innocence not to foresee. Eight years later, on this exact date, the State of South Carolina would issue a proclamation of secession from the United States, kicking off the calamitous American Civil War.

 

December 11, 1852

Trunk

Sat Dec 11th  It has been a very stormy day

and O A has been in the house and

we have packed all his clothes  Catharine

has made two night shirts for him

and they are all washed & ready  It has

been a trying day to me  Mr Torrey called

and had quite a chat with mother but

I was busy at the time

 

“[T]he 11th it began to rain in the night + this morning there is a north east storm + rather cold + windy it raind about all day and fell 1 ½ deep,”* wrote Old Oliver Ames in his daily record. The weather was miserable and seemed to match Evelina’s mood as she packed Oakes Angier’s trunk with the help of her servants and, perhaps, Sarah Witherell.  Evelina herself said it was a “trying day.”  She couldn’t even attend to a visit from a favorite, her brother-in-law, Col. John Torrey, and seemed grateful that her mother was available to do the honors of receiving his call.

On this exact date in Lexington, Virginia, a young professor at the Virginia Military Institute wrote to his sister Laura Ann, with whom he was very close, offering her advice about getting the better of a recent illness: “I hope that though ill health is your present lot, that notwithstanding you will continue a buoyancy of spirits, and not give way to surrounding troubles.  I too am a man of trouble, yet let the oppressing load be ever so great, it never sinks me beneath its weight.”  It’s too bad that Evelina couldn’t read his advice – she might have been able to bear her sad thoughts better. Although she had never met the professor, she would one day know his name: Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

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

**Thomas Jackson, Letter to his sister Laura Ann, Courtesy of Virginia Military Institute Archives

December 8, 1852

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Wednesday Dec 8th  Have been doing to day probably

what I shall while Oakes A stays, to work

on his clothes  He went to Boston this

morning  It is so near the time he is to leave

that I do not like to have him away but 

how little is he sensible to what my feelings are

Miss Alger has given the 15th leson

 

Only one week earlier, Evelina had learned that Oakes Angier’s illness had returned. She had been shocked, rattled, anxious. Today, a week later, she was not much improved and had added a dose of self-pity. She was feeling sorry for herself. While Oakes Angier went off to Boston for the day, probably with his cousin Alson Augustus Gilmore, Evelina stayed at home to mend and sew the clothes he would need for the journey to Cuba. “[H]ow little is he sensible” to her maternal concern and regard, she bemoaned.

Oakes Angier may have been quite aware of his mother’s feelings, and may have wanted a break from them. Fresh air, sunshine and a jaunt into Boston must have appealed to him. He had his own mental adjustments to make to this threat to his young life, independent of everyone else’s personal regard. He had so much at stake.

So mother and son spent some time apart, he exploring some of the larger world he would soon be thrust into, she nursing a heavy heart at home, sewing, of course, perhaps with piano scales running in the background.

The only thing that Old Oliver noted was that it was a “fair good”* day.

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

 

 

December 7, 1852

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Cuban plantation, mid-19th century

Tuesday Dec 7th  Have been mending and to work on

Oakes A clothes again to day.  Catharine has

gone to Canton and is coming back to night.

Edwin & wife were here this evening 

and Augustus called has been persuading

Oakes A to go to Boston tomorrow

Evelina continued to work on Oakes Angier’s wardrobe. She must have been somewhat stymied to prepare for a climate so markedly different from her own. Oakes Angier would need warm clothes for the journey by water, but light clothes for his new life in Cuba. People in the middle of the 19th century generally had smaller wardrobes than today’s people in the same socio-economic class, but still, a variety of shirts, pants, jackets and undergarments had to be readied and packed. How did Evelina manage, operating as she did with so little knowledge of Cuba’s climate and social guidelines?

What did Oakes Angier know about Cuba, for that matter, other than its purported healthful properties? He may have known one or two people who had gone there, or perhaps was in hopes of acquiring a few letters of introduction. He probably knew that sugar plantations were a major industry, especially as Oakes Ames had a business associate, Elisha Atkins, who invested in sugar there. Not to get ahead of the story, but while Oakes Angier was staying in Cuba, he must have spent time on a plantation or at least visited one occasionally. The sugar business did pique his interest, because some twenty years later, after the Civil War, he and his two brothers would buy a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Surely the seed for that purchase was sown when Oakes Angier first saw sugar cane in Cuba.