December 16, 1852


Stonington, Connecticut, 19th century*

Thursday Dec 16th  Went out shopping awhile with Mrs

Ames but did not purchase much and was

hardly able to walk such sore feet  We went

to Burtons last eve did not think much

of the play & wished myself somewhere else

We left New York about 4 Oclock in the Stonington

boat  Mrs Ames came with us  The weather not

very pleasant

Evelina and Oakes stayed in New York City over night after seeing their son set sail for Cuba. Perhaps to take their minds off Oakes Angier’s departure, they attended a play at the popular Burton’s Theatre on Chambers Street off Broadway. Burton’s, originally known as Palmo’s Opera House, was built in 1844 and would be torn down in 1876. Managed by actor William Burton, it generally offered light fare like comedies and musicals. It wasn’t light enough for Evelina, though. She couldn’t attend to the performance, either because her feet hurt or she couldn’t stop thinking about Oakes Angier.

Where the couple stayed in New York is unclear, although both the Astor House and the Clifford Hotel are mentioned. The Astor House was a world-famous hotel. Built in 1836 by John Jacob Astor, it attracted a high-end clientele throughout much of the 19th century. Oakes may have stayed there before on the sales trips he made to the city, though it seems too dear for the frugal style he preferred. In all likelihood, this would have been the first time Evelina had spent a night there. In the future, the Astor Hotel wouldn’t be the usual spot for the Ames men when they traveled to New York. A decade later, as they began to be active in the building of the Union Pacific, Oakes, Oliver Jr., and fellow directors would stay at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. The City of New York would become very familiar to them.

In the afternoon, with Almira Ames, Evelina and Oakes boarded the steamboat for home. Almira had been at the docks, too, to watch Oakes Angier depart. She was a constant, attentive friend to all the family (and a relative by marriage) and no doubt made good company for Evelina as they bounced across Long Island Sound in rough water. How glad they all must have been to make landfall at Stonington, Connecticut and catch the train for Boston, where they would spend the night.*

*Image courtesy of Stonington Historical Society


November 17, 1852


Girl’s dress, mid-19th century

Wedns Nov 17th  Miss Alger has been here to

day and has given her 12th lesson and 

dined here.  Mrs S Ames & self have been

to North Bridgewater  Emily & Susan

went with us  I got Susan a plaid

dress but do not feel satisfied with it


In the 19th century, girls often wore plaid; Susan Ames was no exception. Her mother got her a plaid dress in North Bridgewater (today’s Brockton) but ended up unhappy with the purchase. Did Evelina buy an actual dress or the material to make the dress? Probably the latter, as this is what she has done previously. Also, we must remember that “off-rack” clothing really was not yet on the market.

One thing we don’t read about today is the ongoing tussle between Evelina and her daughter over the piano. The teacher, Miss Alger, had been at the house for the 12th lesson for Emily and Susan, and there is no mention of lack of skill or failure to practice on Susie’s part. She must have been getting the hang of the new instrument and perhaps was even beginning to enjoy it.

After the lesson, Susan and Emily got to ride to North Bridgewater on the shopping excursion with Evelina and their aunt, Sarah Lothrop Ames. There must have been no school on this day, so the girls got to enjoy the sunshine.



June 1, 1852


Franklin Pierce (1804-1869)

Photograph by Matthew Brady


Tuesday June 1st  Have been to Boston with

Mrs Witherell Mrs S Ames Helen & Emily

Called at Mr Orrs the first place met

the other ladies at half past nine at Mr

Daniells & Co.  Was trying to get a bonnet

most all day at last got materials for a lace 

one  Went to Doe & Hasletons about my consol

Mrs Norris met us at half past two

Most of the Ames females decamped North Easton today and went into the city.  Even Sarah Witherell, dressed in black, rode into Boston to go shopping. Were her sisters-in-law hoping to cheer her up with an outing?

While Evelina and “the other ladies” went about Boston “most all day” in earnest pursuit of bonnets, furniture and more, a group of politicians was gathered in Baltimore some 400 miles south. The Democrats were holding their national convention for the nomination of their next presidential candidate.  Among the ten to twelve gentlemen in the running were Senators Lewis Cass of Michigan, Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, Henry Dodge of Wisconsin, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Sam Houston of Texas, Governor Philip Allen of Rhode Island, former Secretary of State James Buchanan, and former Senator Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. The latter, a dark horse candidate, was chosen.

Franklin Pierce would win the next election and serve as President from 1853 through 1857. Known as “Handsome Frank,” a sociable fellow with a difficult personal life and a probable addiction to alcohol, Pierce was an accomplished politician and fierce opponent of abolition. Once in office, he signed the inflammatory Kansas-Nebraska Act, then failed to be renominated for a second term. His purported response was “There’s nothing left to do but get drunk.”

After the Democrats’ gathering, another presidential convention would shortly be held in the same Baltimore hall, the Maryland Institute for the Mechanical Arts.  This time, the Whig Party would meet and nominate Gen.Winfield Scott, hero of the Mexican-American War.  Scott was the candidate that the Ames men would support.  The Ames women couldn’t vote, of course.

May 20, 1852




Thursday May 20th  Went to Bridgewater quite early this

morning and did not get back until

after four Oclock  Bought an oilcloth

carpet for the dining room,  Straw carpet

for O Angiers chamber and engaged some

husk mattress  Called into Edwins after 

I returned  Have a bad head ache.  Very pleasant

Today’s shopping objective: new floor coverings for the dining room and a bedroom, as well as “some husk mattress.”  At least one of the mattresses of the house was due to be restuffed or entirely made over.

By the mid-nineteenth century, mattresses were stuffed with various materials, including cotton batting, wool, horsehair or corn husks. As they had been for centuries, mattresses were placed within a wooden bed frame and set atop a latticed support of rope or leather or wire. The box-spring that we use today would come along a few decades later.

It’s a little curious that Evelina “engaged some husk” for a mattress, when she could have selected cotton or something finer, like down. Feathers would have required poultry, however, which the Ameses didn’t keep, and were expensive to purchase. The husks, probably harvested the previous fall from a corn harvest and dried over the winter, would have been less expensive.

By the end of the day, Evelina had a headache. Perhaps her long day of shopping or a bumpy ride to and from Bridgewater set her off.  With so much time spent outside, a high pollen count could have been the culprit, too, and might also account for Susie Ames’s recent nose bleeds.

February 11, 1852


Feb 11th Wednesday  Returned from Boston to night very

much fatigued  It has rained poringly all

day and I was out shopping and most horrible

walking in the streets  Went to Doe & Hazleton

and bargained for a looking glass  bought an

all wool Delaine of Mr Norris  Mrs Witherell

was here some time this morning

Boston in February is subject to terrible weather, as Beantown residents in 2015 know all too well from recent record-breaking snow.  In 1852, heavy precipitation was also the rule, although on this particular day it didn’t snow, but “rained poringly.” Shopping suddenly wasn’t as much fun as it had been the past two days. Evelina found the going “most horrible,” but still managed to chase down some good buys.

She treked to an area of the city known as Cornhill – not Cornhill Street, or Lane, or Road, but just plain Cornhill.  This area of the city is now irrevocably altered, having been turned into Government Center, a modernistic architectural complex, in the 1970s.  Only a small portion of the original Cornhill known as Sears Crescent now remains. In the 1840s and 1850s, Cornhill was known as a center for Boston’s intelligentsia. Writers, poets, and book publishers gathered there.

In 1852, at number 42 to 48 Cornhill, there were also several retail shops, including one called Doe & Hazleton. Owned by Joseph Doe and J. M. Hazleton, the store specialized in “Decorative Furniture.” It was there that Evelina went and “bargained for” a mirror, to be delivered to North Easton in the near future.  She also bought some wool cloth from another Orr son-in-law, Caleb Norris, and probably had that delivered, as well.

By day’s end, Evelina was back in North Easton, “much fatigued” from her shopping.

February 9, 1852



Architectural Rendering of Boston Art Club, ca. 1882

Feb 9th  Monday  Went to Boston with Oliver  spent

the forenoon in looking at pictures.  dined at

Mr Orrs.  Afternoon Mrs Stevens & Mrs Morse

went with us to look at pictures.  purchased 

two engravings one of them painted  returned to

Mr Orrs and spent the evening in playing 

cards  Very fine weather

Evelina’s boring Sunday in North Easton gave way to a few fun days of shopping in Boston. Leaving Jane McHanna to manage the house in her absence, she traveled into the city accompanied by her middle son, Oliver (3), the only son who wasn’t working. The two of them spent the day looking at “pictures” – prints and paintings, probably – and ended up buying two engravings. That one was “painted” meant that it had been hand-colored.

Where did they shop? At a gallery? At an artist’s studio? Amory Hall on Washington Street was one facility that accommodated artists at the time.Who was selling engravings in 1852? Readers, do you know?

It’s hardly arbitrary that Oliver (3) was the son who shopped for art with his mother. Besides being the only male in the family at liberty to take his mother into town, Oliver (3) loved art. He would collect paintings, prints and sculpture all through his life, in fact, especially after he and Anna C. Ray had married and built their large homes in North Easton and Boston. Before becoming governor, Oliver (3) traveled a great deal as a salesman for O. Ames and Sons and, in the process, bought art for himself at galleries in New York City and elsewhere. In the 1880s, he was also president of the Boston Art Club, an artists’ consortium begun in 1854 – 1855 that expanded to include wealthy patrons such as Oliver Ames.

December 20, 1851

unnamed Dec 20 Saturday  Have been very busy all day working

on different articles  Mended some clothes

for Frank, the stockings and mended the

places that were cut & bound the end of

some pieces of carpeting Jane finished the 

second robin that she has made for Frank

Mr Ames brought home some marble rubber

and lining & ribbon for Susans bonnet   ”


[T]his was a fair day and not verry cold” was the weather report from Old Oliver Ames. It was a normal Saturday at the Ames’s house in all respects. Evelina mended clothes, darned socks and repaired some carpeting.  Jane McHanna sewed, too, having recovered from an acute indisposition caused by coal the day before. She finished a “robin” (which one reader suggests was a kind of tough work pants) for Frank Morton Ames, Evelina’s youngest son.

Oakes Ames went into Boston, as usual, for a weekly check-in with shovel customers, after which he went shopping for his wife. From a list Evelina must have given him, he made his way along Washington Street and around Faneiul Hall, probably knowing just which shop to go to for such-and-such ribbon or a well-priced bolt of flannel. He returned to North Easton laden with parcels wrapped in paper and tied with string.

December 4, 1851


Dec 4th  Thursday.  Returned from Boston to night

Have got the greater part of the things

I wanted.  could not suit myself in all.

Mother spent yesterday with Augustus & to day

at Mr Torreys returned here this evening

Left Mr Orrs this morning did not dine there

it takes so much time  Julia is at home

It is three weeks [entry ends here]


After seeing her husband off on his business trip to New York, Evelina spent yesterday and today shopping in Boston. She seemed satisfied with her purchases, though she confessed that she “could not suit myself in all.” Was she buying cloth or ribbon or other fashion accessories, or decorative items for the refurbished parlor, or foodstuffs for the pantry? It was early December, a time in our own culture when we modern folks are apt to be out (or online) shopping for Christmas presents. Evelina may have been buying Christmas gifts for her family, although that is unlikely, as the Ameses barely recognized Christmas, let alone celebrated it.

Although public opinion in New England was changing, a poor opinion of Christmas prevailed among the Yankees of Evelina’s generation, and certainly of Old Oliver’s. It was based on a Puritan tradition that considered Christmas as “an emblem of popery.”  Yankees “were strongly influenced by the traditions of Calvinism and the routine of the established Congregational church, honoring a certain stoicism, hard work, and stern independence.”  Instead of Christmas, “Thanksgiving was the most important day of the year.”* That would change.

But Evelina must have caught the train back to Stoughton, or the stage home to Easton, empty-handed of the kind of Christmas plunder that her favorite author, Charles Dickens, so famously described.


*Jane Nylander, “Our Own Snug Fireside,” 1993, New Haven, p. 8


October 18, 1851


Herman_Melville_1860Herman Melville

Sat Oct 18  Have been to Boston with Mr Ames to day &

have bought Paper for the sitting room &c &c

went into all the stores where there were ribbons

to match my dress could not find a good one

Did not get near all the things I wanted

Lavinia came here to night.  Mrs S Witherell

& Miss S Orr called a few moments

It was a full Saturday for Evelina. She accompanied her husband into Boston and while he probably visited customers and took orders for shovels, or collected payments from various vendors, Evelina went shopping. She purchased new wallpaper for the sitting room and more. She was on a tear to refurbish the old homestead – or at least her half of it – yet wasn’t able to “get near all the things” she wanted.  She searched for ribbon, too, maybe to go with the new cashmere dress that she and Julia Mahoney only recently finished.

Evelina and Oakes returned to Easton in time to welcome niece Lavinia Gilmore for the night. As they traveled back from the city, they may have noticed the sky beginning to cloud up, pushed along by winds from the south. After their return, Sarah Witherell and her houseguest, spinster Susan Orr, popped in from the other part of the house, perhaps to ask what wallpaper Evelina had selected.

Far away, in London, 500 copies of a new novel called “The Whale” were published today in three small volumes. In a month, the same book, written by young American author Herman Melville, who dedicated it to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, would be published in New York with an added title: “Moby-Dick.”  Evelina never mentioned it, but might she have read it?

September 27, 1851


 $20 Gold Piece, 1850

Sat Sept 27  Have been very busy to day but can

scarcely tell what I have done have been working

about house most of the time  Have bought

Mrs Mitchells beaureau and to night it has

come and it looks better than I expected  agreed

to pay her 18 dollars but shall give her 20 for it

Mr Ames carried back the chairs to Bigelows

and bought me one at Courrier & Trouts for […] 25 Dols

William Chaffin, Unitarian minister and town historian, once described Evelina as “very economical.”* He claimed that she mended her husband’s pants so that he wouldn’t have to spend money on new ones. Some Ames descendants and others knowledgeable about the family history also consider Evelina to be the personification of Yankee frugality. She sewed tucks into dresses, reused old pieces of carpet, made her own soap and kept careful household accounts. She mended coats, upholstered a lounge for the parlor and roped relatives and friends into helping her make shirts for all the men in her house. She did work that she could have paid others to do for her. Was she being cheap or was work a habit with her? Or both?

Evelina could and did spend money, as last week’s flurry of shopping in Boston demonstrates. She bought dress fabric, chairs for the parlor and new wallpaper. And today, only one week later, she paid her sister-in-law, Harriett, $2 more for a chest of drawers than the price they had agreed upon. The gesture was generous, and underscores the possibility that Evelina was not quite the cheapskate that family tradition has allowed.

As the acquisition of the used “beaureau” shows, Evelina was having a burst of redecorating. What had set this off? The shovel shop was doing well, obviously, so they could afford to buy new things. Beyond having the means, what encouraged her to make these alterations? Was she being encouraged by her husband? He seemed to be right there with her at the store.  Was Oakes’s participation prompted by an easy complacency about his wife’s spending or a shared enthusiasm for the new purchases? Was an influx of wealth changing the way they lived?

* William Chaffin, Oakes Ames, private publication, Courtesy of Easton Historical Society