June 2, 1852

Thread

1852

Wednesday June 2d  Lazy this day as usual after being

in Boston   Have been with Mrs S Ames

to the sewing circle at Mr Wm Reeds.  Had

a very pleasant time as we always do there

not very many present. Mrs Patterson here

again to day.  yesterday she staid home to

do her washing  She & Jane have done very

little ironing this afternoon

The intense labor of spring cleaning was over, at least for Evelina.  She was “[l]azy this day” after yesterday’s trip into Boston with her sisters-in-law. Shopping wore her out more than washing windows or scrubbing floors, it would seem. She summoned enough energy to attend the Sewing Circle at Abigail Reed’s, though.

Sarah Witherell didn’t attend the Sewing Circle; she probably wasn’t socializing outside the family yet. So Sarah Ames and Evelina went without her and enjoyed themselves “as we always do.” Back at the house, however, Evelina’s servants didn’t attend to the ironing as Evelina had hoped they would. Evelina wasn’t pleased. When she worked, she worked very hard, and expected others to do the same. She felt that Mrs Patterson and Mrs McHanna should have been able to do more in her absence.

In the other part of the house, to which Sarah Witherell had retreated after yesterday’s outing, Old Oliver was watching the weather.  He noted the welcome arrival of “a little rain […] that wett the ground about an inch deep.”*  The spring had been dry.

 

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

 

 

May 31, 1852

Woodhouse

1852

May 31st Monday  Mrs Patterson & Jane have done

the washing and I have been about house

all day  Mr Scott has painted the dining

room over the second time  Jane will

go against the door in spite of all that I

can do  Shall I ever get settled again so that

I can sew some  Have got an Ice closet in the 

wood house

Spring cleaning was almost finished, and Evelina sounded ready to have it be done. Mr Scott had to paint a second coat in the dining room, perhaps because Jane McHanna kept banging the door against the wall. Evelina was irritated with Jane and longed to get back to her sewing.

The weather had been dry for some time.  Old Oliver, uncharacteristically, hadn’t written in his daily journal for nine days.  When he finally picked up his pen, he noted that the fair skies had been “verry drying.” Being without rain at the start of the growing season endangered the crops and put him in an ill humor.  Perhaps Evelina was feeling some of that, too.  And, perhaps, she was still grieving.

One thing that pleased Evelina, though, was getting a new ice closet at the back of the house, in the wood shed. And one thing that pleased Old Oliver was that “Mr Seve began to frame the Cariage hous”* on this day.  This building was going up on Ames property off of Main Street, on land behind the residence of Oliver Ames Jr and his wife, Sarah Lothrop Ames.

Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives

 

May 29, 1852

Buttonhole

1852

Sat May 29th  Have had the woodhouse cleaned of the old

chips ready for the ice closet  Baked rhubarb and 

custard pies and this afternoon Mrs Patterson has

cleaned the tin.  Mr Scott painted the china closet

over the second time between the shelves and the 

walls of the porch  I have varnished the oil cloths and 

desks tables &c &c  finished Augustas button holes

Baking, sweeping, scrubbing, painting, varnishing, and sewing were each on the domestic agenda today. Last year’s spring cleaning, which had been steady enough, seemed lackluster compared to the fierce pace of this year’s effort. Evelina didn’t necessarily complete each task personally – Jane McHanna, Mrs. Patterson, Mr. Scott and others helped – but she oversaw each piece of it. She was right in there. Today, it looks as if the only time she sat down was when she helped Augusta Pool Gilmore with her buttonholes.

Evelina excelled at making buttonholes and, at one time or another, helped other women, like Sarah Lothrop Ames next door, sew them. She must have taken pride in that particular skill, just as she must have had a real sense of accomplishment at all the tasks that were dealt with today. The to-do list got shorter.

As Evelina helped her young neighbor with needle and thread, the aroma from the baking would have competed with the fumes of the varnish.  Happily, it was fair and warm outside and hopefully, she opened the windows to let fresh air in.

 

May 28, 1852

images-1

1852  May 28th

Friday  This forenoon cleaned the shed chamber  Mrs

Patterson assisted me and helped about house

down stairs  I baked cake & brown bread

in Mrs Witherells oven and Mrs McHanna

made a custard & some rhubarb pies.

Augusta brought her dress in and I partly

made the button holes  Oakes A went to Boston

yesterday returned to night

Time for rhubarb. The edible plant, with its long red stalks, was coming up in the garden and needed to be harvested and cooked. Household advisor Lydia Maria Child had this to say about it:

“Rhubarb stalks, or the Persian apple, is the earliest in gradient for pies, which the spring offers. The skin should be carefully stripped, and the stalks cut into small bits, and stewed very tender.  These are dear pies, for they take an enormous quantity of sugar.  Seasoned like apple pies Gooseberries, currants, &c., are stewed sweetened and seasoned […] in proportions suited to the sweetness of the fruit; there is no way to judge but by your own taste.  Always remember it is more easy to add seasoning than to diminish it.”*

Jane McHanna made today’s pies and a custard, too. Evelina baked her usual cake and brown bread. Spring cleaning was not forgotten, however, as Evelina and Mrs. Patterson cleaned out the shed. One wonders what they found in there after the long winter.

The younger generation, meanwhile, was stirring. Augusta Pool Gilmore came over from across the street to get Evelina’s help on a dress she was making.  Oakes Angier Ames struck farther afield, going into Boston for the night.  The 23-year-old was there on shovel business, presumably, and, being conscientious, he would have accomplished whatever task he was sent in to do. But he was young, too, and may have enjoyed the freedom of being on his own in the big city.

*Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, 1829, p. 51

 

 

May 27, 1852

very_rare_miniature_19th_c_pennsylvania_stoneware_preserves_jar_perfect_cond_1_thumb2_lgw

 

Stoneware or “earthen” jar 

1852 Thursday May 27th  We have cleaned the buttery

to day and we have had a hard job of it.

I have scalded my preserves have several 

lbs of citron & some quince & peach and

this afternoon have given my chamber a

thorough sweeping and washed the paint where

needed.  Have set out some plants from the

house.  Mr Ames went to Canton

The buttery or pantry area off the cook room got cleaned today, and the cleaning wasn’t easy. The women surely had to contend with hardened spills, grease residue and hidden dust pockets. They also would have had to move every bottle, jar, bowl, plate and pan out of the way in order to properly clean the shelves.

In the midst of this domestic upheaval, the women inspected the store of preserves and found that “several lbs of citron & some quince & peach” hadn’t kept well. They were beginning to ferment. To be saved, they needed to be scalded.

Lydia Maria Child, a multi-talented and rather opinionated author, wrote about “Preserves &c” in her classic household guide, The American Frugal Housewife.*  To begin with, she disapproved of preserves, noting that “[e]conomical people will seldom use” them.  “Let those who love to be invalids drink strong green tea, eat pickles, preserves and rich pastry,” she scolded.

But while preserves (and jam and jelly) were expensive and unhealthy, Mrs. Child knew that housewives would persevere in making and serving them.  Preserving fruit with sugar was a practical way to extend the life of a favorite fruit after the crop had ended and to do it in a way that gratified the common human sweet tooth. Resigned to popular preference, she included instructions for dealing with preserves that were going bad:

“When you put preserves in jars, lay a white paper, thoroughly wet with brandy, flat upon the surface of the preserves, and cover them carefully from the air.  If they begin to mould, scald them by setting them in the oven till boiling hot.  Glass is much better than earthen for preserves; they are not half as apt to ferment.”* Evelina evidently disagreed with Mrs. Child about the value of preserves, but no doubt she followed a proper procedure for bringing the preserves back from the bad side of the pantry.

 

*Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, 1829, p. 59

May 26, 1852

Bird

1852

Wedns  May 26th  Jane has done part of the ironing  I have

put down the carpet in the front chamber & sitting

room and the bedroom carpet partly down and 

got the rooms in pretty good order  Mr Scott

& Holbrook commenced painting in the other

part of the house yesterday   Mrs Patterson

staid at home to do her washing & ironing

Mr Ames went to Bridgewater West

 

Spring cleaning continued; Evelina laid carpet today, often one of the last chores on the list. She could almost check the sitting room off the list, and seemed pleased that the house was “in pretty good order.”

Another spring ritual, this one involving bird hunting, may or may not have taken place on this date; by 1852, it may have been outlawed.  But the hunt, which always took place on the last Wednesday in May, was recent enough to have included various Ameses, if we assume they chose to participate.  Town historian William Chaffin describes the ritual in his 1886 History of Easton:

“At different times in the history of the town rewards were offered for killing crows and blackbirds, which were supposed to be very destructive to corn […]

“Scarcely two generations ago [which would place the event somewhere as late as the 1840s] the custom prevailed of young men choosing sides, and each side on a given day starting out and killing all the birds they could. The day chosen was the old ‘Election day’ so called, the last Wednesday in May, once the time for the convening of the State Legislature, and which came to be known as ‘Nigger ‘lection.’  It was one of the greatest holidays of the year for the boys. […] [T]hose taking part in the shooting started out at daybreak and killed as many birds as possible.  They usually met at some appointed place before dinner, to count the birds and see which side had won the victory.  In North Easton, the rendezvous was at Howards’ store […]

“The understanding was that only harmful birds should be killed; but it was easy to include nearly all birds in this category, because, it was argued, bobolinks and swallows destroyed bees, and robins stole cherries, etc. In some places the party beaten paid for the dinner and drinks of all.”*

In the 21st century, it’s difficult to fathom both the wanton waste of this offensively-nicknamed holiday, and the glee that evidently accompanied it. That hunting has an appeal, we don’t question, but that songbirds were the quarry is hard for modern folks to accept. **

 

William Chaffin, History of Easton, Massachusetts, 1886, pp. 776-777

** This editor freely confesses to being a birder and particularly fond of bobolinks.

May 25, 1852

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Tuesday May 25th   Hannah Maccomber spent the day

Miss Kinsley  Billings & Scovill called about eleven

a very short call.  Hannah & sister called for a 

few moments  We have cleaned the sitting room

& bedroom  Mrs Patterson did the greater part

Mr Scott has finished painting the dining room

and put a coat of green paint between the

shelves in the sitting closet  Abby came after tea

Evelina managed to entertain visitors today even as spring cleaning cantered along in her half of the house. Her sister-in-law Hannah Lincoln Gilmore, and Hannah’s sister Elizabeth Lincoln, dropped by “for a few moments” to say hello. Hannah, being a housewife herself, knew enough to keep the visit short. Hannah and Elizabeth were “old shoe,” as the saying goes, and Evelina probably felt no compunction to impress them or be other than what she was: a housewife in the throes of cleaning.

The other surprise visit would have been less easy to accommodate. No doubt Evelina was pleased to see Miss Lucy Kinsley of Canton and her two young friends, especially after being so well entertained by the Kinsley family only a week earlier. Yet Evelina might have wished that the young ladies had come to call at another time when her home had been been more presentable.  Perhaps, too, the young ladies might have wished to catch a glimpse of the handsome Ames sons, who were more than likely at the shovel works. The awkward timing and mutual, if slight, disappointment of the call may explain its “very short” nature.

Mrs. Patterson did the lioness’s share of labor in cleaning the sitting room and bedroom, even as Mr. Scott finished the dining room and painted some closet shelves. Evelina worked alongside them both, when she wasn’t called away, and managed to oversee their work and plan ahead as well. It could be that the extra energy she was using to put her home in order was, in one respect, a way to channel her grief for her nephew, so recently deceased. Her body was busy all day long, getting things done, and her mind occupied with domestic necessities. All this may have helped her sleep at night.