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.

 


													

October 13, 1852

 

Blackstrapmolasses

Molasses

Wednesday Oct 13th  Baked this morning in the brick oven

Went with Mother & Lavinia over to Edwins

to get her receipt for making molasses ginger

snaps  left them to see over the house and came

home to have Susan ready to take her third

music lesson  Miss Alger came about nine.

Mother & Lavinia & self rode over to call on Mrs

E Keith. Augustus & wife  Mr Torrey & Abby spent the 

evening  Malvina spent the night with Susan

Ginger snaps came out of the old brick oven this morning and, although Evelina had baked them countless times before, she was trying out a new recipe borrowed from Augusta Pool Gilmore. No doubt the lovely fragrance of baking wafted into the parlor where Susan was taking her piano lesson from Miss Alger.

Although the recipe was different, the use of molasses was not. Molasses was a staple in most American kitchens and had been from colonial days onward. Molasses is the residue from the evaporated sap of sugar cane, available in varying degrees of sweetness and hue. In the days before refined sugar granules gained preference, molasses was the definitive sweetener in most homes.

Molasses was also the substance from which rum was made and, as such, was a primary factor in the historic “Triangular Trade” that went on in England, Africa, and the West Indies. It involved slavery. England sold rum in Africa in return for slaves, whom they took to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations to produce molasses and unrefined sugar. The sugar stuffs then came to America so the colonies could make rum. On top of that, England established a tax on the colonies for the imported sugar which was one of the many grievances that led to the American Revolution.

Botanic historian Judith Sumner writes:

[T]he early American economy was deeply tied to sugar production; in eighteenth and early nineteenth century New England, the sugar trade promoted shipbuilding and spawned a rum industry with serious social ramifications.  Colonies also traded lumber, grains, meat, livestock and horses to supply the sugar plantations in the West Indies, where the owners concentrated exclusively on sugar production.”*

The connection of sugar cane to slavery did not go unnoticed. By the nineteenth century, “sugar was avoided by those who abhorred slavery because of the complex trading triangle that revolved around slaves, molasses, and rum […] Antislavery pamphlets illustrated cruel sugar plantation practices, where slaves were tethered to weights to prevent their escape and prevented from eating sugar cane by wearing heavy head frames.”* Some abolitionist households boycotted the use of sugar.

As we see, sugar processing and molasses production have an often unhappy history in the United States. And we haven’t even touched on Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, pp. 206-207

January 26, 1852

 

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Ames Plantation, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, ca. 1880’s

Jan 26/51 (sic)

Monday   commenced making Susan a flannel skirt

Mother & self went into Edwins with our work and staid

about 3 hours came home to tea.  Evening Augustus

Hannah and Mrs Witherell were here Oliver Jr

and Oakes A went to Mr Whitwells expecting to meet

Willard L there.  It has been a beautiful day.  Mrs Buck

and Sarah called at Edwins while we were there and

were very polite

It was Monday, which meant that Evelina probably did a little housework this morning before picking up her sewing. As usual, Jane McHanna managed the Monday washing and Evelina didn’t need to paint or fix or oversee anything but the flannel skirt she was making for her daughter. After midday dinner, she and her elderly mother, Hannah Lothrop Gilmore, walked to the home of Edwin Gilmore and sat with his bride, Augusta Pool Gilmore, each of them tending to their sewing. It seemed quiet on the home front.

In another decade, it would be anything but quiet – at least across most of the country.  The United States would be in the first upheavals of an impending civil war. “The Great Rebellion,” they would call it. On this particular day in January, 1861, Louisiana would secede from the Union, the sixth of eleven states to do so. When the war ended in 1865, the Confederacy defeated, Louisiana and her sister states would ultimately be accepted back into the Union through the arduous and hotly political process known as Reconstruction.

In another two decades, the economies of the southern states would still be struggling, enabling many northerners to acquire cheap land and cast-off businesses. In 1873, the three Ames brothers – Oakes Angier, Oliver (3) and Frank Morton – would purchase two old plantations, Estelle and South Side in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, right across the Mississippi from New Orleans. On 13,000 acres, they would grow and refine sugar. The business ran until the start of the 20th century, overseen eventually by one of Frank’s sons. The property, which”stretched for more than one mile on the river and ran about eight miles deep”* was eventually sold.  Today that land comprises much of the city of Marrero, Louisiana. Little is left of the Ames influence except an eponymous boulevard running through the city’s center.

 

* Betsy Swanson, Historic Jefferson Parish: From Shore to Shore, p. 97.