January 17, 1852

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John Ames Mitchell

1852

Jan 17 Saturday  Finished Susans morino hood and mended

stockings & some other things  Finished Susans Delaine

dress that Julia Mahoney cut Dec 23  Mr Ames brought

Sarah W some fitch cuffs from Boston  Frederick

came home to night  Ruth Swan that was and

her husband came home to night  Heard of Mrs

Colin Harlowes death

Some months back Evelina’s sister-in-law, Harriett Ames Mitchell, had departed Easton with her three children to join her husband, Asa, in Erie, Pennsylvania  One of those children was John Ames Mitchell, who turned seven years old on this date.

John Ames Mitchell would lead an irregular childhood, moving around western Pennsylvania but eventually landing back in Massachusetts, in Bridgewater. His father, a coal trader who had worked for the Ames family, would succumb to mental illness or dementia and spend out his days in the Taunton Hospital for the Insane, his residence there supported by his brother-in-law, Oliver Ames Jr..  John’s mother, Harriett, and older brother, Frank Ames Mitchell, a Civil War veteran, would also live lives greatly indebted to the financial support of family; John, too, looked to his uncle for support on occasion.

John attended Harvard, but didn’t graduate, and studied abroad. Endowed with artistic and literary talent, he became an architect.  Under the guiding patronage of his Uncle Oliver Jr., John designed the Unitarian Church on Main Street in Easton in 1875, and worked on other projects in the Boston area before returning to Europe again, this time to study at the Beaux Arts. When he finally returned to the States, he used his ample talent to write novels, draw illustrations and, most lasting of all, create Life magazine.

With a racehorse owner named Andrew Miller, John started publishing Life in 1883. John and his staff, which included the Harvard grad and founder of Harvard Lampoon, Edward Sandford Martin,  saw Life as a publication that would “have something to say about religion, about politics, fashion, society, literature, the state, the stock exchange, and the police station.” He vowed “to speak out what is in our mind as fairly, as truthfully, and as decently as we know how.”* He also worked to bring wonderful illustrators on board, most famously Charles Dana Gibson, whose Gibson Girl would come to life in Life.

John also was a co-founder with Horace Greeley of the Fresh Air Fund.  He married but never had children of his own. His 75% ownership of Life lasted until his death in 1917.

April 19, 1851

 

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*

1851

April 19  Harriet and her children came from Pittsburgh this

morning, came by the way of Stonington to Mansfield

and got someone to bring them.  It s too bad we did

not send for them, but Father thought the storm

might prevent their coming  Called in to see them this

afternoon.  Harriet does not look near as well

as she did before she went.  Augustus went to Boston

& Mr Ames  Tolerably pleasant

 

The youngest offspring of Old Oliver and Susannah Ames came back to town today.  Harriett (Ames) Mitchell, all of 31 years old, traveled by rail from Pittsburgh to Easton, finding her own way from the station in nearby Mansfield. (The railroad had not yet been built to North Easton.) In tow were her three children, Frank Ames Mitchell, John Ames Mitchell, and Anna Mitchell, aged 9, 6, and not quite 4, respectively. Given the rigors of traveling a long distance on a train with small children, it’s little wonder that Harriett did “not look near as well as she did before she went.”

Weather and travel conditions aside, the question is why Harriett returned home and left her husband, Asa Mitchell, behind. We know only a little about Asa Mitchell. He was a member of the well-regarded Mitchell family of Bridgewater. A coal dealer, he had recently moved west from Cambridge to Pittsburgh, Erie or someplace in Pennsylvania.  His employment seemed unsettled, and perhaps was driven by the vagaries of the coal industry.

Asa and Harriett had been married for eleven years and, like any of the Ames marriages, we can only conjecture what their relationship was like. We do know that Harriett and their children spent many months away from Asa, eventually staying in a house in Bridgewater that Old Oliver obtained for her. Asa spent some time there, too, but by 1867 he was an inmate at the Taunton Insane Asylum, where his expenses were met by Oliver Jr. We don’t know what his mental illness was; it may have been as debilitating as senility, as sudden as brain trauma or as complicated – and untreatable then – as schizophrenia or bipolar disease.  His condition would erase him from Harriett’s life and, by extension, the lives of his children. He died in June, 1877 in Taunton.

So on this cloudy day, with the “wind north east and cold,” and an uncertain future in front of her, Harriett brought her children home and was made welcome. She and her older sister Sarah Witherell were close and, no doubt, were glad to see each other.

* Leslie’s, 1878