November 26, 1852

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Ball gowns, ca. 1852

Friday Nov 26th  Have been stirring so much of 

late that to day sitting down makes me

feel very stupid  Oakes A & Oliver went to

E Bridgewater to a ball & Frank to Canton

yesterday  Frank came home about six

Oakes & Oliver just after dinner  Mr & Mrs

Dow Sarah Lothrop & Olivers family at tea

in the other part of the house  I have been in this Evening

The young men of Ames house celebrated Thanksgiving with more than just feasting. They danced! Oakes Angier and Oliver (3) headed to a ball in East Bridgewater, where Catherine Hobart just happened to live, while Frank Morton rode to Canton, where Catharine Copeland lived. Oakes Angier and Frank wanted to see their favorite young women. Oliver (3), on the other hand, was still unattached and amenable to dancing with various young ladies.

We don’t get to know who hosted the ball, or how many people attended. But we can imagine how the young people looked. The young women, especially, would have taken great care with their outfits and tried to be as comme il faut as possible. The Ames brothers also would have worn their best bib and tucker. And the dances they did? Richard Powers of Stanford suggests that during the years from 1840 to 1860, the steps were lively:

While the Waltz received a great deal of criticism, as “leading to the most licentious of consequences,” it slowly made some inroads into the ballroom, aided by the occasional performance by a notable society figure.  Waltzing jumped ahead in acceptability when its inherent sensuousness was tempered with a playful exuberance, first by the Galop and then by the Polka.  The Polka from Bohemia became an overnight sensation in society ballrooms in 1844, eclipsing the Waltz at the time.  The Polka’s good-natured quality of wholesome joy finally made closed-couple turning acceptable, introducing thousands of dancers to the pleasure of spinning in the arms of another.  Once they tasted this euphoria, dancers quickly developed an appetite for more.  The Polka mania led to a flowering of other couple dances, including the Schottische, Valse à Deux Temps, Redowa, Five-Step Waltz and Varsouvienne, plus new variations on the earlier Waltz, Mazurka and Galop.  Meanwhile, the increasing trend toward ease and naturalness in dancing had eliminated the intricate steps from the Quadrille and country dances, reducing their performance to simple walking. The overall spirit of this era’s dancing (1840s-1860s) was one of excitement, exuberance and gracious romance.  The dances were fresh, inventive, youthful and somewhat daring.  Society fashions were rich and elegant, but continued an emphasis on simplicity.  By the 1850s, the ballroom had reached its zenith.*

Evelina, weary to her bones after hours on her feet preparing the feast, could only sit and do little more than wonder how her sons were faring.

*Richard Powers, “19th Century Social Dance,” socialdance.stanford.edu

November 25, 1852

Turkey

Nov 25

[…] Thanksgiving  Mr & Mrs

Whitwell Father Mrs Witherell Emily Horatio &

Gustavus dined at tea here.  Michael &

sister & Ann Oral at the second table.

Mr W went home at half past three to

marry a couple   Oakes A Emily & Susan went

with him After they left this evening Mrs

Witherell & self called on Mrs Dow in Olivers

Mr & Mrs Dow & family Mr & Mrs H Lothrop & Cyrus

at Olivers 

“[T]his was thanksgiving day,” wrote Old Oliver Ames, after a brief notation that the day “was fair in the morning but clouded up in the afternoon”. Evelina and her servants prepared a feast that fed at least fifteen people. The whole Oakes Ames family was there, naturally, and so was Old Oliver. Dining with them were Sarah and Emily Witherell, Reverend and Mrs. Whitwell, brother Horatio Ames and his youngest son Gustavus, the latter two having arrived from Connecticut the day before. At the “second table”  – which likely means a second seating – the servants partook. Catharine Murphy and Ann Shinkwin were presumably present, as was Michael Burns (Old Oliver’s coachman/ostler), his sister and Ann Orel, a young Irish girl who worked for Sarah Witherell.

Family gathered next door, too. The Oliver Ameses, meaning Oliver Jr.,Sarah Lothrop Ames and their children Fred and Helen, shared the repast with two of Sarah’s brothers, Henry and Cyrus, along with Henry’s wife Eleanor and long-time friends, the Dows. Quite a gathering, all told, as family members dined and visited.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the patron saint of Thanksgiving, describes her understanding of the origin of Thanksgiving in a novel she wrote in 1827 and republished in 1852:

“Soon after the settlement of Boston, the colony was reduced to a state of destitution, and nearly without food. In this strait the pious leaders of the pilgrim band appointed a solemn and general fast. […] The faith that could thus turn to God in the extremity of physical want, must have been of the most glowing kind, […] On the very morning of the appointed day, a vessel from London arrived laden with provisions, and so the fast was changed into a Thanksgiving.”

This may have been the version of Thanksgiving that Mrs. Hale used to persuade Abraham Lincoln to make it a national celebration. It also may have been the story of Thanksgiving with which the Ameses were most familiar.

 

November 24, 1852

matthew_perry

Matthew C. Perry

Wedns Nov 24 Have heat the oven three times

to day and baked squash & apple pies brown

bread gingerbread & cake of sour cream and

it is very good  Miss Alger has given

her thirteenth lesson  Horatio & Gustavus

came in the stage  Augusta spent part 

of the evening here

The brick oven, heated up three times, would have helped warm the house on this day before Thanksgiving, as “it was the coldest day we have had yet.”* Evelina was pleased with a new recipe for sour cream cake, probably a pound cake that used sour instead of sweet cream. Many smart cooks had discovered that this kind of recipe was a good way to use up cream that had turned. It was very Yankee not to let the cream go to waste. And while Evelina was baking, the servants Catharine and Ann were working, too, setting the table, cutting up vegetables, trussing the turkey. The kitchens at the Ames compound  and across New England were busy, busy, busy.

While housewives focused on preparations for the Thanksgiving feast, a major diplomatic mission got underway. Commodore Matthew C. Perry, commander of the East India Squadron, departed Norfolk, Virginia to sail to Japan. His mission was to secure a trade treaty, no easy task with the notoriously secluded island nation. President Millard Fillmore had authorized Perry to open the ports to American trade, by show of force – also known as gunboat diplomacy – if necessary. Despite the ill wishes of the Dutch, who were already trading there, Perry was ultimately successful.

 

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

November 21, 1852

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Lady’s Cloak**

Sunday Nov 21st  have been to church and at

intermission went with Mother into Mrs John

Howards.  Have invited Mr & Mrs Whitwells

family to dine here Thanksgiving

After church read & heard Susan practice

her lesson a while  Edwin & wife came

in this evening and I went to Augustus with 

them

 

This Sunday before Thankgiving “was a fair sunny day wind northerly + cool.”* The Ames contingent headed to church as usual and at intermission spread out to different informal gatherings. We don’t know where the men of the family went, or what Susie did, but we do know that Evelina took her elderly mother to the home of John and Caroline Howard, where they would have been offered a cup of tea and a piece of pie or cake.

After church, Evelina heard her daughter practice the piano. Like yesterday, the friction and anxiety between the two over the piano lessons seemed to have dissipated. At least, Evelina doesn’t mention having to force Susan to practice.

Evelina also did a little reading. If she picked up her copy of the November issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, she would have noticed, among many essays, stories and poems, a short article on women’s cloaks:

Never was there a season in which there was so great a variety of graceful cloaks to choose from. Not the heavy, cumbrous garment that once enshrouded and hid all grace or outline in the female figure, but light, yet ample costumes, that answer every purpose of warmth for walking or driving...**

Cloaks were in. If Evelina needed proof that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames had a nose for fashion, there it was. Only a week earlier, Sarah had been in Boston buying a cloak for her daughter Helen. There were many styles to be seen, including the one in the illustration, in the Alboni style. Will Evelina get one for herself or her daughter?

 

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

** Godey’s Lady’s Book, , Cloaks and Mantles, November 1852, pp. 476 – 477

November 19, 1852

 

images

 

Friday Nov 19th  Have heat the brick oven

three times have baked Apple squash

& mince pies & […] bread & ginger snaps

Mr Adriance here from New York to

spend the night  I guess he thinks

we are nice folks here & that I look 

neat.  Catharine [entry incomplete]

Thanksgiving was less than a week away, so housewives and servants across Easton were beginning to prepare. Just as we do in the 21st century, family members would gather for the holiday, often arriving to stay for a number of days. Thus not only did the grand feast itself have to be prepared, but all the breakfasts, dinners and teas leading up to and following Thanksgiving had to be amplified as well. No wonder Evelina was baking such an abundance of food. Her immediate family was already all in place, but others would be joining them.

In fact, the Ameses had company today, a Mr. Adriance from New York – probably a business associate of Oakes, perhaps someone who purchased shovels. Evelina never seemed to mind setting an extra place at the table and Mr. Adriance evidently admired her. She looked “neat.” What fun for her to be complimented this way. Do we think that Oakes noticed?

 

November 13, 1852

Turnip

Sat Nov 13th  Have cleaned the parlour

but did not take up the carpet

gave it a thourough sweeping and

washed the paint  Miss Alger has

been here and given the girls their

eleventh lesson  Mrs Oliver Ames

has been to Boston  got Helen a cloak

 

Evelina stayed indoors today, perhaps envious that her sister-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames was shopping in Boston. Sarah bought her daughter Helen a cloak. Do we imagine that Evelina might soon head for the city to buy one for her daughter Susan?

Old Oliver, meanwhile, was still busy outdoors on several fronts, including the harvesting of turnips, as he reported: “this was a fair day but pritty chilly we got in some [of] our turnips to day*”. Turnips were an important vegetable crop that kept well over the winter, making it a staple in most households. Botanist Judith Sumner notes that “as early as 1609, colonists […] cultivated turnips. […] Cold weather improved their flavor, so it may not be coincidental that a November 1637 letter from John Winthrop to his wife instructed her to harvest their crop while he was away.”** Native Americans adopted the vegetable themselves, preferring it to other edible roots that they had previously gathered.

Turnips were still standard fare at the 19th century New England dinner table, typically prepared just as Sarah Josepha Hale suggests:

Turnips should be pared; put into boiling water, with a little salt; boiled till tender; then squeeze them thoroughly from the water, mash them smooth, add a piece of butter and a little pepper and salt.***

Surely there would be mashed turnips served at Thanksgiving.

 

 

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

**Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, Portland, Oregon, 2004, p. 30

*** Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 74

 

December 27, 1851

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Sat Dec 27th  Have put more sugar lemon & ginger to the syrup

of the citron  swept and dusted the rooms got

the lining ready to quilt to Susans hood quilted

the lining to Susans bonnet and fixed the collar

to my cloak  A[u]gustus Lothrop brought me a 

bushel of cranberries.  A Augustus called to bring

soap shoes &c that he got me in Boston

 

The cold temperature continued, Old Oliver noting in his diary that “the thermometer according to the papers was down to 8 in some places.”* Such temperatures wouldn’t have harmed the bushel of cranberries that Evelina received today. As author Mrs. Cornelius advised in her 1846 household guide, “cranberries keep well in a firkin of water. If they freeze, so much the better.”**

Cranberries were common in New England.  There is debate over whether they were served at the earliest Thanksgiving dinners, but there’s no debate that both Native Americans and English settlers consumed the fruit in season. Botanist Judith Sumner notes that: “Wild cranberries were originally hand-picked, but efficient New-Englanders soon crafted scoops that could be used to rake the berries from the lax stems.  During the nineteenth century, bogs carpeted with wild cranberries transformed into cultivated sites that were raked systematically each fall.”***  Augustus Lothrop, the youngest brother of Sarah Lothrop Ames, evidently cultivated cranberries at his farm in Sharon.

Henry David Thoreau enjoyed cranberries, finding them in the wild and eating them raw.  He considered them “a refreshing, cheering, encouraging acid that literally puts the heart in you and sets you on edge for this world’s experiences.”***

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, 1848-1863

**Mrs. Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, New York, 1846

*** Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, Portland, Oregon, 2004, p. 124

 

Ed. note:  Horace “Augustus” Lothrop was the youngest brother of Sarah Lothrop Ames.  He lived in Sharon.

Alson “Augustus” Gilmore was a nephew of Evelina Gilmore Ames, son of her brother Alson. He lived in Easton.