October 21, 1852

Sarah Emily Witherell                                           Susan Eveline Ames French

Emily Witherell                                                                                   Susan Ames



Thursday Oct 21st  Miss Alger came to day to give

her fifth lesson and Susan is now as far

as Emily but unless she takes more

interest it will be very hard for her

to keep up with her.  Mrs Witherell feels

to blame Miss Alger that she does not

give Emily longer lessons


Relationships among the females who lived under the roof of the Ames homestead were becoming strained. Susie Ames wasn’t much interested in learning to play the piano, while Emily Witherell was. Yet the cousins took their lessons together, yoked into learning side by side. Emily was facile and wanted more challenging fare, but was slowed down by Susie’s reluctant participation. The disparity in the girls’ interest and ability was no doubt challenging for poor Miss Alger. The situation wasn’t helped by the mothers hovering over the girls as they took their lessons.

The two mothers had their own set of expectations. Sarah Witherell, who had endured so much loss in her life, had nourished hope that her daughter would develop a taste and talent for music. Evelina probably felt the same way, hoping to see her daughter become “accomplished.” Sarah was unhappy that Miss Alger wasn’t giving Emily enough to do, and, also, was surely displeased with Susie holding Emily back. Evelina had to be disappointed by Susie’s disinterest, nervous, perhaps, that she had made an expensive mistake in buying a piano. Evelina was learning, probably not for the first time, that a parent can have aspirations for a child that the child doesn’t share or follow.

All was not lost, however. For all the initial struggle, both girls eventually learned to play piano with some credibility, yet neither grew up to be a great pianist. They never outshone their older cousin, Helen Angier Ames, who had started earlier and, evidently, concentrated harder on perfecting her skill. Family historian Winthrop Ames, who was a first cousin once-removed of the three pianists, noted that by 1861, at the “Unitarian meeting-house […] Helen, Emily and Susan took turns in playing the reed organ, though Helen was acknowledged to be the best performer.”*


Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1938, p. 130


July 20, 1852


Pre-Civil War Ames Shovel with “D” wooden handle*


July 20th Tuesday  I was in hopes to do something this

week but did not commence right yesterday

In the first place yesterday afternoon Mr

Whitwell called & Mr Ames took him & Oliver

to Bridgewater  Then uncle Ephraim called and I

must needs run in to laugh at Mrs Ames and

found Mrs Sheldon there and to day I

have not done much but talk over yesterdays affairs.


According to Old Oliver, the day was “fair with a verry hot sun wind easterly.”** Full summer, in other words. Everyone would begin to feel the heat, including the factory workers putting in their ten hour days at: “hammering, plating, drawing (backstraps), welding, smoothing, setting, opening, filing, riveting, finishing (handles), [and] handling”*** the shovels. Unlike workers elsewhere in the state, these workers seemed content with the hours they worked and the pay they received. “The relationship between the Ames family and shovel shop workers appears to have been amicable, for much of the business’s history.” ****

To date, no one had ever gone on strike at the shovel works, while in Amesbury to the north, textile workers had walked off their jobs in June. They were striking for better hours, having become fed up with twelve hour days for everyone, including children. They lost that strike at the woolen mill, which was owned by the Salisbury Corporation, but gained the support of their town government and launched the career of George McNeill, a fourteen year old carder who became the father of the eight-hour movement. Working out of Boston, McNeill would spend his life advocating and agitating for more humane conditions for factory workers.

In 1853, a limited strike took place at O. Ames and Sons. As Old Oliver noted on June 16, 1853, “Our outdore men struck for the 10 hour system to day and we settled with them and lett them go.” Evidently the men who worked outside the factory proper – those who would have been responsible for transporting the shovels, for instance – wanted the same hours as those who worked in the production line. Historian Greg Galer interprets this record to mean that the workers were granted their ten hour limit and were sent home for the day. Winthrop Ames, in his family history, on the other hand, interpreted that sentence to mean that the men were fired.

On a lighter note, Evelina was getting a lot of mileage out of Uncle Ephraim’s interest in Almira Ames. She seemed to spend most of her day doing little more than “talk over yesterdays affairs.”

* Image courtesy of etsy.com

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

*** Gregory Galer, Forging Ahead, MIT, 2002, p. 263.

**** Ibid., p. 265

March 6, 1852



March 6th Saturday  Mr Scott whitewashed the parlour

& sitting room chamber this morning and I

varnished the front entry oil cloth.  Lavinia

came at eleven and Augusta this afternoon

Alson came after Lavinia and stopt to tea

Charles Pool came up and carried Edwin

and Augusta home to stay till Monday

I have been to work on a stiched pink apron

for Susan

A full moon shone down on North Easton this night, highlighting the charred ruins of the shovel factory.  Before it rose, however, Old Oliver took the opportunity of “a fair day”* to travel to Bridgewater, quite probably on shovel business.  He and his sons were developing plans to rebuild the factory, and some help for that would be found in Bridgewater.

Evelina’s way of coping after the devastating fire appears to have been to keep the domestic front moving smoothly. Redecorating continued, social calls were made and enjoyed, and sewing continued without a blink of an eye. Daughter Susan would soon have a new pink apron.

Years later, Evelina and Oakes’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, would credit his grandmother and other Ames wives with exerting a positive influence on his male ancestors. “They made the homes, reared the many children, saved their husbands’ money, encouraged their undertakings, and steadied them in failure and misfortune,”** he said. Evelina’s evident steadiness during this challenging period is one such instance of positive influence. Oakes Ames had come home from the fire “more cheerful” than Evelina had expected; she seems to have behaved with equal optimism. Though naturally sanguine, Oakes’ bright outlook and ability to cope in the aftermath must also have been bolstered by his wife’s unflappable focus on home and (redecorated) hearth. Together, they maintained continuity.

Charles Pool, Augusta’s eldest brother, drove up from southeastern Easton today and fetched his sister and her husband, Edwin Williams Gilmore, “home to stay” for a few days. Perhaps this visit had been prearranged, or perhaps it was an effort by the young couple to get out of the way of remnant smoke and disruption from the fire.

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

**Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of North Easton, Massachusetts, 1937, p. vi.



January 20, 1852


Jan 20th Tuesday  Have made Susan two pr of fur cuffs

one pair for school and one for best.  Hannah called

for me to go with her to call upon Augusta, went

with her found Julia Pool there stoped but a few

moments. This evening Mrs Witherell Emily & Mrs

S Ames brought in their work and passed the evening

They say I never give them the credit of coming here

at all. I certainly will this time

In what Evelina considered to be a rare occurrence, her two sisters-in-law, Sarah Witherell and Sarah Ames, “passed the evening” at Evelina’s. The women brought their work boxes or baskets and sewed together, young Emily and perhaps young Susie with them. Usually, Evelina went over to one of their sitting rooms.

On this same date in 1865, when Evelina’s life had changed, and she and Oakes were in Washington, D.C. while Oakes served as U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts, Oakes was called to the White House.  Winthrop Ames, who once possessed the diary in which Evelina recorded her days in Washington, tells us that Evelina wrote “today Mr. Lincoln sent for Oakes to come to the White House.  He went immediately after dinner and talked with the President until after midnight.’ ”

Winthrop went on to add, in his own words:

“Ames reported that the President said to him then, and in later conferences, ‘Ames, you take hold of this. If the subsidies provided are not enough to build the road ask double and you shall have it. Take hold of it yourself.’ And he added,’by building the Union Pacific, you will become the remembered man of your generation,’ The President said further that if the railroad could be so far completed that he might take a trip over it when he retired from the Presidency it might be the most memorable occasion in his life. Alas! his next railroad trip was to be in the funeral car that bore him to his grave in Springfield, Illinois.”*

*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1937, p.


January 2, 1852




Jan 2d Friday  Seated myself quite early this morning to work

on Susans hood & finished item about ten Oclock

then ripped my old blue hood and washed the

lining & turned the outside have got it nearly done

We all went into the other part of the house to tea

Mr & Mrs Oliver & Helen there  Frank has a sore

ankle as [sic] does not go to the shop  Dr Swan called there

to see Helen & left Jane some medicine

The family gathered for tea today in “the other part of the house,” meaning that Evelina, Oakes, and their children, Oakes Angier, Frank and Susan went into the southern half of the shared house where Old Oliver and his widowed daughter, Sarah Witherell, lived with her two children, George and Emily. Joining them was the family next door: Oliver Ames, Jr, his wife Sarah and their daughter, Helen Angier Ames, who made an appearance despite being home from school with a cold. Other than missing Oliver (3) and Frederick Lothrop, the sons who were off at college, the group was a normal configuration for a gathering at the homestead.

Evelina’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, would one day describe such a family gathering from less than a decade later, by which time daughters-in-law and grandchildren had arrived:

“Supper, always called Tea, at seven, was the sociable occasion. It usually consisted of cold meats, hot biscuits, preserves and cakes – an easy menu to expand for unexpected guests.  Every week at least, and usually oftener, one household would invite the others and their visitors to tea; and the whole Ames family might assemble, even infant children being brought along and tucked into bed upstairs.  Fifteen or twenty was not at all an unusual gathering.”*

The family was as tightly-knit as any of Evelina’s knitted worsted hoods.

One other note about today’s entry: Dr. Swan left some medicine off for Jane McHanna, the servant, who had been ailing for much of the fall and winter. What did she suffer from?

* Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, privately printed, 1937, p.128


September 8, 1851



Monday Sept 8th  Mother Mrs Stevens & self sat down

to work in my chamber  The weather is very

hot  After dinner we went into the other

part of the house awhile it being so much

cooler  Abby came here to tea. Oakes A

Frank & Mrs Mitchell went to a party to Mr

Cushing Mitchells this Evening & are to spend the night

Tea had been on the serving tray very much of late, with or without short biscuits. Evelina served tea to her niece, Abby Torrey, today while yesterday she took tea at the parsonage during intermission. Three days ago, she hosted a small tea party for a guest, Mrs. Latham, her sister-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell, and others. Evelina’s grandson, Winthrop Ames, described the importance of tea time some eighty years later:

“Supper, always called Tea, at seven was the sociable occasion.  It was usually consisted of cold meats, hot biscuits, preserves and cakes – an easy menu to expand for unexpected guests. Every week at least, and usually oftener, one household would invite the others and their visitors to tea; and the whole Ames family might assemble…”*

Although the Ameses grew and raised much of their own food, tea was a commodity that had to be purchased. Coffee and sugar, too.  As the above advertisement from 1856 indicates, tea and coffee could be purchased in bulk in Boston (not surprisingly, given Boston’s long history of importing tea into its harbor!) Black tea was the general favorite and, as the ad suggests, could be obtained in different grades of excellence.  Did the Ameses order in bulk?  Did they acquire a chest of tea at the family rate? Their careful use of money would imply that whichever Ames did the purchasing got the best product for the lowest price possible.

The weather, meanwhile, continued to be very hot. It didn’t prevent brothers Oakes Angier and Frank Morton and their youngest aunt, Harriett Ames Mitchell, from traveling to Bridgewater for a party and an overnight. Social goings-on continued.  No doubt, tea was served.

*Winthrop Ames, The Ames Family of Easton, Massachusetts, 1938, p. 128