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Social Visits

The North American Hotel, Rochester.jpg

The North American Hotel in Rochester, where Sheffield stayed on the night of June 28th, 1865.  Hotel visits were rare for Sheffield, who would frequently spend the night at a friend’s house rather than pay for lodging.  Sheffield was travelling on the 28th, and probably got off of the train too late for a social call to be appropriate.

“Went to” is one of the most commonly used phrases in Sheffield Peabody’s diaries.  He lived most of his life without a telephone, so almost all of his interactions with other people were face to face—even written communication was relatively limited.   As an indicator of how much more common it was to deliver information in person, Sheffield talks about how he “run a line” between houses only twice (a colloquial way of saying that he had delivered a note), and in the eight years from 1861 to 1869, he only mentions receiving five letters and sending four.  Far more often, Sheffield and his contemporaries would physically visit the people with whom they wished to communicate.

Sheffield travelled frequently for work, most notably during the beginning of the Pennsylvania oil boom, when he spent months at a time in the Oil Creek area.  These are practically the only times that he ever mentions staying in a boarding house, and while there, he kept meticulous records of his expenses.  The attention that he pays to the cost of his stay seems to indicate that spending a night at a hotel was an unusual experience for him.  This interpretation is supported by the diaries.  Sheffield uses the word “stayed” 42 times in the eight years of Volume II, always in relation to friends spending the night at his house, or himself spending the night at a friend’s house.  A typical entry, from June 4, 1862 contrasts the meticulous record keeping of his oil field expenses: “Uncle Alveh Peabody and I stayed to Andy Gibbs’ last night.”  Staying overnight at a friend’s house, Sheffield would have eaten meals, been given a room, and fed his horses.  He never mentions doing these things on a social visit, but he does when he is on a business trip, implying that it was normal for a person to stay with friends in this manner, and unusual to have to pay for lodging.

On the Peabody farm, work had to be done every day of the year.  Even in the winter, when there were no crops to cultivate, animals had to be fed, watered, and have their bedding changed; repairs had to be made to equipment and buildings, and firewood brought in.  Somewhat unexpectedly, Sheffield did not always have to be the on the farm doing work.  Because he had hired help, he was able to make business trips and social visits during the day.  On Wednesday September 16, 1863, he writes that “The boys drawed oats.  I went down to Canandaigua to a picnic.”  Sheffield undoubtedly works hard, but he also occasionally takes time off.  When he does, he almost always uses the opportunity to go on a social visit.  Just like workers today can use technologies like social media and online video games to interact with friends and relieve stress from work, Sheffield seems to have taken the occasional personal day to interact with his own friends in the ways that were available to him.