“I followed the custom of the City by calling on several acquaintances.”

William Goodell, January 5, 1827

During the nineteenth century, it was customary to make social calls on New Year’s Day. While ladies remained at home to receive guests, gentlemen made the rounds of households in their circle.

Lavinia Goodell’s family maintained this tradition throughout her lifetime. Her diary entry for January 1, 1873 reported, “Father made calls” while she and her mother “prepared for calls but received only one.”

A recently discovered cache of family letters contains a detailed description of how Lavinia’s father spent New Year’s Day in 1827.

William Goodell was living in New York City at the time and was employed by Phelps & Peck, a mercantile establishment. Due to concern about cholera in the city, his wife, Clarissa, and their infant daughter Maria were living in Providence, Rhode Island with Clarissa’s father, Josiah Cady. William and Clarissa wrote to each other each week. Letters between Providence and New York were generally transported by ship.

William’s January 5, 1827 letter to Clarissa detailed his busy day of making New Year’s calls:

Monday being New Year’s day was a leisure day with me, as the stores were all shut, and altho’ a blustering day I followed the custom of the City by calling on several acquaintances. At 9 in the morning, met our Sabbath scholars at the Mariners Church, where according to usage, presents of little books and cakes were distributed. … Unpleasant as the weather was, the city seemed all alive. Sleigh bells jingling. Side walks thronged. All busy making or receiving calls. Sideboards everywhere set out with cakes & wine and fruit.

One of William’s many stops was at the home of L. Willcocks, a former employer. William described Willcocks’ home as “a princely mansion.” Although the Goodells became very active in the temperance movement, William reported, “after chatting a few minutes” at the Willcocks residence, he took “a little cake and wine.”

By all accounts William greatly enjoyed his day:  

Wherever I called I met with others on the same errand. ‘Tis a custom of the city and if well used a good one. People on New Year’s day can conveniently renew old acquaintances and make calls where it is pleasant to do so but where the transient nature of the acquaintanceship would make it intrusive to call on any other day. No man is surprised, on New Years day, to see any one at his house whom he had ever seen before.

William closed by telling his wife, “So you have all the particulars and hope for as many in return.”

Read the full letter here.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diary (January 1, 1873); William Goodell’s letter to Clarissa Goodell (January 5, 1827).

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