Benjamin’s entry mentions no land and only a single hog, in strong
contrast to those of the Wheelers’ agricultural neighbors. The old folks, however, possess some animals, although fewer than any of their neighbors with farms; they report: one acre, one cow, one horse, one hog, and, believe it or not, “two guinea pigs,” written in the census taker’s hand across columns reserved, normally, to other purposes.
What would we not give to eavesdrop on the conversation that passed between the Wheelers and their official neighbor? Did they insist that their guinea pigs were family livestock, with the same standing as the pig they owned or the sheep they didn’t? Or was the extraordinary entry the census taker’s idea? Or did both agree that it would be a good joke so to describe the little rodents? What, by the way, possessed the Wheelers to keep guinea pigs? Were they raising them as pets? Or for meat, in the manner of Peruvians? We’re unlikely ever to know. And in any case, we like to fancy that the 1835 census interview may have taken place in the very living room where we sat, one spring evening in 2007, by the hospitality of Wade and Kristie Holmes.
The fact remains that no similar interpolations or marginalia appear on this census page, nor, as far as I recall, elsewhere in the 1835 State Census for Cattaraugus County, which I’ve scanned quite thoroughly.
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Updated Sep 2020
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