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1851: Folk cure practitioner Zebulon Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 463. Fifth in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

During the 1850s, in addition to farming, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull’s father Zebulon had side jobs as a postmaster and possibly a tavern owner.

And in 1851 he advertised one more calling in the Binghamton, N.Y. newspaper — providing a cure for stuttering or stammering through appointments at his home.

When I first read this, I had to wonder — was Zebulon a charlatan taking advantage of people with speech difficulties or simply a well-meaning individual implementing a proven method he’d been taught?

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-c717-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
A still from the film The Doctor’s Orders (1913). In 1851, my ggg grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee advertised a cure for stammering and stuttering through appointments in his Conklin Centre, N.Y., home. Was he a charlatan or a simply well-meaning practitioner implementing a proven method he’d been taught? Image: NYPL Digital Collections

The newspaper ad

In the Broome Republican newspaper ad below, dated 3 July 1851, Zebulon claimed to be able to cure stuttering and stammering in “40 to 60 minutes” through a system he purchased from S. Carleton Matthews — whose endorsement appeared on the ad. So what more could I learn about this?

Ad from the Broome Republican, Binghamton, N.Y. (July 1851). Zebulon advertised his folk cure practice, which carried an endorsement from S. Carleton Matthews. Image source: Old Fulton N.Y. Postcards

No miracle cures

I consulted the FAQs web page of The Stuttering Foundation to see if there might be any scientific basis for a “cure” in 1851 — particularly one that could take less than an hour. Not likely even today, according to the foundation.

There are no instant miracle cures for stuttering. Therapy, electronic devices,  and even drugs are not an overnight process. However, a specialist in stuttering can help not only children but also teenagers, young adults and even older adults make significant progress toward fluency.

However, an 1850 book On Stammering and Its Treatment describes a method developed by Dr. Arnott that was moderately successful at the time — and may have been the technique Zebulon used.

Dr. Arnott’s well-known remedy is to dilate the closure of the glottis by some little auxiliary expiratory sound, whenever an obstacle to free speech occurs, such a sound as is made by the e in the word “berry;”…[and] his remedy has been the means of curing many slight impediments, and of relieving many of a severer character.

A physician’s endorsement

Zebulon’s ad says, “No pay is required until utmost satisfaction is given” — certainly the statement of an honest man who, moreover, held a responsible position as postmaster of Conklin Centre.

And with only 2,232 people living in Town of Conklin in 1850, word would have gotten around pretty fast if Zebulon’s treatment technique fell short.

His ad carried an endorsement, too — and this got me wondering about S. Carleton Matthews and his credentials.

Who was S. Carleton Matthews?

During the 1850 U.S. Census1, S. Carleton Matthews, 18, was living in Broome County’s Town of Chenango, not far from Conklin.

A “physician,” he lived in The Lewis House hotel with 40 others — including  a dentist, a printer, a railroad clerk and another physician. Turns out that’s not the only hotel he lived in.

Repeating ads in the Utica, Clinton and Syracuse, N.Y., papers circa 1850 show Matthews seeing patients in various hotels to implement his “cure” for stuttering and stammering . The ads look remarkably like Zebulon’s — except Matthews’ “cure” takes only 5 to 20 minutes.

Ad in the Oneida Morning Herald, a Utica, N.Y. newspaper (circa 1850). S. Carleton Matthews stayed in various upstate New York hotels circa 1850, where he saw patients seeking relief from stuttering and stammering. Image source: Old Fulton N.Y. Postcards

Best practices circa 1850

In the years before modern medicine, treatment modalities were limited — and scientific study as we know it today was still in the future.

So folk practitioners like my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee — and his mentor S. Carleton Matthews — may have been using the best practices of their era to help those they treated.

That neither man required payment unless treatment was successful seems to support the idea that they were legitimately trying to do their best for their patients — even if the techniques they used were not up to today’s standards.

Up next: Schoolgirl Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1851: Zebulon Blakeslee’s other occupations

Sepia Saturday 461. Fourth in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

In 1850, my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee, 42, earned his primary living through farming.  However, he apparently also engaged in other occupations — to support his wife Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, 37, and daughter Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 12.

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p261501coll8/id/53/rec/34
Farmer standing in  a cornfield (undated). My ggg grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee, 42, earned his primary living through farming circa 1850, with corn as one of his crops. But he apparently also engaged in other occupations to support his wife Hannah, 37, and daughter Mary Elizabeth, 12. Photo from the collection of the Broome County Historical Society.

First postmaster of Conklin Centre

One of Zebulon’s side jobs was serving as Postmaster of Conklin Centre (now Conklin Center) — a Broome Co., N.Y., hamlet that grew large enough for the U.S.  Postal Service to establish a post office there on 15 Jan. 1851.

Conklin, N.Y., Post Office on Old Corbettesville Road (undated). From 1851-54, my ggg grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was postmaster in Conklin Centre — just up the road from the above post office. Rural New York post offices were often run out of general stores, so the one where Zebulon worked probably looked much like this. Source: Ross, Dorothy B. The History of Conklin New York (1989)

Postal records2and newspaper announcements2indicate that on 15 Jan. 1851 Zebulon Blakeslee was named the first postmaster of Conklin Centre. And he served in that capacity for three years until Sylvanus Judd replaced him on 31 March 1854.

http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html
News clip from the Albany Argus (25 Jan. 1851). This newspaper announcement of Post Office Arrangements in New York State says Z. Blakeslee was named Postmaster of the Conklin Centre post office during the week of 18 Jan. 1851. Clip: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

During my pre-Internet childhood, the post office was a hub of activity for people of all ages. I had pen pals, belonged to fan clubs and sent away for offers from teen magazines — all requiring trips to the post office for stamps or to mail letters.

So I wonder how my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull felt about her postmaster dad being at the center of the hamlet’s communications hub. Probably proud, especially when his appointment appeared in the newspaper.

And one family history benefit of Zebulon’s post office job: it pinpoints Conklin Centre as the hamlet where the Blakeslees lived from circa 1851-54.

Tavern owner

A clue to another of Zebulon’s possible occupations is a 22 Oct. 1909 article in The Binghamton Press. Titled “Binghamton and its people 50 years ago,” the article discusses business that operated there circa 1859.

One of the businesses mentioned (as excerpted below) was “Zebulon Blakeslee’s tavern at the foot of Carroll Street.”

Binghamton Press (Oct. 1909). An article titled “Binghamton and its people 50 years ago” mentions a tavern owned by Zebulon Blakeslee that operated circa 1859. This could have been my ggg grandfather’s tavern. Clip: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

More research would be needed to be sure this refers to my great-great-great grandfather and not some other Zebulon Blakeslee. But there is some circumstantial evidence that this could be the case.

Binghamton is about 11 miles north of Conklin Centre, where the Blakeslees lived from at least 1850 to 1854. So my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon could have made the commute — or hired others to operate the tavern in his absence.

In addition, the article says that the nearby Brandywine Hotel was owned by John Whitney — the same name as a Conklin neighbor who lived two farms away from the Blakeslees in 1850.

And Binghamton was the nearest city where a revenue-generating business would have a reasonable expectation of success. So it was likely to attract those like my great-great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee who were seeking additional occupations to supplement farm income.

More research to do! But not before a look at another of Zebulon’s side jobs operated from Conklin Centre.

Up next: Folk cure practitioner Zebulon Blakeslee. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1850: A couple of Conklin clues

Sepia Saturday 460. Third in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

Town of Conklin in Broome County, N.Y., was a predominantly rural area in 1850 when my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 12, lived there with her parents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee.

Although there were some small employers in Conklin Center and  nearby hamlets (tanneries, acid works and the like), most of the population — including the Blakeslees — was still earning its primary income from farming.

https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~20037~510033:Broome-County-?sort=Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No&qvq=q:Broome;sort:Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No;lc:RUMSEY~8~1&mi=2&trs=11
1829 Map of Broome County, N.Y., showing Town of Conklin at south center. [CLICK HERE for enlargeable map.] Town of Conklin, where Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull lived as a girl, is located just north of the Pennsylvania border. Source: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
A couple of Conklin clues

In his Gazetteer of the State of New York (1860), J.H. French gives the following brief description of Conklin, N.Y. — which contains a couple of Blakeslee family history clues that I have highlighted below.3

CONKLIN—was formed from Chenango, March 29, 1824. A part of Windsor was taken off in 1831, and a part was annexed from Windsor in 1851. It lies upon the Susquehanna, s. of the center of the co. Its surface consists of the fine broad intervals of the river and high, broken uplands which rise upon each side…Little Snake Creek flows in an easterly direction through the s. w. part.

Kirkwood(p.v.) is situated on the E. bank of the Susquehanna, in the s. part of the town. It is a station on the Erie R. R. and contains 25 houses. Conklin Center and Corbettsville are p. offices, and Millburn and Conklin are hamlets. At Millburn are extensive pyroligneous acid works.

A post office connection

Rural mailboxes.  Mention of the Conklin Center post office in J.H. French’s 1860 “Gazetteer of the State of New York” helped me connect another family detail from my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull’s childhood. Image by werner22brigitte on Pixabay.

As I read French’s pastoral portrait of Conklin, I was struck by his mention of Conklin Center and Corbettsville as the town’s two post offices.

Wait. Hadn’t both hamlets shown up in past research on my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull? Yes, I think so…

So I dug into my files — and sure enough, I found some information about Mary’s dad and his various jobs that could help connect a few more dots on the Blakeslees’ time in Conklin.

Up next: Zebulon Blakeslee’s other occupations. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1850: Zebulon Blakeslee’s farm

Sepia Saturday 459. Second in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

The 1850 U.S. census for Conklin, Broome Co., New York shows my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth Blakeslee, 12, attending school and living on a farm with her parents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee.

Alas, this federal census doesn’t contain addresses for rural properties — so I’m not sure exactly where the farm was located. And my first attempt at land research hasn’t turned up anything, either.

Image by 12019 on Pixabay
A New York  State farm. In 1850, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 12, lived on a farm with her parents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. — an area with rural landscapes similar to this. Image by 12019 (CC0) on Pixabay

However, an 1850 U.S. agricultural census was also conducted about a month after the population census. And I was thrilled to find the farm of “Z. Blakesley” on its roster — providing many details about the farm where Mary lived as a girl.2

Horses and milk cows and swine, oh my!

On 5 Aug. 1850, when the agricultural census taker came calling, the Blakeslee family was living on an 80-acre farm. Most of the land was productive — with 70 acres described as “improved.” Only 10 acres were “unimproved.” which could mean forested or rocky or in some other way un-farmable.

I spent my early childhood on a 10-acre farm in upstate New York, so the 80-acre Blakeslee farm seems large and impressive by comparison. Its cash value of $2,000 [equivalent to about $65,542 in today’s dollars] underscores this impression.

Although the Blakeslee farm was mostly geared to field production, there were a few farm animals — which may have fascinated my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth when she was growing up. Specifically:

  • Horses – 1
  • Milk cows – 3
  • Swine – 2
  • Value of Live Stock – $156 [about $5,034  today]
Image by VIVIANE6276 on Pixabay
A pair of swine. In the 1850 U.S. agricultural census, Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull’s father Zebulon Blakeslee reported owning two swine, three cows and a horse. Image by VIVIANE6276 (CC0) on Pixabay

There may also have been cats (typically kept on New York State farms to reduce the rodent population) and maybe even a dog — but these are not addressed in the census.

A productive spread

A second census page lists the agricultural production of Zebulon Blakeslee’s farm, indicating a focus on grains and hay — with the three milk cows contributing to substantial butter production and the swine, presumably, contributing to the slaughtered animals.

  • Indian corn – 100 bushels
  • Oats – 351 bushels
  • Buckwheat – 65 bushels
  • Butter – 300 pounds
  • Hay – 20 tons
  • Value of Animals Slaughtered – $40 [about $1,291 today]

For my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth, all of this might have formed more of a backdrop to her life as a pre-teen attending school.

Yet she may have had before- or after-school chores that the population census doesn’t tell us about — since  the report lists no boarders or farm hands living with the Blakeslee family.

Up next: What else can I learn about Mary Elizabeth’s early life in Conklin, N.Y.? Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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A bewildering Blakeslee saga

Sepia Saturday 458. First in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

Researching distant female ancestors can be challenging because at one time women accumulated few records in their own name.

In addition, women who lived in rural areas — like my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — lacked city directories and local newspapers where their personal details might appear.

So I do not know as much about Mary Elizabeth as I do about her husband — my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull, a veteran of the Union Army’s 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery. Yet I long to know more.

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-1be4-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. (1876). The Conklin countryside where my Blakeslee ancestors lived forms the backdrop to these early lithographs.. As a young woman coming of age in a rural setting, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull accumulated few records in her own name. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections

In this new blog series, I hope to review what my past research has revealed about Mary — and to identify what more is needed to paint a fuller picture of her life.

First federal census

Mary’s parents were Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee (who I have written about on Molly’s Canopy) and Zebulon Blakeslee (whose given name I love, but about whom I know far less).

The bewildering Blakeslee saga begins with Mary at age 12 in the 1850 U.S. Census of Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. — the first in which she appears by name — to see what her family’s enumeration reveals.

1850 U.S. Population Census – Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. – Aug. 6, 1850 – Source: FamilySearch2
Family Dwell Name Age Job Property Birth School
230 231 Z. Blakesley 42 Farmer $2,000 CT
Hannah Blakesley 37 PA
Mary E. Blakesley 12 NY X
231 232 Wm. Whitney 31 Farmer $1,000 NY
Rhoda Ann Whitney 19 PA
John Stevens 14 NY

For starters, this census indicates Mary’s parents were born at a geographic remove from one another: her father in Connecticut and her mother in Pennsylvania.

Mary had an older sister Rhoda Ann (who has also appeared previously on this blog). In 1850, Rhoda was living next door with husband William Whitney and a young man, John Stevens, whose relationship is not stated.

The census says Rhoda was born in Pennsylvania (circa 1831) while Mary was born in New York (circa 1838).

Conklin is just north of the Pennsylvania border, so it’s not unusual that the sisters were born in different states. However, if accurate, their differing birth locations are a clue that the Blakeslee family likely moved sometime in the mid-1830s.

Adjoining family farms

Zebulon’s farm in Conklin was valued at $2,000 (equivalent to about $64,542 in today’s dollars) — a respectable spread. The neighboring farm of his son-in-law William Whitney was worth $1,000 (or about $32,271 in today’s dollars).

Both families were apparently doing well, because their farms were comparable in value to those of nearby neighbors.

Mary’s sister Rhoda, 19, was newly married — having wed William on 9 Dec. 1849, according to a transcribed wedding announcement in Maurice R. Hitt’s Genealogical gleanings from early Broome County, New York newspapers (1812-1880). And Mary, 12, was attending school — a positive sign that she was not needed at home to help with the workload.

Up next: What more could I learn about the Blakeslee family farm where Mary lived in 1850? Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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