Tag Archives: Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney

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.

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: FamilySearch1
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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Mother of three

While my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull was in the Union Army (1864-65), his wife Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull was left in charge of their household in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y.

Union Reenactors 4 May 2014
Union Army reenactor and his wife, Spotsylvania Court House, Va., 4 May 2014. Photo by Molly Charboneau

What was life like for my great, great grandmother during the Civil War years?  It’s hard to know with few records to go by.

Elizabeth, as she was called, was 27 in 1865 and a mother of three young children — Emma, 7, born in Pennsylvania; Carrie, 5, born in Delaware Co., N.Y.; and Milo, 3, born in Broome Co., N.Y. The family had moved several times since her 1856 marriage to Arthur in Liberty, Susquehanna, Pa.

Arthur received a $300 bounty when he enlisted — equivalent to more than $5,000 today — so there would have been money to live on. But for Elizabeth, as for many women of that era, her husband’s absence also brought new responsibility to run things as she thought best.

Census records show she had family living nearby to turn to for help — her older sister Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, Arthur’s parents Jeremiah and Mary Bull and Arthur’s sister Mary Emma (Bull) Tamkins, whose husband Edward was also away in the 137th Regiment N.Y. Infantry.

Mary Bull signature
Signature of Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 53, on 9 May 1892 affidavit in Civil War widow’s pension application file. Photo by Molly Charboneau.

But I have inherited no diary or letters from Elizabeth to illuminate her inner life. I have only her signature on documents from her application, decades later, for widow’s benefits.

What were her thoughts, her hopes, her worries as a young woman during the U.S. Civil War? How did she cope with having a husband in harm’s way? What did she tell her children?

How I wish she had found the time to leave answers to those questions.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.