1866: The final rift between Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 475: Fourth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

Discovering that my great-great-great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee lived separately during the 1860 U.S. Census sent me searching for answers.

Was this a temporary situation? Were economic factors involved? What could explain this odd anomaly? https://pixabay.com/photos/stress-stressed-frayed-torn-pulled-2061408/

I was looking for all sorts of circumstantial evidence to explain the Blakeslees’ separation. What I never expected to find was a permanent rift between my great-great-great-grandparents.

So imagine my surprise when a random search for “Zebulon Blakeslee” in a digital Pennsylvania newspaper archive turned up the following announcement in the 28 Aug. 1866 issue of the Montrose Democrat!

Montrose Democrat, 28 Aug. 1866, p. 3. Source: panewsarchive.psu.edu

The Blakeslee divorce

Wait…what? Divorced? I could hardly believe my eyes. But there it was in black and white — the solution to my Blakeslee mystery — decreed by the court and published in the newspaper for all to see.

Although divorce is now a socially accepted way to end a marriage, the Blakeslee’s final rift had to be a much bigger deal in 1866.

Once I adjusted to this new reality, I wondered where I could find out more about my ancestors’ divorce — and whether court records might be available.

A few calls to the Susquehanna County Historical Society and the county courthouse gave me the answer: Yes, and accessing them in person would be best.

So I will soon be headed to Montrose, Penna., to see what I can find. Stay tuned for future posts on the results of that trip.

Mysteries within a mystery

Meanwhile, I was particularly blown away to discover the Blakeslees’ divorce because my previous research implied that Zebulon had died and left Hannah a widow.

My great-great-great grandmother Hannah repeatedly referred to herself as a widow in post-1866 census and other records — and she is listed as “widowed” on her 1888 death certificate.

Even her tombstone refers to her as the “Wife of Zebulon Blakeslee.” (Although I have long suspected that something was amiss, because Zebulon is not buried with her.)

Had Hannah simply created a more acceptable public cover story for herself to obscure her years of separation from Zebulon and their ultimate divorce? One source suggests that keeping silent about marital disruption was not uncommon:

Divorce and widowhood are two relatively public ways that a marriage can end. For a long time in American history, they have been subject to at least some level of public record keeping…Overwhelming historical evidence suggests, however, that many marriages ended long before the coroner or the divorce judge became involved and that frequently, both parties had their reasons to keep silent about their marital disruption.1

The Blakeslee story comes together

Thus ends the mystery of the Blakesees’ 1860 separation. And once again, genealogy research delivers the unexpected!

Yet learning of my Blakeslee ancestors’ divorce has also brought disparate pieces of their story together in a way that finally makes sense.

There will be more on this in the next post — particularly how Hannah and Zebulon lived their separate lives after the divorce was granted.

Up next: Epilogue to the Blakeslees’ divorce. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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My Blakeslee ancestors and the panic of 1857

Sepia Saturday 474: Third in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

After discovering that my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were living apart during the 1860 U.S. Census, I wondered whether there was some major economic downturn that precipitated their separation.

Did hard times cause Hannah, her daughters Rhoda and Mary, and their families to relocate to Walton, Delaware Co., N.Y. — leaving Zebulon behind in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna. to mind the store while boarding with another household?

That’s when I learned about the Panic of 1857.


First worldwide economic crisis

The Panic of 1857 was precipitated by a downturn in the international economy and an over-expansion in the U.S. economy, which were interconnected by the 1850s — making it the first worldwide capitalist economic crisis.

It arrived in the years before the U.S. Civil War — as the Gold Rush, wild land speculation and the western expansion of railroads were winding down. And economic recovery did not come until the start of the war in 1861.

The panic also overlapped the period when Zeb and Hannah last lived together in Brookdale, Penna. (circa 1856) and when they lived separately (during the 1860 U.S. census). So could the 1857 economic crisis and the ensuing three-year depression have been factors in their separation?

Impact on workers, farmers, merchants

Economic times were tough in the years after the 1857 panic — there were runs on the banks, mortgage-holding insurance companies collapsed, grain prices plummeted and workers were laid off their jobs.

In 1850, Zebulon Blakeslee owned a family farm in Conklin, N.Y. just north of the Pennsylvania border — growing oats and other grains and producing butter — while working at other jobs and professions to make ends meet.

Ripening oats. Grain prices fell during the Panic of 1857, impacting family farmers and small merchants like my great-great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee and his son-in-law William Whitney. Did economic hardship precipitate my ggg grandparents’ 1860 separation? Photo: Arcaion/pixabay

Yet by 1858 — when Zeb lived in Brookdale, Penna., about six miles south — he had only a house in town and a store with no sign of a farm.

Possibly his daughter Rhoda Ann and her husband William Whitney took over his Conklin farm, located next door to theirs in 1850. William was listed as a farmer in the 1855 New York State census2— a year after the Blakeslees’ moved to Brookdale.

The 1860 move

But five years later, during the 1860 U.S. census, William, Rhoda and their children had left their Conklin farm behind and moved to Walton in Delaware County, N.Y. — where they lived in the home of Arthur T. and Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull, Zeb’s other daughter and son-in-law, along with Zeb’s wife Hannah.

Arthur was working as a tannery foreman — a step up from his 1855 tanner job in Conklin, N.Y. But William’s occupation was “hired man” — an apparent step down from owning and running a family farm. Could the mortgage upheaval during and after 1857 have jeopardized the family farm?

And what about Zeb?

Zeb was still a merchant in 1860, so  he was presumably hanging onto his Brookdale, Penna. store — perhaps to send money to his wife and daughters and later join them? However, he was was boarding with another family —  implying that his house, which may have been mortgaged, was gone.

It’s hard not to conclude that the Panic of 1857 might have had an impact on my Blakeslee and Bull ancestors, as well as my Whitney collateral relatives. But where could I find more specifics about the effects of the panic on the local economy?

I turned to digitized Pennsylvania newspapers in search of answers — and that’s when I discovered the unexpected solution to the mystery of why my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were living separately in 1860.

More on the surprising solution of this Blakeslee mystery in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1860: Census clues about my Blakeslee ancestors’ separation

Sepia Saturday 473: Second in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

When I first discovered that my great-great-great grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was enumerated separately from husband Zebulon in the 1860 U.S. Census, I thought it might be a coincidence.

Maybe Hannah was making a summer visit to her daughters at census time — as a vacation or to help out with their children — and her entry just looked like she lived separately from Zebulon.

But a review of the instructions to the 1860 census takers made clear that there was likely more going on with the Blakeslees’ separation than mere chance.

A U.S. census taker queries a resident (1920). Was my ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee really living separately from husband Zebulon in 1860 — or was she simply enumerated with her daughters’ families during a temporary summer stay? Photo: Library of Congress

Instructions to census takers

U.S. census takers in 1860 were either Marshals or Assistants who were carefully instructed on how to meticulously enter data on the forms. They had to be familiar with a long list of protocols for the federal population and non-population schedules — including the following guidance on collecting individual names:

8. Individual names. Under heading 3, entitled. “The name of every person whose usual place of abode is with this family,” insert the name of every free person in each family, of every age, including the names of those temporarily absent on a journey, visit, or for the purposes of education, as well as those that were at home on that day. [Our highlights.]

According to these instructions, if Hannah was spending temporary time with her daughters’ families, she should have been enumerated in her “usual place of abode” with her husband Zebulon — not separately as shown below.

1860 U.S. Census – Households where Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were enumerated. Source: FamilySearch
Location Name Age Job Born Other Info.
Walton, Town of Hancock, Delaware Co., New York Arthur T. Bull 27 Tannery Foreman N.Y. Head
Mary E. Bull 22 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Emonia, 2, and Carrie, 7 Mos.
William Whitney 47 Hired Man N.Y.
Rhoda A. Whitney 29 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Earl D., 10, and Albert  J., 8.
Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee 48 N.Y. [Mother of Rhoda and Mary]
Brookdale, Liberty Twp. Susquehanna Co., Penna. Zebulon Blakeslee 48 Merchant Conn. Household of James Adams & family

Other 1860 census clues

Both Mary and Rhoda did have young children at the time and may have benefited from their mother Hannah’s help — particularly since both the Whitneys and the Bulls were transplants to Walton, N.Y., from the cross-border communities of Brookdale, Penna. and Conklin, N.Y. where they lived in 1856.

But what would necessitate a stay long enough to make this Hannah’s “usual place of abode” in 1860?

A sign of hard economic times? Did an economic downturn around 1860 prompt the separation of my ggg grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee? Photo: brenkee/pixabay

Also puzzling is why my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon was boarding with another family rather than living in the house he owned as late as 1858 — which is shown, along with his store, on a map of Bookdale, Penna.

Might the couple have fallen on hard economic times — requiring sale of their home and Zebulon staying behind to run the store while Hannah went to live with their daughters’ families?

Maybe the same difficult circumstances and a search for work were what prompted the the Bulls and Whitneys to move to Delaware County in the first place.

Time to look into what was going on around 1860 that might explain some of these unusual developments.

More on this Blakeslee mystery in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time