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.

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. Photo: Ross, Dorothy B. The History of Conklin New York (1989)

Postal records1and 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.

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.

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6 thoughts on “1851: Zebulon Blakeslee’s other occupations”

  1. Thanks to everyone for your comments. Hadn’t thought about “Field of Dreams” when I posted the farm photo — I just loved the farmer in his field with the 8-foot ruler measuring the corn crop. Interesting observation about his side jobs — seems Zebulon may have had his hand on the pulse of the community. And if I end up with some ancestor links to Sepians through these posts, that would be great!

  2. In this era, after a newspaper, a post office and a tavern were the next most important social hubs for any community. A church parson only knew his own parishioners. But a postmaster or a barkeep got to meet nearly everyone in a small town.

  3. Looks like you may very well be on to something. Will be interesting to see what you come up with in the weeks to follow! 🙂 Two names jumped out at me – that of Whiney, and that of Jay, as I have a cousin with those names. Funny to see them together like that – both of them as last names.

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