1855: A Brookdale engagement

Sepia Saturday 465. Eighth in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

The years 1854-56 were pivotal ones for my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull. In 1854, at 16, she moved with her family from New York’s Southern Tier to Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna.

There she came of age and got engaged to her future husband — my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull, a tanner from nearby Corbettsville, Broome Co., N.Y.

https://www.artic.edu/artworks/180709/the-lovers
The Lovers by William Powell Firth (1855). Sometime between 1854-56, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth Blakeslee of Brookdale, Penna., became engaged to my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull of Corbettsville, N.Y. But where and how did they meet? Image: Art Institute Chicago

So how did my great-great grandparents meet — and how long had they known each other?

Geographic proximity

During the 1855 New York State census, my great-great grandfather Arthur, 21, was living in Town of Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. — where my great-great grandmother Mary lived until about 1854.

According to the census, Arthur had lived in Conklin for only a year — which would place his arrival around 1854. However, another source suggests he may have arrived earlier.

A History of Broome County (1885) says Arthur’s father, Jeremiah Bull, took over a foundry in Corbettsville (in Town of Conklin) and turned it into a tannery two years earlier — in 1852.

Conklin Centre, where Mary lived in 1852, was about three miles north of Corbettsville — so she and Arthur could have met while they were living near one another. (See map above.)

Arthur was relatively new to the area — perhaps a welcome change for Mary from the local young men she had grown up with. And even after she moved to south Brookdale, Penna., Mary’s home was still just three miles from Corbettsville.

In addition, Mary undoubtedly returned to Conklin periodically to visit her sister Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, who still lived there. So she may have met Arthur during one of her visits.

A Presbyterian connection

Since Arthur and Mary were married by a Presbyterian minister, there is also a good chance that they met at church.

According to J.H. French’s Gazetteer of the State of New York (1860), Town of Conklin had a Presbyterian church where they may have worshipped when they were both lived nearby.

As described below,  there was also Presbyterian church in Lawsville Centre, Penna. — built circa 1850 — which was about three miles south of Mary’s home in Brookdale, Penna. and six miles south of Arthur’s Corbettsville, N.Y., residence.

https://archive.org/details/cu31924028854689/page/n769
Source: Centennial history of Susquehanna County, Penna. (1887)

Other intriguing possibilities

As a tanner, Arthur may  have worked in the Conklin area where his father owned a tannery for a few years — or in Brookdale where a large tannery near the saw mill employed 25 men, which “gave the place a busy appearance” according to the Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Penna. (1887).

https://archive.org/details/cu31924028854689/page/n767
The Brookdale, Penna., tannery operated from 1851-1885. Could my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull have worked there? Source: Centennial History of Susquehanna Co., Penna. (1887)

Could Arthur and Mary have met when tannery work brought him to Brookdale? It’s hard to know without his employment details.

Of course it’s always possible they met by a more traditional route: through their families.

The Bulls and Blakeslees may have been acquainted — with Arthur’s father Jeremiah owning a business, Mary’s dad Zebulon working as a rural postmaster and both families possibly attending the same church. So maybe their parents had a hand in introducing their children in hopes of making a match.

However it happened, meet they did — and by 1856 wedding bells were ringing for my great-great grandparents Mary Elizabeth Blakeslee and Arthur T. Bull.

Up next: The Blakeslee-Bull wedding. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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14 thoughts on “1855: A Brookdale engagement”

    1. Thanks, Linda. County histories aren’t considered to be totally reliable in every detail, but they do offer a valuable starting place for research — and a way to generally fill in historical gaps where documentation is scarce.

  1. Great detective work! Like you, I’d love to learn more details about how some of my ancestors met, but unfortunately the details are few and far between. I’ve found that many of my ancestors attended the same church, so it’s likely that they became acquainted during church gatherings.

    1. Thanks so much for your visit. I have a sense that in small communities many folks may have had a hand in bringing young people together, both in and outside of church settings.

  2. There were probably church activities that they would attend outside of Sunday worship too. My great great grandmother was also Presbyterian. Odd how there are similar details in the lives of our two very different great great grandmothers. I am enjoying catching up on your series. I’ve been doing the A to Z challenge and fallen back on my usual blog reading.

    1. Congrats on doing the A to Z Challenge! Yes, it’s hard to keep up regular visits while that’s going on 🙂 I am also amazed by the similarities in our ancestors’ lives — from Union Army service to, now, religion — despite their different backgrounds. And totally agree — there were likely church-organized social events where they may have met.

  3. It’s fun to speculate about the possibilities of how, where, and when they might have met. You’ve done a good job of setting the stage. Unfortunately you’ll probably never know for sure. But meet, they did – and lucky for you! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I had fun with the Google map. Seeing their various homes and places of worship in one place illustrated just how geographically close my great-great grandparents lived to one another.

  4. I like your choice of illustration. How did the young folk of olden times meet without the aid of Facebook, Instagram, etc.? Churches were certainly the traditional place for social interaction, but crossing the road to another denomination would be difficult if not scandalous. Do Presbyterian pastors rotate church assignments? Perhaps members of their congregations sometimes follow them or use them as a matchmaker.

    1. Interesting possibility that the minister may have served as a matchmaker. I have a feeling in rural areas and small towns like Conklin Centre, Corbettsville and Brookdale, the entire community may have had a hand in matching up young people.

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