Sepia Saturday 476: Fifth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.
Quite an unexpected solution to this summertime mystery — and one that deserves an epilogue. For the Blakeslees’ marriage did not end in a vacuum, and they went on to very different lives after they parted.
Hannah moves out
The first hint of possible marital discord was when Hannah left Brookdale, Penna. — where she and Zebulon lived circa 1856 — and moved with her daughters and their families to Walton, Delaware Co., N.Y., where she was living in 1860. Zebulon was left behind.
Was Zebulon impossible to live with? Had economic hardship strained the marriage? Did she object to his owning a tavern in Binghamton, N.Y. circa 1859? The records are silent on Hannah’s motivation — but it was enough for her to move more than 60 miles away to a place where Zebulon had not lived and was not known.
Zebulon files for divorce
Perhaps a separation and geographic remove were enough for Hannah — but apparently not for Zebulon. In the news announcement of their settled divorce case, which was filed in Pennsylvania, it says “Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah Blakeslee.” So he appears to have initiated the proceedings.
“What was his motivation?” I wondered. Divorce rates in the U.S. were on the upswing in the mid to late 1800s — in part because it became easier and less costly to file once the statutory waiting period had passed. But why not just live separately?
Was Zebulon worried that the Married Women’s Property Act, passed in New York and Pennsylvania in 1848, might give Hannah rights to some of their property — or to sue for divorce herself? Or was something else afoot?
Zebulon’s census entries tell a tale
So I checked Zebulon’s federal census returns for 1870 and 1880, the years after the divorce — and that’s when I found out about his move to Jessup, Penna., and his younger second wife.
|U.S. Census Enumerations for Zebulon Blakeslee. Source: FamilySearch|
|18701870 U.S. census: FamilySearch requires free login to view records.||Jessup Township, Susquehanna Co., Penna.||Zebulon Blakesley, 59, born in Conn.||Day Hand||Sarah Blakesley, 48, born in Penna.||Keeping House|
|18801880 U.S. census: FamilySearch requires free login to view records.||Jessup Township, Susquehanna Co., Penna.||Zebulon Blakeslee, 70, born in Conn.||Shoemaker||Sarah Ann Blakeslee, 57, born in Penna.||Keeping House|
Seems both Hannah and Zebulon wanted to get away from their previous home in Brookdale, Penna., and start over in new locations where they were not known.
In Zebulon’s case, the clearest motivation to file for divorce in 1866, at age 55, was so he would be free to marry his second wife Sarah Ann.
And Hannah? From that point on, she lived with one family member or another and characterized herself as a widow.
“Any why not?” one friend quipped when I told her story. “After the divorce, he was dead to her.”
More on Hannah’s “widowhood” in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
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