1873-1880: Shoemaker Zebulon Blakeslee’s final years

Sepia Saturday 480: Ninth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

After his second marriage to Sarah Ann Sherman, my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee, 56, recast his life yet again and took on a new career: shoemaker. I couldn’t help wondering how that came about.

Shoemaker at his bench (1875). After his second marriage in 1867, my ggg grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee went on to yet another career as a shoemaker in the 1870s — a job he worked at for the rest of his life. Photo: timetoast.com

As a younger man Zebulon had been a farmer, elocutionist, postmaster and tavern owner — and even a local merchant with his own store. But after divorcing my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in 1866, he left all that behind — starting over in Jessup, Susquehanna Co., Pennsylvania where he married Sarah Ann in 1867.

A new career

Zebulon’s new challenge appeared to be how to earn a living in middle age in an area where he was unknown. In 1870, at 60, he was working as a “day hand” — possibly for Sarah Ann’s father, Abel Sherman, who owned the farm next door. But farm labor may not have been satisfying work for a man of his eclectic talents — and it may also have become more difficult as he aged.

Whatever the reasons, by 1873 Zebulon, 63, had found a new calling — and he began to appear in the Jessup Township tax rolls in the taxable occupation of “shoemaker.” In 1880, Zebulon was still working as a shoemaker during the federal census — the last one in which he was tallied at age 70.

Shoemaker’s tools. Having been a merchant, postmaster, elocutionist, tavern owner and farmer, in the 1870s my ggg grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee, 63, picked up a new set of tools and became a shoemaker — a job that likely fit his entrepreneurial personality. Graphic: Pinterest

Shoemaker: An essential profession

Zebulon appears to have had a knack for finding jobs that were essential to the communities in which he lived — and working as a shoemaker was no different.

Making and repairing shoes, whether for work or dress, required skill and a whole array of specific tools. And in the 1870s, before the mass production of footwear, a town’s shoemaker could count on a steady stream of customers.

Zebulon would have been familiar with the business end of the operation, too, since he owned and operated a store for many years in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna. And shoemaking, which generally required sitting at a bench to do the work, was less physically taxing for an older worker than many of his previous occupations.

1880: RIP Zebulon Blakeslee

In the end, it appears that both his job and his second marriage brought stability that saw Zebulon through his senior years.

And on my recent research trip to Montrose, Penna., I finally learned when and where he died — breaking through a longstanding brick wall.

The Susquehanna County Historical Society card files contained an excerpted notice of his death at age 73 — on 16 Dec. 1880 in the hamlet of Fairdale, Jessup Township, Susquehanna Co., Penna. Thus I was able to obtain a printout of the newspaper announcement (below) from the 27 Dec. 1880 Montrose Democrat.

Montrose Democrat (27 Dec. 1880). On a road trip to Montrose, Susquehanna Co., Penna. I finally found the date and place of death of my third great-grandfather Zebulon  Blakeslee — breaking through a longstanding brick wall in my ancestral research. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Although I have not yet found where Zebulon was buried, I am nevertheless gratified to have finally solved the mystery of what became of him after he and my third great-grandmother Hannah separated and divorced.

More to come…

Yet this is not end of the story of my Blakeslee third great-grandparents. During the writing of the last few posts, I continued pursuing the search for Hannah and Zebulon’s divorce records — and I may soon have them!

So more to come once the records and decree are in hand — and hopefully some clarity on what precipitated their separation and divorce.

Up next: Ancestors-in-law: The Shermans of Jessup, Susquehanna Co., Penna. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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12 thoughts on “1873-1880: Shoemaker Zebulon Blakeslee’s final years”

  1. Several of my German ancestors where shoemakers. I have a picture of my great grandfather as an apprentice shoemaker in Germany as a young boy. I was amazed that they started learning a trade when they were very young.

    1. Others have commented that my ancestor taking up shoemaking in his later years is at odds with what you are reporting — an extensive period of apprenticeship before being employed in the trade. In NYC, where I live, we walk a lot and have many “shoemakers” — but they really focus on repairs, which is what Zebulon may have done.

  2. Well done to discover details that reveal more about your great grandfather’s life. I’m sure you must feel Zebulon and Hannah are more than just names on the family tree now. Zebulon’s choice of a new trade is curious. I wonder if he might have seen an advert in a newspaper or journal for a mail order shoe repair kit? I believe shoe repair was a vocation taught in some prisons and workhouses. Finding enough customers in a rural community must have been a challenge. Perhaps he ran a kind of mail order repair scheme too?

    1. I would not be at all surprised if Zebulon used kits in some capacity. I have paternal ancestors on my Charboneau line who used work-at-home shoe kits distributed by a nearby upstate New York factory. However, he seems to have been a Jack of all trades who fitted his work to the local market, and he may have specialized in shoe repair, rather than creation, to make existing shoes last longer — a service that would have been of value in a farming community.

    1. I know! A pity the census and other records just list “shoemaker” without all of the details that make an ancestral story more interesting 🙂

  3. What a variety of occupations he had. Reminds me a lot of my own father who was everything from an accountant to milk man to lifeguard and more. So interesting to learn these things about our ancestors.

    1. Yes, I too have been fascinated by Zebulon’s eclectic skill set. Perhaps it was the rural economy that pushed farmers like him to have other occupations during the cold, fallow season to make ends meet.

  4. What a talented man he was! I would imagine he had learned from another shoemaker at some time in his life…and might have been an amateur at it even when running his mercantile. Just a thought. Glad you have his death notification, a man’s life needs the bookends of birth/death certificates.

    1. Yes, I too have been surprised at how many ways Zebulon found to earn a living — doing many of these jobs simultaneously. You’re right, he may have dabbled in shoe repair while running his store — then returned to it in his senior years. Finding his death notice was a major breakthrough since Pennsylvania didn’t centralize death certificates at the time.

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