1865: Zebulon Blakeslee petitions for divorce

Sepia Saturday 484: Second in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

On 14 Dec. 1865, my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee filed for a divorce from my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — charging her with deserting him more than seven years before.

Zebulon was still living in Brookdale in Liberty, Susquehanna County, Penna., when he submitted his divorce petition to the county’s Court of Common Pleas to be heard during their January 1866 term.

https://pixabay.com/photos/train-station-canada-railway-1400657/
Country train station. The  Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad ran close to the Brookdale, Penna., home of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. Was that how Hannah left him on 1 Nov. 1858 — never to return? Photo: Pixabay

Meanwhile, Hannah had long since moved across the border to New York State — where by 1860 she was living with the family of her older daughter Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney.

What prompted Hannah’s departure? How did Zebulon view it? What can the court papers tell us?  Answers to these questions and more will be the focus of this new series.

Zebulon makes his case

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania legally sanctioned divorce from 1785. The first step was to file a petition for the court’s review stating the reasons why the divorce was requested.

Addressing the “Honorable the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas for Susquehanna County,”  Zebulon’s petition gave the following rendition of the Blakeslees’ separation.

The petition of Zebulon Blakeslee of Liberty respectfully showeth: That your petitioner was on the 19th day of Nov. A.D. 1828, lawfully, joined in marriage with Hannah Blakeslee his present wife & from that time until the 1 day of Nov A.D. 1858 lived & cohabited with her & hath in all respects demeaned himself as a kindly & affectionate husband & although by the laws of God as well as by the mutual vows plighted to each other, they were bound to that uniform consistency & regard which ought to be inseparable from the marriage state.

[Y]et so it is that the said Hannah Blakesley in violation of her marriage vow that the 1 day of Nov A.D. 1858 hath willfully & maliciously deserted & absented herself from the habitation of this petitioner without any just or reasonable cause & such desertion hath persisted in for the term of Seven years & upwards & yet doth continue to absent herself from the said petitioner:

https://pixabay.com/photos/paper-font-old-antique-write-623167/
Antique documents. Under nineteenth century Pennsylvania divorce law, the first step in ending a marriage was to file a petition for the court’s review stating the reasons why the divorce was requested. My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee filed his petition on 14 Dec. 1865. Photo: Pixabay

Divorce officially requested

Zebulon then outlined his eligibility to request the divorce (he’d lived in the state for more than a year); asked that Hannah be subpoenaed to answer his complaint; and requested that the court divorce him “from the bond of matrimony as if he had never been married” — all of which were required by Pennsylvania law.

Wherefore your petitioner further showing that he is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, & hath resided therein for more than one whole year previous to the filing of this his petition, prays your Honors that a subpoena may issue in due form of law directed to the said Hannah Blakesley commanding her to appear in this Honorable Court at January term next to answer the complaint aforesaid.

And also that a decree of this honorable Court may be made for the divorcing from him, the said Zebulon Blakesley from the bond of matrimony as if he had never been married.
And he will ever pray. [Signed] Z Blakeslee

Dec. 14,1865: Signature of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee on his petition for divorce. Photo: Molly Charboneau

And just to be sure…

The court also  apparently required divorce petitioners to swear to the truth of their allegations — and to state that they were not collaborating with their spouse to frivolously break their marriage bonds. So Zebulon swore to this before a witness.

The above named Zebulon Blakesley being duly sworn according to the law doth depose & say that the facts contained in the above petition or libel are true to the best of his knowledge & belief & that the said complaint is not made out of levity or by collusion between him the said Zebulon Blakesley & the said Hannah Blakesley his wife & for the main purpose of being freed & separated from each other but in sincerity & truth for the causes mentioned in the said petition or libel. [Signed] Z Blakeslee

Sworn & subscribed before me this 13th day of Dec. A.D. 1865 – [Signed] A. O. Warren J.P. [?]; Let subpoena issue. [Signed] C.F. Ready [?], Associate Judge – Dec. 14, 1865.1

Well — quite a petition! Yet it only reveals Zebulon’s side of the story. Was something amiss in the Blakeslees’ marriage that prompted Hannah’s departure?

More on this, and additional court documents, 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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18 thoughts on “1865: Zebulon Blakeslee petitions for divorce”

  1. As the saying goes, “There are two sides to every story!” And you have me hooked now, Molly! I have been following your story about Zebulon and Hannah, and cannot wait to hear her side of the story!

  2. I wonder too what her story was.
    My grandfather moved to another city and province for a few years first. Then established residency by living in Detroit for a year before filing for divorce. Then he gave the reason that she deserted him!! Strange. But the strangest thing is she lived with his family until they died, and they wouldn’t have anything to do with him!

    1. We tend to think that modern relationships are complicated, but they may have been more so decades ago when there were fewer legal ways to resolve differences — particularly for women. Your grandparents’ case sounds fascinating. Have you looked into the legal details?

  3. I’m intrigued now! Why wait so long to petition for divorce? And what caused the rift between them? I love to read these old documents, so formal and exacting in language. Looking forward to hopefully learning more about the situation!

    1. Yes, this has been a fascinating family history mystery — from when I forest decided to write about my Blakeslee ancestors, about whom I knew little, to the discovery of this divorce.

  4. Very interesting! Thirty year together and seven apart is a curious time span for a couple to then part ways over abandonment by the wife. Some kind of abuse or harshness is involved. The old fashioned legalese of “hath” and doth”, as well as the long continuous sentences are fascinating to read. I suppose the style was the accepted standard used by attorneys of this era when filing cases. It’s a type of precise speech used by professionals, i.e. doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc. that can be intimidating to outsiders.

    1. I also found the document language interesting and a bit of a challenge to transcribe, since it is handwritten and contains some words (such as “plighted”) that are not commonly used today. I tend to agree with you that there was some serious problem between Zebulon and Hannah — although it’s hard to figure out specifics from this document alone.

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