1866: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s divorce subpoenas

Sepia Saturday 485: Third in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee, 55, filed for divorce on 14 Dec. 1865 — charging desertion. The next legal step was to issue a subpoena for my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, 53, to appear in court to answer his charge.

So the same day, the first subpoena in the case was duly prepared, and the Susquehanna County sheriff was dispatched to deliver it to Hannah. By then she had been absent from Zebulon’s household for more than seven years.

Women’s wear in Dec. 1866. My third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was 46,  the mother of two daughters, and a grandmother, when she left her husband in 1858. Did she leave Zebulon, then 48, to move closer to her married daughters and their families — who had relocated to Hancock in Delaware Co., N.Y.? Or was something amiss in the Blakeslees’ marriage that prompted her departure? Graphic: The Met Digital Collection

A printed subpoena form

The physical appearance of the subpoena (shown below) was quite a surprise!

When I learned of my Blakeslee ancestors’ divorce, I assumed the legal dissolution of marriages was a rarity in the nineteenth century — certainly less common than today.

Yet Hannah ‘s subpoena was completed on a printed form — and not just any printed form, either. The form was specifically for divorce cases — implying that by 1865 divorce was common enough in Susquehanna County to justify printing fill-in-the-blank subpoenas!

Hannah’s presence demanded

Dated 14  Dec. 1865, the subpoena directed Hannah to appear before the judges of the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas in Montrose, Penna., on the third Monday of January 1866 to answer Zebulon’s charges in his Libel for Divorce case.

Dec. 1865: Divorce subpoena addressed to my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. Apparently divorces were common enough in Susquuehanna County, Penna., in the 1800s to justify printing fill-in-the-blank subpoena forms. Photo: Molly Charboneau

However, my third great-grandmother was presumably then living in New York State — beyond the bounds of the court’s jurisdiction. So she did not respond to the subpoena, if indeed she even received it.

A second subpoena, dated 16 Jan. 1866 and completed on the same pre-printed form, again requested Hannah’s presence in court — this time on the first Monday of April 1866.

She appears not to have received or responded to that subpoena either, as there is no testimony or deposition from her among the Blakeslee divorce case papers.

Her escape complete

However, a handwritten note on the cover page of the two subpoenas tells the tale:

Non Est Inventus So answers. David Summers, Sheriff. 1 Or possibly “David Simmons, Sheriff.” His penned name is hard to read.

Merriam-Webster defines the legal term non est inventus as:

the return of a sheriff on a writ or process when the defendant or person to be served or arrested is not found in the jurisdiction.

So Hannah’s escape was complete. She had left her marriage and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania more than seven years before — and neither Zebulon nor the courts could compel her to return.

Looking back more than 150 years, it’s easy to wish that Hannah had testified — or at least sent a written deposition giving her side of the story. But even without her direct account, it’s clear that she wanted out of her marriage in 1858 — and she took action to make that happen.

Up next: The intriguing deposition of Zebulon Blakeslee’s first witness. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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12 thoughts on “1866: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s divorce subpoenas”

  1. Smart girl, Hannah. She waited till Zebulon wanted the divorce and let him pay for it! 🙂

    1. You make an excellent point. Notations on some of the documents list a total of $31.33 paid for attorney, sheriff and prothonotary fees. That would come to $505.66 in today’s dollars — a sum that Zebulon could apparently afford as a Brookdale, Penna., store keeper, but likely beyond Hannah’s independent means.

  2. I’ve recently found an ancestor that moved to another state to live with her children (according to a census) also…and the man remarried. Strangely enough, wife number two was also in another state within a few years and married someone else…and so the man married wife number three! She was the daughter of a judge, so somehow they figured out it was legal! (I think in Alabama.)

  3. The twists in Hannah and Zebulon’s story are fascinating. I would imagine that legal issues over divorce and marriage property were more commonplace in the first years after the war, especially with the increase in widows and orphans. The war also put so much stress on marriages that the state felt the demand for divorces merited a prepared form. And as you say, Hannah escaped across the state line, which in the post-war expansion years, many men, and women too, used distance as a common-law way of dissolving the marriage bonds.

    1. You have a point about the wartime stress on marriages, which may have made divorce more commonplace than previously. Hannah may have been legally unable to file for divorce herself, particularly if Zebulon was unwilling. So “deserting” him and waiting it out appears to have been her best option.

  4. Ooh. Like you, I would have thought divorce was rare then. I wonder if he wanted to get married again and that’s why he proceeded with divorce?

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