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.
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.
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
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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