1865: Where in the world was Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee?

Sepia Saturday 487: Fifth in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

As part of his 1866 divorce case in Susquehanna County, Penna., my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee reached out to three witnesses to give depositions on his behalf.

The first deposition from James E. Whitney piqued my interest, and I discovered he was a collateral relative — a younger brother of William Whitney, husband of Zebulon’s older daughter Rhoda Ann.

Wondering where James Whitney lived when he gave his deposition, I found him enumerated the 1865 New York State Census for Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — but that’s not all I found!

Nine women with rakes (circa 1890-1920). Hannah Hance was just 16 when she married Zebulon Blakeslee in 1828, By age 46, when she left him, she may have tired of rural life and wanted something else for her remaining years. But where did Hannah live from 1860-1873? Photo: Franck Taylor Bowers collection – Broome County Historical Society

A series of surprises

Surprise No. 1: The 1865 state census (excerpted below) revealed that both Blakeslee daughters and their families were back in Conklin, N.Y. — apparently having returned en mass from Walton, Delaware County, N.Y. where they lived in 1860.

Surprise No. 2: Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney lived right next door to her brother-in-law James when he gave his deposition in support of her father Zebulon’s divorce petition. And her sister — my  great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — lived close by.

1865 N.Y. State Census – Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. – Whitney and Bull Families – Source: FamilySearch
Dwell. Fam. Name Age Relation. Born County Job/Other
15 16 James E. Whitney 35 Head Chenango Farmer
Mary Whitney 79 Mother Columbia 13 living children
Pamelia Whitney 44 Sister Broome
John B. Whitney 39 Brother Chenango
16 17 William Whitney 40 Head Broome Farmer
Rhoda Ann [Blakeslee] Whitney 34 Wife Penna. Children Duane, 14 & Albert, 12
37 39 Arthur T. Bull 29 Head Greene Farmer
Mary Elizabeth [Blakeslee] Bull 27 Wife Broome Children Emona, 7, Carrie, 5 & Milo, 3

Surprise No. 3: Hannah was not living with either daughter! And so far I have found no trace of Hannah for a span of 13 years — from the 1860 federal census of Walton, N.Y. (when she lived with her daughter Rhoda Ann and son-in-law William Whitney) to her first appearance in an 1873 city directory for Binghamton, N.Y.

“It broke up his family”

In his 1866 deposition, James E. Whitney testified about my third great-grandparents’ breakup — precipitated by Hannah leaving Zebulon in 1858.

She left him about about seven years ago and has not lived with him since. Know of no reason for her leaving and in consequence of it it broke up his family. She went to live with her son in law and has remained away ever since.

There is some truth to what he says. Hannah went away, yes — and she did live with her son-in-law. She also apparently stayed away — and under the radar — as I found no record of her  from 1860-1873.

Maybe, maybe not

But did Hannah’s actions really break up the family? Maybe, maybe not. By 1865, both Blakeslee daughters had returned together from Walton, N.Y., to their Conklin, N.Y., hometown — along with their intact families.

They were then living within five miles of their father Zebulon — who, per his 1865 divorce filing, still resided just over the border in Brookdale, Penna.

Rhoda Ann lived next door to her brother-in-law James Whitney when he provided his deposition supporting Zebulon’s divorce petition — but apparently she did not hold this against him when she later moved into his household after her husband William died.

And after their parents’ divorce and Zebulon’s second marriage, the families of both Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney and Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull took turns housing their mother Hannah for the rest of her life — while supporting her public persona as a “widow.”

A modern family

Of course, census records, city directories and court documents cannot tell the whole story. But in some ways, the Blakeslees’ and their daughters appear to have handled the divorce much like families do today — by maintaining familial relationships as best they could while adjusting to the new situation.

Up next: Two more depositions in the Blakeslee divorce case. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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10 thoughts on “1865: Where in the world was Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee?”

  1. A fascinating account, that still leaves you wondering “why or why did Hannah leave”, as she did not appear to be seeking pastures new or new experiences, given she had married so young at 16. This story would make the basis for an intriguing novel! (Presume that’s a typo of 1860-1973 in the paragraph below the lovely photograph ).

    1. The cause of Hannah’s departure is definitely the big question mark in this series — and part of what makes it so fascinating. Thanks for the typo correction — and for the suggestion about novelizing this story. I plan to give that some thought!

  2. Reviewing your previous post on Hannah I was struck by how little a gravestone tells us other than the bookends of life. Her lost years may be impossible to explain with facts, so that leaves only creative conjecture. Zebulon accused her of abandonment but not infidelity, so a secret romance seems unlikely for Hannah. As the war progressed, economic stress in her daughter’s home might have forced her to leave. How could she support herself? As a servant or housekeeper? That would require experience and references. Could she have been institutionalized in some way? An illness or even a crime would take her name off the usual state records. It seems absurd but maybe she left the country. Canada is not that far away. Or maybe it’s something simple like changing her name and hiding in plain sight.

    I have a set of cabinet photos of three musical sisters from Carlisle, PA who played together as a semi-professional family string trio in the 1880s. With amazing luck I’ve discovered nearly everything about their life stories, which turns out to be a very sad tale. Reading your series has helped me map out how I might write about them and what additional research I need to do. So thanks for all your detail on Hannah and Zebulon.

    1. In a Binghamton, N.Y., directory, Hannah was listed as a “domestic” — and on her death certificate, her occupation was given as “nurse.” So it’s possible she “lived in” with an unrelated family during the mystery years 1860-1873 and thereby managed to escape census enumeration. Her staying away allowed Zebulon to file for divorce, which may have been the outcome she hoped for. Meanwhile, I really liked your last series — and I’m glad to hear that my Blakeslee series has prompted you to do another one about the three musical sisters!

  3. Through this whole story, I’ve wondered WHY Hannah left? There has been no mention of physical abuse, but mental abuse can be just as awful in its own way. You might think the daughters would have been aware of such a thing, but perhaps not. Mental cruelty visited upon a wife by a husband could have been ‘behind closed doors’ with no outward signs.

    1. So true — but so hard to know for sure from documents alone. And I have found no newspaper evidence, either — although back then, as you point out, family difficulties were often kept behind closed doors.

  4. Yes, it is important to remember in family history that things said “under pressure” ie in a court of law or to the press, may not be the “whole truth”, as it were. Despite it being a formal record, it may not be the truth. There are different points of view or things may be said because we think people want us to say them etc etc.

    1. Excellent points, Alex. Zebulon’s attorney was not likely to call witnesses who would give negative depositions in his case — so glowing testimony has to be taken with a grain of salt. I also found it curious that James E. Whitney, an extended family member, would “know of no reason” for Hannah leaving when he also claims he was at their home frequently. Did he never overhear anything? Or did he simply leave it out?

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