1866: The disappointing divorce deposition of Cordelia Snow

Sepia Saturday 489: Seventh in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

The third and final deposition in the divorce case of my third great-grandparents Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee came from Cordelia Snow. She was married to Jehiel W. Snow who gave the second deposition — as detailed in the previous post.

Woman walking in the woods with a parasol (circa 1866). Cordelia Snow’s deposition in my third great-grandparents’ divorce case was disappointingly similar to  her husband’s. Which made me wonder: Did she genuinely express her own observations? Or was she testifying as she thought she was expected to?  Photo: NYPL Digital Collections

Perhaps because she was a woman, and also a wife and mother like Hannah, I had expectations that Cordelia Snow’s testimony might provide more insights into my ancestors’ divorce.

Surely she might have been in a position to know more about Hannah than the two male deponents — and to have been taken into confidence about why my third great-grandmother left her husband. Or so I hoped.

Cordelia Snow’s deposition

Alas, her testimony was much the same as her husband’s, and in some ways even more complimentary of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee’s behavior — finding him “uniformly” kind to his wife.

Deposition taken in case of Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah Blakeslee — Mrs. J. W. Snow sworn

Have been acquainted with Mr. Zebulon Blakeslee and his wife for 13 or 14 years. Know of them living together for six or seven years. Since which time she has not lived with him for six or seven years. Was frequently at Mr. Blakeslee’s house and had the opportunity of knowing that Mrs. Blakeslee was well provided for within relation to living and with better than average of people.

Have never seen any unkind treatment of Mr. Blakeslee toward his wife but always kind — uniformly so. Have never heard her assign any reason for leaving him and that she would not come back to him. I believe that she might have lived with him amicably if she had tried to do so. Am acquainted with his two daughters — known them for years — and he has the reputation in the community where he lived of being a good provider for his family and I believe his family was broken up by her leaving.

[Signature] Cordelia Snow

 Another side to Zebulon

Naturally, I wondered: Did Mrs. Snow genuinely express her own observations? Or was she testifying as she thought she was expected to?

Yet despite my reservations, her sworn statement — and those of her husband and James E. Whitney — appear to paint a consistent picture of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee as a good provider who was publicly kind to his wife and family.

Orderly, well stocked country store, West Henrietta, NY, (1913). My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was a  postmaster and merchant, who operated a country store in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna., in the 1850s-60s. Divorce witnesses claimed my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was well provided for. So why did she leave him in 1858? Photo: NYS Archives Digital Collections

My own research supports the witnesses’ contentions that Zebulon did his best to earn a living in what had to be a challenging rural economy — working as a farmer, elocutionist, postmaster and tavern owner, sometimes simultaneously. And he was operating a country store in Brookdale, Penna., when Hannah left in 1858 — an occupation he kept at until after their 1866 divorce.

In fact, Cordelia Snow seemed incredulous that Hannah would leave him since, she claimed, “Mrs. Blakeslee was well provided for within relation to living and with better than average of people.”

The divorce moves forward

I was disappointed that Cordelia Snow was not able to shed light on Hannah’s reasons for leaving Zebulon. Without a witness, or direct testimony from Hannah, her exact motivations remain a mystery.

Yet I have my own theories of what may have occurred between my third great-grandparents — which will be the subject of future posts.

Meanwhile, Zebulon’s divorce petition moved forward once the witness testimony was filed — and on 16 Aug. 1866 he received a court decree dissolving his marriage to Hannah.

Up next: Zebulon Blakeslee’s divorce decree. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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18 thoughts on “1866: The disappointing divorce deposition of Cordelia Snow”

  1. Molly, I have been following your story about Zebulon and Hannah, and was very interested in whether you had found the answers you seeked. However, it is still looking like every answer you find is leading you to more questions. I feel for you in that aspect! I love solving a puzzle, but sometimes that can drive you crazy at the same time!

  2. Since most people didn’t speak of private matters it’s likely Hannah didn’t tell anyone her reasons. Not only that, she may have felt like a failure, or that others would see her that way.
    I have an acquaintance who got divorced for no other reason than that her ex had no passion. No heated arguments, no joyful highs, no passionate date nights. He was kind, a good provider, a good husband and father, but he was boring. Never showed anger, sadness, happiness or anything!
    We never know what motivates people to do what they do.

    1. So true! I’d give anything for some letters or a journal by Hannah, but have to make due with the court records and some social context.

  3. I think divorce was relatively formulaic and possibly often collusive although collusion was illegal. Important matters were at stake as regards access to children and money. I am not sure I would believe sworn testimony in court necessarily when it comes to divorce.

    Have you read the Road to Divorce by Laurence Stone? It is an English History but absolutely fascinating.

  4. It seems to be a rule that the more we seek answers in history, the more questions we create. Zebulon and Hannah’s separation may be a secret that no one but they knew the reason . This week I uncovered little clues in the family histories of my photo story that I’m sure hinted at skeletons in the closets. Every family it seems has these secrets that never get told.

    1. If anything, this underscores the need for learning some of these stories from older relatives while they are still with us. I suspect the entire Blakeslee family had a hand in keeping mum about the details of the divorce.

  5. Maybe they were telling the truth. Maybe she didn’t confide in them. Probably Zebulon would not have chosen a witness who would talk bad about him and Hannah refused to participate. She may have wanted to be rid of him, legally.

    Looking forward to your ideas.

    1. All excellent points. There are so many reasons why marriages end — sometimes dramatic but also just from growing apart. And then there is the social context of the times. Hoping to draw some conclusions, if only speculative.

  6. I love the photo and picture you have chosen to support your story. Everything is very neat and constrained. Perhaps it was thus in those times. Let’s keep everything neat. Nothing out of place. Preserve everyone’s reputation. That sort of thing.

  7. I am enjoying your story very much. It is too bad Cordelia’s testimony wouldn’t/couldn’t shed more light on Hannah’s side of things. I wonder, the same as you, if she was speaking her own mind, or simply echoing her husband’s? Women back then were expected to follow their husband’s lead so it’s a good wondering.

    1. It may be that Cordelia’s husband and Zebulon were friends and she only encountered Hannah when visiting with her spouse Jehiel. In a case like that, Hannah may not have confided in her.

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