1866: The illuminating divorce deposition of Jehiel W. Snow

Sepia Saturday 488: Sixth in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

On 16 August 1866, three notarized depositions were submitted to the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas in support of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee’s divorce petition.

A previous post discussed the first intriguing deposition of James E. Whitney — who turned out to be an in-law of the Blakeslees.

The second deposition came from Jehiel W. Snow, a neighbor who lived near Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna., during the 1860s.

Country store and antiques. My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was a country store owner in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna. when he filed for divorce in 1865 — charging my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee with desertion. Deponents in the case testified that she was well provided for — but apparently economics alone were not enough to maintain the Blakeslees’ marriage. Photo: RedStickM/Pixabay

The Snow deposition

J.W. Snow’s testimony opened with the following positive assessment of Zebulon.

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

Am acquainted with Zebulon Blakeslee and his wife. Have known them 13 or 14 years. They were living in Brookdale. Think they lived together as man and wife for six or seven years and since that time she has not been with him.

Lived quite nearby them for six years and was frequently at his home and saw his table often and have the means of knowing he provided well for his family. Country store in connection with the tanning business. Had frequent opportunity to know that he provided well for his family. Could not say that I ever saw any ill treatment toward his wife or family.

When well-provided-for falls short

Snow emphasized Zebulon’s ability to provide for Hannah and the family — and corroborated my previous discovery that Zebulon operated a country store near the Brookdale tannery.

Then he shifted to discussing my third great-grandmother Hannah — claiming she actually said she would leave her marriage!

Have heard her say that she never would come back to live with him and heard her say that she should quit him there.[A]ccording to the best of my judgement, she was provided for as well as the people could possibly be under the same circumstances. I believe that she deserted him without just cause for anything that I ever see and believe that she might have lived amicably with Mr. Blakeslee if she had a mind to do so. They have two children two daughters and am acquainted with them both and Mr. Z. Blakeslee and wife being reputed as such as man & wife for years = ever since my knowledge.

[Signature] J.W. Snow

Bible. Deponent J.W. Snow was duly sworn and took an oath to tell the truth. If we assume that he kept his word and was accurate about what he observed, his testimony for the first time presented Hannah’s voice. Photo: Wendy van Zyl/pexels.com

Hannah’s voice at last

And there you have it. Another opinion by a witness that being well-provided-for should have been enough for Hannah to stay with Zebulon “if she had a mind to do so” — and that she “deserted him without just cause.”

Nevertheless, J.W. Snow took an oath and was duly sworn to tell the truth. So if we assume that he kept his word and was accurate about what he observed — then his testimony for the first time presented Hannah’s voice!

A firm and angry voice, too. Hannah was apparently open enough about her intentions to be overheard —  saying of Zebulon that she “should quit him there” and that she “never would come back to live with him.” Which has the ring of truth — since that is exactly what happened.

Up next: Mrs. Cordelia Snow weighs in with her own deposition. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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7 thoughts on “1866: The illuminating divorce deposition of Jehiel W. Snow”

  1. Fascinating! Mr. Snow’s deposition has an interesting mix of his voice with a court reporter’s synopsis, but it sounds like the terse comments of rural farmer. Perhaps Hannah’s quarrel with Zebulon was over his business or some decision of his that involved family property or money.

    1. Yes, I think the transcriber many have cut up Mr. Snow’s sentences a bit — but somehow the essence comes through. Meanwhile, I have saved the reference to the book you recommended and will take a look.

  2. People often provide well and act fine in front of other people. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t abusive or belittling when they were alone.

    1. I agree. Something happened in that household that prompted Hannah to depart at a time when few women took such direct action. I have my own theories, but will save them for a future post.

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