1858: Why did Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee leave her marriage?

Sepia Saturday 492: First in a new series on why my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee may have left her marriage in 1858.

Major personal crossroads are reached by a winding path extending back for years. Deciding how to move forward draws from the deep well of an individual’s life experience —  even when the choice of which path to take is spurred by an immediate event.

Such was the situation I believe my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee faced when, at 46, she left her husband — my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee — on 1 Nov. 1858, never to return.

Two previous series have examined the Blakeslees’ separation — and their ultimate divorce in 1866. Yet I have found no record giving Hannah’s motivation for taking the path she chose.

So this new series will endeavor to circumstantially answer the remaining mystery: Why did Hannah leave? And what better place to begin than with Hannah’s personal history.

1882: Going into the World by Evert Jan Boks (1838-1914). The decision by my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee to leave her husband in 1858 cannot have been easy. Yet apparently once she had made the tough choice, she never looked back. Image: mimimatthews.com

Hannah’s childhood

Hannah was born on 8 Feb. 1812, most likely in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y.  She was the  fourth of six children — with three older siblings (brother Isaac and sisters Catherine and Rachel) and two younger (sister Lydia and brother Asher).

Her parents were my fourth great-grandparents — Waples Hance (1760-1843) from Shrewsbury, Monmouth Co., N.J., and his second wife Rachel Chapman (1784-1837) of the Conklin area.

Waples settled in Conklin circa 1788. However, allegedly due to a land dispute he moved just across the border into Pennsylvania — where from 1815 his farm, home and livestock appear on the tax rolls of Lawsville in Susquehanna County’s Liberty Township.

Hannah was three when her family moved to Lawsville —  where her father continued paying taxes until his death in 1843.

Image by 12019 on Pixabay
A New York Farm. The small, rural hamlet of Lawsville, Susquehanna Co., Penna., became Hannah’s childhood home — with her immediate world a sparsely populated agricultural expanse punctuated by forested hills straddling the New York-Pennsylvania border south of Binghamton, N.Y.

Thus small, rural Lawsville became Hannah’s childhood home — with her immediate world a sparsely populated agricultural expanse punctuated by forested hills straddling the New York-Pennsylvania border south of Binghamton, N.Y.

Early marriage and motherhood

Not surprising in these circumstances that Hannah married at age 16 — younger than the average marriage age of 20-22 for nineteenth century women — and chose a man who, like her father, was from elsewhere.

My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was born in Connecticut in 1807. In his divorce petition he stated that he and Hannah married on 19 Nov. 1828. He was 21 at the time — five years Hannah’s senior.

What were her hopes for marriage to Zebulon? A solid partnership with a good provider? A stable, hardworking father for her children? Or a chance to leave Lawsville and see a bit of the world? There is no way to know without direct testimony from Hannah.

Suffice to say that by the time of the 1830 U.S. Census1Hannah and Zebulon were living in Lawsville a few houses down from her parents — where court records indicate Zebulon had bought land in 1827.

And on 7 Dec. 1830, at age 18, Hannah gave birth to their first daughter Rhoda Ann Blakeslee.2

Up next: Hannah’s early married life with Zebulon. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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17 thoughts on “1858: Why did Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee leave her marriage?”

  1. I can not wait to see what you uncover. I love the mystery and trying to solve them. There are so many ancestors I would love to sit down with and talk to them about their lives.

    1. Our comment serves as a reminder to us all to interview our living ancestors and family members — to preserve the family stories and lore that are so hard to document once they are gone.

  2. Molly,
    I have been thoroughly entranced with this story from the beginning! I am very interested in the what her possible motivation might be, also. Even though this line of questioning might be discouraged in the genealogical world, as you say; it is necessary sometimes to wonder why our ancestors did what they did. Their decisions impacted our lives, too!

    1. Thanks, Diane. Because blogs are essentially essays, questions and speculation about our ancestors’ lives flows naturally from the narrative. As we research, we can’t help but wonder — and sometimes that wonder leads to new lines of inquiry.

  3. This would be a great genealogical mystery to solve. You are well on the way. Great to read your thoughts so far. Looking forward to the next post in the series

  4. Thanks to all of you for your comments. Unsupported speculation in genealogy is discouraged because it can veer into the realm of fiction. However, I hope to use the circumstances of Hannah’s life to at least narrow down the reasons why she might have left her marriage at a time when few women did so. Stay tuned!

  5. I’m glad the story is continuing. We’ve come this far. Might as well continue! Who knows what might turn up? 🙂

  6. This is a really interesting exercise in genealogy. Putting Hannah into the context of her time and her family relations builds only the framework of her life. Imagination must supply her hidden motivations and desires. The period after the War of 1812-15 was the first era of American expansion with new canals, pike roads, and railways that must have captured the attention of women as much as men.

    Do you have any ideas on Hannah’s education? And what about her religion? My father’s family descends from Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonite folk who came over just after the Revolution. But I believe the strict rules of these denominations forced my ancestor to break from old world traditions. I can’t prove it, but over 4 generations my family migrated from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Missouri and then back to Maryland, which seems like a search for something new, or maybe a push to leave something old.

    1. Thanks for suggesting this line of inquiry. I believe Hannah’s denomination was Presbyterian, based on Presbyterian ministers performing each of her daughters’ marriages and her local Hance nieces being active in the Presbyterian church.

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