1866: Zebulon Blakeslee receives his divorce decree

Sepia Saturday 490: Eighth in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

After my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee petitioned for divorce in 1865 — and subpoenas were issued and witnesses deposed — the Susquehanna County, Penna., Court of Common Pleas finally issued his divorce decree on 16 Aug. 1866.

Calling the Friday Calendar (circa 1901-1910). Courts were a male-dominated affair in the nineteenth century. So is it any wonder that my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee moved out of the range of subpoena power when she left my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee? His petition for divorce on grounds of desertion was granted on 16 Aug. 1866 in Montrose, Susquehanna Co., Penna. Photo: NYPL Digital Collections

Zebulon contended that my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee deserted him in 1858 — and that she had not returned after an absence of seven years.

Meanwhile, according to court documents Hannah was living outside the court’s jurisdiction (likely in New York State where she resided in 1860) — and she did not receive/respond to subpoenas asking for her side of the story.

The Blakeslee divorce is finalized

Three witnesses — James E. Whitney, Jehiel W. Snow and Cordelia Snow — supported Zebulon’s version of events. After reviewing their testimony, the court issued the following decision summing up the case and granting my third great-grandfather the divorce he sought.

Decree in the case of Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah Blakeslee – Libel for Divorce

December 14th 1865 on filing the petition of Libellant praying for the reasons therein set forth he may be divorced from the nuptialities and bonds of matrimony entered into with the defendant and from application of A.O. Warren Atty. for Libellant, the Hon. C.F. Read Judge of Chambers directed a Subpoena of Divorce to issue to the defendant [Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee] returnable to January term 1866 wherein a Subpoena issued accordingly and duly stamped according to law returned non est inventus[1]Miriam Webster: 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. and from Jany 16th 1866 also sub to April term 1866 returned non est inventus[2]ibid., and now to wit April 9th 1866, court direct the Sheriff to make Proclamation in this case and appoint R. Kenyon J. Commissioner to take depositions in this case.

August 16th 1866 on motion of Libellant’s attorney and on reading of depositions the court upon due consideration of the [premises?][3]This word is hard to read. do order, [sentence?][4]This word is also hard to read. and decree a divorce and separation from the nuptial tie and bonds of matrimony entered into between the said Zebulon Blakeslee and the said Hannah Blakeslee and that all the rights and duties accruing to either of the said parties at any time heretofore in pursuance of said marriage shall cease and determines as fully and to all intents and purposes as though the said Zebulon Blakeslee and the said Hannah Blakeslee had never been married. Cert. copy.

As if they had never been married

Amazing that 37 years of marriage was ended by a decree consisting of two extremely long sentences — the court determining “as fully and to all intents and purposes as though the said Zebulon Blakeslee and the said Hannah Blakeslee had never been married.”

But there you have it. As of 16 Aug. 1866 my third great-grandparents — Zebulon, 59, and Hannah, 54 — were legally entitled to move on with their lives.

Montrose Democrat, 28 Aug. 1866, p. 3. Source: panewsarchive.psu.edu

The Montrose Democrat included the Blakeslees’ divorce decree in a column on court proceedings in its 28 Aug. 1866 issue (above) — which is how I learned of it.

As a country store owner who served the public, Zebulon  may not have been totally pleased with the publicity — even though he initiated the divorce.

Because by 1870 he had relocated within Susquehanna County, Penna., from Brookdale in Liberty Twp. — where he lived for much of his first marriage — to Fairdale in Jessup Twp., where he married his second wife Sarah Ann Sherman.

And Hannah? She remained single and lived the rest of her life in New York State — avoiding social stigma by portraying herself as Zebulon’s widow.

Thus ends the story of the Blakeslees’ divorce case. Yet one mystery remains: Why did Hannah leave Zebulon, never to return? Some theories on this will begin after the next post.

Up next, Series summary: The 1866 divorce of Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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1 Miriam Webster: 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.
2 ibid.
3 This word is hard to read.
4 This word is also hard to read.

9 thoughts on “1866: Zebulon Blakeslee receives his divorce decree”

  1. The continuous sentence of the decree is a curious tradition of legalese. I first learned of it many years ago at an antique fair in England where I bought a small lot of antique property deeds dating from 1750s to 1800. Each one was a single very, very long descriptive sentence of the land and buildings on the property, handwritten in neat cursive on parchment. At the very end was the price —one peppercorn! This was the typical British legal fee for conveying property from one family member to another. Of course this style probably comes from ancient Roman times, but it’s the way legal formulas evolve that I find interesting.

    1. Interesting observations about the run-on sentences. Legalese is easy to get lost in, but I am sure they had their reasons for the single-sentence rule. That said, I wonder whether Hannah got her peppercorn at the end of it all.

    1. Doing an online search, I found a source that says: The name Zebulon is a boy’s name of Hebrew origin meaning “exaltation or little dwelling”. The same source called it “an Old Testament name with a Puritan feel,” which would be consistent with my Zebulon Blakeslee being born in Connecticut.

  2. And the mysterious story continues. Yea!! It has been truly interesting. Too bad Hannah’s side of the story was never known. Did she just up and leave without regard to the consequences, or was there a serious reason for her departure? It would be nice to know, but it seems unlikely no light will ever shine on the answer.

    1. Thanks for this comment! Yes, a spelled-out reason would be great, but in its absence I hope to at least place Hannah’s actions in context.

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