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Why Hannah left Zebulon in 1858: A circumstantial theory

Sepia Saturday 495: Fourth and last in a series on why my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee may have left her marriage in 1858.

In court records of my third great-grandparents’ 1866 divorce proceedings, no direct evidence was submitted by my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee to explain why she left her marriage — never to return.

According to my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee’s divorce petition, Hannah left him on 1 Nov. 1858 — just two-and-a-half weeks before their 30th wedding anniversary on 19 Nov. 1858.

Hannah’s bold action was unusual for women in the mid-nineteenth century, when only 0.3 in 1000 U.S. marriages ended in divorce. So the most intriguing question in this series is: Why did Hannah leave Zebulon?

http://ctgpublishing.com/american-womens-fashion-1860/american-womens-fashion-1864-06-jun/
Godey’s Fashions for Women (June 1864). I believe Hannah’s departure had a great deal to do with her close relationship with her daughters — Rhoda Ann and Mary Elizabeth — and her developing relationship with her young grandchildren. Photo: ctgpublishing

Having examined the court papers, reviewed a timeline of Hannah’s early and later married life, and chronicled what I know of her post-divorce years, I have formed a theory of why she left Zebulon.

And I believe Hannah’s departure had a great deal to do with her close relationship with her daughters — Rhoda Ann and Mary Elizabeth — and her developing relationship with her young grandchildren.

Hannah’s focus: home, children, grandchildren

Hannah married Zebulon when she was 16 — and spent her childhood and married life in nearby rural farm communities of Conklin, N.Y. and Brookdale, Penna.

There is no evidence that she worked outside the home and the family’s farm during that period — so her focus appears to have been on her home and children. By 1858, the year she left Zebulon, she also had three grandchildren: Rhoda’s sons Duane and Albert and Mary’s daughter Emma — all living nearby.

An abrupt change in 1858

Then in 1858, something happened to upset the stability of Hannah’s extended family — possibly an economic depression related to the Panic of 1857, which hit rural areas hard.

For that’s when Hannah’s daughters Rhoda and Mary, their husbands William Whitney and Arthur T. Bull, and their children uprooted themselves and left the cross-border Conklin-Brookdale area — resettling in Delaware County in New York’s Catskills region.

Hannah’s husband Zebulon appears to have simultaneously fallen on hard times, too — because by 1860 he was boarding with another family and no longer living in his own house.

Township Valley in Delaware County, N.Y. During the 1860 U.S. census, my third great grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was living in the Catskills village of Walton, Delaware County, N.Y., with her daughters and their families. She joined them there when she left  her husband in 1858. By: Andy Arthur

Hannah steps into the future

I believe this cascade of events in 1858 prompted Hannah to make a life-changing decision: to stay behind as her daughters and grandchildren — her whole world — moved far away, or to join them in search of a better life.

Since she was living with her daughters in 1860 in Walton, N.Y. — and without Zebulon — we know she chose to step into the future.

Did she try to convince Zebulon to come with her? Did he refuse? Or was this a chance for Hannah to break free from limiting marital circumstances? Hard to know without direct evidence.

However, during the Blakeslee divorce case Jehiel W. Snow testified that, “Have heard her say that she never would come back to live with him and heard her say that she should quit him there.”

One phrase from his testimony seems to stand out: “…quit him there.” Am I reading too much into this — or does that sound like the frustrated statement of a woman whose husband simply refused to budge when the rest of the family was suddenly on the move?

Her family sustained her

My theory about Hannah’s departure rests on circumstantial evidence — and without direct evidence there may never be a definitive explanation. There is also a ten-year period — from circa 1862 to 1873 — when I have not been able to determine her whereabouts.

Yet once Hannah made the decision to throw in her lot with her daughters and grandchildren, she did not turn back — and they, in turn, were apparently supportive. During her later years, and for the rest of her life, she lived with one daughter or the other — and even one of her adult grandsons.

Would she have remained as close to them if she hadn’t joined them in 1858? Possibly not. And for Hannah, that may have made her bold decision worth it.

Up next: A series summary, then a fall break for Molly’s Canopy to relax and recharge. Please stop back when blogging resumes after the holiday season.  Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1850-58: The later married years of Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 494: Third in a new series on why my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee may have left her marriage in 1858.

Nothing in her early married years (1840-50) appears to explain why my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee left her husband in 1858. So I examined her later married years (1850-58) for possible clues.

http://www.victoriana.com/Fashion/1850sfashion/victorianfashionhistory1850.htm
Women’s fashion in 1850. The later years of my third great-grandmother Hannah’s marriage brought many changes. Could the pace of events have created rifts in her marriage? Photo: victoriana.com

Hannah and Zebulon Blakeslee lived on a farm in 1850 with their younger daughter Mary Elizabeth, 12. Their older daughter Rhoda Ann, 19, lived on the farm next door with her husband William Whitney.

Their situation appeared stable, with both farms depicted as comparable to those of their neighbors in the 1850 U.S. census. Yet the ensuing eight years brought many changes for Hannah, as summarized in the timeline below.

Timeline: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s Later Married Years (1850-58)
Year Location Event
1850 & 1852 Conklin, Broome, NY Birth of Grandsons Duane & Albert Whitney1
1851-1854 Conklin Centre, Broome, NY Farmer Zebulon was also a postmaster and offered therapy for stuttering from their home
1854 Brookdale, Susquehanna, PA Hannah & Zebulon move there; he was postmaster until 1855
1855 Conklin, Broome, NY William & Rhoda Ann Whitney remained on their farm2
1856 Brookdale, Susquehanna, PA Daughter Mary Elizabeth wed tanner Arthur T. Bull
1857-1858 Brookdale, Susquehanna, PA Store owner Zebulon paid merchant and “real/acre” taxes
1858 Brookdale, Susquehanna, PA Birth of granddaughter Emma Eulalie Bull

Mother, grandmother, empty nest

With the birth of Duane Whitney in 1850, Hannah became a grandmother at the relatively young age of 38 — while her younger daughter Mary, 12, was still at home. Two years later her second grandchild, Albert Whitney, was born.

From 1850-54, the Blakeslees and Whitneys lived next to each other in Conklin, N.Y. — which would have made for convenient grandmotherly visits by Hannah. Meanwhile, Zebulon cobbled together several jobs as a farmer, postmaster and folk cure practitioner to make ends meet.

But in 1854, Zebulon apparently gave up the farm — or left it to William and Rhoda Ann Whitney — because he moved with Hannah and Mary back across the border to Brookdale, PA. There he opened a country store near the local tannery — and Hannah no longer lived close to her grandsons.

Two years later, their daughter Mary Elizabeth and Arthur T. Bull (my great-great grandparents) got married — leaving Hannah with an empty nest at age 44.

In summary: many life changes over a short period of time.

Conklin and Brookdale: different as night and day

On a recent road trip to Binghamton, N.Y., I drove south through Conklin toward Brookdale to get a sense of the rural environment where the Blakeslees once lived.

Image by 12019 on Pixabay
A New York Farm. Conklin, N.Y., is sunny and bright with broad expanses of farmland stretching west from the Susquehanna River to meet distant, rolling hills. Was Hannah disappointed to relocate to forested Brookdale, Penna. in 1854 — leaving her young Whitney grandsons behind?

Much has changed in the 160 years since they resided there — and the Brookdale community as they knew it no longer exists. Yet the cross-border areas remain as different as night and day.

Conklin and nearby Corbettsville. N.Y. — where Hannah’s parents and other Hance relatives are buried — are sunny and bright with broad expanses of farmland stretching west from the Susquehanna River to meet distant, rolling hills.

But just across the Pennsylvania border the road to Brookdale darkens as it parallels the Snake Creek and enters forests that at times climb sharply up steep inclines.

Ancestors of those tannin-rich trees once fueled the Brookdale tannery whose workers shopped at Zebulon Blakeslee’s store. Yet I have to wonder: Did their shadows cast gloom over Hannah, who may have missed the young grandsons she had to leave behind?

A happy occasion capped off the eight years of change when Hannah’s first granddaughter Emona Eulalie Bull was born 1858. Yet that was the same year that Hannah left Zebulon for good. A coincidence? Or somehow connected to her bold action?

More in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1840-50: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s early married years

Sepia Saturday 493: Second in a new series on why my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee may have left her marriage in 1858.

In the quest to figure out why my third great-grandmother left her marriage in 1858, I examined what I have discovered so far about her early married life. On the surface, it appears unremarkable.

Sometime after the 1830 birth of their first child Rhoda Ann, my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee moved just across the border, from Lawsville in Susquehanna County, Penna., to Broome County, N.Y. — most likely settling in or near Hannah’s Conklin, N.Y., birthplace.

http://psa.powerlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/pc/id/13561/rec/1
Susquehanna River valley where New York and Pennsylvania meet (1912). By 1850, my third great-grandmother Hanna, 38, had lived her entire life within a ten-mile radius of where she was born. If she had hopes that her Connecticut-born husband Zebulon might show her a wider world, they were not realized during their marriage. Yet was that enough reason to leave him? Image: powerlibrary.org

Their second daughter — my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — was born in Broome County in 1839 (according to Mary’s death certificate and her enumerations in the 1865 New York State3and 1870 federal2censuses.). Hannah was then 27.

In 1846 Zebulon was appointed postmaster of Shawsville, Broome Co., N.Y., and by 1850 he and Hannah were living on a 80-acre Conklin, N.Y., farm. Their daughter Rhoda, 19, lived next door with her husband William Whitney, 31. Hannah was then 38, and her daughter Mary, 12, was still at home.

As she approached 40, my third great-grandmother Hannah had lived her entire life in a sparsely populated rural area within a ten-mile radius of where she was born. If she had hopes that her Connecticut-born husband Zebulon might show her a wider world, they were not realized during their marriage. Yet was that enough reason to leave him?

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p261501coll8/id/93/rec/1
Nine women with rakes (circa 1890-1920). For women, the social aspects of farm labor may have helped compensate for its physicality. So the difficulties of farm life alone may not have been sufficient reason for Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee to leave her husband in 1858. Photo: Franck Taylor Bowers collection – Broome County Historical Society

Daily life on the farm

Wondering about Hannah’s daily life, my research led me to a scholarly paper about Pennsylvania agriculture circa 1800-1840, The paper contains an interesting passage, quoted below, about laboring on a farm in that period — which likely applied to nearby, cross-border New York farms as well.

Family and neighborhood labor dominated during this period. Men, women, and children all contributed work toward the family sustenance; there was a gender division of labor, but it was flexible. Men usually worked at lumbering, clearing land, building fence, and raising field crops, while women and children tended livestock, made dairy products, and preserved food.

But diarist Philip Fithian travelled in Lycoming County in the late eighteenth century and reported seeing even elite daughters milking and reaping, and George Dunklebarger, in his Story of Snyder County, claimed that “many of the women were as skilled with the sickle as were the men.”

http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/agriculture/files/context/agriculture_in_the_settlement_period.pdf
Pennsylvania’s Historical Agricultural Regions. The Blakeslees began their married life in Susquehanna County’s northern tier grasslands –which extended north across the border into Conklin, Broome County, N.Y., where they later farmed in 1850. Source: phmc.state.pa.us

A history of Lycoming County remarked that during the early days “It was a common occurrence for a woman to walk fifteen miles or more, a great homemade basket filled with butter, eggs, and farm produce balanced on her head.” Everyone participated in maple sugaring and often in haying and harvesting too. “Bees” for sugaring, house raising, husking, and other jobs made work a social event.

Longtime readers of Molly’s Canopy will remember the 300 pounds of butter that were produced on the Blakeslee farm in 1850. According to the excerpt above, that output may well have been due to the hard work of Hannah and her daughters!

Not enough reason to leave

Yet if life on the farm was demanding in the mid-1800s, the challenge was also widely experienced by other rural women of the period. And the social aspects of the work — when small farming communities pitched in at harvest and other times — may have helped compensate for the physicality of the labor.

Thus the difficulties of farm life alone do not seem like reason enough for Hannah to leave her marriage, either. There must have been some other cause — perhaps some abrupt change — that prompted her departure.

Up next: Seeking clues in Hannah’s later married years. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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