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1854: The Blakeslees move to Brookdale, Penna.

Sepia Saturday 464. Seventh in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

Around 1854 my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 16, said goodbye to her school chums and neighbors in Conklin Centre, N.Y., and moved six miles south with her parents to Brookdale, Penna.

Not a distant move by today’s standards — but it must have seemed a world away to a teenager in the 1850s.
Liberty Township in Susquehanna Co., Penna. (circa 1858). CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. In the upper right is Brookdale P.O., where my Blakeslee ancestors moved circa 1854. Two appearances of the name Z. Blakeslee mark their home and my ggg grandfather Zebulon’s nearby store, which may also have served as the post office. Mary probably attended the school (noted as Schl.) down the block from their residence. Their former home in Concklin Centre, N.Y., is located just above the Pennsylvania border. Source:

Why her parents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee chose to leave their Conklin farm is unclear. But move they did — because around 1854 Zebulon began to show up in records related to Brookdale, Penna.

A traveling postmaster

When the family relocated, Mary’s dad took at least one of his jobs with him — that of rural postmaster.

According to the U.S. Post Office Dept.’s Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-19711 Zebulon Blakeslee was appointed postmaster of Brookdale, Susquehanna, Penna. on 16 July 1854 — and reappointed the following year.

That Zebulon would continue as a postmaster is not surprising, since he was previously postmaster of Conklin Centre N.Y. from 1851-53. And prior to that he was postmaster in neighboring Shawsville, N.Y. from 1846-49.2

So this was a decade-long career for Zebulon — and all the better for Mary, since she could easily get stamps to correspond with her Conklin Centre friends and with her married older sister Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, who stayed behind.

A Brookdale merchant

Zebulon’s post office position was also referenced in a Centennial History of Susquehanna County, published in 1887 — in a passage that  describes a new calling for him: Brookdale merchant.

This is consistent with a letter I received from a Susquehanna County Historical Society researcher confirming that she found Zebulon Blakeslee on the Liberty Township tax rolls in 1857 (merchant $25) and 1858 (merchant $25, real+acre $30).
Source: Internet Archive/Centennial History of Susquehanna County (1887)

Back with family

I read the above passage with interest, because the name Anson A. Beeman rang a bell. A quick look at previous research confirmed that he was the husband of Rachel (Hance) Beeman — an older sister of Mary’s mother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee.3

The map above also shows a property in the upper right marked “I. Hance” likely owned by another relative — Hannah’s older brother Issac.4

So my teenage great-great grandmother Mary may have left her sister, friends, acquaintances and neighbors behind, but she was back with family in Brookdale — where she had a whole host of Hance-Beeman cousins, judging by the 1850 federal census returns for the nearby households of her uncles Anson A. Beeman,5an innkeeper, and Issac Hance,6a farmer.

And in Brookdale, before long, Mary would be starting a family of her own.

Up next: My great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull meets her husband. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1850: Schoolgirl Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull

Sepia Saturday 463. Sixth in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

While her father Zebulon, 42, was busy circa 1850 with the family farm, his local postmaster duties and dispensing speech therapy from the family home — my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 12, had her own responsibilities as a student.

That would have meant attending classes at the nearest one-room schoolhouse with local students of all ages. So what was school like for my twelve-year-old great-great grandmother?

Corbettsville, Broome Co., N.Y. schoolhouse circa 1900. My great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull probably attended a schoolhouse much like the one pictured here. Corbettsville is located right near her Conklin Center, N.Y., hometown. Photo: Source: Ross, Dorothy B. The History of Conklin New York (1989)

The education of rural children

In 1985 the New York State Education Dept. published an informative guide for students and teachers on Researching the History of Your School — which provides some insights into the nineteenth century school experience.

For farm children like Mary, learning took place both inside and outside the classroom. According to the Education Dept. guide, family and neighbors alike helped educate a community’s children.

Only part of the task of education has ever been carried out by the schools. Newspapers, libraries, apprenticeships, churches, and especially families, have been key educators, transmitting knowledge, skills, and attitudes to successive generations. If you were a farmer’s son or daughter in New York two hundred years ago, you might have attended school some of the time, but your family or neighbors would have been primarily responsible for teaching the skills and attitudes most essential to rural life.

New York establishes a common school system

In 1794, not long after independence, New York established a state aid fund to finance a common school system.

By 1812, the fund reached $50,000 through the sale of state lands. And with New York’s population growing, a Common School Law was passed setting up statewide school districts with an emphasis on serving rural areas. The Education Dept. guide says:

This need to encourage education, especially in the less prosperous rural areas, remained a major theme of the State’s educational system well into the twentieth century.

So my great-great grandmother Mary, born in 1838,  benefited from New York’s focus on educating rural children in a formal setting outside the home. And state aid to teacher training programs, starting in 1834, would likely have provided her with an instructor.
A one-room schoolhouse in Troy, Rensselaer, N.Y. (undated). A wood burning stove like the one pictured here would have heated the Conklin Center, N.Y., schoolhouse my gg grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull attended circa 1850. Photo: Library of Congress

The one-room schoolhouse

So what would Mary’s day-to-day school life have looked like? The U.S. Library of Congress ran an educational series describing a typical one-room-schoolhouse like the one Mary probably attended.

A single teacher would typically have students in the first through eighth grades, and she taught them all. The number of students varied from six to 40 or more. The youngest children sat in the front, while the oldest students sat in the back. The teacher usually taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. Students memorized and recited their lessons.

The teacher’s desk may have been on a raised platform at the front of the room, however, and there would have been a wood-burning stove since there was no other source of heat. The bathroom would have been outside in an outhouse.
Rural outhouse. I can’t imagine that gg grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull had as much fun gossiping and horsing around in her school’s outhouse as my classmates and I did in our elementary school girls room. Photo by bairli1/Pixabay

I chuckled reading about the schoolhouse bathroom. When I think of all the gossiping and horsing around my friends and I did in our elementary school girls room, I can’t quite imagine my great-great grandmother Mary and her classmates having as much fun in an outhouse!

Up next: Back to Pennsylvania for the Blakeslees. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1851: Folk cure practitioner Zebulon Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 462. Fifth in a series on the early life of my paternal great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a Union Civil War widow.

During the 1850s, in addition to farming, my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee — Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull’s father  — had side jobs as a postmaster and possibly a tavern owner.

And in 1851 he advertised one more calling in the Binghamton, N.Y. newspaper: providing a cure for stuttering or stammering through appointments at his home.

When I first read his ad, I had to wonder — was Zebulon a charlatan taking advantage of people with speech difficulties or simply a well-meaning individual implementing a proven method he’d been taught?
A still from the film The Doctor’s Orders (1913). In 1851, my ggg grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee advertised a cure for stammering and stuttering through appointments in his Conklin Centre, N.Y., home. Was he a charlatan or a simply well-meaning practitioner implementing a proven method he’d been taught? Image: NYPL Digital Collections

The newspaper ad

In the Broome Republican newspaper ad below, dated 3 July 1851, Zebulon claimed to be able to cure stuttering and stammering in “40 to 60 minutes” through a system he purchased from S. Carleton Matthews — whose endorsement appeared on the ad. So what more could I learn about this?

Ad from the Broome Republican, Binghamton, N.Y. (July 1851). Zebulon advertised his folk cure practice, which carried an endorsement from S. Carleton Matthews. Image source: Old Fulton N.Y. Postcards

No miracle cures

I consulted the FAQs web page of The Stuttering Foundation to see if there might be any scientific basis for a “cure” in 1851 — particularly one that could take less than an hour. Not likely even today, according to the foundation.

There are no instant miracle cures for stuttering. Therapy, electronic devices,  and even drugs are not an overnight process. However, a specialist in stuttering can help not only children but also teenagers, young adults and even older adults make significant progress toward fluency.

However, an 1850 book On Stammering and Its Treatment describes a method developed by Dr. Arnott that was moderately successful at the time — and may have been the technique Zebulon used.

Dr. Arnott’s well-known remedy is to dilate the closure of the glottis by some little auxiliary expiratory sound, whenever an obstacle to free speech occurs, such a sound as is made by the e in the word “berry;”…[and] his remedy has been the means of curing many slight impediments, and of relieving many of a severer character.

A physician’s endorsement

Zebulon’s ad says, “No pay is required until utmost satisfaction is given” — certainly the statement of an honest man who, moreover, held a responsible position as postmaster of Conklin Centre.

And with only 2,232 people living in Town of Conklin in 1850, word would have gotten around pretty fast if Zebulon’s treatment technique fell short.

His ad carried an endorsement, too — and this got me wondering about S. Carleton Matthews and his credentials.

Who was S. Carleton Matthews?

During the 1850 U.S. Census7S. Carleton Matthews, 18, was living in Broome County’s Town of Chenango, not far from Conklin.

Listed as a physician, he lived in The Lewis House hotel with 40 others — including  a dentist, a printer, a railroad clerk and another physician. Turns out that’s not the only hotel he lived in.

Repeating ads in the Utica, Clinton and Syracuse, N.Y., papers circa 1850 show Matthews seeing patients in various hotels to implement his “cure” for stuttering and stammering . The ads look remarkably like Zebulon’s, including doctor endorsements — except Matthews’ “cure” took only 5 to 20 minutes.

Ad in the Oneida Morning Herald, a Utica, N.Y. newspaper (circa 1850). S. Carleton Matthews stayed in various upstate New York hotels circa 1850, where he saw patients seeking relief from stuttering and stammering. Image source: Old Fulton N.Y. Postcards

Best practices circa 1850

In the years before modern medicine, treatment modalities were limited — and scientific study as we know it today was still in the future.

So folk practitioners like my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee — and his mentor S. Carleton Matthews — may have been using the best practices of their era to help those they treated.

That neither man required payment unless treatment was successful seems to support the idea that they were legitimately trying to do their best for their patients — even if the techniques they used may not have been up to today’s standards.

Up next: Schoolgirl Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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