Category Archives: Whitney

The “widowhood” of Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 477: Sixth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

After the 1866 divorce of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, their lives took different paths.

Zebulon moved to a new town and married a younger second wife. But Hannah took a different route, characterizing herself as a “widow” until her dying day — a portrayal so convincing that it has taken me years to unravel what really happened with their marriage.

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-02f1-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Widow walking through a cemetery (1901). Rather than admit to being divorced at age 54, my ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee portrayed herself as a “widow” for the rest of her life — a socially acceptable ruse that her family apparently went along with. Source: NYPL Digital Collections

How was Hannah so successful at recasting her life? Perhaps because the tenor of the times made her explanation plausible — and her family seems to have gone along with the socially-acceptable ruse.

A sea of war widows

When the Blakeslees separated circa 1860, the U.S. was undergoing a period of rapid change. Better transportation led to greater mobility, and women’s rights were also expanding — so moving to Delaware County with her daughters Mary and Rhoda to escape an unhappy marriage was a viable option for Hannah.

When Zebulon’s divorce petition was granted in 1866, the U.S. Civil War had recently ended — leaving in its wake a sea of bereaved war widows. By then, Hannah no longer lived where she had when married, and none but her family members knew about Zebulon — so why not become one more “widow” at a time when there were many?

Hannah’s daughters and their families appear to have concurred with her decision. For when the census takers called in subsequent years, she was consistently listed as “widowed” — even though Zebulon was still alive in Jessup, Susquehanna Co., Penna., according to his census returns.

1873-1886: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in New York and U.S. censuses & Binghamton, N.Y., city directories – Sources: FamilySearch/Ancestry
Year Record Name/Age Job/Status Household
1873 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakesley, 61 Widow Zebulon, domestic 196 Court
1875 NYS Census, Binghamton 4th Ward, Broome, N.Y. Hannah Blakeslee, 65 (indexed as “Hannah B. Cackster”) Now a widow Son-in-law William W. Whitney
1880 US Census, Binghamton, Broome, N.Y. Hannah Blakesley, 68 Widowed/ Divorced (hashmark in column) Grandson Albert E. Whitney, 4 Butternut
1885 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakeslee, 73 Widow Zebulon 4 Butternut
1886 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakeslee, 74 Widow Zebulon 4 Butternut

Hannah’s tale turns true

I have not yet located a death record for Zebulon — or any record past his 1880 U.S. Census entry, at age 70, in Jessup Township, Susquehanna County, Penna. Nor do I know where he is buried.

Zebulon’s date of death is given as 5 Jan. 1880 in a multigenerational chart of Hannah’s Hance family — published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record as “John Hance and Some of His Descendants.”1

However, Record articles at that time were not footnoted or sourced –and his date of death appears be inaccurate.

Zebulon was enumerated in the 1880 federal census and I have not found him in the 1880 mortality index — indicating he was likely still alive on 5 Jan. that year.

My ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s stone in Shawsville Cemetery, Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. When she died, Hannah was living with her daughter Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull and son-in-law Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran,  in Salamanca, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y. Although divorced from Zebulon since 1866, Hannah carried her public persona as his “widow” to the grave. Photo: Paul R. (Find a Grave)

Yet as the 1880s progressed Zebulon probably did pass away — lending credence to Hannah’s public persona as his “widow.”  And her family went along to the end — giving her marital status as  “widowed” on her death certificate and memorializing her as the “Wife of Zebulon Blakeslee” on her tombstone.

There will be more on the Blakeslees once I (hopefully!) obtain their divorce decree and related records. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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My Blakeslee ancestors and the panic of 1857

Sepia Saturday 474: Third in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

After discovering that my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were living apart during the 1860 U.S. Census, I wondered whether there was some major economic downturn that precipitated their separation.

Did hard times cause Hannah, her daughters Rhoda and Mary, and their families to relocate to Walton, Delaware Co., N.Y. — leaving Zebulon behind in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna. to mind the store while boarding with another household?

That’s when I learned about the Panic of 1857.

https://www.loc.gov/item/2014636144/

First worldwide economic crisis

The Panic of 1857 was precipitated by a downturn in the international economy and an over-expansion in the U.S. economy, which were interconnected by the 1850s — making it the first worldwide capitalist economic crisis.

It arrived in the years before the U.S. Civil War — as the Gold Rush, wild land speculation and the western expansion of railroads were winding down. And economic recovery did not come until the start of the war in 1861.

The panic also overlapped the period when Zeb and Hannah last lived together in Brookdale, Penna. (circa 1856) and when they lived separately (during the 1860 U.S. census). So could the 1857 economic crisis and the ensuing three-year depression have been factors in their separation?

Impact on workers, farmers, merchants

Economic times were tough in the years after the 1857 panic — there were runs on the banks, mortgage-holding insurance companies collapsed, grain prices plummeted and workers were laid off their jobs.

In 1850, Zebulon Blakeslee owned a family farm in Conklin, N.Y. just north of the Pennsylvania border — growing oats and other grains and producing butter — while working at other jobs and professions to make ends meet.

https://pixabay.com/photos/oats-collections-harvest-festival-1534513/
Ripening oats. Grain prices fell during the Panic of 1857, impacting family farmers and small merchants like my great-great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee and his son-in-law William Whitney. Did economic hardship precipitate my ggg grandparents’ 1860 separation? Photo: Arcaion/pixabay

Yet by 1858 — when Zeb lived in Brookdale, Penna., about six miles south — he had only a house in town and a store with no sign of a farm.

Possibly his daughter Rhoda Ann and her husband William Whitney took over his Conklin farm, located next door to theirs in 1850. William was listed as a farmer in the 1855 New York State census2— a year after the Blakeslees’ moved to Brookdale.

The 1860 move

But five years later, during the 1860 U.S. census, William, Rhoda and their children had left their Conklin farm behind and moved to Walton in Delaware County, N.Y. — where they lived in the home of Arthur T. and Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull, Zeb’s other daughter and son-in-law, along with Zeb’s wife Hannah.

Arthur was working as a tannery foreman — a step up from his 1855 tanner job in Conklin, N.Y. But William’s occupation was “hired man” — an apparent step down from owning and running a family farm. Could the mortgage upheaval during and after 1857 have jeopardized the family farm?

And what about Zeb?

Zeb was still a merchant in 1860, so  he was presumably hanging onto his Brookdale, Penna. store — perhaps to send money to his wife and daughters and later join them? However, he was was boarding with another family —  implying that his house, which may have been mortgaged, was gone.

It’s hard not to conclude that the Panic of 1857 might have had an impact on my Blakeslee and Bull ancestors, as well as my Whitney collateral relatives. But where could I find more specifics about the effects of the panic on the local economy?

I turned to digitized Pennsylvania newspapers in search of answers — and that’s when I discovered the unexpected solution to the mystery of why my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were living separately in 1860.

More on the surprising solution of this Blakeslee mystery 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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1860: Census clues about my Blakeslee ancestors’ separation

Sepia Saturday 473: Second in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

When I first discovered that my great-great-great grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was enumerated separately from husband Zebulon in the 1860 U.S. Census, I thought it might be a coincidence.

Maybe Hannah was making a summer visit to her daughters at census time — as a vacation or to help out with their children — and her entry just looked like she lived separately from Zebulon.

But a review of the instructions to the 1860 census takers made clear that there was likely more going on with the Blakeslees’ separation than mere chance.

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016827352/
A U.S. census taker queries a resident (1920). Was my ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee really living separately from husband Zebulon in 1860 — or was she simply enumerated with her daughters’ families during a temporary summer stay? Photo: Library of Congress

Instructions to census takers

U.S. census takers in 1860 were either Marshals or Assistants who were carefully instructed on how to meticulously enter data on the forms. They had to be familiar with a long list of protocols for the federal population and non-population schedules — including the following guidance on collecting individual names:

8. Individual names. Under heading 3, entitled. “The name of every person whose usual place of abode is with this family,” insert the name of every free person in each family, of every age, including the names of those temporarily absent on a journey, visit, or for the purposes of education, as well as those that were at home on that day. [Our highlights.]

According to these instructions, if Hannah was spending temporary time with her daughters’ families, she should have been enumerated in her “usual place of abode” with her husband Zebulon — not separately as shown below.

1860 U.S. Census – Households where Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were enumerated. Source: FamilySearch
Location Name Age Job Born Other Info.
Walton, Town of Hancock, Delaware Co., New York Arthur T. Bull 27 Tannery Foreman N.Y. Head
Mary E. Bull 22 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Emonia, 2, and Carrie, 7 Mos.
William Whitney 47 Hired Man N.Y.
Rhoda A. Whitney 29 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Earl D., 10, and Albert  J., 8.
Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee 48 N.Y. [Mother of Rhoda and Mary]
Brookdale, Liberty Twp. Susquehanna Co., Penna. Zebulon Blakeslee 48 Merchant Conn. Household of James Adams & family

Other 1860 census clues

Both Mary and Rhoda did have young children at the time and may have benefited from their mother Hannah’s help — particularly since both the Whitneys and the Bulls were transplants to Walton, N.Y., from the cross-border communities of Brookdale, Penna. and Conklin, N.Y. where they lived in 1856.

But what would necessitate a stay long enough to make this Hannah’s “usual place of abode” in 1860?

https://pixabay.com/photos/sign-sale-plot-ground-1279558/
A sign of hard economic times? Did an economic downturn around 1860 prompt the separation of my ggg grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee? Photo: brenkee/pixabay

Also puzzling is why my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon was boarding with another family rather than living in the house he owned as late as 1858 — which is shown, along with his store, on a map of Bookdale, Penna.

Might the couple have fallen on hard economic times — requiring sale of their home and Zebulon staying behind to run the store while Hannah went to live with their daughters’ families?

Maybe the same difficult circumstances and a search for work were what prompted the the Bulls and Whitneys to move to Delaware County in the first place.

Time to look into what was going on around 1860 that might explain some of these unusual developments.

More on this Blakeslee mystery 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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