Category Archives: Bull

1866: The illuminating divorce deposition of Jehiel W. Snow

Sepia Saturday 488: Sixth in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

On 16 August 1866, three notarized depositions were submitted to the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas in support of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee’s divorce petition.

A previous post discussed the first intriguing deposition of James E. Whitney — who turned out to be an in-law of the Blakeslees.

The second deposition came from Jehiel W. Snow, a neighbor who lived near Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna., during the 1860s.

Country store and antiques. My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was a country store owner in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna when he filed for divorce in 1865 — charging my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee with desertion.. Deponents in the case testified that she was well provided for — but apparently economics alone were not enough to maintain the Blakeslees’ marriage. Photo: RedStickM/Pixabay

The Snow deposition

J.W. Snow’s testimony opened with the following positive assessment of Zebulon.

Deposition taken in case of Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah Blakeslee – J.W. Snow sworn

Am acquainted with Zebulon Blakeslee and his wife. Have known them 13 or 14 years. They were living in Brookdale. Think they lived together as man and wife for six or seven years and since that time she has not been with him.

Lived quite nearby them for six years and was frequently at his home and saw his table often and have the means of knowing he provided well for his family. Country store in connection with the tanning business. Had frequent opportunity to know that he provided well for his family. Could not say that I ever saw any ill treatment toward his wife or family.

When well-provided-for falls short

Snow emphasized Zebulon’s ability to provide for Hannah and the family — and corroborated my previous discovery that Zebulon operated a country store near the Brookdale tannery.

Then he shifted to discussing my third great-grandmother Hannah — claiming she actually said she would leave her marriage!

Have heard her say that she never would come back to live with him and heard her say that she should quit him there.[A]ccording to the best of my judgement, she was provided for as well as the people could possibly be under the same circumstances. I believe that she deserted him without just cause for anything that I ever see and believe that she might have lived amicably with Mr. Blakeslee if she had a mind to do so. They have two children two daughters and am acquainted with them both and Mr. Z. Blakeslee and wife being reputed as such as man & wife for years = ever since my knowledge.

[Signature] J.W. Snow

Bible. Deponent J.W. Snow was duly sworn and took an oath to tell the truth. If we assume that he kept his word and was accurate about what he observed, his testimony for the first time  presented Hannah’s voice. Photo: Wendy van Zyl/

Hannah’s voice at last

And there you have it. Another opinion by a witness that being well-provided-for should have been enough for Hannah to stay with Zebulon “if she had a mind to do so” — and that she “deserted him without just cause.”

Nevertheless, J.W. Snow took an oath and was duly sworn to tell the truth. So if we assume that he kept his word and was accurate about what he observed — then his testimony for the first time presented Hannah’s voice!

A firm and angry voice, too. Hannah was apparently open enough about her intentions to be overheard —  saying of Zebulon that she “should quit him there” and that she “never would come back to live with him.” Which has the ring of truth — since that is exactly what happened.

Up next: Mrs. Cordelia Snow weighs in with her own deposition. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1865: Where in the world was Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee?

Sepia Saturday 487: Fifth in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

As part of his 1866 divorce case in Susquehanna County, Penna., my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee reached out to three witnesses to give depositions on his behalf.

The first deposition from James E. Whitney piqued my interest, and I discovered he was a collateral relative — a younger brother of William Whitney, husband of Zebulon’s older daughter Rhoda Ann.

Wondering where James Whitney lived when he gave his deposition, I found him enumerated the 1865 New York State Census for Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — but that’s not all I found!
Nine women with rakes (circa 1890-1920). Hannah Hance was just 16 when she married Zebulon Blakeslee in 1828, By age 46, when she left him, she may have tired of rural life and wanted something else for her remaining years. But where did Hannah live from 1860-1873? Photo: Franck Taylor Bowers collection – Broome County Historical Society

A series of surprises

Surprise No. 1: The 1865 state census (excerpted below) revealed that both Blakeslee daughters and their families were back in Conklin, N.Y. — apparently having returned en mass from Walton, Delaware County, N.Y. where they lived in 1860.

Surprise No. 2: Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney lived right next door to her brother-in-law James when he gave his deposition in support of her father Zebulon’s divorce petition. And her sister — my  great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — lived close by.

1865 N.Y. State Census – Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. – Whitney and Bull Families – Source: FamilySearch
Dwell. Fam. Name Age Relation. Born County Job/Other
15 16 James E. Whitney 35 Head Chenango Farmer
Mary Whitney 79 Mother Columbia 13 living children
Pamelia Whitney 44 Sister Broome
John B. Whitney 39 Brother Chenango
16 17 William Whitney 40 Head Broome Farmer
Rhoda Ann [Blakeslee] Whitney 34 Wife Penna. Children Duane, 14 & Albert, 12
37 39 Arthur T. Bull 29 Head Greene Farmer
Mary Elizabeth [Blakeslee] Bull 27 Wife Broome Children Emona, 7, Carrie, 5 & Milo, 3

Surprise No. 3: Hannah was not living with either daughter! And so far I have found no trace of Hannah for a span of 13 years — from the 1860 federal census of Walton, N.Y. (when she lived with her daughter Rhoda Ann and son-in-law William Whitney) to her first appearance in an 1873 city directory for Binghamton, N.Y.

“It broke up his family”

In his 1866 deposition, James E. Whitney testified about my third great-grandparents’ breakup — precipitated by Hannah leaving Zebulon in 1858.

She left him about about seven years ago and has not lived with him since. Know of no reason for her leaving and in consequence of it it broke up his family. She went to live with her son in law and has remained away ever since.

There is some truth to what he says. Hannah went away, yes — and she did live with her son-in-law. She also apparently stayed away — and under the radar — as I found no record of her  from 1860-1873.

Maybe, maybe not

But did Hannah’s actions really break up the family? Maybe, maybe not. By 1865, both Blakeslee daughters had returned together from Walton, N.Y., to their Conklin, N.Y., hometown — along with their intact families.

They were then living within five miles of their father Zebulon — who, per his 1865 divorce filing, still resided just over the border in Brookdale, Penna.

Rhoda Ann lived next door to her brother-in-law James Whitney when he provided his deposition supporting Zebulon’s divorce petition — but apparently she did not hold this against him when she later moved into his household after her husband William died.

And after their parents’ divorce and Zebulon’s second marriage, the families of both Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney and Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull took turns housing their mother Hannah for the rest of her life — while supporting her public persona as a “widow.”

A modern family

Of course, census records, city directories and court documents cannot tell the whole story. But in some ways, the Blakeslees’ and their daughters appear to have handled the divorce much like families do today — by maintaining familial relationships as best they could while adjusting to the new situation.

Up next: Two more depositions in the Blakeslee divorce case. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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.
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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