Category Archives: Hance

1866: The intriguing divorce deposition of James E. Whitney

Sepia Saturday 486: Fourth in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

In 1865, my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee filed a petition for divorce in Susquehanna Co., Penna., charging his wife Hannah with desertion.

My third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was duly subpoenaed (twice) to answer his charges. But by then she was living beyond the court’s jurisdiction — and there is no response from her in the case file.

So the next step was for Zebulon’s attorney to take depositions from witnesses to support his divorce petition.

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p261501coll8/id/88/rec/3
Man working in a pumpkin patch (circa 1890-1920). The first deposition in Zebulon Blakeslee’s divorce case came from James E. Whitney — and acquaintance and neighbor who for some 19 years lived and farmed near the Blakeslees in Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. Photo: Franck Taylor Bowers collection – Broome County Historical Society

The Whitney deposition

Three depositions were submitted to the court on 16 Aug. 1866. The first deposition from James E. Whitney is by far the most intriguing — and worth examining in detail. Below is what he told the court.

Deposition taken in case of Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah Blakeslee – James E. Whitney sworn

Am acquainted with Zebulon Blakeslee and his wife have known them for 19 years — and while they were living together as man and wife some twelve years lived within fifty to sixty Rods of them for 8 years and so far as I know they lived amicably together and never heard but what he treated his family well and provided for them well. Had two children I believe.

Was living about five miles from them when they parted. She left him 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. I could never see any cause for her leaving and always heard him spoken of kindly so far as regards his treatment of his family.

I was quite often at his house for eight years and in that time never saw any but kind treatment toward his family and that she was as well provided for as other women in like circumstances according to the best of his ability.

[Signature] James E. Whitney

Was James Whitney an in-law?

Genealogy best practice is to research individuals whose names appear on family-related documents — such as birth, marriage and death certificates — as they may turn out to be relatives. So why not apply this to court records as well?

The first thing I noticed about this deposition was the Whitney surname. The Blakeslees’ older daughter Rhoda Ann was married to William Whitney — so I suspected that William and deponent James E. Whitney might be related.

Sure enough — a review of James Whitney’s U.S. census returns quickly revealed that he was William Whitney’s brother!

Specifically, the 1900 U.S. census for Conklin, Broome, N.Y. (excerpted below) shows widow Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney living in James’s household after her husband’s death. Her relationship to James was sister-in-law.

1900 U.S. Census – Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. – Household of James E. Whitney – Source: FamilySearch
Name Relationship Birth Age Marital Status Job
James E. Whitney Head Sept. 1829 70 S Farmer
Pamela Whitney Sister April 1821 79 S Housekeeper
John B. Whitney Brother March 1826 74 S Farm Laborer
Rhoda A. Whitney S. in Law Dec. 1831 69 Wd.

So James E. Whitney and Zebulon Blakeslee were more than just longtime acquaintances and neighbors — they also had family ties.

Also of interest is the fact that Rhoda Ann moved in with James’s family after she was widowed — suggesting that she harbored no animosity for his role in her parents’ divorce.

Other deposition details

In his 1866 deposition, James E. Whitney stated that he had been acquainted with the Blakeslees “for 19 years — while they were living together as man and wife some twelve years lived within fifty to sixty Rods of them for 8 years.”

That would date their acquaintance to about 1847 — two years before the Blakeslees’ daughter Rhoda Ann married James’s brother William.

Not surprisingly, in his deposition James sings Zebulon’s praises as a good provider who treated his family well. Yet about Hannah’s departure he claims to “know of no reason for her leaving and in consequence of it it broke up his family” — a less flattering statement that will be discussed further in the next post.

Meanwhile, wanting to learn more about James E. Whitney at the time his deposition was taken, I looked up his enumeration in the 1865 New York State census for Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y.

That’s when I found yet another surprise in the convoluted path of the Blakeslees’ separation and divorce .

Up next: 1865 – Where in the world was Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee? Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

1866: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s divorce subpoenas

Sepia Saturday 485: Third in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee, 55, filed for divorce on 14 Dec. 1865 — charging desertion. The next legal step was to issue a subpoena for my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, 53, to appear in court to answer his charge.

So the same day, the first subpoena in the case was duly prepared, and the Susquehanna County sheriff was dispatched to deliver it to Hannah. By then she had been absent from Zebulon’s household for more than seven years.

https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15324coll12/id/5597/
Women’s wear in Dec. 1866. My third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was 46,  the mother of two daughters, and a grandmother, when she left her husband in 1858. Did she leave Zebulon, then 48, to move closer to her married daughters and their families — who had relocated to Hancock in Delaware Co., N.Y.? Or was something amiss in the Blakeslees’ marriage that prompted her departure? Graphic: The Met Digital Collection

A printed subpoena form

The physical appearance of the subpoena (shown below) was quite a surprise!

When I learned of my Blakeslee ancestors’ divorce, I assumed the legal dissolution of marriages was a rarity in the nineteenth century — certainly less common than today.

Yet Hannah ‘s subpoena was completed on a printed form — and not just any printed form, either. The form was specifically for divorce cases — implying that by 1865 divorce was common enough in Susquehanna County to justify printing fill-in-the-blank subpoenas!

Hannah’s presence demanded

Dated 14  Dec. 1865, the subpoena directed Hannah to appear before the judges of the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas in Montrose, Penna., on the third Monday of January 1866 to answer Zebulon’s charges in his Libel for Divorce case.

Dec. 1865: Divorce subpoena addressed to my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. Apparently divorces were common enough in Susquuehanna County, Penna., in the 1800s to justify printing fill-in-the-blank subpoena forms. Photo: Molly Charboneau

However, my third great-grandmother was presumably then living in New York State — beyond the bounds of the court’s jurisdiction. So she did not respond to the subpoena, if indeed she even received it.

A second subpoena, dated 16 Jan. 1866 and completed on the same pre-printed form, again requested Hannah’s presence in court — this time on the first Monday of April 1866.

She appears not to have received or responded to that subpoena either, as there is no testimony or deposition from her among the Blakeslee divorce case papers.

Her escape complete

However, a handwritten note on the cover page of the two subpoenas tells the tale:

Non Est Inventus So answers. David Summers, Sheriff.1

Merriam-Webster defines the legal term non est inventus as:

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.

So Hannah’s escape was complete. She had left her marriage and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania more than seven years before — and neither Zebulon nor the courts could compel her to return.

Looking back more than 150 years, it’s easy to wish that Hannah had testified — or at least sent a written deposition giving her side of the story. But even without her direct account, it’s clear that she wanted out of her marriage in 1858 — and she took action to make that happen.

Up next: The intriguing deposition of Zebulon Blakeslee’s first witness. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

1865: Zebulon Blakeslee petitions for divorce

Sepia Saturday 484: Second in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

On 14 Dec. 1865, my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee filed for a divorce from my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — charging her with deserting him more than seven years before.

Zebulon was still living in Brookdale in Liberty, Susquehanna County, Penna., when he submitted his divorce petition to the county’s Court of Common Pleas to be heard during their January 1866 term.

https://pixabay.com/photos/train-station-canada-railway-1400657/
Country train station. The  Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad ran close to the Brookdale, Penna., home of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. Was that how Hannah left him on 1 Nov. 1858 — never to return? Photo: Pixabay

Meanwhile, Hannah had long since moved across the border to New York State — where by 1860 she was living with the family of her older daughter Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney.

What prompted Hannah’s departure? How did Zebulon view it? What can the court papers tell us?  Answers to these questions and more will be the focus of this new series.

Zebulon makes his case

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania legally sanctioned divorce from 1785. The first step was to file a petition for the court’s review stating the reasons why the divorce was requested.

Addressing the “Honorable the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas for Susquehanna County,”  Zebulon’s petition gave the following rendition of the Blakeslees’ separation.

The petition of Zebulon Blakeslee of Liberty respectfully showeth: That your petitioner was on the 19th day of Nov. A.D. 1828, lawfully, joined in marriage with Hannah Blakeslee his present wife & from that time until the 1 day of Nov A.D. 1858 lived & cohabited with her & hath in all respects demeaned himself as a kindly & affectionate husband & although by the laws of God as well as by the mutual vows plighted to each other, they were bound to that uniform consistency & regard which ought to be inseparable from the marriage state.

[Y]et so it is that the said Hannah Blakesley in violation of her marriage vow that the 1 day of Nov A.D. 1858 hath willfully & maliciously deserted & absented herself from the habitation of this petitioner without any just or reasonable cause & such desertion hath persisted in for the term of Seven years & upwards & yet doth continue to absent herself from the said petitioner:

https://pixabay.com/photos/paper-font-old-antique-write-623167/
Antique documents. Under nineteenth century Pennsylvania divorce law, the first step in ending a marriage was to file a petition for the court’s review stating the reasons why the divorce was requested. My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee filed his petition on 14 Dec. 1865. Photo: Pixabay

Divorce officially requested

Zebulon then outlined his eligibility to request the divorce (he’d lived in the state for more than a year); asked that Hannah be subpoenaed to answer his complaint; and requested that the court divorce him “from the bond of matrimony as if he had never been married” — all of which were required by Pennsylvania law.

Wherefore your petitioner further showing that he is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, & hath resided therein for more than one whole year previous to the filing of this his petition, prays your Honors that a subpoena may issue in due form of law directed to the said Hannah Blakesley commanding her to appear in this Honorable Court at January term next to answer the complaint aforesaid.

And also that a decree of this honorable Court may be made for the divorcing from him, the said Zebulon Blakesley from the bond of matrimony as if he had never been married.
And he will ever pray. [Signed] Z Blakeslee

Dec. 14,1865: Signature of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee on his petition for divorce. Photo: Molly Charboneau

And just to be sure…

The court also  apparently required divorce petitioners to swear to the truth of their allegations — and to state that they were not collaborating with their spouse to frivolously break their marriage bonds. So Zebulon swore to this before a witness.

The above named Zebulon Blakesley being duly sworn according to the law doth depose & say that the facts contained in the above petition or libel are true to the best of his knowledge & belief & that the said complaint is not made out of levity or by collusion between him the said Zebulon Blakesley & the said Hannah Blakesley his wife & for the main purpose of being freed & separated from each other but in sincerity & truth for the causes mentioned in the said petition or libel. [Signed] Z Blakeslee

Sworn & subscribed before me this 13th day of Dec. A.D. 1865 – [Signed] A. O. Warren J.P. [?]; Let subpoena issue. [Signed] C.F. Ready [?], Associate Judge – Dec. 14, 1865.2

Well — quite a petition! Yet it only reveals Zebulon’s side of the story. Was something amiss in the Blakeslees’ marriage that prompted Hannah’s departure?

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

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin