Epilogue: Life moves on for the Blakeslee divorcees

Sepia Saturday 476: Fifth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

Research into why my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were living separately during the 1860 U.S. census turned up the startling news that they divorced in 1866!

Quite an unexpected solution to this summertime mystery — and one that deserves an epilogue. For the Blakeslees’ marriage did not end in a vacuum, and they went on to very different lives after they parted.

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/66b6f080-a7ca-0136-2f49-0d2629ed7326
Divorce the lesser evil (1900). The lock reads: Unhappy marriage. The sword says : Divorce law. Original caption: The Church – Stop this awful immorality! Justice – You are wrong! Divorce is rather an aid to morality. Statistics prove that countries where divorces are granted are more moral than countries that forbid them! Source: NYPL Digital Collections

Hannah moves out

The first hint of possible marital discord was when Hannah left Brookdale, Penna. — where she and Zebulon lived circa 1856 — and moved with her daughters and their families to Walton, Delaware Co., N.Y., where she was living in 1860. Zebulon was left behind.

Was Zebulon impossible to live with? Had economic hardship strained the marriage? Did she object to his owning a tavern in Binghamton, N.Y. circa 1859? The records are silent on Hannah’s motivation — but it was enough for her to move more than 60 miles away to a place where Zebulon had not lived and was not known.

Zebulon files for divorce

Perhaps a separation and geographic remove were enough for Hannah — but apparently not for Zebulon. In the news announcement of their settled divorce case, which was filed in Pennsylvania, it says “Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah Blakeslee.” So he appears to have initiated the proceedings.

“What was his motivation?” I wondered. Divorce rates in the U.S. were on the upswing in the mid to late 1800s — in part because it became easier and less costly to file once the statutory waiting period had passed. But why not just live separately?

Was Zebulon worried that the Married Women’s Property Act, passed in New York and Pennsylvania in 1848, might give Hannah rights to some of their property — or to sue for divorce herself? Or was something else afoot?

Zebulon’s census entries tell a tale

So I checked Zebulon’s federal census returns for 1870 and 1880,  the years after the divorce — and that’s when I found out about his move to Jessup, Penna., and his younger second wife.

U.S. Census Enumerations for Zebulon Blakeslee. Source: FamilySearch
Year  Location Head Job Wife Job
18701 Jessup Township, Susquehanna Co., Penna. Zebulon Blakesley, 59, born in Conn. Day Hand Sarah Blakesley, 48, born in Penna. Keeping House
18802 Jessup Township, Susquehanna Co., Penna. Zebulon Blakeslee, 70, born in Conn. Shoemaker Sarah Ann Blakeslee, 57, born in Penna. Keeping House

Seems both Hannah and Zebulon wanted to get away from their previous home in Brookdale, Penna., and start over in new locations where they were not known.

In Zebulon’s case, the clearest motivation to file for divorce in 1866, at age 55, was so he would be free to marry his second wife Sarah Ann.

And Hannah? From that point on, she lived with one family member or another and characterized herself as a widow.

“Any why not?” one friend quipped when I told her story. “After the divorce, he was dead to her.”

More on Hannah’s “widowhood” 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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1866: The final rift between Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 475: Fourth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

Discovering that my great-great-great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee lived separately during the 1860 U.S. Census sent me searching for answers.

Was this a temporary situation? Were economic factors involved? What could explain this odd anomaly? https://pixabay.com/photos/stress-stressed-frayed-torn-pulled-2061408/

I was looking for all sorts of circumstantial evidence to explain the Blakeslees’ separation. What I never expected to find was a permanent rift between my great-great-great-grandparents.

So imagine my surprise when a random search for “Zebulon Blakeslee” in a digital Pennsylvania newspaper archive turned up the following announcement in the 28 Aug. 1866 issue of the Montrose Democrat!

http://panewsarchive.psu.edu/lccn/sn84026112/1866-08-28/ed-1/seq-3/#city=Montrose&rows=20&proxtext=Zebulon+Blakeslee&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=0&words=Blakeslee+Zebulon&page=1
Montrose Democrat, 28 Aug. 1866, p. 3. Source: panewsarchive.psu.edu

The Blakeslee divorce

Wait…what? Divorced? I could hardly believe my eyes. But there it was in black and white — the solution to my Blakeslee mystery — decreed by the court and published in the newspaper for all to see.

Although divorce is now a socially accepted way to end a marriage, the Blakeslee’s final rift had to be a much bigger deal in 1866.

Once I adjusted to this new reality, I wondered where I could find out more about my ancestors’ divorce — and whether court records might be available.

A few calls to the Susquehanna County Historical Society and the county courthouse gave me the answer: Yes, and accessing them in person would be best.

So I will soon be headed to Montrose, Penna., to see what I can find. Stay tuned for future posts on the results of that trip.

Mysteries within a mystery

Meanwhile, I was particularly blown away to discover the Blakeslees’ divorce because my previous research implied that Zebulon had died and left Hannah a widow.

My great-great-great grandmother Hannah repeatedly referred to herself as a widow in post-1866 census and other records — and she is listed as “widowed” on her 1888 death certificate.

Even her tombstone refers to her as the “Wife of Zebulon Blakeslee.” (Although I have long suspected that something was amiss, because Zebulon is not buried with her.)

Had Hannah simply created a more acceptable public cover story for herself to obscure her years of separation from Zebulon and their ultimate divorce? One source suggests that keeping silent about marital disruption was not uncommon:

Divorce and widowhood are two relatively public ways that a marriage can end. For a long time in American history, they have been subject to at least some level of public record keeping…Overwhelming historical evidence suggests, however, that many marriages ended long before the coroner or the divorce judge became involved and that frequently, both parties had their reasons to keep silent about their marital disruption.3

The Blakeslee story comes together

Thus ends the mystery of the Blakesees’ 1860 separation. And once again, genealogy research delivers the unexpected!

Yet learning of my Blakeslee ancestors’ divorce has also brought disparate pieces of their story together in a way that finally makes sense.

There will be more on this in the next post — particularly how Hannah and Zebulon lived their separate lives after the divorce was granted.

Up next: Epilogue to the Blakeslees’ divorce. 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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Growing family trees one leaf at a time