Tag Archives: James E. Whitney

1866: Zebulon Blakeslee receives his divorce decree

Sepia Saturday 490: Eighth in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

After my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee petitioned for divorce in 1865 — and subpoenas were issued and witnesses deposed — the Susquehanna County, Penna., Court of Common Pleas finally issued his divorce decree on 16 Aug. 1866.

Calling the Friday Calendar (circa 1901-1910). Courts were a male-dominated affair in the nineteenth century. So is it any wonder that my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee moved out of the range of subpoena power when she left my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee? His petition for divorce on grounds of desertion was granted on 16 Aug. 1866 in Montrose, Susquehanna Co., Penna. Photo: NYPL Digital Collections

Zebulon contended that my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee deserted him in 1858 — and that she had not returned after an absence of seven years.

Meanwhile, according to court documents Hannah was living outside the court’s jurisdiction (likely in New York State where she resided in 1860) — and she did not receive/respond to subpoenas asking for her side of the story.

The Blakeslee divorce is finalized

Three witnesses — James E. Whitney, Jehiel W. Snow and Cordelia Snow — supported Zebulon’s version of events. After reviewing their testimony, the court issued the following decision summing up the case and granting my third great-grandfather the divorce he sought.

Decree in the case of Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah Blakeslee – Libel for Divorce

December 14th 1865 on filing the petition of Libellant praying for the reasons therein set forth he may be divorced from the nuptialities and bonds of matrimony entered into with the defendant and from application of A.O. Warren Atty. for Libellant, the Hon. C.F. Read Judge of Chambers directed a Subpoena of Divorce to issue to the defendant [Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee] returnable to January term 1866 wherein a Subpoena issued accordingly and duly stamped according to law returned non est inventus1and from Jany 16th 1866 also sub to April term 1866 returned non est inventus2, and now to wit April 9th 1866, court direct the Sheriff to make Proclamation in this case and appoint R. Kenyon J. Commissioner to take depositions in this case.

August 16th 1866 on motion of Libellant’s attorney and on reading of depositions the court upon due consideration of the [premises?]3do order, [sentence?]4and decree a divorce and separation from the nuptial tie and bonds of matrimony entered into between the said Zebulon Blakeslee and the said Hannah Blakeslee and that all the rights and duties accruing to either of the said parties at any time heretofore in pursuance of said marriage shall cease and determines as fully and to all intents and purposes as though the said Zebulon Blakeslee and the said Hannah Blakeslee had never been married. Cert. copy.

As if they had never been married

Amazing that 37 years of marriage was ended by a decree consisting of two extremely long sentences — the court determining “as fully and to all intents and purposes as though the said Zebulon Blakeslee and the said Hannah Blakeslee had never been married.”

But there you have it. As of 16 Aug. 1866 my third great-grandparents — Zebulon, 59, and Hannah, 54 — were legally entitled to move on with their lives.

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 Montrose Democrat included the Blakeslees’ divorce decree in a column on court proceedings in its 28 Aug. 1866 issue (above) — which is how I learned of it.

As a country store owner who served the public, Zebulon  may not have been totally pleased with the publicity — even though he initiated the divorce.

Because by 1870 he had relocated within Susquehanna County, Penna., from Brookdale in Liberty Twp. — where he lived for much of his first marriage — to Fairdale in Jessup Twp., where he married his second wife Sarah Ann Sherman.

And Hannah? She remained single and lived the rest of her life in New York State — avoiding social stigma by portraying herself as Zebulon’s widow.

Thus ends the story of the Blakeslees’ divorce case. Yet one mystery remains: Why did Hannah leave Zebulon, never to return? Some theories on this will begin after the next post.

Up next, Series summary: The 1866 divorce of Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. 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 disappointing divorce deposition of Cordelia Snow

Sepia Saturday 489: Seventh in a series on the 1866 divorce of my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — what the court records reveal.

The third and final deposition in the divorce case of my third great-grandparents Zebulon Blakeslee vs. Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee came from Cordelia Snow. She was married to Jehiel W. Snow who gave the second deposition — as detailed in the previous post.

Woman walking in the woods with a parasol (circa 1866). Cordelia Snow’s deposition in my third great-grandparents’ divorce case was disappointingly similar to  her husband’s. Which made me wonder: Did she genuinely express her own observations? Or was she testifying as she thought she was expected to?  Photo: NYPL Digital Collections

Perhaps because she was a woman, and also a wife and mother like Hannah, I had expectations that Cordelia Snow’s testimony might provide more insights into my ancestors’ divorce.

Surely she might have been in a position to know more about Hannah than the two male deponents — and to have been taken into confidence about why my third great-grandmother left her husband. Or so I hoped.

Cordelia Snow’s deposition

Alas, her testimony was much the same as her husband’s, and in some ways even more complimentary of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee’s behavior — finding him “uniformly” kind to his wife.

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

Have been acquainted with Mr. Zebulon Blakeslee and his wife for 13 or 14 years. Know of them living together for six or seven years. Since which time she has not lived with him for six or seven years. Was frequently at Mr. Blakeslee’s house and had the opportunity of knowing that Mrs. Blakeslee was well provided for within relation to living and with better than average of people.

Have never seen any unkind treatment of Mr. Blakeslee toward his wife but always kind — uniformly so. Have never heard her assign any reason for leaving him and that she would not come back to him. I believe that she might have lived with him amicably if she had tried to do so. Am acquainted with his two daughters — known them for years — and he has the reputation in the community where he lived of being a good provider for his family and I believe his family was broken up by her leaving.

[Signature] Cordelia Snow

 Another side to Zebulon

Naturally, I wondered: Did Mrs. Snow genuinely express her own observations? Or was she testifying as she thought she was expected to?

Yet despite my reservations, her sworn statement — and those of her husband and James E. Whitney — appear to paint a consistent picture of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee as a good provider who was publicly kind to his wife and family.

Orderly, well stocked country store, West Henrietta, NY, (1913). My third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was a  postmaster and merchant, who operated a country store in Brookdale, Susquehanna Co., Penna., in the 1850s-60s. Divorce witnesses claimed my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was well provided for. So why did she leave him in 1858? Photo: NYS Archives Digital Collections

My own research supports the witnesses’ contentions that Zebulon did his best to earn a living in what had to be a challenging rural economy — working as a farmer, elocutionist, postmaster and tavern owner, sometimes simultaneously. And he was operating a country store in Brookdale, Penna., when Hannah left in 1858 — an occupation he kept at until after their 1866 divorce.

In fact, Cordelia Snow seemed incredulous that Hannah would leave him since, she claimed, “Mrs. Blakeslee was well provided for within relation to living and with better than average of people.”

The divorce moves forward

I was disappointed that Cordelia Snow was not able to shed light on Hannah’s reasons for leaving Zebulon. Without a witness, or direct testimony from Hannah, her exact motivations remain a mystery.

Yet I have my own theories of what may have occurred between my third great-grandparents — which will be the subject of future posts.

Meanwhile, Zebulon’s divorce petition moved forward once the witness testimony was filed — and on 16 Aug. 1866 he received a court decree dissolving his marriage to Hannah.

Up next: Zebulon Blakeslee’s divorce decree. 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!

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p261501coll8/id/93/rec/1
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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