Sepia Saturday 493: Second in a new series on why my third great-grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee may have left her marriage in 1858.
In the quest to figure out why my third great-grandmother left her marriage in 1858, I examined what I have discovered so far about her early married life. On the surface, it appears unremarkable.
Sometime after the 1830 birth of their first child Rhoda Ann, my third great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee moved just across the border, from Lawsville in Susquehanna County, Penna., to Broome County, N.Y. — most likely settling in or near Hannah’s Conklin, N.Y., birthplace.
Their second daughter — my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — was born in Broome County in 1839 (according to Mary’s death certificate and her enumerations in the 1865 New York State1and 1870 federal2censuses.). Hannah was then 27.
In 1846 Zebulon was appointed postmaster of Shawsville, Broome Co., N.Y., and by 1850 he and Hannah were living on a 80-acre Conklin, N.Y., farm. Their daughter Rhoda, 19, lived next door with her husband William Whitney, 31. Hannah was then 38, and her daughter Mary, 12, was still at home.
As she approached 40, my third great-grandmother Hannah had lived her entire life in a sparsely populated rural area within a ten-mile radius of where she was born. If she had hopes that her Connecticut-born husband Zebulon might show her a wider world, they were not realized during their marriage. Yet was that enough reason to leave him?
Daily life on the farm
Wondering about Hannah’s daily life, my research led me to a scholarly paper about Pennsylvania agriculture circa 1800-1840, The paper contains an interesting passage, quoted below, about laboring on a farm in that period — which likely applied to nearby, cross-border New York farms as well.
Family and neighborhood labor dominated during this period. Men, women, and children all contributed work toward the family sustenance; there was a gender division of labor, but it was flexible. Men usually worked at lumbering, clearing land, building fence, and raising field crops, while women and children tended livestock, made dairy products, and preserved food.
But diarist Philip Fithian travelled in Lycoming County in the late eighteenth century and reported seeing even elite daughters milking and reaping, and George Dunklebarger, in his Story of Snyder County, claimed that “many of the women were as skilled with the sickle as were the men.”
A history of Lycoming County remarked that during the early days “It was a common occurrence for a woman to walk fifteen miles or more, a great homemade basket filled with butter, eggs, and farm produce balanced on her head.” Everyone participated in maple sugaring and often in haying and harvesting too. “Bees” for sugaring, house raising, husking, and other jobs made work a social event.
Longtime readers of Molly’s Canopy will remember the 300 pounds of butter that were produced on the Blakeslee farm in 1850. According to the excerpt above, that output may well have been due to the hard work of Hannah and her daughters!
Not enough reason to leave
Yet if life on the farm was demanding in the mid-1800s, the challenge was also widely experienced by other rural women of the period. And the social aspects of the work — when small farming communities pitched in at harvest and other times — may have helped compensate for the physicality of the labor.
Thus the difficulties of farm life alone do not seem like reason enough for Hannah to leave her marriage, either. There must have been some other cause — perhaps some abrupt change — that prompted her departure.
Up next: Seeking clues in Hannah’s later married years. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
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