Tag Archives: Rhoda A. (Blakeslee) Whitney

1840-50: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s early married years

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.

http://psa.powerlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/pc/id/13561/rec/1
Susquehanna River valley where New York and Pennsylvania meet (1912). By 1850, my third great-grandmother Hanna, 38, had lived her entire life 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? Image: powerlibrary.org

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?

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p261501coll8/id/93/rec/1
Nine women with rakes (circa 1890-1920). For women, the social aspects of farm labor may have helped compensate for its physicality. So the difficulties of farm life alone may not have been sufficient reason for Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee to leave her husband in 1858. Photo: Franck Taylor Bowers collection – Broome County Historical Society

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.”

http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/agriculture/files/context/agriculture_in_the_settlement_period.pdf
Pennsylvania’s Historical Agricultural Regions. The Blakeslees began their married life in Susquehanna County’s northern tier grasslands –which extended north across the border into Conklin, Broome County, N.Y., where they later farmed in 1850. Source: phmc.state.pa.us

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.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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.

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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, 1865.3

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.

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