Tag Archives: Rhoda A. (Blakeslee) Whitney

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.

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.

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:

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, 1865.1

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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1890: Rhoda A.(Blakeslee) Whitney testifies to a wedding

Sepia Saturday 429: Fourth in a series about my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a U.S. Civil War widow. Mary was the mother of my paternal great-grandmother Eva (Bull) Charboneau.

My great-great grandmother Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull set sail, at 50, on the rocky seas of widowhood after the January 1890 death of her husband Arthur T. Bull, 57, a Union Army veteran.

Fortunately, she had relatives to help guide her to safe harbors — among them her sister Rhoda A. (Blakeslee) Whitney and husband William Whitney, then living in Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y.

Woman in mourning for her husband, whose photo she wears in a brooch (circa 1896). This photo appears to capture a certain strength that widows must muster to continue on after the death of their husbands. My great-great grandmother Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull likely drew on inner strength, as well as support of family, in her quest for Civil War widow’s benefits. Image: msu.edu

Testifying to a wedding

When Mary needed to prove the date and location of her wedding — as part of her application for Civil War widow’s benefits — she turned to the Whitneys for help. They obliged by providing a remarkable affidavit testifying to the details.

How did they know them? Because they had attended Mary and Arthur’s wedding! Their testimony from Mary’s widow application file follows. (The document was typewritten except for the underlined portions, which were handwritten.)

On this 26th day of February, 1890, before me, a notary public within and for the county and state aforesaid, duly authorized to administer oaths, personally appeared William Whitney, aged 71 years and Rhoda A. Whitney, aged 59 years, who being by me severally and duly sworn, say:

That they reside at No. 179 43 South Street, in the city of Binghamton, Broome County, New York; that they were present at the  marriage of Arthur T. Bull to Mary E. Blakslee; and that the said Arthur T. Bull and Mary E. Blakslee were united in marriage at Bookdale, in the Town of Liberty and state of Pennsylvania, on the 11th, Day of August, 1856, by the Reverend Willard Richardson, a Presbyterian clergyman.

Signatures of my great-great grandaunt Rhoda A. Whitney and her husband William (1890). The Whitneys provided details of my great-great grandmother Mary’s 1856 marriage to Arthur T. Bull to support her application for Civil War widow’s benefits. Rhoda was Mary’s sister. Photo by Molly Charboneau

No marriage record

That there is no public or private record of said marriage as deponents verily believe; that as deponents are informed and believe it was not then customary among people of said county, at the time of said marriage, to record marriages in town or county records nor required by the laws of said county or state; and that the present whereabouts of said Willard Richardson who married said parties is unknown to deponents and whether he is alive or not is to them unknown.

Deponents further swear that they derive the facts of the said marriage and the time when it took place and where it was performed from a distinct remembrance of the same, said Mary E. being a sister of the deponent Rhoda A. Whitney, and deponent William Whitney being the husband of said Rhoda A.

A sympathetic notary public

William Whitney and Rhoda A. Whitney then signed the document — as shown above — and it was witnessed by a notary public, who declared:

Subscribed and sworn before me this 26th day of February 1890; and I hereby certify that the said affiants are both reputable and credible persons; that the foregoing affidavit was read to and fully understood bey each of them before verification. and that I have no interest, direct or indirect, in the prosecution of this claim. — George Whitney, Notary Public

While I don’t yet know the exact relationship, I suspect that George Whitney was related in some way to William and Rhoda — as they would likely have turned to local family in their efforts to assist Rhoda’s sister Mary. And I’m glad they did — because this clearly-written document aided my family history research tremendously!

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

 © 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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