Tag Archives: Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney

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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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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The “widowhood” of Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 477: Sixth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

After the 1866 divorce of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, their lives took different paths.

Zebulon moved to a new town and married a younger second wife. But Hannah took a different route, characterizing herself as a “widow” until her dying day — a portrayal so convincing that it has taken me years to unravel what really happened with their marriage.

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-02f1-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Widow walking through a cemetery (1901). Rather than admit to being divorced at age 54, my ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee portrayed herself as a “widow” for the rest of her life — a socially acceptable ruse that her family apparently went along with. Source: NYPL Digital Collections

How was Hannah so successful at recasting her life? Perhaps because the tenor of the times made her explanation plausible — and her family seems to have gone along with the socially-acceptable ruse.

A sea of war widows

When the Blakeslees separated circa 1860, the U.S. was undergoing a period of rapid change. Better transportation led to greater mobility, and women’s rights were also expanding — so moving to Delaware County with her daughters Mary and Rhoda to escape an unhappy marriage was a viable option for Hannah.

When Zebulon’s divorce petition was granted in 1866, the U.S. Civil War had recently ended — leaving in its wake a sea of bereaved war widows. By then, Hannah no longer lived where she had when married, and none but her family members knew about Zebulon — so why not become one more “widow” at a time when there were many?

Hannah’s daughters and their families appear to have concurred with her decision. For when the census takers called in subsequent years, she was consistently listed as “widowed” — even though Zebulon was still alive in Jessup, Susquehanna Co., Penna., according to his census returns.

1873-1886: Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in New York and U.S. censuses & Binghamton, N.Y., city directories – Sources: FamilySearch/Ancestry
Year Record Name/Age Job/Status Household
1873 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakesley, 61 Widow Zebulon, domestic 196 Court
1875 NYS Census, Binghamton 4th Ward, Broome, N.Y. Hannah Blakeslee, 65 (indexed as “Hannah B. Cackster”) Now a widow Son-in-law William W. Whitney
1880 US Census, Binghamton, Broome, N.Y. Hannah Blakesley, 68 Widowed/ Divorced (hashmark in column) Grandson Albert E. Whitney, 4 Butternut
1885 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakeslee, 73 Widow Zebulon 4 Butternut
1886 Binghamton, N.Y. city directory Hannah Blakeslee, 74 Widow Zebulon 4 Butternut

Hannah’s tale turns true

I have not yet located a death record for Zebulon — or any record past his 1880 U.S. Census entry, at age 70, in Jessup Township, Susquehanna County, Penna. Nor do I know where he is buried.

Zebulon’s date of death is given as 5 Jan. 1880 in a multigenerational chart of Hannah’s Hance family — published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record as “John Hance and Some of His Descendants.”1

However, Record articles at that time were not footnoted or sourced –and his date of death appears be inaccurate.

Zebulon was enumerated in the 1880 federal census and I have not found him in the 1880 mortality index — indicating he was likely still alive on 5 Jan. that year.

My ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee’s stone in Shawsville Cemetery, Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. When she died, Hannah was living with her daughter Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull and son-in-law Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran,  in Salamanca, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y. Although divorced from Zebulon since 1866, Hannah carried her public persona as his “widow” to the grave. Photo: Paul R. (Find a Grave)

Yet as the 1880s progressed Zebulon probably did pass away — lending credence to Hannah’s public persona as his “widow.”  And her family went along to the end — giving her marital status as  “widowed” on her death certificate and memorializing her as the “Wife of Zebulon Blakeslee” on her tombstone.

There will be more on the Blakeslees once I (hopefully!) obtain their divorce decree and related records. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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