Tag Archives: William Whitney

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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1860: Census clues about my Blakeslee ancestors’ separation

Sepia Saturday 473: Second in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

When I first discovered that my great-great-great grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was enumerated separately from husband Zebulon in the 1860 U.S. Census, I thought it might be a coincidence.

Maybe Hannah was making a summer visit to her daughters at census time — as a vacation or to help out with their children — and her entry just looked like she lived separately from Zebulon.

But a review of the instructions to the 1860 census takers made clear that there was likely more going on with the Blakeslees’ separation than mere chance.

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016827352/
A U.S. census taker queries a resident (1920). Was my ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee really living separately from husband Zebulon in 1860 — or was she simply enumerated with her daughters’ families during a temporary summer stay? Photo: Library of Congress

Instructions to census takers

U.S. census takers in 1860 were either Marshals or Assistants who were carefully instructed on how to meticulously enter data on the forms. They had to be familiar with a long list of protocols for the federal population and non-population schedules — including the following guidance on collecting individual names:

8. Individual names. Under heading 3, entitled. “The name of every person whose usual place of abode is with this family,” insert the name of every free person in each family, of every age, including the names of those temporarily absent on a journey, visit, or for the purposes of education, as well as those that were at home on that day. [Our highlights.]

According to these instructions, if Hannah was spending temporary time with her daughters’ families, she should have been enumerated in her “usual place of abode” with her husband Zebulon — not separately as shown below.

1860 U.S. Census – Households where Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were enumerated. Source: FamilySearch
Location Name Age Job Born Other Info.
Walton, Town of Hancock, Delaware Co., New York Arthur T. Bull 27 Tannery Foreman N.Y. Head
Mary E. Bull 22 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Emonia, 2, and Carrie, 7 Mos.
William Whitney 47 Hired Man N.Y.
Rhoda A. Whitney 29 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Earl D., 10, and Albert  J., 8.
Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee 48 N.Y. [Mother of Rhoda and Mary]
Brookdale, Liberty Twp. Susquehanna Co., Penna. Zebulon Blakeslee 48 Merchant Conn. Household of James Adams & family

Other 1860 census clues

Both Mary and Rhoda did have young children at the time and may have benefited from their mother Hannah’s help — particularly since both the Whitneys and the Bulls were transplants to Walton, N.Y., from the cross-border communities of Brookdale, Penna. and Conklin, N.Y. where they lived in 1856.

But what would necessitate a stay long enough to make this Hannah’s “usual place of abode” in 1860?

https://pixabay.com/photos/sign-sale-plot-ground-1279558/
A sign of hard economic times? Did an economic downturn around 1860 prompt the separation of my ggg grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee? Photo: brenkee/pixabay

Also puzzling is why my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon was boarding with another family rather than living in the house he owned as late as 1858 — which is shown, along with his store, on a map of Bookdale, Penna.

Might the couple have fallen on hard economic times — requiring sale of their home and Zebulon staying behind to run the store while Hannah went to live with their daughters’ families?

Maybe the same difficult circumstances and a search for work were what prompted the the Bulls and Whitneys to move to Delaware County in the first place.

Time to look into what was going on around 1860 that might explain some of these unusual developments.

More on this Blakeslee mystery 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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1860: The odd separation of Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 472: First in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery. 

Summer is almost here — that wonderful season when census takers go house-to-house each decade, knocking on doors to compile the data that eventually leads many of us to our ancestors.

https://pixabay.com/photos/farmhouse-summer-holiday-vacations-1504163/
Farmhouse doorway. Summer is the season when census takers go house-to-house, knocking on doors to compile the data that eventually leads many of us to our ancestors Sometimes they reveal  family mysteries in the process. PIRO4D (CC0), Pixabay

Census returns usually help family history researchers discover where individuals and families lived at a particular time — and can also provide the names and relationships of previously unknown relatives.

Yet federal, state and local censuses can also reveal family mysteries — such as why my paternal great-great-great grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was living separately from his wife Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in 1860, as illustrated in the table below.

In this series, I hope to use census information and other research to try to figure out what was going on with the Blakeslees circa 1860 — something I have long wondered about.

U.S. Federal Censuses (1830-1880) for Zebulon Blakeslee and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. Source: FamilySearch
Year Location Zebulon Blakeslee Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee) Others in household
1830 Lawsville, Susquehanna, Penna. Free white male 20-29 (1) Free white female 20-29  (1) Free white male 20-49 (1)
1840 Chenango, Broome, New York Free white male 30-40 (1) Free white female 20-30 (1) Free white females under 5 (2); 5-10 (1); 40-50 (1); and a male 30-40 (1)
1850 Conklin, Broome, New York Age 42, Farmer, born in Conn. Age 37, born in Penna. Mary E. Blakeslee 12, born in New York
1860 Brookdale, Liberty Twp., Susquehanna, Penna. 48, Merchant, born in Conn.  Head of household: James Adams
1860 Walton, Town of Hancock, Delaware, New York Age 48, born in New York Head of Household: Son-in-law Arthur T. Bull
1880 Binghamton, Broome, New York Age 68, Widowed, born in New York Head of household: Grandson Albert E. Whitney

Happy times in Brookdale circa 1856

When we last encountered the Blakeslees, they were celebrating happy times in Brookdale, Susquehanna, Penna. — the 1856 marriage of their younger daughter Mary Elizabeth to my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull, my Union Army ancestor who was then a tanner from Corbettsville, Broome, N.Y.

https://pixabay.com/images/search/wedding/
Wedding bouquet. In 1856, the Blakeslees celebrated the Brookdale, Pa. marriage of their younger daughter Mary Elizabeth to my gg grandfather Arthur T. Bull. By 1860, the Blakeslee daughters had moved to Delaware Co., N.Y. with their families and mother Hannah — leaving father Zebulon behind. What caused this family diaspora?  Olessya (CC0), Pixabay

At the time, Zebulon was the Brookdale postmaster, a merchant with a store near the local tannery, and may have still been working a professional elocutionist dispensing therapy for stuttering or stammering. Hannah was keeping house. Their older daughter, Rhoda Anne (Blakeslee) Whitney lived in nearby Conklin, Broome, New York with her husband William.

What happened in 1860?

Yet by the summer of 1860 — just four years later — all of that had changed. Both my great-great grandmother Mary and her sister Rhoda Ann had relocated with their husbands and children to Delaware County, New York — taking Hannah with them. And Zebulon appeared to be living as a boarder in the household of James Adams.

So I can’t help but wonder: Was this upheaval precipitated by a personal or family crisis? Or had there been a downturn in the local economy? Or had some larger social, political or economic forces impacted my Blakeslee and Bull ancestors — prompting them to pull up stakes, leaving Zebulon behind?

More on this Blakeslee mystery 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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