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Tag Archives: divorce

- Out of Character: A Middlesex County Divorce Suit


Detail. Strohmeyer & Wyman. The Pastoral Visit. , ca. 1897. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/95515258/.

Inviting a man of the cloth to live in your home seems like it should be a good idea. You might expect a resident clergyman to bless a home with prayers and bring a heightened sense of peace to all who dwell there. Unfortunately, a man in Middlesex County discovered just the opposite when he and his family welcomed a pastor into their home. Instead of dispensing godly wisdom, the pastor set his eyes on the lady of the house, and she was happy to oblige.

In 1893, Thomas and Fannie Harris opened their home to their pastor, William E. Thompson. Pastor Thompson lived peaceably as a guest for nearly 10 months until Thomas began to notice his wife acting out of character. Fannie was extremely generous to the pastor, providing him with meals, gifts, and other favors above and beyond expected courtesy. According to Thomas, Fannie also appeared to have a strong desire to please the pastor rather than her husband. The impropriety of the relationship grew to the point that Harris forcibly evicted the pastor from the home. However, this was only the beginning.

In the spring of 1894, the pastor purchased land near the Harris estate. While the purchase did not immediately alarm Harris, he again noticed a drastic change in his wife’s behavior. Fannie made significant efforts to carry fruit and refreshments to … read more »

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- The Kindness of Strangers: A Story from the Montgomery County Chancery Causes


Postcard of Northfork, WV, coal camp just north of Switchback, WV. Courtesy of Pintrest.com.

The bedrock of the Library of Virginia’s chancery causes collection is the personal story. While most causes share similar documents, topics, and resolutions, each story told is unique. While processing 3,510 Montgomery County chancery causes during a two-year National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant-funded project, former Library of Virginia Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney and her staff of two, Regan Shelton and Scott Gardner, managed to record numerous noteworthy causes, known in local records jargon as suits of interest. One such suit of interest is  Agnes Schaub by, etc. v. Floyd Schaub, 1912-042.

On 15 December 1908, Agnes L. Harrison and Floyd Schaub married in Bristol, Tennessee. As Agnes later recounted, she “was a mere child when she ran away and married… just about 30 days before her sixteenth birthday.” As their marriage license indicates, Agnes was born in Carroll County, Virginia, while Floyd was born in neighboring Pulaski County. For a short time, they live together with “his people” in Carroll County and in Bluefield, West Virginia. Eventually, the couple settled “half-time in Pocahontas, Virginia and half-time in Switchback, West Virginia.”

Agnes acknowledged that Floyd began to mistreat her almost as soon as they were married, and that “on the slightest provocation or without provocation, he would curse and abuse her and threaten to beat her.” She described Floyd … read more »

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- Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Legislative Petitions for Divorce


The Bottle, Plate VI. “Fearful Quarrels, and Brutal Violence, are the Natural Consequenes of the Frequent Use of the Bottle,” 1847. Lithograph by D. W. Moody after etchings by George Cruikshank. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In this age of no-fault divorce, it is hard to imagine that from 1776 to 1826 the only means of divorce in Virginia was by petitioning the General Assembly. Petitions on various subjects were the commonwealth’s main source of legislation in the antebellum era. County and city courts began to grant divorces in 1827, but until 1852 the state legislature still accepted petitions for divorce. During the years when the legislature was the only recourse for those seeking divorce, only a fifth of petitioners obtained a divorce or legal separation.

Today’s blog post looks at two divorce petitions to the General Assembly from Winchester residents. The first is from Amelia M. Alexander.  The petition, presented to the House of Delegates on 13 December 1825 and filed under Frederick County, tells her tale of woe in language worthy of a novel of that day. “During the year 18[--] whilst she resided in the District of Columbia,” she had married John Alexander. “She was then young and knew naught of the sorrows of life; she was full of hope and full of joy. To poverty and its attendant miseries she had ever been a stranger … But alas! She has since too fatally discovered that lifes enchanted cup but sparkles at the brim. Disaster after disaster ensued.” Within a few months of marriage, she discovered that John … read more »

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- The Old Ball and Chain

In the colonial period, married Virginians had very few legal grounds for divorce. Over the years, though, standards loosened up a bit, and eventually the old justifications of adultery and impotency were joined by reasons such as abandonment, cruelty, or being a fugitive from justice. In 1873, a new justification was added to the list: if either party was sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary. One of least common reasons for divorce, this kind of suit does pop up in chancery from time to time when the spouses of criminal Virginians took advantage of the law to get rid of the old ball-and-chain.

W. H. Bonaparte and Emma G. Lee were married in Hampton in 1888. In January 1889, W. H. was convicted of a felony for transporting a woman named Ruth Tennelle into Hampton for the purpose of concubinage and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. Emma filed for divorce in February 1891 and her petition was granted one month later. (Elizabeth City County chancery cause 1891-007 Emma Bonaparte by etc vs. W. H. Bonaparte)

In 1898, Rosalie Mayo and Daniel N. Huffer were united in matrimony. In 1901 Rosalie filed for divorce while pregnant with her second child, stating that her husband had recently been sentenced to one year in the penitentiary for a terrible assault on their little … read more »

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- A Modern Day Soap Opera in the 19th Century




Some things in life never change.  Seasons, hunger, sleep, and calamity are constants which prove that the world repeats itself. Relationships are no different. For centuries, married couples have promised to remain faithful while one or both secretly desire the affections of another. In the 19th century, the marriage of Mary and William Cox served as an example of infidelity not unlike a modern-day soap opera.

An 1873 bill to the court indicates that the marriage of Mary and William Cox was in distress because of an adulterous lifestyle. Despite three years of marital bliss, Mary accused William of being unfaithful with several women because he no longer wanted to provide for his family. Mary’s accusation also implied that William molested her and the children, abandoned them, and later forced her to rent a place to stay. To satisfy her expenses, Mary works for the landlord before deciding to ask the courts to require William to answer for his actions.

Two court depositions are documented. The first, from George W. Clark, responded to the question of whether he was aware of William Cox’s unfaithfulness. Clark confirmed that he had known the couple since their marriage and that, as a practicing physician, he had discovered that Mary Cox contracted gonorrhea from her husband. Clark even testified that he actually heard William say that he had … read more »

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- Modern Love: Two Wrights and a Wrong


Editor's letter, The Ladies' Home Journal, October 1922.

Many a modern day love rat has been outed by a spouse’s discovery of telling photos posted to Facebook or illicit text messages. But what about the cheaters of yesteryear? Were they just as foolish about leaving evidence of their adultery lying around as are the two-timers of our era?

In February of 1920, Edna Wright filed her bill of complaint with the Staunton chancery court requesting a divorce from Frank W. Wright. Edna stated that for the last 18 months her husband had been infatuated with a married woman named Mabel Duffey. The previous year, Mr. Duffey had caught Frank in Mabel’s bedroom; at the time, both admitted to the charge of “criminal intimacy” or adultery. Edna agreed to take her husband back after he promised to cease his activities with Mabel. However, the lure of Mabel as forbidden fruit was apparently just too strong. At some point between being caught in the act and Edna’s filing for divorce, Frank “appears to have cast aside all restraint in regard to his marital obligations and to have abandoned himself to a sexual desire for said Mrs. Duffey and makes no denial and makes no excuse for his connection with her.” At this point Edna played her trump card: she had written and photographic evidence.

The deposition of Staunton police chief S. B. Holt relates the … read more »

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- Love Letters in the Archives


Postcard image, undated.

While working on a project involving the Middlesex County Chancery Causes, I noticed a case that was filled with scandal and intrigue.  Middlesex Chancery Cause, 1907-033, Andrew Courtney vs. Mary Courtney is a divorce suit in which both parties accuse the other of adultery. Andrew claimed his wife ran off to Connecticut with a married man named Beverly Smith, and Mary responded by claiming that Andrew was guilty of adultery himself.

As evidence, Mary produced several letters written to her husband by various women, one of which included a lock of hair.  That letter, dated 30 August 1906 from a Miss Ginny Davis, proclaimed “Here is a peice [sic] of my hair look at it and think of me.”

While it is sad to think that some of the love letters that end up in the archives are the result of divorce suits and romance gone wrong in one way or another, it also proves the quest for love is something that is surely timeless.

The Middlesex Chancery Causes, 1754-1912, are available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site.  The lock of hair reference above has also been scanned.

 

–Mary Dean Carter, Local Records Archival Assistant… read more »

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- Spotsylvania County Chancery Causes Online


Spotsylvania County seal

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for Spotsylvania County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1812-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on LVA’s Virginia Memory website. Chancery cases are useful when researching local history, genealogical information, and land or estate divisions. They are a valuable source of local, state, social, and legal history and serve as a primary source for understanding a locality’s history.

Following are a few suits of interest found in the Spotsylvania County chancery collection. Fortune Coleman etc., vs Gdn. of Henry Coleman etc., 1900-016 is a dispute over land and mineral rights of a “colored” family.  In the Petition of Thomas M. Henry, 1906-047, this is a request to access land for development of a multi-county transit system.  Mary Ella Gray vs. James Oliver B. Gray, 1913-006, is a divorce case with an illustrative biblical certificate used as a legal as proof of marriage.

The processing and scanning of the Spotsylvania County chancery causes were made possible through the innovative Circuit Court Records Preservation Program (CCRP), a cooperative program between the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Court Clerks Association (VCCA), which seeks to preserve the historic records found in Virginia’s circuit courts.

–Joanne Porter, Local Records Archivist… read more »

- King William Co. Chancery Now Online!


Letterhead for the Terminal Hotel, West Point, Virginia. King William County (Va.) Chancery Cause Anderson Bourgeoise, etc. vs. Daniel L. Risley, 1904-026, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that digital images for the King William County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1868-1913, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the LVA’s Virginia Memory site. Because they rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information and are especially useful when researching local, state, social, or legal history. Chancery causes often contain correspondence, property lists (including slaves), lists of heirs, and vital statistics that are especially helpful in documenting the African American experience, family history, women’s history, and Southern business and labor history. Following are a few suits of interest found in the collection.

The King William chancery causes contain several suits which illustrate the experiences of Native Americans in the Tidewater region. The Mattaponi Tribe is represented in Chancery Cause 1895-002, George F. Custalow vs. James S. Robinson, Trustee. In the case, two members of the Mattaponi Tribe, Custalow and Austin Key, dispute ownership over a piece of land.  In Chancery Cause Walter Miles vs. Alice Miles, 1907-006, two members of the Pamunkey Tribe, living in Indian Town, head to the King William County court to seek a divorce. Walter Miles claimed that on 15 November 1904 he was called before the chiefs of the tribe to face a charge … read more »

- From Russia Without Love


PRINZESS IRENE ashore, 1911. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

It has been said that there is a thin line between love and hate, and apparently love and obsession.  Or so appears to be the case in the life of Abram D. Toporosky.  In a Winchester chancery cause we find that Abram was a young man of 21 when he left his native country of Russia to begin a new life in the United States.  He married Rosie Ziman in Lomsk, Russia, before making his way to the harbors of New York.  He planned on finding employment and establishing residency so that he could send for his wife and they could begin their new lives in America.

Abram found work as a tailor in New York and after two years he had saved enough money to send for Rosie. Abram’s work load was steady; however, a few months after Rosie arrived his work began to slow down at the tailor shop. An affable fellow, Abram made friends easily, and the Toporoskys did not want for male company. A friend from Russia, Benjamin Stein, even lived with the couple. Abram had a couple of other male friends from the tailor shop—Harris and Wiegder who came around and were considered “good sports.” In particular, Harris, first name unknown, was willing to help Abram out financially. Stein described Harris as a “kind of a sport, a well dressed, … read more »