Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 11281304

State: North Carolina Year: 1813
Location: Wake Location Type: County

Abstract: Joseph Hancock seeks a divorce from his wife, the former Tabitha Askew. Hancock confides that "he is utterly at a loss in attempting to enumerate the Base Crimes which the said Tabitha has perpetuated ... crimes repugnant to the intentions of the marriage institution -- derogatory to the dignity of her sex." He discloses that the said Tabitha has "Abandoned herself to the most vile prostitution and debauchery" and has given birth to children "of various colours and complexions and nearly effected the ruin of your petitioner!" Hancock therefore prays that "his marriage with the said Tabitha may be entirely abrogated."

PAR Number 11282402

State: North Carolina Year: 1824
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: John D. Barber discloses that, after three years of marriage, his wife Mary "left his house without cause and entered into the most abandoned scenes of prostitution with black and white." Barber further reveals that said Mary "has contracted a long time since a most hateful disease" and that "she is a most uncommon drunkard and thief." The petitioner therefore prays "that the Legislature will pass a law to dissolve the bonds of matrimony between him and the said Mary Barber." Attached affidavits charge that the said Mary "is considered to be and looked upon as one of the basest prostitutes in the human family" and that she is "entirely unfit for civilized Society."

PAR Number 11282403

State: North Carolina Year: 1824
Location: Wake Location Type: County

Abstract: Lewis Tombereau, a native of France, laments that he married a young woman named Nancy Jolly, "to whom he was determined to stick as close as wax." Tombereau confesses, however, that by his said marriage "he linked his fortune with and intrusted his happiness to one of the most frail, lewd, and depraved, daughters of Eve." The petitioner charges that said Nancy "forsoke both his board, and bed, to cohabit with a certain mulatto Barber named Roland Colanche." Tombereau, "with the most pungent and heart felt sorrow," reports that Nancy "has had a coloured child, and became, and continues to be, a public and notorious prostitute in the most unlimited sense of that word. She indulging in an unreserved, and promiscuous intercourse with men of every colour, age, class, and description she meets, sufficiently dissolute, licentious, and sensual, to gratify their passion, and her lust, and desire of variety." The petitioner therefore prays that he be released "from the unhallowed bonds he in an evil hour entered into."

PAR Number 11481930

State: Tennessee Year: 1819
Location: Franklin Location Type: County

Abstract: Hardy Doyle seeks a divorce from his wife, Betsy S. Lamkin Doyle, who is possessed of "a turbulent & Tyrannical disposition." Doyle declares that his wife's behavior resulted in her being "excluded from decent society & [she] soon became the companion of whores & whoremongers of the most abandoned character ... amongst whom were free negroes & mulattoes (I blush to tell it)," whom she "invited and entertained ... at her house against my instructions." He further discloses that on one occasion "she became desperately angry and enraged against some person" and "she armed herself with a pistol in one hand and a Butcher Knife in the other ... [and] paraded through the streets, traversing the town from side to side searching her antagonist cursing & swearing most profanely & loudly using every profane oath & expression of abuse of which she could think." Being "so unfortunate as to be united to a woman who is lost to every feeling of humanity, religion & morality," the petitioner "does believe that you will be of opinion that she is not qualified to have the care of his family -- that you will not be deaf, but will hear his prayer to be released from those bands of iron which once seemed to be the silken chains of Hymen but now most miserably transformed."

PAR Number 11680806

State: Virginia Year: 1808
Location: Loudon Location Type: County

Abstract: Married in 1802, Isaac Fouch lived with his wife Elizabeth for several years "in the strictest Love, Friendship and happiness." Then he discovered she possessed a "Lewd, incontinent, profligate disposition." However, "being so much attached to her person, having from his first acquaintance with her cherished the most ardent, tender affectionate Love and Regard for her and hoping that she might yet be reclaimed, treated her with all that tenderness and respect which the most upright and Virtuous Women ought to expect, admonishing her repeatedly of the Wickedness of such a course, of the Infamy and disgrace which must result from it." But his love and admonitions were to no avail and in fact had the contrary effect; he "detected her and the partner of her crimes (a certain James Watt, a man of color) in bed together." He then resolved to leave her and set out for the Western Country. He is now convinced that reconciliation can never take place, and therefore seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11680906

State: Virginia Year: 1809
Location: Amherst Location Type: County

Abstract: William Howard informs the court that in January 1806 he was married to Elizabeth Dean, "whose character and conduct in life, was represented" in the "most favourable point of View." He therefore "entered into the matrimonial compact with the said Elizabeth in full hopes and confidence that" she would attend to "her Bed and Board, and in all respect discharge" the duties of "a good and faithfull wife." For his part, he also determined to "perform the duties of a good and faithfull Husband." However, within a year Howard discovered that his wife was engaged in "brutal and licentious connections" with a variety of men. Still "not willing to lend too favourable an Ear to the Reports prevalant in the neighbourhood," he determined to see for himself. So it is with certainty that he can now state that upon his return home "at a late Houre," he found his wife undressed and in bed with a "Certain Aldredge Evans a Man of coulour, and reputed to be a mulatoe." Howard ordered his wife out and they have been separated ever since. Howard seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11683501

State: Virginia Year: 1835
Location: Norfolk Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1831, Thomas Culpepper married Caroline Johnson. Shortly thereafter he accused her of being a "common prostitute, subject to the access of nearly all the young men in the town of Portsmouth." As prescribed in the 1827 law, Culpepper filed a statement concerning his wife's alleged behavior in the Clerk's Office, Norfolk County Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery, stating that Caroline "repeatedly associated with negroes" and engaged in carnal intercourse "with black men." He seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11684106

State: Virginia Year: 1841
Location: Campbell Location Type: County

Abstract: After six years of separation, Sarah H. Robinson seeks a divorce. Her husband was cruel and tyrannical, drank to excess, and slept with numerous "lewd women, both white and black, and he had children by them." Finally he abandoned her and she has not seen him since that time.

PAR Number 20183103

State: Alabama Year: 1831
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: James Puckett seeks a divorce from his wife, Elizabeth Rhodes Puckett, on grounds of adultery. James states that Elizabeth, whom he married in August 1828, "has been grossly unmindful of her marital obligations, as well as of the interest and happiness of your orator, and has faithlessly abandoned them, in pursuit of an unlawful and adulterous intercourse with divers other men." Accompanying affidavits state that Elizabeth kept a house of prostitution with a woman named Miss Lantee in Mobile and that she was seen entering the house of a woman of color with men other than her husband.

PAR Number 20183802

State: Alabama Year: 1838
Location: Madison Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Hall seeks to divorce her husband, Nathaniel Hall, stating that he attempted to kill her and their children on several occasions. Mary states that she married Nathaniel in 1812 and is now the mother of ten living children, "one of them is of intellect so weak that he is incapable of taking care of himself." Living "in peace and harmony faithfully and honestly discharging all the duties of a wife," Mary was surprised when her husband became "dissatisfied with her and his family," going "so far as to attempt to take life by shooting." Mary states that Hall has "abandoned her declaring his intention to live with her no more, and by selling the whole of his property," which included three slaves, he meant "to bring her and her children to starvation." She further reports that, "finding the process of starvation too slow to suit his vindictive purposes, he came home the other day and stole all her means of self defence and told her that he was well armed with pistols & that he intended her time in this world should be very short." The petitioner seeks a divorce and alimony, and an order restraining her husband and his receipt of money from her property. In his answer to the charges, Nathaniel Hall contends that his wife has been unfaithful with several men over the course of many years, and that she is improvident and violent. He asserts that he will continue to provide the necessities of life for his family, but will no longer live with his wife.

PAR Number 20184103

State: Alabama Year: 1841
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: John Farley asks the court for a divorce from his wife, Mary. Anxious to derive happiness and contentment from his marriage, John says that, since their marriage in 1812, he has treated his wife with the utmost kindness and affection, providing for her "comfort & maintenance in sickness & in health." He states that for more than twenty years his wife was kind obedient and affectionate." But in the last three years her behavior toward has changed. She is now repaying his affection and good behavior with "cold and repulsive treatment," telling him that she desires "to get rid of your orator so that she might find some person more competent to the discharge of libidinous duties." Indeed, he says, when he became ill, Mary refused to call the family physician and laced his medicine with laudanum, fully aware of "the dangerous effects of over portions" of the drug. When they agreed to separate in 1839, John gave Mary a settlement of the property, including an improved lot in the town of Lafayette and a negro man named Lewis. By the next year, he states, Mary, "being wholly lost of her matrimonial obligations," engaged in adulterous affairs and "was in the habits of daily prostituting herself." He seeks the return of property and slave that he put into trust for her support.

PAR Number 20184220

State: Alabama Year: 1842
Location: Shelby Location Type: County

Abstract: John Chambers seeks a divorce from his wife Lucretia Chambers. John states that he married Lucretia in January 1840 and "that in the midst of the well attested affection & kind treatment of your orator, the said Lucretia--for reasons, (if she had any) wholy unknown to your orator, became dissattisfied and extremely perverse, and finally on the 9th October A.D. 1840, or thereabouts left the bed and board of your orator." The petitioner states adamantly that "since about the 9th October A.D. 1840, he has had no intercourse with the said Lucretia," yet "said Lucretia gave birth to a child, about the 16th of October A.D. 1842." The complainant concludes that his wife "lost all self respect and rushed madly into the embraces of vice," being "guilty of the most libidinous and disgusting conduct." Two weeks earlier, Lucretia Chambers had filed for divorce, accusing her husband of cruelty and adultery.

PAR Number 20184808

State: Alabama Year: 1848
Location: Dallas Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1839, Elizabeth Hassell of Hickman County, Tennessee, married Alexander C. Hamilton, who had many debts and no property. Elizabeth's father, Joseph Hassell, gave the bride 220 acres of land, and loaned the couple a family of slaves consisting of Sophia and her seven children. Before long, Hamilton had sold the land and one of the slaves. Joseph Hassell sued to recover his other slaves, but Hamilton refused to turn them over. Then in 1843, the two men reached a court sanctioned agreement, whereby Hassell gave the couple a life estate in the slaves, on the condition that the slaves not be subject to Alexander's debts and not be taken out of the state of Tennessee. The agreement also stipulated that, in case Elizabeth died without children, the life estate would be split between James Hassell and Alexander Hamilton. Later Elizabeth and Alexander sold Alexander's interest in the life estate to James, but later Alexander purchased the slaves back, a transaction attested by two bills of sale. Alexander later sold two more slaves. Elizabeth charges that Alexander then began to treat her "with great Cruelty & barbarity." Once, she said, he nearly choked her to death; he was also guilty of adultery. And one night in 1848, Alexander stole away, taking five of the slaves to Dallas County. Elizabeth seeks an attachment on the slaves, and a subpoena requiring her husband to answer charges. Related testimony reveals that Alexander was in the habit of frequenting houses of ill repute and even applied to a physician for medicine to treat a venereal disease. This case was filed in both Tennessee and Alabama, the latter being the state where James had taken the slaves; it went up all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court. Alexander and Elizabeth where divorced. In 1850, Elizabeth was awarded the slaves who had not been sold by Alexander; the slaves were delivered to her in 1852.

PAR Number 20184821

State: Alabama Year: 1848
Location: Tallapoosa Location Type: County

Abstract: Sarah H. Claffey asks for a divorce from Matthew Claffey, an Irishman, who, she says, drove her out of the house and forced her to return to the home of her parents. During their time together, Sarah charges, Matthew abused her constantly, accusing her of adultery, yanking her off her horse, slapping her in the face, hitting and kicking her and "inflicting great pain." He is a "wicked and profane" man, filled with the "turpitude baseness and corruption common to the lowest and most vulgar of the Irish who come to this Country." He also committed adultery, having "carnal intercourse and illicit connection" with a prostitute. Matthew owns a twenty-year-old slave named Charlotte, and her two-year-old-child.

PAR Number 20184824

State: Alabama Year: 1848
Location: Pickens Location Type: County

Abstract: Espey M. McMath seeks a divorce from Joseph McMath on the grounds of adultery, "cruel usage," and abandonment. Because of "his idleness and lack of any regular calling," Joseph barely makes enough to support himself and their son. As alimony, she asks for the marriage portion of "the trover and Conversion of certain negroes" won by her husband in a suit.

PAR Number 20185307

State: Alabama Year: 1853
Location: Dallas Location Type: County

Abstract: At age fifteen, Jane Adams believed William Chapman's "repeated professions & promises of fidelity and affection," and thinking he possessed all the prerequisites for matrimonial happiness--honesty, sobriety, industry, and chastity--she accepted his proposal of marriage. They were wed in 1834. Jane's father, John Adams, gave her a separate estate of cash and three slaves worth two thousand dollars. Shortly after their marriage, however, William became "Cold in his affections & pitiful in his passions," leaving her for extended periods "in Search of other & Strange Women." He committed adultery on numerous occasions. She, however, remained with him "notwithstanding her husbands great want of affection & fidelity & his occasional harsh & brutal treatment." She bore him six children, two of whom died, but when he brought a woman suspected of murder to live with them, she fled to her father's house. William Chapman, Jane charges, continues to live "with other & base & vicious Women." "She has done all that Woman Can or ought to do," she asserts, "to reclaim her wayward husband." She seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 20186313

State: Alabama Year: 1863
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1856, at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Mobile, James E. Slater married slaveholder Emily Cooper, a young woman residing in the city with her mother. Engaging in mercantile business, Slater traveled a great deal, often absent for weeks at a time. In April 1863, while in Montgomery, he sustained an injury and sent for his wife. A few nights after her arrival he discovered her kissing one Charles A. Black in her hotel room. He immediately sent her to her mother's, and, having "lost his faith in her honor and chastity," made arrangements for a permanent separation. It was then that he found out that during his absences she had led a life "of great wantonness and profligacy." On various occasions, she had invited men to her house, or rendezvoused with them "elsewhere in the City of Mobile for the purpose of a guilty Sexual Intercourse." Slater seeks a divorce, and asks for custody of their five-year-old daughter Kate.

PAR Number 20186318

State: Alabama Year: 1863
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Emily F. Slater seeks a divorce from her husband, James E. Slater, who, she asserts, has treated her with great cruelty and brutality. He "denounced her as a d-m whore, and ordered her to leave the house," she said, and on one occasion choked her "until she fainted and the blood run out of her mouth." Moreover, her husband is the adulterer "suffering with a venereal disease, contracted by such an adulterous course of life." He took her eleven slaves away with the intention of selling them and depriving "entirely of her property." She would have filed for divorce sooner but felt "an instinctive dread of a public exposure." Emily prays that the court will grant her a divorce, require child support, and prevent Slater from "molesting or interfering with her in said care custody & education" of their five-year-old daughter Kate.

PAR Number 20483516

State: District of Columbia Year: 1835
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Anne Gray, a free mulatto woman about seventy years old, has been committed to the Penitentiary Department of the Washington Asylum. She asserts that "Elizabeth Butler and Matilda Anne Butler, the negro women upon whose oaths, your petitioner was committed, are not credible citizens. That the said Matilda Anne Butler is a notorious prostitute; and that the said Eliza Butler, is to say least of her, a drunken, disorderly, and worthless person." The Butlers accused Gray of "using profane language" and of "keeping a house of ill fame." Gray seeks a writ of habeas corpus.

PAR Number 20486103

State: District of Columbia Year: 1861
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: Rhoda Strother seeks a divorce from her husband, Dr. Robert Strother, on the grounds of adultery. She states that shortly after their marriage in 1856, she suspected him of adulterous activities. At one point, she "saw him kiss a woman of bad reputation at a public hotel in the City of St. Louis." Shortly thereafter, she received a letter from another woman, telling her that Dr. Strother "sought her company, and that she repulsed him, because, bad as she was, she did not wish to take a husband from a young wife." Mrs. Strother then contracted a serious illness and was forced to leave their home in the District of Columbia to recuperate in Virginia. When she returned, Mrs. Strother received an anonymous letter stating that Dr. Strother planned to meet a "negro woman" at the petitioner's house. Mrs. Strother "concealed herself in a closet, and at nearly the time named, the woman came into the room in Mrs. Gaines' house, used by Dr Strother as an office, attached to which was the said closet. Dr Strother met the woman as Your Petitioner plainly saw, took her into the parlor and was seen sitting with her upon the sofa with her hand in his for a long time." When the woman left, Mrs. Strother followed her and confronted her. She states that the woman "informed your Petitioner that Dr Strother had threatened to kill her if she betrayed their criminal intercourse to his wife." The woman further informed the petitioner that she was supposed to meet Dr. Strother later that evening. The petitioner then "obtained a white witness" and concealed herself and the witness in the closet. When the "negress" arrived, "your Petitioner heard him tell her what to say the next morning when she was to be brought before your Petitioner, and threatened her with violence if she should confess to your Petitioner their Criminal intercourse." Mrs. Strother revealed herself from her hiding place, confronted her husband, and left the house. The petitioner states that Dr. Strother moved to Kansas Territory. He filed for and obtained a divorce on the grounds of desertion. She avers that these charges are false and requests a divorce on the grounds of adultery. In addition, the petitioner seeks custody of her son and wishes to maintain control of her property.

PAR Number 20486255

State: District of Columbia Year: 1862
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: Kate McConnell seeks a divorce from her husband, Dr. James McConnell, on the grounds of adultery. She avers that her husband confessed to committing adultery with a "person, or woman of bad repute." In addition, she was informed that he was "too intimate with one of the chambermaids, a negro woman." Mrs. McConnell states that after receiving this information, she concealed herself in a room adjoining her husband's room and overheard a conversation between Dr. McConnell and the chambermaid. "The Said Dr. James McConnell made propositions to her, saying he wanted to stay with her while his wife was absent and advanced towards her and caught hold of her; She told him his wife was in the adjoining room, and would hear him." The petitioner then revealed herself and rebuked her husband. Mrs. McConnell further states that following this incident, she went to visit some friends in Virginia. While she was there, she had an accident which caused her to give premature birth and become very ill. Her husband was notified, but Mrs. McConnell avers that he stayed only four or five days with her. Dr. McConnell traveled for some time before writing the petitioner and informing her that he was establishing a practice in Cleveland, Ohio. Mrs. McConnell then received reports that Dr. McConnell "had commenced his 'old practices,' of living, and cohabiting with persons or women of notorious bad moral character." She prays for a divorce and the restoration of her maiden name.

PAR Number 20680004

State: Georgia Year: 1800
Location: Richmond Location Type: County

Abstract: Molsey Jones accuses John D'Antignac of damaging her reputation, by accusing her of "keeping a bawdy house, or house of ill fame." Jones interprets his words as meaning "that your petitioner was not only a whore but kept a house to bring whores a Negroes together." She asks that D'Antignac be summoned to answer charges of trespass and defamation, and to pay $5,000 for damages to her reputation.

PAR Number 20783616

State: Kentucky Year: 1836
Location: Barren Location Type: County

Abstract: Catherine Bishop states that she married Lourey Bishop and "fondly hoped to spend her life in as much happiness as falls to the lots of poor frail human nature." She claims that he has treated her cruelly and committed "acts of adultery with every prostitute he could find." He finally drove her and their three small wards from their house; although she brought considerable property to their marriage, he has made no provisions for her subsistence. Catherine fears Lourey is going sell his property and leave the country. She therefore asks that he be compelled to account for his estate, including cash and debts owed him, and that he be prevented from selling or removing any of it. After a hearing, she asks the court to decree her as much of the personal property, slaves, and land as is equitable and to grant her a divorce.

PAR Number 20784509

State: Kentucky Year: 1845
Location: Jefferson Location Type: County

Abstract: Esther Schleisinger states that her husband Baruck Schleisinger, a slave owner, has abandoned her. She entered into the marriage with estate and property worth approximately $25,000. She explains that they have moved to Kentucky from France and that Baruck has taken her property and left her without financial support. She adds that her husband is "living in open adultery" with another woman. Esther Schleisinger asks for a divorce and alimony.

PAR Number 20785338

State: Kentucky Year: 1853
Location: Jefferson Location Type: County

Abstract: In her original bill, Elizabeth Wilhoyte, a slaveholder, did not ask the court for a divorce, because she hoped of reforming him. Now, she asks for a divorce. She laments that "since the institution of this suit deft has been constantly drunk, has spent his time by day in coffee Houses and drinking establishments and his nights at houses of Publick Prostitution and ill fame." She reveals that on one occasion "deft after spending the night with a Publick Prostitute at a notorious house on La Fayette street gave to his Paramour a counterfeit ten dollar bill as the wages of her Prostitution." In addition to the divorce, she asks for custody of the children.

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