Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 11680702

State: Virginia Year: 1807
Location: Fauquier Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1787, Ambrose Walden married Betsey Taylor of Fauquier County, and lived with her until 1798, "during which period" he "endeavored by every means in his power to render happy the woman whom he had selected and flattered himself with accomplishing so desireable an object." He would have persisted in these endeavors, Walden claims, had he not, in 1798, "detected her in an illicit amour" with a man in the neighborhood. Now, nine years later, he seeks a divorce. Related documents reveal that Walden may have been diagnosed as being insane and that, as early as 1804, a court of law had reviewed a property settlement whereby a trust was to be created for the use of Betsey Walden. The property under review included seven slaves.

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 11681129

State: Virginia Year: 1811
Location: Richmond Location Type: City

Abstract: In 1796, with the consent of her guardian and her mother, Anna Whiting of Gloucester, Virginia, married John Pryor, a Richmond man, who a related document reveals was considerably older than herself. According to John Pryor, he lived happily with his wife until June 1810, when an immigrant French teacher named Charles Fremon was introduced to his house "by means of some young Gentlemen students who rented certain rooms and small houses" from Pryor. Soon Pryor discovered that Fremon and his wife were having an illicit relationship and Pryor feared that the pair plotted to kill him in order to get married. Shortly after the affair was discovered, Anna Pryor "voluntarily prepared to leave the house and protection" of her husband "under the pretence of going to her sister's in Gloucester County, whereupon" Pryor "was induced to give her two negroes, and money to bear her expences to her supposed place of destination." Pryor claims that he was prepared to continue supporting his wife if she had indeed gone to her stated destination, but he discovered that, instead of going to her sister's, Anna and her lover took the slaves and journeyed to Charleston, Savannah, and "whither farther." Now far advanced in years, Pryor asks for a divorce.

PAR Number 11681530

State: Virginia Year: 1815
Location: Powhatan Location Type: County

Abstract: Hezekiah Mosby asks that he be granted a divorce from his wife Betsy. He confides that he “has had cause often to suspect that she was not only, not faithful to the marriage bed, but moreover, that she bestowed her favours on men of a different colour from herself.” Mosby recounts that “when his wife was about to be delivered of a child he sent for several highly respectable ladies of the neighbourhood that they might see & judge when the child was brought into the world, before any accident could happen to it.” He states that they have given “affidavits to the fact of the childs being one of colour.” The petitioner therefore prays “that he may be divorced from his wife Betsy aforesaid, and, (as far as any earthly Tribunal can effect it) restored to that condition which he occupied before marriage.”

PAR Number 11681603

State: Virginia Year: 1816
Location: Campbell Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1806, with a license from the Clerk of Court in Campbell County, free black Robert Wright married Mary Godsey, a free white woman. They were married before a "regularly Licensed Minister of the Gospel." In January 1815, Mary eloped with a white man, William Arthur, carrying "a negro Girl and other property belonging to your petitioner." Wright overtook the two in Liberty, and persuaded his wife to return, but in November 1815, the two eloped again, this time fleeing to Nashville, Tennessee. Although he knew there was a law against interracial marriage, Wright asserts that his marriage was "valid and binding." As a result, he seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11681709

State: Virginia Year: 1817
Location: Bedford Location Type: County

Abstract: Sopha Dobyns, daughter of the late Colonel Thomas Septwick, was married to Jonah Dobyns at age sixteen. She now complains that, after two years her husband, began to abuse and beat her, and continued to do so for the next four years. She escaped her husband's mistreatment by retreating to her father's house on several occasions, but when she returned home, Dobyns would whip her and threaten to take her life. One visitor to the plantation testified, in a related document, that he heard Dobyns boast "in her absence he had taken one of his own Negroe Women into her bed and that he would do it again whenever it Suited him." Sopha's father is now dead and he has left her a trust estate in slaves ample enough for her comfortable maintenance and that of her children. She seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11681903

State: Virginia Year: 1819
Location: Louisa Location Type: County

Abstract: Barbara W. Pettus seeks a divorce from her husband Hugh M. Pettus, whom she had married about 1809 only to discover he was a man of immoral character. Not only was he engaged in "wicked and vicious pursuit" of trading slaves from Maryland and Virginia to South Carolina and Georgia, but when he returned home about every six months he brought with him "coloured female Slaves, his kept mistresses." He finally decided to move to Georgia, and she believed it was her duty to accompany him; but he has run off with "a young woman of respectable family," with whom he lives as man and wife.

PAR Number 11682308

State: Virginia Year: 1823
Location: Louisa Location Type: County

Abstract: About 1811, Lewis Bourne married Doratha Woodall, who then enjoyed "a good and respectable character." After about five years of marriage, however, Doratha began to live in open adultery with a black man, the slave of a neighbor. She bore him two mulatto children, one of whom is still living and the unquestionable proof of her adultery. Doratha and her lover continue to live together. Lewis Bourne, her husband, claims that he has never treated his wife badly; indeed, he permitted her to live in a house on his land. He seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11682408

State: Virginia Year: 1824
Location: King William Location Type: County

Abstract: Evelina Gregory Roane, "a Daughter of affluence," seeks a divorce and custody of her infant son. Evelina represents that her marriage to Newman B. Roane has been wrought with "hardship and cruelty." She confides that "she was quickly reduced to the situation of a Slave who for some unpardonable offense, was constantly under the frowns of its master." Evelina further discloses that the said Newman admitted that "he had two mulatto children then at his Brothers who were much more comely and hansome than any she would ever bear" and shortly thereafter "this negroe woman and two mulatto children were brought upon the plantation." She confesses that "her husband adopted this woman as the more eligible companion & wife," and she reveals that her husband boasted that "if he had not expected a fortune he would never have married her." Having endured and survived multiple violent assaults, she asserts that she "obtained the restraining power of the civil magistrate" to force her husband "to keep the peace toward your Petitioner for the space of twelve months." She therefore prays that "a law may pass this honorable Body Divorcing your Petitioner from her husband ... and provide in the said act of Divorce that your Petitioner may be allowed to keep the said Junius B Roane in her possession until he comes to an age proper for being put to school."

PAR Number 11682601

State: Virginia Year: 1826
Location: Nansemond Location Type: County

Abstract: David Parker represents to the legislature that in 1807 he married Jane Carter, with whom he enjoyed ten year of "uninterrupted connubial pleasure and happiness." The couple had six children. Four years after Jane Carter's death, Parker married a second time, taking as his wife one Jane Miller. Parker's second marriage, however, has not been a happy one. He charges that his wife of four years has been guilty of "the greatest luridness, immorality and vice." She has frequently engaged in "criminal intercourse with slaves or persons of color." She also has given birth to "one or more children of color" before abandoning him and moving to North Carolina. Parker seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11682611

State: Virginia Year: 1826
Location: Sussex Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1817, at age seventeen, Macy Birdsong married a blacksmith named Charles Gay, who was "very poor but had learned the blacksmith trade from one of his uncles a very industrious and respectable man." A short time later, Gay took his wife's single slave, a woman, and ran off to North Carolina with another woman, Sally Andrews. Macy returned to live with her mother (her father having died many years before) and now, with her mother nearing the end of her life at age sixty-six, Macy fears following her mother's death her husband might return and lay claim to her small inheritance--a few slaves distributed among several family members. She asks for a divorce.

PAR Number 11683312

State: Virginia Year: 1833
Location: James City

Abstract: In 1821, Joseph Gresham married Sarah W. Christian of Charles City County. The couple lived in "harmony, confidence, and affection," until Gresham discovered that his wife was having an affair. Gresham notes that the charge of adultery against his wife is "aggravated" by the fact it was done with "a man of color." Gresham received further proof of her transgressions in 1831 after Sarah gave birth to a mulatto child. Gresham petitions for divorce. In a lower court trial, Sarah Gresham accused her husband of being "incompetent to the discharge of his marital duties, of sexual intercourse."

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 11683601

State: Virginia Year: 1836
Location: King William Location Type: County

Abstract: Ann Eliza Eubank represents that she petitioned the "Circuit Supr Court of Law and chancery for the County of King William" for a divorce from her husband Alfred. Married in 1831, the petitioner confides that the said Alfred displayed "cruel and unmanly conduct" towards her and that the jury found the facts in her statement "substantially proven." She therefore prays "that the General assembly will pass a Law to divorce her ... from her said husband dissolving and annulling & avoiding all the rights, privileges and powers which were acquired by the said Alfred Eubank by virtue of the said marriage." The Superior Court documents reveal the charge of adultery, charging that "the said Alfred indulged in the most shameful, sinful and degrading intercourse with other women, white and colored-- That he frequently left the marriage Bed to seek the Bed of a colored woman."

PAR Number 11683703

State: Virginia Year: 1837
Location: King William Location Type: County

Abstract: Elizabeth Pannell seeks a divorce from her husband, Edmund Pannell. Married at age sixteen, Elizabeth Pannell, who claims to be from "an ancient and respectable family," lost her entire estate when her husband squandered it "in all manner of dissipation." Accused of having committed a felony, Edmund Pannell was acquitted due to "irregularity in the proceedings" and fled from the county, leaving his wife destitute. In addition to being profligate, Pannell exhibited a cruel and abusive behavior toward his wife and engaged in "adultery and fornication" with black and white women, a fact known by all in the neighborhood. He even encouraged a slave named Grace, hired from Mrs. Louisa Deffarges and with whom he was conducting an adulterous affair, to be insolent toward his wife.

PAR Number 11683804

State: Virginia Year: 1838
Location: Bedford Location Type: County

Abstract: Sally Wade Ballinger seeks a divorce from Richard Ballinger, her husband of twenty years. She represents that the said Richard has squandered her estate and "took another woman into his house lived in open adultery with her, by her has had three children, and has driven your petitioner from him forever under the penalty of being beaten to death." The petitioner therefore prays that she may be divorced "from the said Richard Ballinger, and that all his power over her and her little children as well as her property may forever cease."

PAR Number 11683835

State: Virginia Year: 1838
Location: Orange Location Type: County

Abstract: Richard Hall represents that his wife Sarah, "to your petitioners shame and mortification, was delivered of a colored child" after six month's marriage. Hall states that he "quitted the bed of she who had so [desecrated] him and has been from that time to this, a stranger to her." Citing that "since that time ... the said Sarah has had two other children both coloured," the petitioner prays "the legislature to disolve the union which connects him with one who has thus proven herself so unworthy."

PAR Number 11684008

State: Virginia Year: 1840
Location: Nansemond Location Type: County

Abstract: Bryant Rawls seeks a divorce from his wife, Rachel, who, after twelve years of marriage and three legitimate children, gave birth to a "colored child ... begotten by a negro." His wife abandoned him shortly afterwards, Rawls claims, and he is now caring for his own children and has placed the "mulatto" baby with a free black family.

PAR Number 11684104

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

Abstract: Thomas Cain seeks a divorce from his wife Mary who has been guilty of adultery "of the most aggravated character the proof of which is found in the fact that on two separate occasions since her intermarriage ... Mary has been delivered and become the mother of black children who could not be other than the fruits of an adulterous intercourse with a negro."

PAR Number 11684105

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

Abstract: Jacob Plum asks for a divorce from his wife Mary Jane who a number of years prior to the filing of his petition gave birth to a mulatto child and continued to live with him until she recently abandoned their domicile. She has now been convicted of larceny and sent to the penitentiary.

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 11684311

State: Virginia Year: 1843
Location: Culpeper Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Lawry, the mother of four children by her husband Newsome Lawry, a convict in the penitentiary near Richmond, seeks a divorce. In 1839, she informs the legislature, her husband began an "illicit intercourse" with a slave named Cynthia, the property of the estate of James Huffman and in the possession of the estate executor, Robert Huffman. Eventually Lawry stole a horse and fled with Cynthia to Wheeling, on their way, the petitioner supposes, to a free state. Cynthia was captured by Robert Huffman and the horse, though sold, was eventually recovered. Lawry returned to Richmond after Cynthia's capture and was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison.

PAR Number 11684604

State: Virginia Year: 1846
Location: Richmond Location Type: City

Abstract: Helen Brooke Hamilton, suffering "repeated and cruel wrongs from her husband, Robert S Hamilton," seeks a divorce. Unhappy before the birth of their child, the petitioner "fondly hoped that their infant daughter would awaken him to a sense of his domestic obligation." She confides, however, that "she was doomed to the wretchedness of discovering he was an adulterer, and that with her servant maid, the girl who attended upon her." Hamilton therefore prays that it may "please you to grant her a divorce and to secure to her the custody and tuition of her infant daughter."

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.

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