Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 11482106

State: Tennessee Year: 1821
Location: Williamson Location Type: County

Abstract: Catharine Smith asks for a divorce from her husband, John P. Smith, a man of "the most abandoned dissolute & dissipated description." Smith accuses her husband of "engaging in the most extravagant scenes of lewdness, drunkenness and debauchery" and confides that he "has often treated your Petitioner in an inhuman and intolerable manner by inflicting violence on her person, and that in direct violation of his matrimonial vow, he has been repeatedly engaged in illegal intimacies with the slaves there were subject to his controll." The petitioner therefore prays that "she may be divorced from her husband and that the bonds of matrimony may be entirely dissolved."

PAR Number 11482107

State: Tennessee Year: 1821
Location: Sumner Location Type: County

Abstract: Elizabeth Street asks for a divorce from her husband, James Street. She confides that "in about two years after our marriage he sold a negroe the only one we had, and then went off and left your petitioner." Street further laments that "in his absence the ballance of our property was taken by his creditors." She also discloses that the said James "was continually abusing her" and "was subject to intoxication and frequently would stay from home drunk two or three weeks at a time." With five children to support, Street prays "your honorable body to grant her a divorce from the bonds of matrimony" and that any property she may acquire be protected from satisfying the debts of the said James.

PAR Number 11482108

State: Tennessee Year: 1821
Location: Grainger Location Type: County

Abstract: Kimble E. Midkiff confesses that he was induced by a certain older woman named Nancy "to abscond from his fathers house in company with her" and, "by her insinuating and seductive arts," she exerted an "influence over thim which she had acquired by artifice & intrigue" and the two were married. Admitting that he was at the time "under the age of sixteen years" and "under the influence of the impulse of passion rather than the dictates of reason," Midkiff recounts that "he cohabited about six months with said Nancy, during all which time he conducted himself towards her as an affectionate husband and observed his matrimonial vow with the utmost fidelity." The petitioner charges that Nancy, however, "was detected in bed with a man of colour in the neighbourhood."

PAR Number 11482109

State: Tennessee Year: 1821

Abstract: Confessing that her husband David's "treatment became so intolarable that I Could not Stay with him any longer," Mary Logue seeks a divorce. She discloses that "he not only abused my person very frequently by pulling my hair and Draging me about the house by it but [threatened] to take my Life and would go to bed with Negro women." Mary, believing it not safe to stay with him, abandoned "his house and went to my Fathers whare I have Resided Ever Since and Since I have left my husbond ... still Continued in his wickedness as bad as ever." The petitioner therefore prays that she be granted a divorce.

PAR Number 11482111

State: Tennessee Year: 1821
Location: Robertson Location Type: County

Abstract: Henry Gardner requests a divorce from his wife Mary, who "left your petitioners House & Home & returned to her Fathers without any Just cause"; Mary returned the following month and "took away her negroes" along with "all the property which she brought with her to your petitioners House, after the intermarriage." Gardner reports that he and his wife now "Agree to live a Seperate & an undisturbed life which would conduce much more to the happiness of both parties living as they do in the same neighbourhood." He therefore prays "that the bonds of Matrimony which now exist between your petitioner & the sd Mary L. be dissolved."

PAR Number 11482202

State: Tennessee Year: 1822
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: William McClure accuses his wife, Rebecca Smith McClure, of cohabiting and having "sexual & carnal intercourse with a certain negro fellow Slave by name of Taff formerly the slave of your petitioner." McClure discloses that "for six months last past the said Rebecca has been Indulging at all times of the absence of her husband from home with the said negro slave, that she took him to your petitioners house and did so openly." Stating that his wife "has gone to the state of Illinois, hoping her said paramour may abscond & there indulge her wicked & debased desires," the petitioner prays that he be granted a divorce.

PAR Number 11482605

State: Tennessee Year: 1826
Location: Sumner Location Type: County

Abstract: Elizabeth Wilson of Sumner County asks for a divorce from her husband, Joseph P. Wilson, who two years ago "abandoned her, leaving her and a child to the pity of her relatives." Wilson recounts that she owned fifty-three acres of land and two slaves valued at $600 when she married the said Joseph in 1822. She further notes that her said property has been sold to satisfy the debts contracted by her husband during their two years together. She therefore prays "that under the peculiar circumstances of the case your honourable body will grant relief, by a bill of divorce."

PAR Number 11482909

State: Tennessee Year: 1829

Abstract: Caroline Hill represents that she received a proposal of marriage in July 1829 from Bennet Hill, who claimed "that he had Ten Negroes coming from his Uncle a old bachelor in No Carolina, that he had a thousand dollars a Legacy from his Aunt which he would be in possession of this Fall that he had at that time $500 to get some place to live on for the present." She confesses, however, that "a day or two after their union she was informed by his near conections that Sd. Hill was a Swindler in all of the above Statements." The petitioner therefore prays "your Honourable Body [to] lend to her prayer a gracious Ear, and divorce your petitioner from her marriage contract with Sd. Bennet Hill and Change her name from that of Caroline Hill, to that of Caroline Fraser her original name."

PAR Number 11482911

State: Tennessee Year: 1829
Location: Williamson Location Type: County

Abstract: Martha Smith Green seeks a divorce and the "right of all the Property She may hereafter acquire by honest Industry or donation of friends." Green charges that her husband Thomas abused and beat her and that he accused "your Petitioner of being Intimate and guilty with his Negro man Jim, to the great mortifycation of your Petitioners feelings." She further confesses that her said husband severely beat her "in such a Manner that she carried the markes of his violence on her body for twenty weeks." Green further represents that her husband admitted "that he was Carnally guilty with [a] negro girl." The petitioner therefore prays that an act be passed for her benefit, divorcing her from the said Thomas and securing her right to property she may acquire hereafter.

PAR Number 11482912

State: Tennessee Year: 1829
Location: Maury Location Type: County

Abstract: John Rich of Maury County seeks a divorce from Susanah Moore Rich on the grounds that she "was delivered of a mulatto child" four months after their marriage. Revealing that he cannot pay "the charge of a lawyer and the fees of court ... without injury to himself," Rich therefore "prays your Honorable boddy to pass a law divorcing him from the said Susanah."

PAR Number 11483113

State: Tennessee Year: 1831
Location: Haywood Location Type: County

Abstract: Hannah Stone seeks a divorce from her husband Thomas, who "left and seperated himself from her, by a wilful and malicious desertion and absence for the space of more than two years." Confessing that "she is in verry indigent circumstances, having no slaves or any one else to work for her," she prays "your honourable body to take her case into consideration and grant her relief & a seperation from the said Thomas Stone, by a divorce from the bonds of matrimony."

PAR Number 11483328

State: Tennessee Year: 1833
Location: Franklin Location Type: County

Abstract: Susan Doolin seeks a divorce from her husband, Thomas Doolin. Susan confides that her said husband "has been guilty of Acts & deeds [inconsistent] with the marriage Vow" and that he "has been guilty of Adultry With indecent & lewd women." She further submits that "his own relations to me [stated] that he had in a carnal way kept & made use of a Negro girl that belongd to me,--the Negro says the same." Stating that "he left some time in the month of April last & told me that he never intended to live with me again," the petitioner prays "that your honourable body would pass a law divorcing her from her said husband."

PAR Number 11484502

State: Tennessee Year: 1845
Location: Anderson Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Hookins asks for a divorce from her husband William. Hookins confides that said William "was always scolding and faultfinding and frequently disturbed your petitioner's hours of repose and sleep by his certain lectures -- abusing her for merest trifles and not seeming to be satisfied, he soon resorted to whipping her." She further admits that when she "would tell him to quit mistreating her so, he said by the common law a man had a right to whip his wife, and that so long as he was a freeman he would have the right of one, and that he would whip her every day of her life if he wanted to." Mary reveals that her husband has abandoned her "and her babies to this fate and the last rumor She heard of him he had taken up with a mulatto woman and was the father of two children by her." She therefore prays that "now if your Honorable body ... will only set aside, and undue this unfortunate act of your petitioner's youthful folly, and indiscretion; she hopes she will be able to do better in a second marriage than she did in her first; for she knows she could do worse that she did when she [and] Billy Hookins became man and wife."

PAR Number 11680206

State: Virginia Year: 1802
Location: Fluvanna Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1801, Dabney Pettus married Elizabeth Morris, "a woman descended from honest industrous parents, & of unspoled Character." Dabney and Elizabeth lived "with all the affection & tenderness that cou'd possibly exist between husband & wife" for about four months, when, to his "great astonishment & inexpressible mortification," Dabney discovered that his wife was "deliver'd of a Mulatto Child." Dabney claims that the child was "begotten by a negro man slave in the Neighborhood." Dabney and Elizabeth have agreed to divorce and Pettus asks the legislature to pass a law "to divorce him from the said Elizabeth." A testimony reveals that the father of Elizabeth's child was a slave named Bob who belonged to her grandfather.

PAR Number 11680301

State: Virginia Year: 1803
Location: Norfolk Location Type: County

Abstract: Married in 1802 to Lydia Bright, Benjamin Butt Jr. was absent on business when his wife gave birth to a baby. To his "inexpressible Grief and astonishment" the infant "proved to be a mulatto." Lydia admitted her relationship with "negro Man Slave named Robin" belonging to the estate of Charles Stewart, deceased. The husband seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11680503

State: Virginia Year: 1805
Location: Accomack Location Type: County

Abstract: Married for twelve years and living "in harmony" with his wife Tabitha, Ayres Tatham said that he felt shame and confusion when, in 1803, Tabitha gave birth to a mulatto child "obviously the issue of an illicit intercourse with a black man." In 1804, Tabitha ran away, departing the county and leaving the three children born of "her former more correct & happier days" in the care of her husband. Ayres was informed that she had been found living in Philadelphia. He asks for the dissolution of their marriage contract.

PAR Number 11680602

State: Virginia Year: 1806
Location: Prince William Location Type: County

Abstract: Seventy-one residents of Prince William County testify that they are well acquainted with Daniel Rose, who married Henrietta White, also considered at the time of the marriage as a person of "good character," in February 1806. In September of the same year, however, some seven months after celebration of the wedding, Henrietta was delivered of "a mulatto child," who is thought to have been fathered by a slave belonging to her grandfather. Furthermore, the petitioners inform the court, it is believed that Henrietta has had "criminal connection with the said negro man" since her marriage to Rose. The petitioners apply to the legislature on Daniel Rose's behalf, asking that he be released from his "unfortunate connection."

PAR Number 11680606

State: Virginia Year: 1806
Location: Culpeper Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1800, Charlotte Ball married William Ball who possessed property "very adequate with care and industry to their decent support." Charlotte informs the court that "she had every reason to hope for as great a portion of happiness as most people enjoy in a married state." It was not meant to be; within a short while, William Ball began to strike and beat Charlotte, and even threatened to kill her. In addition, he "wasted his substance to the last farthing in profligacy and debaucheries." Although Charlotte does not reveal to the court the details of these "debaucheries," we learn from related depositions that it included excessive drinking and adultery with both white and black women. Charlotte contends that in spite of the violence and the outrage she "conducted herself on all occasions towards" her husband "with humble duty, fidelity, and affection." The situation, however, became unbearable and she eventually left her husband's house and returned to her father's, where she has now lived for four years and accumulated some property to support herself and her children. She claims that her husband is trying to confiscate her property; she seeks a divorce.

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 11681414

State: Virginia Year: 1814
Location: Northampton Location Type: County

Abstract: Nine months after Richard and Peggy Jones were married, Peggy gave birth to a girl. At first Jones thought the child was his "notwithstanding the darkness of its colour & its unusual appearance." Later, however, it became clear that the baby could not have been fathered by a white man. His wife eventually admitted that the girl's father was a man of color, a fact already known by many neighbors. Jones seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11681419

State: Virginia Year: 1814
Location: Augusta Location Type: County

Abstract: On 3 December 1812, Ellen Shields married Robert Dunlap, turning over to her husband two slaves--Milley and Hudson--and other property. It was not long before she was forced to leave, discovering that her husband was "criminally unlawfully and carnally Intamate with and [did] keep her the Said Negroe Milley" from the first day of their marriage. She seeks 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 11681602

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

Abstract: Five months after her marriage to Abraham Newton, Nancy Gray gave birth to a mulatto child. She admitted that the baby was conceived by a black man in the neighborhood. Nancy has left her husband, and she, her mother, and the baby have left for Ohio. Abraham Newton, the husband, sues for divorce.

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