Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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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 20184833

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

Abstract: On Christmas Day 1848, Albert G. Wray of Montgomery County, Alabama, sued his wife for divorce. Albert Wary had married Susan Mary Cox in 1833, in Georgia, and in 1842 they moved to Alabama. He continued to live with his wife until 15 October 1848, when he discovered that she was having a "carnal connection" with C. G. M. Prime, a portrait painter and physician. Albert asks the court to dissolve the marriage and issue a divorce decree. In her answer, Susan explains that she now lives in Oglethorp County, Georgia, with her mother. She had married Albert when she was "not exceeding sixteen years of age." She claims that, within six months of the marriage, his conduct became "cold, indifferent, distant, harsh and cruel ... better the relation of master and servant than husband & wife." He repeatedly "used violence ... shoving her down violently, boxing her jaws and face and committing other personal injuries on her body." A year after their marriage, she asserts, her husband began "a promiscuous illicit intercourse with his own negroe wenches and continued ... so long as complainant and defendant resided together, say for the space of fourteen years." Albert had in fact a special relationship with a female slave named Mary, a seamstress, who, Susan claims, bore him four "mulatto" children. In the summer and fall of 1843, Susan suffered mental breakdowns, and since then has "enjoyed but few lucid intervals." Her mental problems are a direct result of the cruel and inhuman treatment by her husband, she asserts. Now "ruined in mind, broken in Spirits," she is accused of adultery with C. G. M. Prime, "a drunken worthless vagabond" hired by her husband to "take advantage of defendant's mental imbecility." In her answer and counter-petitions, Susan reveals that her husband was the owner of eighty-five slaves, some of whom he had received upon his marriage to her. The related decree reveals that Susan was in fact in a mental institution by the time the court issued its decree in 1850.

PAR Number 20184839

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

Abstract: Elizabeth Holley complains that she is "wholly destitute" and unable to prosecute her divorce suit against her husband, Howell Holley, who is guilty of "adultery and inhuman treatment." She asks for an allowance from her husband, who, she says, is worth about eight thousand dollars.

PAR Number 20184840

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

Abstract: Elizabeth Holley, who is prosecuting a divorce suit against her husband, complains that he is "making arrangements to send his Negroes beyond the Jurisdiction of said Chancery Court of Tallapoosa County." She believes he is "trading and disposing of his personal property to diverse persons" to prevent her from receiving her share. She seeks an injunction to prevent him from disposing of his wealth.

PAR Number 20184906

State: Alabama Year: 1849
Location: Sumter Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary L. Heison, by her next friend, Stephen Horton, asks the court for a divorce from Ferdinand Heison, who, she said, is "harsh, cruel, barbarous, and inhuman." He frequently beat and whipped her, pulled her hair, choked her, and "otherwise misused her." During their marriage, she charges, he engaged in illicit sexual relations with one of his slaves; even now, several years later, "he still Keeps said negro woman for the purpose of sexual intercourse." When they married in 1841, Mary owned four slaves: Nanna, Nanna's son Ben, and Nanna's two daughters, Tabitha and Lucinda. Ferdinand sold Nanna; Tabitha and Lucinda died; and he kept Ben after Mary left him in 1846, finally returning him in early 1848. Mary seeks alimony, funds to prosecute the suit, compensation for her slaves, and a writ restraining her husband from leaving the state.

PAR Number 20184911

State: Alabama Year: 1849
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: In March 1849, Susan M. Wray is living with her mother Mary Cox of Lexington, Georgia and seeks additional financial support during divorce proceedings. Albert G. Wray, she writes, is a man of substantial wealth. His plantation, located on some of the "best Prairie land in Macon County," contains perhaps a thousand acres; he owns horses, mules, hogs, and cattle, worth fifteen thousand dollars; and he owns about eighty-five slaves, "uncommonly likely a number of which he obtained by his intermarriage with your petitioner," and worth at least $35,000. His annual income is about $3,500. When she left Alabama, her husband gave her three hundred dollars, not to be considered as alimony, and the use of two female slaves "whose annual value would not exceed one hundred and fifty dollars." She admits that before leaving "she released to him all her interest in his estate both real and personal Which release your petitioner in utter ignorance of her rights & in the absence of that friend & legal advice she so much required executed, being at the time much disturbed & harassed in both body & mind [p. 565]." He can easily spare a small support payment, she asserts, being "a man and surrounded by the influence & credit which his wealth procures."

PAR Number 20184912

State: Alabama Year: 1849
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: Susan M. Wray, living with her mother Mary Cox in Lexington, Georgia, complains that the two female slaves her husband gave her to support herself during their divorce proceedings have left without her permission. They are now in "the possession & control" of her husband, Albert Wray, she says; and consequently, during April, May, and June, she lost sixty-five dollars they would have earned as hired slaves. Susan asks for that amount and additional funds to pay her attorney's fees.

PAR Number 20185007

State: Alabama Year: 1850
Location: Dallas Location Type: County

Abstract: Elizabeth Hamilton recounts that she previously filed a "bill" of divorce and alimony in 1848 in the state of Alabama, "upon which said Bill an attachment was issued again" her husband, Alexander C. Hamilton, and five slaves were levied. She explains that she also filed for and was granted divorce in the state of Tennessee in the current year of 1850. As part of its divorce decree, the Tennessee court awarded Elizabeth eight slaves as alimony, "together with the hire of the same from the filing of her bill." Elizabeth Hamilton explains that, among the eight slaves awarded to her by the Tennessee court, five are the very same slaves levied upon in Alabama in 1848. In this supplemental bill, she asks the court to order her former husband's compliance with the decree and to issue a subpoena commanding him to appear and answer her complaint. A related petition suggests that two of the slaves, Stephen and Henry, awarded to Elizabeth in the Tennessee decree may no longer have been in Alexander Hamilton's possession as early as 1848.

PAR Number 20185009

State: Alabama Year: 1850
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: In this supplemental bill, Susan M. Wray repeats many of the arguments she has previously put forth in her answer to her husband's 1848 petition for divorce: her husband, Albert Wray, is a man of wealth worth perhaps fifty thousand dollars; he owns a large number of slaves, and has the means to provide her with added support although he refuses to do so. But now, she explains, she has been committed to a lunatic asylum in Columbia, South Carolina, suffering from paroxysms of derangement. She needs her husband's financial assistance immediately and asks the court to "decree further allowances."

PAR Number 20185012

State: Alabama Year: 1850
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: This petition is one of several petitions filed by Susan Wray in response to her husband's 1848 suit for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Susan complained that "no provision whatever exists for her support, while the suit shall be pending & until all the matters & things in controversy shall be finally settled." Although the court has awarded Susan alimony in the amount of $650, and four hundred dollars in lawyer's fees, it has been twenty months and she has spent the money. Since there is no provision made for her future support, Susan asks for additional payments. Several related petitions reveal that Susan had been committed to a lunatic asylum, and was still there as of 1850. The Chancellor's decree to Susan's plea: "If there could have existed any doubt on the subject previous to the unfortunate occurrence, which caused this suit the present undisputed insanity of Mrs Wray, now an inmate of a lunatic asylum, the testimony of the eminent Superintending physician of that institution; and the particular form and manifestation of her lunacy, demonstrate to my mind at least, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that for many years prior to the institution of this suit, she has not been a morally responsible being; and that probably at the time of her marriage her mind was disordered-- that this fatal infirmity was progressive in its character and gradually increased until all her facilities and perceptions, reason, will and moral sense, became the helpless instruments of insane impulse and delusion."

PAR Number 20185103

State: Alabama Year: 1851
Location: Tallapoosa Location Type: County

Abstract: When Narcissa Rucker married Henry Henderson in Wilkes County, Georgia, in 1815, he owned only five slaves: Sally, a young nurse; Burton, a boy; Daniel, a man; and Hester and her child. The Hendersons moved westward, first from Wilkes County, near the South Carolina border, to Coweta County, in 1828, not far from Alabama, and thence to Macon, Chambers, and Tallapoosa counties in Alabama. By 1850, the Hendersons owned extensive plantation lands in three counties, and eighty-seven slaves. They also had a considerable amount of "cash on hand." Narcissa contends that she was instrumental in helping her husband accumulate property. In 1850, fifty-nine-year-old Henry Henderson began to accuse his fifty-six-year-old wife of infidelity, and he soon became obsessed with several alleged affairs, including one with Madison Kinnebrew and another man named Augustus. He soon became increasingly violent. During the summer of 1850, as Narcissa lay in a sickbed, Henderson "commenced complaining about the conduct of certain of his negroes," especially the house servants and cooks. He "flew into a passion" and threatened his wife with a hickory stick. He then "took hold of her, in a rude manner, and seizing her by the head and throat, jammed her against the wall," scratched her below the ear, tore one of her gums with his finger, and threatened to kill her, brandishing a knife when she attempted to escape. In 1851, Narcissa Henderson files for divorce. She seeks a division of property "most consistent with the pleadings and proof of the parties."

PAR Number 20185113

State: Alabama Year: 1851
Location: Lowndes Location Type: County

Abstract: Emily Manning, a married woman separated from her husband and suing by her next friend, William Mock, asks that her share in her father's estate be handed over to her rather than to her husband. Emily recounts that she was married on 23 December 1847 to Moses T. Manning, and that she and her new husband lived together for only a short period of time. Arriving as a bride at Moses's house, Emily discovered that her husband had been engaged in "a criminal and adulterous intercourse" with a mulatto girl named Epsey for more than two years. She states that she spoke with Moses about a "conduct so degrading to himself- so regardless of the laws of society- and so abominable in the sight to God," but his response was to threaten to whip her if she said any more. From then on, he "exhibited openly his fondness and partiality" for Epsey. He rose from their bed at night and went to Epsey's house "in the yard," sometimes remaining there "till near day, when he would return to his own bed." In March 1848, he took a separate bedroom so "that he might with less restraint carry on his criminal intercourse." When "all hope had vanished of ever enjoying the affections of her husband," Emily abandoned the home that her husband "had made the theatre of low and degrading debauchery," and "sought refuge from insult in the house of her father." While separated from Moses, Emily also learned about another liaison between her husband and a free mulatto woman named Venus. In this bill of complaint, she accuses her husband of profligacy and intemperance. He is unfit to manage her property, she says, and cannot be trusted to provide for her support and maintenance. Related documents reveal that Emily had petitioned for but was not granted divorce. In his related answer, Moses Manning denies charges of adultery, and accuses his wife of having abandoned him without cause, and of living in adultery with a man named Kelly in Texas.

PAR Number 20185204

State: Alabama Year: 1852
Location: Madison Location Type: County

Abstract: Emily Cornelius states that she had fled from her home with her three-month-old son, for fear of the violence inflicted on her by her husband, William Cornelius, a "habitual drunkard." She contends that William treated her in a most "cruel barbarous & inhuman" manner; he inflicted "violent blows with his fists & feet;" and he menaced her with threats of "the most dreadful character" including death. On one occasion, in a drunken rage, he even struck his own mother, who lived on the plantation. Emily seeks a divorce, custody of the child, and alimony as the court "may deem meet." Cornelius is a man of considerable wealth and property, Emily explains, worth between thirty-five and forty thousand dollars. He owns more than eight hundred acres of plantation land and "about thirty five" slaves. In addition, he "has a valuable crop of Corn & Cotton growing on his said plantation & a considerable Amount of good debts due to him." In response, Cornelius admitted that he occasionally drank to excess, but denied that he ever physically abused his wife. In any event, she knew he drank from the beginning. On their wedding day in 1845 he could barely stand and suffered from one of the "worst of his paroxysms of intoxication" during his life.

PAR Number 20185212

State: Alabama Year: 1852
Location: Dallas Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1841, Jane M. Potter, daughter of a prosperous Wilcox County plantation owner, married William Bizzell, an overseer with little means. Jane's father gave the couple a "valuable negro Boy aged about Seven years," a horse, saddle, bedding and other items "Necessary for young persons beginning in life with but little property." During the next decade, Bizzell, described as a man of "great energy & unwearied industry," acquired a number land and a number of slaves. Among the slaves was "a negro woman of light complexion named Mary with whom he was keeping up a criminal connection." He became so infatuated with her and so "open in his intercourse" that in 1844 he vowed he would "never part with this woman." Bizzell and Mary had two mulatto children. Bizzell also had four children by his wife, four of whom had died by the time she filed her petition. In 1845, Jane left and filed for divorce. Fearful of losing some of his property, Bizzell sought to appease his wife by sending the slave Mary to Ohio and promising to reform. But after she dropped her suit and returned home in 1848, he grew increasingly violent and carried on an illicit relationship with another of his slaves named Polly. In order to avoid suspicion, Jane Claims, her husband selected Polly specifically because she had a husband. Jane again left him, and again filed for divorce and alimony. Bizzell, who had sold most of his property, except for eight slaves, fled from the state. He died before a decree was rendered in the case.

PAR Number 20185421

State: Alabama Year: 1854
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1854, William Brewer files for divorce from his wife Jane Brewer. William charges that Jane was having an illicit affair with Isaiah Phillips, a boarder in their home. Although he further characterizes Jane as a woman of "unusual shrewdness," who for some time concealed her "unlawful intimacy," he charges that she and Phillips later became "so bold and daring" in their conduct of their affair that he "was treated with contempt and his authority over his wife and household was openly spurned by them." When he caught his wife and Phillips "in the act of adultry in the wood near the residence," William confronted his wife and "drove her off." The petitioner asks that Jane be summoned to court and that he be granted a divorce "from the bond of matrimony."

PAR Number 20185424

State: Alabama Year: 1854
Location: St. Clair Location Type: County

Abstract: Some years prior to her marriage in 1847, Mary C. Edwards of St. Clair County, received three slaves--Dice and her two children--as a gift from her mother. After her marriage, she moved with her slaves and husband, Wiley C. Edwards, a widower, to Jasper County, Mississippi. Upon arriving, however, she discovered that one Willis Herrin lived in "open prostitution" with a mulatto woman named Harriet, one of her husband's slaves and they did so in the same house where the newlyweds lived. There was also evidence that Wiley had fathered one or more of Harriet's children, and that he was using Willis Herrin as a cover for his illicit relationship with Harriet. In addition, Mary asserts, her husband had a violent temper; on one occasion "he choked her very much, about the neck with his hands in so much that Oratrix was unable to move, and the prints of his fingers were on her neck for several days." It soon became apparent that she could not remain in Mississippi. Only four months after their marriage, she returned to Alabama. Seven years later, to protect her slave property, including a slave she had subsequently purchased from her mother's estate, Mary Edwards files for divorce and alimony.

PAR Number 20185537

State: Alabama Year: 1855
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: In a cross-bill to William Brewer's 1854 divorce suit on the grounds of adultery, Jane C. Brewer argues that it was her husband who failed in their marriage. On one occasion, "in a fit of jealousy," he seized a gun and threatened to shoot her, Jane explained, and probably would have except for the "timely arrival of some of their neighbors." She asks for a divorce as well as permission to keep the property left to her by her mother and her late first husband. She also requests "such other and further and general relief as to your Honor shall seem meet."

PAR Number 20185620

State: Alabama Year: 1856
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Caroline Stevens seeks a divorce from her husband Nathaniel, who, she says, "voluntarily left her and her children and took up with a certain negro woman." Although he owns property and makes a good income as one of the best river pilots in Mobile, Caroline claims that her husband spends his income on "himself and his colored concubine." She asks the court to require him to provide "for the support of herself and children" who "are in danger of being subjected to shame degradation & absolute want" and to prevent him from otherwise disposing of his property. Related testimony reveals that Nathaniel Stevens lived in the same house as one Mary Malone, a woman of "mixed" color. Stevens reportedly paid rent for the house. Mary Malone lived which her mother and a nine-year-old boy.

PAR Number 20185904

State: Alabama Year: 1859
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Forced by a divorce decree to pay his former wife monthly, quarterly, and yearly alimony installments, Nathaniel Stevens seeks relief. He argues that his employment as a steamboat pilot is sometimes sporadic, and that he suffers from rheumatism which sometimes keeps him away from work. Furthermore, his eldest daughter and her husband live with him free of charge. The payments under these circumstances, Nathaniel asserts, are "extremely burdensome & oppressive" and should be reduced. He also complains that his former wife makes it very difficult for him to visit his twelve-year-old daughter Isabella; he requests that the court appoint her a guardian to remove her from her mother's "evil and pernicious influences." In her related 1856 petition, Caroline Stevens, the former Caroline Sullivan, prayed for divorce on the grounds that her husband had abandoned her and was cohabitating with a free black woman.

PAR Number 20185926

State: Alabama Year: 1859
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Isabella A. Kelly, married since 1839, claims that in the mid-1840s she discovered that her husband, physician Edwin H. Kelly, was having "constant and undisguised" sex with a slave he owned named Matilda. She contends that Matilda gave birth to two of his children. Isabella left Edwin on several occasions, but always came back when the doctor promised to reform his character. Following their first separation, she began acquiring "separate property," with her husband acting as her agent and trustee. She bought and sold slaves, hired them out, and purchased real estate. With the profits of her various transactions, she purchased a rental house, putting up cash and two as down payment. All the while, she claims, her husband treated her unkindly, forced her to live in uncomfortable circumstances in the hospital where he practiced medicine, and took the profits from her property. In 1859, she finally separated and files a bill of complaint, charging that her husband has taken control of her property. Through a "next friend," she asks the court to remove him from "the trusteeship, management & control of her separate property," and also prays for "proper alimony." In his lengthy answer to the charges, Edwin Kelly gives a very different picture of the marriage, describing his wife as a woman constantly dissatisfied and jealous of every female in their entourage. He accuses her of cruelty toward a slave, stealing his money and trying to defraud him. He denies the charges of adultery and countercharges that his wife has denied him marital right for many years.

PAR Number 20186015

State: Alabama Year: 1860
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Claudine Holcombe seeks a divorce from Albert Devereaux Holcombe, who, she says, "is a common drunkard" and "so Settled in his beastly habits" that he could never be "reclaimed." She contends that he furnishes nothing for her support except "the occasional labor of an old negro & mule." Moreover, he is a vicious and dangerous man; she constantly fears "violence and death." She asks for a divorce, alimony, and custody of her child.

PAR Number 20186033

State: Alabama Year: 1860
Location: Dallas Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1860, Mary Jane Davis, twenty-three years old, sues for divorce from her forty-five-year-old husband, Daniel, a farmer. Mary Jane claims that, shortly after their marriage in 1858, she discovered that her husband "was living in adulterous intercourse with a [hired] slave named Dice," owned by Sarah Blalock. Mary Jane contends that her husband stayed with Dice "until late hours of the Night in the house where she stayed and on one night he remained [there] all night." Moreover, Mary Jane was not permitted to keep the keys to the farmhouse, smokehouse, or other buildings, as they were turned over to Dice. Unable to endure the humiliation, she moved away, while Daniel continued "to carry out his criminal purposes," hiring Dice in 1859 and 1860, and living alone with her on his farm. In his answer to his wife's bill of complaint, Daniel Davis emphatically denies the charge of adultery with Dice or with any other slave. He informs the court that such an act would be against nature given the fact that his wife is young, healthy and very handsome, while Dice is over fifty year of age and has children and grandchildren. He claims that his wife has abandoned him because he has insufficient means, and she has told him so.

PAR Number 20186111

State: Alabama Year: 1861
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: Margaret Merritt informs the court that she married her husband, Albert Merritt, while she was not yet fourteen years of age. Less than a year has elapsed since the wedding; she now asks the court for a divorce, alleging that her husband treats her cruelly and "is a habitual drunkard." She charges that he "only married her for her property and that he intended to take her property off and sell it and spend the money and leave her without any thing." When drinking he is a man of "great violence" and often threatened her with physical harm. At the time of their marriage she owned seven slaves under the control of her guardian John Sawyer, but now her husband has taken possession of the slaves. She asks for an injunction restraining him from running off and selling her slaves.

PAR Number 20186127

State: Alabama Year: 1861
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: Margaret Merritt, who is seeking a divorce from her husband Albert Merritt, explains that N. D. Johnson, her husband's agent, took her slaves to Georgia to sell them. One of the slaves, however, got away and returned. Johnson was not able to sell the remaining slaves for the asking price of three thousand dollars, and brought them back to Talladega. Margaret not only asks for a return of her slave property, but seeks alimony. Her husband, she asserts, owns "four likely slaves" and land worth more than three thousand dollars.

PAR Number 20186220

State: Alabama Year: 1862
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Elizabeth Ribet asks for a divorce from E. J. Ribet, a merchant, charging him with "cruel and inhuman treatment." On one occasion, she asserts, he kicked her with his heavy boot and beat her with a stick "until Severe and dangerous wounds were inflicted upon her person." She has abandoned their home and is virtually destitute. The husband denies these charges, noting that his wife rents in a comfortable eight-room house, with two kitchens and a large hallway; she has two servants, "a negro woman & boy," and lives and dresses "in a Style quite opposite of a person poor & destitute."

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