Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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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 11684005

State: Virginia Year: 1840
Location: Richmond Location Type: City

Abstract: Mary W. Lawson seeks a divorce from her husband Fabius Lawson because, she argues, he married her for her property. At the time of her 1837 marriage to Fabius Lawson, Mary owned 10 slaves, who by a prenuptial agreement were placed in a life estate for her benefit and separate from her husband's liabilities.

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 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 11684814

State: Virginia Year: 1848
Location: Henry Location Type: County

Abstract: Lucy W. Norman seeks a divorce from her husband, James B. Norman. Lucy Norman informs the court that she and James Norman were married in 1844, by which marriage James became the "undisputed owner of a large estate of lands and negroes." After a year of reasonable marital harmony, Lucy explains, her husband became prodigal, dissipated in his habits, and violent. He exhibited indifference toward her, she further adds, and brought a female servant to sleep in the conjugal bedroom, finally abandoning his wife entirely to live with "said woman of color."

PAR Number 20183001

State: Alabama Year: 1830
Location: Bibb Location Type: County

Abstract: Sarah Goodgame seeks a divorce from her husband John Goodgame. She states that, after returning from service in the militia of the United States, he "had become dissipated & continued to grow worse and was disagreeable & abusive in his family." The Goodgames moved to the Mississippi Territory, now the State of Alabama, where they "procured property & enough by industry & economy for a comfortable support," which included "four negroes slaves of the value of fifteen hundred dollars." The petitioner asks the court to dissolve their marriage and "make such provision ... for the support and maintainance of your oratrix as may seem just & equitable."

PAR Number 20183604

State: Alabama Year: 1836
Location: Madison Location Type: County

Abstract: Nancy Clay states "that in consequence of the cruel treatment of her husband, Thomas Clay," she was forced to abandon the marriage. Before leaving, Nancy entered with her husband "into articles of separation," which stipulated that Thomas agreed "to divide his property, real and personal," giving her "a deed in fee for one third of the land, & title to one third of his whole personal property," for her use. Thomas recently moved to Tennessee, taking with him ten of the slaves. In addition, he tried to sell all the land to William Hayter. Hayter, claiming ownership of the land, initiated and won a suit for "action of forcible entry & detainer" to remove Nancy, who still resides on a portion of a land sold to him. She seeks an injunction to prevent Hayter from evicting her and to recover from her husband her share of the real and personal property in his possession.

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 20183806

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

Abstract: Mary Ann Acre seeks to divorce her husband, slave owner Samuel Acre. Mary Ann writes that in her marriage she has "sought to make her deposition, her feelings, her pleasures & her walk in life square with his wishes and views, the promotion of his interest and pleasures were the objects nearest her heart and governed all her actions." However, Mary Ann says that her husband "began to indulge very freely in the use of ardent spirits," which resulted in more frequent "fits of intoxication." As a result, he treated her cruelly and barbarously, repeatedly beating her "with many stripes," and driving her from her home in the middle of the night. Acre contends that her husband's property is worth over forty thousand dollars, of which a considerable "portion of this estate was acquired by the Said Samuel Acre by his intermarriage with your Oratrix." Along with a divorce, Mary Ann Acre seeks a division of her husband's estate. In his answer and cross bill, Samuel Acre contends that his wife, far from being the virtuous and indulgent wife she claims to be, is "anything but a hand in his dish, a hand in his pocket, and a pest, termigant and scold in his house." He claims that Mary Ann inherited several slaves from the estate of her late father, and that the slaves have been placed in a trust estate for her use and benefit. Not only has Mary Ann caused him to be falsely imprisoned but, during his time in jail, she seduced and committed adultery with a young man. He seeks to divorce her and asks that she be returned to her maiden name of Carney.

PAR Number 20183911

State: Alabama Year: 1839
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Sarah Welsh asks the court to arrest her husband, Dennis Welsh, and "that he be detained in custody until he gives bond with security not to molest your Orator or the property in her custody" until the court rules on her pending divorce suit. Prior to her marriage, Sarah drew up a prenuptial agreement to ensure that her separate property remains "in her full sole and exclusive use and employment," and Dennis signed the contract. Shortly after their marriage, says Sarah, her husband "was guilty of such cruel & barbarous conduct towards her that she found it impossible to live with him," and she filed for divorce. Meanwhile, "with the rents and profits of the lands and of the hire of the slaves" from her separate estate, she was able to purchase new six slaves, noting that "the purchase money strictly derived from the sources aforesaid and that no part thereof was contributed by the said Dennis." Sarah explains that her husband, "sometimes pretends that the marital right of the defendant attaches to them and that they are the property of the defendant and that he is entitled to them." In this vein, she reports, Dennis has repeatedly threatened to deprive her of her personal property, going so far as to sell one of the six slaves, Sam, who was worth six hundred dollars.

PAR Number 20183913

State: Alabama Year: 1839
Location: Shelby Location Type: County

Abstract: Eveline Whetstone seeks a divorce from her husband. Upon her marriage to Evans Whetstone in 1830, her father, William Ratcliff, sent her a slave for a "cook and a washer woman Your Oratrix Never having been accustomed to Cooking and washing." Shortly after her marriage, her husband "commenced his most cruel treatment towards your Oratrix threatened to whip her for not having milk for him and for spitting on the floor accused her of lying and used many other opprobrious epithets." He compelled the petitioner "to do all the cooking generally for the family both whites and Blacks. He also commanded your Oratrix to do the washing." Eveline describes cruel treatment "not more than three weeks before the birth of her youngest daughter he abused her much." She also recounts that Evans threatened her life, testifying that one time "he loaded in her presence two guns and told her if she did not go home to her Father's he would blow her brains out and lay with an open knife in his bed for some time." Furthermore, he told the slaves that "if she attempted to correct them to whip her." She states that her husband ordered a slave "to get into her lap and kiss her[,] Compared the personal likeness of one of his Negro women to your oratrix and gave the preference to the Negro." When Eveline Whetstone fled the house with her two daughters, her husband applied for a license to marry another woman. Although his request was rejected at first, he succeeded the second time. He is now living with his "pretended" wife. Eveline seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 20184001

State: Alabama Year: 1840
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: Martha Nabors asserts that soon after her marriage, her husband, Nathan Nabors "commenced a scene of oppression and cruelty unparalleled, almost in a civilized country," whereby he "habituated himself to beastly inebriation." In addition, Martha charges that her husband has been financially reckless, squandering the property her father gave her upon her marriage in 1828. She states that, sometime before her marriage, her father gave her two slaves -- Mill and Charles -- "for her sole and separate use" during her lifetime. Mill now has seven children, one of whom has been sold by Nathan Nabors. Martha estimates the value of the slaves to be worth five thousand dollars. Nabors argues that her husband threatens to sell the slaves beyond the state of Alabama, thus robbing her of "a comfortable support in her old age" that the slave property would provide. She asks the court to sequester the slaves until her husband provides a sufficient bond. She also requests that the slaves be hired out to help pay court costs. Her final pray to the court is for a divorce and alimony.

PAR Number 20184101

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

Abstract: Elizabeth Langford seeks to divorce her husband, Joseph. Shortly after their marriage in 1838, Joseph "commenced treating your Oratrix very uncivilly, unkindly and in unhusbandlike manner," keeping her in "constant alarm terror and dread" and threatening to abandon her. While Elizabeth "was lying on a bed of sickness and in a state of pregnancy several miles distant from any of her relatives (and when no persons save themselves could bear witness to the crime) the Defendant desired your Oratrix to take stuff to destroy her unborn child!" Langford continued to terrify her by brandishing firearms and attempting to stab the "negro" girl sent by her father to attend her. Elizabeth was "induced to send the negro girl home for fear the defendant would murder her and was consequently left in a very weak and delicate situation to attend to all the household business without a servant or any other person she could command to render her any assistance." By 1839, Langford had left his wife, but he returned and "taking advantage of the absence of your Oratrix clandestinely seized and carried off her [seven-month-old] child at a time when the child was too young to set alone." Elizabeth blames her husband's treatment of the child for "its death." She asks the court for a divorce.

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 20184105

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

Abstract: After marrying Sarah Duncan in 1836, Jacob Smith instructed his children and servants to respect his new wife "as children & Servants ought to do, towards a mother & mistress." But, Smith charges, Sarah "never appeared happy, or content in their company nor spoke to, or communed pleasantly with them; her conversation with them was at all times in strains of anger & unpleasantness." Less than seven months after the marriage, Susan left. Now, Smith asks for divorce.

PAR Number 20184113

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

Abstract: Margaret Garner seeks a divorce with alimony from her husband Thomas Garner. Married in 1835, Margaret says that she expected "to have enjoyed that peace protection maintainance and hapiness which of right belong to her sex in the marriage state." However, three months into the marriage, Thomas began to abuse her and continued to do so for over a year. The petitioner states that she has excellent evidence that her husband "had taken a mulattress to the bed of your Oratrix and had carnally Known the said mulattress ... your Oratrix calmly remonstrated with the said Thomas Garner ... and the said Thomas beat and abused your Oratrix severely giving her slap after slap with such rapidity of repetition and such agonizing force as well nigh to deprive your oratrix of life." Margaret says because she "worked incessantly and spent not one cent that could be avoided," her husband has been able to acquire seventeen valuable slaves.

PAR Number 20184213

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

Abstract: William D. Hill, a widower, seeks to dissolve his one-year marriage to Margaret Hill, also a widow and formerly known as Margaret Pace. William Hill states that Margaret "conducted herself with some propriety" during the first two months of the marriage. Shortly thereafter, he explains, he noted "an important change in her deportment" and "she became regardless of all her duties as a wife and forgetful of the common decencies of her sex." William charges that "the said Margaret continued to grow more violent and disorderly in her daily conduct, until at length, her life was one continued practice of extreme cruelty upon your Orator and his children." In January 1842, Margaret left and moved to Mississippi. William cites that he "has a large family of children and but little other property than the tract of land upon which he resides." He seeks a divorce, fearing that "his pecuniary condition will be much injured by his connection with the said Margaret," since the slave formerly owned by his wife is now a subject of litigation among her family members.

PAR Number 20184216

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

Abstract: Margaret Selina Oliver seeks to divorce her husband, Creed T. Oliver, and petitions for her dower's portion out of the estate of her late first husband, John McGill. During her widowhood, Margaret was the co-administrator of John McGill's "large real and personal estate consisting of lands and slaves and other personal property to a large amount." She reports that when she married Creed Oliver, he took over administration of McGill's estate and that he has made no accounting of the estate since that time. She further claims that Creed "became cruel and barbarous in his treatment to your Oratrix withdrawing all protection and affection from her...that he has with great force and violence thrown at your Oratrix open knives and Table forks that he has loaded his pistol with the intent as he said to shoot your Oratrix." For these reasons, she asks the court for a divorce and her share of her first husband's estate, maintaining that "she is entitled to her dower in all his real estate and to the one fifth part of all the personalty which remain over and above the payment of all his just debts."

PAR Number 20184306

State: Alabama Year: 1843
Location: Sumter Location Type: County

Abstract: Catharine Underwood seeks a divorce and property settlement from her husband Joel Underwood on the grounds of cruelty and adultery with a female slave. Six months into the marriage, Catharine reports, Joel "assumed a coldness and indifference towards her," which escalated to physical threats and abuse. In addition, she asserts that Joel commenced an "adulterous connexion" with a female slave he had purchased. Catharine charges that it was due to this illicit relationship that her husband "communicated to your oratrix a disease too loathsome and shocking to mention." She therefore asks the court for a divorce.

PAR Number 20184316

State: Alabama Year: 1843
Location: Autauga Location Type: County

Abstract: Martha Gray informs the court that, when she married Joshua Gray in 1840, she believed that the contract was one of mutual affection. About two months later, Joshua Gray began to feel otherwise and began mistreating Martha. On some occasions, he beat her to the point where she could barely walk. Despite the hostile living conditions, Martha Gray continued to live with her husband and even became pregnant in the spring of 1841, with the hope that a child would bring the couple closer together. Joshua Gray had other plans. He initially threatened to leave her because of her pregnant state and, three weeks before the birth, beat her severely. When Martha Gray told her husband that he might hurt the child, he replied "that he hoped he should destroy the child as he wanted none." The child survived but was soon abandoned, along with Martha, by Joshua Gray. Now, Martha Gray stands before the court asking for a divorce and custody of her child.

PAR Number 20184402

State: Alabama Year: 1844
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Maria Josephine Perier Saint Guirons seeks a divorce from her husband Pierre Saint Guirons on the grounds of cruelty and adultery with a "negro" woman. At the time of the marriage in 1831, Maria owned real and personal property worth over $20,000 while Pierre owned no property. Within four years, Pierre "had disposed of all her property," keeping the proceeds for himself. In addition, Maria charges that Pierre "was almost constantly intoxicated, and at times greatly illtreated and abused her." The petitioner further states that for the past eight years, Pierre has lived with a "negro" woman in an adulterous state which has resulted in the birth of several children. It is with "the deepest regret and mortification" that Maria petitions for divorce, citing that she "has lost a friend and protector with whom your Oratrix can never again feel free to cohabit."

PAR Number 20184413

State: Alabama Year: 1844
Location: Chambers Location Type: County

Abstract: Winney Jeter seeks to dissolve her marriage to Samuel Jeter and receive support from him. She writes that in August 1842 her husband "formed an illicit and adulterous intercourse with his overseer's wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Beard. She claims that Elizabeth Beard was "a known prostitute." Winney says that Samuel's behavior has "become so cruel barbarous and inhumane as to create an alarm for her personal safety." The petitioner cites one occasion when her husband beat her with "a large walking cane" and only the intervention of her seventeen-year-old son spared her a fatal injury. She has now left her home and seeks the protection and support of the court. Winney testifies that prior to the marriage she owned about seven hundred dollars and "five Negroes which with their increase up to the present time including those sold by the defendant amount to fourteen negroes." She notes that the defendant now possesses forty-three Negroes, "most of which are valuable," and that he also owns a considerable amount of property including land worth at least eight thousand dollars and cash amounting to about twelve hundred dollars. The petitioner, with the support of her brother and next friend, Asa R. Cone, seeks a court order or seizure of the defendant's personal property to pay the costs of the suit and alimony, a dissolution of the marriage, an answer from the defendant, and all other proper relief.

PAR Number 20184505

State: Alabama Year: 1845
Location: Chambers Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1832, Sarah Trimble married John Trimble, in Morgan County, Georgia. About twelve months after their marriage John "commenced drinking ardent Spirits" and from that time forward he treated her in a most "cruel, barbarous, and inhuman" manner. He frequently whipped her with a dog whip, and once, she said, he tried to cut her throat. He "is now in the possession of four Negroes, most of which are valuable," she explains, and owns a "good Settlement of land," worth about fifteen hundred dollars. Two of the slaves in John's possession were brought by Sarah to the marriage. The other two are children born of Malinda since the marriage. Sarah Trimble seeks an attachment to prevent her husband from "removing the said property out of this state," and also asks for a divorce and alimony.

PAR Number 20184512

State: Alabama Year: 1845
Location: Lowndes Location Type: County

Abstract: Prior to their marriage in Newberry District, South Carolina, in 1819, Ruth and Sterling Balderee signed a contract granting Ruth control of her separate estate. She possessed a large amount of property, including slaves, while Sterling was "totally destitute." In her bill of complaint, Ruth explains that her husband is not only intemperate, vulgar, and tyrannical, but often beats and whips her and on one occasion hit her with a weapon so hard on the skull that the wound still remains "painful and distressing." Driven from their home by her husband's behavior, Ruth seeks the return of her property, which includes twenty-four slaves, twelve of whom are now in Sterling's possession and claimed by him as his own. She also seeks a divorce and "comfortable support and maintenance."

PAR Number 20184522

State: Alabama Year: 1845
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1845, "without any sufficient cause or provocation," Elizabeth Frances Stacy explains, her husband William Stacy whipped her with a cowhide "in a cruel barbarous and inhuman manner." Six months later, he abandoned her to live with a twenty-five-year-old black woman named Charlotte, one of the slaves Elizabeth claims to have brought to their marriage. Elizabeth asserts that she owned Charlotte and her two children at the time of her marriage to William Stacy, as well as another female slave named Diana, all of which slaves and their increase are now being held by William. She charges that all the slaves have been "seduced" away by her husband, who purchased a house and lot in Montgomery with her money. Elizabeth asks that the property which her husband acquired "by virtue of his marriage" be returned. She also seeks custody and support for her children, alimony, and a divorce. In his related answer, William Stacy contends that Charlotte and her children did not come to him by marriage, but that he purchased them. Only Diana came to him by marriage from Elizabeth's father, together with another slave named Nancy and her two children. Nancy has since been sold with one of her children; the other has died.

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