Isaac Jones homestead (1837-1851) Calloway County, KY

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction!

When working on my degree in American history, one of the core principles of research that was always driven home was....not to view the past through the eyes of your own time or through what conventional history has passed down through time. It's very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that this person did this or this person did that based on how things might have been. While conducting my research I've come across numerous examples that fall under the category of what I like to call.....stranger than fiction.

These are situations or actions, that for whatever reason, have been swept under the rug for the most part in the historical record and completely fly in the face of how you might think people conducted themselves in the 18th and 19th Century. To kind of change things up a bit on my blog, I'd like to periodically share some of these instances with you.

First up, I'd like to share something that I ran across in the North Carolina records involving a man who was petitioning the state government to grant him a divorce from his wife. During the Colonial Era and the early part of our country's independence, divorce wasn't common at all and at the time had to be granted by the colonial or state government through a petition. In the instance that I had run across, a particular gentleman was petitioning the NC court on the grounds that his wife had an issue with her personal fidelity. Now extramarital affairs aren't exactly uncommon, then or now, but in this particular situation his wife had slept with and become pregnant through one of his slaves. The proof was pretty evident when she had the child. Amazingly for the time period, her husband was able to get past it and let the incident slide and even supported the child as his own. According to his petition, the straw that broke the camel's back came when she got pregnant again and had a second "mulatto" child and he just couldn't "stand by it" anymore. One would think that this would have been seen as an offense of the gravest order in the 18th Century slave-holding South and certainly earned her at least a trip to the stocks, but the divorce was summarily granted and the only punishment the woman suffered was being denied any further financial support from her ex-husband.

We've all heard probably time and time again how white male slave holders used to have sex with their female slaves for both personal and business reasons. But what exactly were the women of the 18th and 19th Century up to while all this was going on? I think you might find yourself very surprised!

Here's a link to a website that contains abstracts to numerous divorce petitions from the state of Virginia, most of which certainly qualify for the title of stranger than fiction.

Early 19th Century Divorce Petitions From Virginia.


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