Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Divorce Wars" In The Early 1800's

Copyright 2010, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

There was a Hollywood movie a few years back called "The War Of The Roses", a comedy-tragedy depicting a divorcing couple who continued to live in the same house together while battling it out via their divorce lawyers. Accusations and threats ran rampant. They each wanted sole ownership of the house and property, even the family pets. Neither would budge an inch, each trying to one-up the other and "win".  Their battles continued on the homefront, with mudslinging and trickery, and with ultimately tragic results. Everybody loses. 

Divorces were not so different for our ancestors, it seems. In reviewing some divorce records published in an old issue of my collection of the North Carolina Genealogical Society's Journal, I came across some rather interesting and humorous transcripts of divorce cases in North Carolina in 1805. Though the named parties are not ancestors of mine, I thought I would share one amusing account anyway. It seems that reasons for divorce have not changed a whole lot over the years; though we learn that back in the early 1800's a married woman had few if any legal rights to her own property and money, even if her husband had been missing for many years, unless she was able to secure a legal divorce. The frontier version of community property meant in essence that everything belonged to the husband solely, even property the wife had inherited from her own family, unless she obtained a divorce order giving her rights to her own property and possessions. Some of us may wish that "tar and feathering" by the neighbors was still a common practice in dealing with wayward husbands!

The following transcript appeared in the NCGS Journal in May 1993, on page 101. Original Source: "Divorce & Separations from Petitions to the North Carolina General Assembly from 1779- 1805. "

"Eisenhaur, Mary (Meyers) and Nicholas Eisenhauer. Petition of Mary Eisenhauer of Cabarrus Co., NC, 12 Nov 1805, states that her rude, lazy and misanthropic husband, Nicholas Eisenhauer, drove her from home about 20 years ago without the slightest subsistence. He "made away with all we had" and abandoned your petitioner "for good and all", except once when he returned and tried to convince her to sell 200 acres of land that her father, Michael Meyers, bestowed upon her. 'He left me again under hundreds of bitter and cruel curses, and I truly suffered many since many times, although by the help of my children and God's blessings, I acquired a little again'. The petitioner reflects upon the 'nasty character' of the said Nicholas by including the following about him: "He got an intimate understanding with a licentious widow. Some neighbors, mistrusting him, watched and catched them in fornication; took him out of the house, tarred and feathered him and exposed him in that figure to public execration'. Your petitioner prays for assistance to secure herself all such small acquisitions she has saved since her husband left her and what she may acquire hereafter. Signed fifteen subscribers, most of them signing in German script. Bill to secure to persons named such property as they may acquire hereafter......and is passed 18-19 Dec, 1805. "