The Great Catastrophe of My Life
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From the end of the Revolution until 1851, the Virginia legislature granted most divorces in the state. It granted divorces rarely, however, turning down two-thirds of those who petitioned for them. Men and women who sought release from unhappy marriages faced a harsh legal system buttressed by the political, religious, and communal cultures of southern life. Through the lens of this hostile environment, Thomas Buckley explores with sympathy the lives and legal struggles of those who challenged it.

Based on research in almost 500 divorce files, The Great Catastrophe of My Life involves a wide cross-section of Virginians. Their stories expose southern attitudes and practices involving a spectrum of issues from marriage and family life to gender relations, interracial sex, adultery, desertion, and domestic violence. Although the oppressive legal regime these husbands and wives battled has passed away, the emotions behind their efforts to dissolve the bonds of marriage still resonate strongly.



Publié par
Date de parution 03 novembre 2003
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9798890873743
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

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Published by the University of North Carolina Press
in association with the American Society for Legal History
Thomas A. Green & Hendrik Hartog, editors
       .       , . . The Great                      Catastrophe                                 of My Life                   
©  The University of North Carolina Press All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America Set in Cycles by Tseng Information Systems, Inc.
The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Buckley, Thomas E., – The great catastrophe of my life : divorce in the Old Dominion / by Thomas E. Buckley. p. cm. ‘‘Published . . . in association with the American Society for Legal History’’—Series t.p. Includes bibliographical references and index. --- (alk. paper) — --- (pbk. : alk. paper) . Divorce—Virginia—History—th century. . Divorce—Law and legislation—Virginia—History— th century. . Marital conflict—Virginia—History— th century. . Virginia—Social conditions—th century. I. Title. .  
cloth paper
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InThankMsigcihvainelgFoafronrdTElheaignorFahrrMailertcer Buckley
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Acknowledgments ix
Introduction. Petitions
   .         Chapter . AVexata Questio:The Political Arena Chapter . This Holy Relation: The Religious Culture  Chapter . Respects to Grandmother: The Communal Setting 
    .      Chapter . The Greatest Lewdness: Crossing the Color Line  Chapter . Private Disputes in Families: The Battered Wife  Chapter . A Monster in Female Form: The Cuckold’s Lament 
      .             Chapter . This Prejudice of Divorce: The Social Stigma 
Epilogue: Petitioners 
Appendix: Tables .. Total Petitions and Petitioners .. Divorce Petitions/Divorces Granted  .. Petitioners’ Alleged Grounds for Divorce .. Legislative Divorces Granted
Notes  Bibliography  Index 
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Susanah Wersley’s petition for divorce, 
Map of Virginia, 
State capitol in Richmond,  
Frontispiece from Bayley,Marriage As It Is
Some descendants of Martha and George Walton 
Ann Cowper’s divorce petition,  
Frontispiece from Weems,God’s Revenge against Murder
Frontispiece from Weems,God’s Revenge against Adultery
Francis Thomas, ca.  
Francis Thomas’s broadside,  
Sally McDowell, ca.  
Approach to Colalto 
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Too many years ago, while sifting through the legislative peti-tion collection at the Library of Virginia, I happened upon some divorce petitions. Their poignant accounts of marital tragedy captured my atten-tion. I had been tracking various religious and moral issues for a study of church-state relations, but over many lunches and cups of frozen yogurt, Sandy Treadway, aided and abetted by Brent Tarter and John Kneebone, persuaded me to postpone that project and concentrate on divorce. For better or worse, this volume is the result. I am deeply grateful to Sandy, Brent, and John for their encouragement, suggestions, and friendship over the years. Conversations with other researchers at the Library of Virginia as well as that institution’s superb publications staff, particu-larly Sara Bearss, Julie Campbell, and Gregg Kimball, helped keep me on track and enthused. Meanwhile, during my many summer visits, Conley Edwards and his special collections staff hauled out literally hundreds of boxes of petitions for my perusal. I am especially grateful to Chris Kolbe and Minor Weisiger, who helped me track down elusive legislative and legal records. My second home in Richmond has been the Virginia Historical So-ciety, where Charles Bryan Jr., Frances Pollard, Lee Sheppard, Howson Cole, Nelson Lankford, and the entire staff provide a wonderfully hos-pitable environment for research and the exchange of ideas and infor-mation among scholars. As my manuscript moved through various re-dactions, I have benefited enormously from the constructive help of numerous friends and colleagues, especially Cara Anzilotti, Jane Cen-ser, Nicholas Curcione, Melvin Ely, Martha Hodes, Cynthia Kierner, Jan Lewis, Susan Miller, Philip Morgan, Jack Rogers, William Shade, and John Witte Jr., who first proposed a legal focus for this book. Hendrik Hartog and Thomas Green, the legal studies editors for the University of North Carolina Press, provided expert guidance through the final stages of revision, along with liberal doses of encouragement.
Many librarians and archivists provided indispensable assistance dur-ing the research phase. I want to thank the staffs at the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary, the Albert H. Small Special Collections at the University of Virginia, the Union Theological Semi-nary Library in Richmond, the Tompkins-McCaw Library at the Medical College of Virginia, the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, the Bishop Payne Library at the Virginia Theological Seminary, the Library of Con-gress, the Maryland Historical Society, the Maryland State Archives, the Pennsylvania Historical Society, the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, the Perkins Library at Duke University, the Southern His-torical Collection at the University of North Carolina, and the Henry E. Huntington Library in California. Two Mellon Fellowships from the Virginia Historical Society and grants from Loyola Marymount University and the Graduate Theologi-cal Union helped to support summer research. A Bannon Fellowship at Santa Clara University in – provided a congenial environment in which to put together the first draft. The final revisions were com-pleted during a sabbatical while I enjoyed a Mellon Faculty Fellowship from the Association of Theological Schools. Portions of Chapter  were first presented at a meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the Ameri-can Historical Association. I am grateful to Edith Gelles of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University for the op-portunity to deliver a paper that developed into Chapter . TheVirginia Magazine of History and Biographyhas graciously allowed me to draw upon two articles: ‘‘ ‘Placed in the Power of Violence’: The Divorce Petition of Evelina Gregory Roane, ,’’  (): –, and ‘‘Unfixing Race: Class, Power, and Identity in an Interracial Family,’’  (): –, which was republished inSex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History,edited by Martha Hodes (). Throughout the years of research and writing, my family, friends, and students have provided large reservoirs of support. Virtually every sum-mer the priests and people of St. Bridget’s Parish have hosted me in Rich-mond, and I particularly want to thank Bill Sullivan and Tom Miller for their hospitality and friendship. In northern Virginia Peg and Steve O’Brien have regularly welcomed me into their home. At Loyola Mary-mount University, where I began this study; then at Santa Clara Univer-sity during a Bannon Fellowship; and now at the Jesuit School of The-ology in Berkeley, my Jesuit brothers and faculty colleagues have listened to my tales of divorce, sometimes with a dash of incredulity, but always
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