Divorce is no small matter, particularly in 1835. In the United States, it wasn't until well into the twentieth century that divorce became somewhat less stigmatized, although divorces in general still favored men over women. Women were, throughout history, left to bear the brunt of social stigmatization over divorce and other matrimonial troubles. It was usually seen as a woman's duty to ensure the happiness of her household, and for rich women, the burden was especially high. More was a stake in a marriage between two wealthy families than was for more common families.
Exploring the intricacies of marriage in the 19th century would fill dozens of blog posts, so if you want to read more, check out this lecture, written by Hendrik A. Hartog of the University of Wisconsin Law School entitled Marital Exits and Marital Expectations in Nineteenth Century America.
While digging through the Clarke County deed books, we once again found some intrigue - record of the divorce in 1835 of John W Byrd and his young wife Mary F Page, the second daughter of Ann Meade Randolph Page of Annfied. Seeing written evidence of a divorce this early in the century is intriguing enough, but reading further, the questions grow.
Clarke County Deed Book a:111-113
Less than a month after John Brown's infamous raid on Harper's Ferry, Clarke County slave owner's worst nightmare was realized: evidence of a potential slave insurrection was discovered.
Where do the poor people go?
What is a community to do to help those who cannot help themselves, who are stuck in a rut, down on their luck, with no support system in place?
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, being poor was largely considered to be a dishonorable state of existence, and most people who fell into that category (including the elderly and disabled) were largely ostracized, yet supported, by society at large. In America, county level governments took charge of instituting and maintaining houses to care for the poor - poorhouses, almshouses, county farms, etc - and they were organized and run by Overseers of the poor. The idea behind agriculture-based poor-relief is that those needing the relief will reside and work on the farm and raise some, if not all, the food they plan to consume.
Clarke County had one poor house that we know of, although it's possible there were earlier versions. Sometime in the mid-nineteenth century a large farm was built 3 miles north of Berryville, in what is now known as Stringtown. Records for the County Farm are scarce (at least during COVID closures), so we don't know much about it. It was in operation "for more than fifty years" according to the land deed documenting the sale of the farm to the Nicodemus family in 1946. County Farms, or Poorhouse farms, generally began to decline after 1935, when the Social Security Act went in to practice, meaning it's fairly likely the complex was built in the second half of the century.
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.