Bigamy?

Janett and her daughters, left to right: Carrie Rosa, Janett (Smith) Rosa, Ida Rosa

My 3x great grandmother Janett (aka Jennie) Smith Rosa left Michigan, sometime in the early to mid 1860s, with her two daughters Carrie and Ida, and moved to Wisconsin, without her husband Abram. Abram testified in his pension application that she had left him while he was away during the Civil War. I believe it was possibly while he was incarcerated at the Fort Tortuga in 1865ish.

As to the reason why she left him? We will most likely never know the answer to that question. We can speculate that: Abram was abusive, lazy, or a crappy farmer, (his family did not have the best reputation around town); Jennie could have been scared of him, bored and went to try her luck somewhere else, unhappy with her choice, or shamed at his incarceration. It could be his fault. It could be her fault. It could be the fault of both of them. Either way, neither one of them are talking now. Their daughter Carrie told her own children that her father, Abram, had died in the Civil War, so who knows what Jennie had told Carrie, and her sister Ida. This same story was passed down to later generations as fact–now debunked. (NOTE: We have to remember though that Jennie was only 14 1/2 years old when she married Abram in February of 1854, Abram was 20.)

So Abram finally gets back from the war probably early in 1866. His wife and daughters are gone. Everyone tells him they took off for Wisconsin and won’t be coming back. Apparently, he didn’t care enough to try to get them back either.

In 1868, three years after the war was finally over, Janett married Fred Lavelly, in Oconto County, Wisconsin. About a year later, in 1869, Abram married Harriet Emerson in Berrien County, Michigan.

So, okay, this all sounds pretty straight-forward right? They have both moved on with their lives.

But the sticker is–I can find no divorce record for either of them. Not in Berrien County, Michigan. Not in Oconto County, Wisconsin. So that begs the question, were they both bigamists? It is quite possible they were.

Divorce at this time was a very expensive, and nasty, business. Neither one of them had much money to speak of, so the cost of court and lawyers would have been much on both of their minds. As they both lived in different states, maybe they decided that what no one knows, can’t hurt them. Which is probably why the story that Abram was killed during the war came to be part of the family lore. Abram could honestly say his wife deserted him, so in fact his marriage was over.

If indeed these two never divorced, it is the first known case of bigamy on either side of our family.

Happy Valentines Day!

P.S. Maybe there is a divorce case in Brown County, Wisconsin. I’m on it!

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