Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mary Ann Reese Hodge

It's funny how you can go years thinking one thing about your ancestors and then suddenly be brought up short when you find records that give a totally different viewpoint. It's happened a few times over the 30-odd years I've been doing genealogy. A record turned up last year that has led me down one of these unexpected paths.

Mary Ann Reese was my great-great-great grandmother. She was the fourth child of Elisha and Frances (Burks) Reese and married rather late in life, in her mid-thirties, to John A. Hodge, a farmer and Baptist minister in western Kentucky. About a year after their marriage, their first child James Elisha was born. James was mentally deficient; it is unclear from the records found thus far how severely he was affected, but he remained at home with his parents until he was well into his thirties.

Mary's and John's next child, Robert, was born in 1845 and lived barely six months. Their third child, John, lived less than three months. Their last child, Henry born in 1848, was the only child to mature into a functional adult, marry and produce a line of descent. (John would have additional children with his second wife, but Mary's only descendants are through Henry.)

When Henry was about 5 years old, his parents legally separated but continued to live under the same roof. The terms of their separation are found in the Deed Records of Crittenden County, Kentucky. Mary had property of her own from her father's estate, managed her rents and crops and kept her business separate and apart from that of her husband.

John filed for divorce in May of 1854, and the first indication is given of the animosity that existed between the two of them. They had at that time been married 12 years and John claimed she had been tyrannical and overbearing during most of the period and had threatened to kill him and had abandoned his bed. The suit was dismissed a few months later and the two continued to share living quarters but not their lives.

The record is quiet for some years, but a glimmer of the continuing hostility is gleaned from a lawsuit filed against John and son Henry by G. R. Brown in 1870. Brown had purchased some land from John and Henry and Mary had refused to sign a document releasing her dower interest in the property. Brown relates her position that he could deal separately with her and as far as she was concerned if he occupied the land he would be obligated to pay her rent. It would be two years later before Mary finally released her dower rights.

In October of 1875, John again filed for divorce. The case file contains testimony that the year before an inquest of lunacy had determined Mary to be a lunatic and the court had ordered Mary confined in the Lunatic Asylum. This time there were multiple depositions included in the case file with neighbors attesting to the fact that Mary had long held an aversion and hatred toward her husband and had refused to live with him as a wife.

Again, the petition for divorce was dismissed.

A year later, in August of 1876, John again filed a petition for divorce. This time the file includes many depositions from neighbors and relatives describing the intense hatred Mary held for her husband, being not only verbally abusive but also physically attacking him. All agreed that she had always been hostile toward him, but that her mental state had deteriorated in the last years of their marriage. She no longer took proper care of their "idiot" son and regularly cursed her husband. In this case file we learn that the inquest of lunacy held in 1874 had also included her son James and that both of them had been adjudged to be lunatics and ordered confined to the Lunatic Asylum. A copy of the inquest was included in the case file as supporting evidence:

Inquest of Lunacy held for the trial of Polly Hodge and James E. Hodge before the Judge of the Crittenden County Court on the 11th day of April 1874, from the evidence we find that Jas. E. Hodge is an Idiot from his birth, age 32 years, has no Estate, also find Polly Hodge to be a lunatic, her age is 68 years. Her mind became impaired when quite young & has been growing worse ever since. She has a tract of land containing 75 acres, valued at $10 per acre, both have resided in the State from infancy. Polly Hodge is the mother of Jas. E. Hodge, his father is living. Neither one of them is capable of laboring for support in whole or in part....

Ordered that Poly Hodge be confined in the Lunatic Asylum at Hopkinsville for treatment and it appearing to the Court that James E. Hodge though an idiot cannot be safely kept by a committee within the county it is therefore further order that the said James E. Hodge be conveyed to the Lunatic Asylum at Hopkinsville and therein confined for treatment. It is further ordered that J. M. Gilbert be appointed a committee for the purpose of conveying said Poly & James E. Hodge to the Asylum at Hopkinsville and he may take such guard with him as is necessary for their safe conveyance to the asylum.

John was granted a divorce on his third try, went on to remarry and father several more children.

One of the witnesses states that her temperament had always been volatile and that her family had tried to warn John prior to their marriage. Many of the neighbors testified that they had had business dealings with her and had received advice from her through the years and considered her to be as normal as anyone else - except for the obvious dislike for her husband. One mentioned her extensive Bible knowledge, considering her even more knowledgeable than her preacher husband. She gave one man who had lost his wife advice he found valuable for the rearing of his children. (All of them agreed, however, that in the year or two prior to the lunacy inquest her mental state was deteriorating. She was beginning to fret about soldiers coming into her house and would ramble from subject to subject, not to mention the intensifying of her hostility toward John.)

I can't help but feel a little sorry for Mary. She may have been of a fragile mind to begin with. She may have been sexually inhibited and repulsed by the physical aspects of marriage and then her first son is born mentally retarded and her next two sons do not live more than a few months. If she was hyper-religious, which the extensive Bible knowledge may indicate, she may have come to believe that she was being punished for the sins of the flesh or that she had married an evil man and the loss of her children was his fault. Who knows what may have caused her to begin to slip over the edge of sanity.

As if things weren't bad enough, along comes the War Between the States and she is living in a border state, fearing the possible invasion of armies from both sides. If she had not already been a nervous wreck, now she had to worry about what might happen when the soldiers arrived.

I feel sorry for John, as well. Living with such hostility could not have been easy and he had lost two sons, too. The only "normal" son stayed away more than he was home. He was caught in a house with two mentally ill people who had to have made his life a living hell. One can't really blame him if he instigated the inquest of lunacy.

But then consider what a hell that Mary was placed in. Mental health institutions of the 19th century were hellish places to spend one's remaining years. Mary was about 68 years old when she was committed to the Western State Lunatic Asylum in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. In 1880 she is still living, enumerated in the census as an inmate of the asylum.

We know from another court case that James died at the Asylum in approximately 1879. Mary appears to have lived a few more years. We've not yet discovered the date of her death.

Poor Mary. Her life was one of misery and suffering. May she rest in peace.


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