Could We Trace the Rise of the Patriarchy to the Rise of Private Property?

Because, I have to admit, at this point, no matter how big an asshole he was, I would give a whole cow and my last name to the first guy who walked through my door and said “I know where last month’s bank statement is.  I shall find it and I shall talk to the mortgage people and I shall, from here on out, keep track of where all this stuff is.  Now, get in the kitchen and bring me a beer.”

Tragically, our marriage would end in divorce shortly after dinner, when I refused to do the dishes, but back in the olden days, when you couldn’t easily get divorced, I would have just had to either suck it up and do the dishes or pop out some girl children to do them for me.

And then, I would plop myself into the Cumberland, and float away down the river on my giant ass.  I mean, my butt.  But, if I could find a great big swimming burro, you know you’d all be like “Oh, B., show us pictures of your giant ass.  Oh, B., can we come over and touch your giant ass?”  And I’d totally let you, because I like you.  Just don’t tell my husband, you know, the man with my family’s prized cow, that you found me.  That’s all I ask.

Oh, and also for you not to tell my new husband, Andrew Jackson, about the old one.

Okay, thanks.

Where were we?

Hee, sorry, I mean, come on.  Where else can you go to read blog posts still dogging on poor Rachel Donelson for having two husbands?

My dad and I were out at the Hermitage watching the movie and in the movie they’re reading letters back and forth.  In one, Jackson’s all like “Rachel, here’s an Indian kid I stole.  Please raise him as your own.” And in another, he signs it “Your husband, Andrew Jackson” and I lean over to my dad and I’m all like “‘Andrew Jackson.’ Like there might be some confusion over what the last name of her husband is?” and then in the very next scene, they explain about her unfortunate first husband and how she did indeed have two husbands at the same time!

And, let me also state for the record that, if you had a husband who was as big a fucker as Lewis Robards, you probably also would be looking to trade him in for someone new AND you would probably be unsurprised to learn that he was a lying liar who lied when he told you that he had obtained a divorce from you.

Where were we?

Oh, yes, the house stuff.  I had but two goals for last night.  Find last month’s bank statement and find my checks.  I wrote a check for the earnest money with the last check in my checkbook and that was the first check I’d written in years.  With online banking, I never write checks anymore and I had no idea where to find more.

I found weird stuff like you wouldn’t believe.  Conditioner, The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry, a hair brush, a light-up spoon, and AND my checks.

But I never did find the bank statement from April to May.

Which, in it’s own way, is really amazing, because I apparently never throw anything away.

But, on the other hand, thanks to the awesomeness of computers and the internet and the place I work, I have two years worth of W-2s and other tax forms.

So, I score big on the stuff that should be more difficult and flub the dismount, I guess is what I’m saying.

Let’s not end on that, though.  Instead, let’s turn to Moya Cannon, one of my favorite Irish poets.


Some of what we love
we stumble upon–
a purse of gold thrown on the road,
a poem, a friend, a great song.
And more
discloses itself to us–
a well among green hazels,
a nut thicket–
when we are worn out searching
for something quite different.
And more
comes to us, carried
as carefully
as a bright cup of water,
as new bread.

7 thoughts on “Could We Trace the Rise of the Patriarchy to the Rise of Private Property?

  1. Yeah, you should look into what the Professor said. I know I can with my bank. Also, I ran into my Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry the other day. Damn, that’s some great stuff.

  2. You do know that your bank will print out previous statements for you for like a dollar a page. Less if you find a sympathetic teller.

    At least that’s how they did it when I bought my house 9 years ago.

  3. I never did understand why Miss Rachel didn’t just organize a blanket party for that son-of-a-gun Robards. I reckon she was just a little too sheltered for that, despite the frontier era.

    Whenever I become despondent about the nature of our political discourse (in some circles, not this one), though, I often thank our stars that nobody’s hollering “HOOOR!” at a candidate’s wife again.


    (Side note of no consequence whatsoever, except, as you said, where else can you go to read blog posts about Rachel Jackson: My pen/pencil case is a needleworked copy of the cover of Rachel Jackson’s psalter, which was available at Mrs. Mary Lou Davis’s Needlework Shoppe in Hillsboro Village. We had very many interesting discussions about Rachel Jackson in that shop.)

  4. Apparently, because I didn’t click some box somewhere I can’t print out my old statements. But I am on my way to the bank shortly to get them printed out for me.

    Grandfille, I wonder if Bridgett can come by and shed some light on what’s going on with Rachel and her first husband. All this stuff about them breaking up because he was jealous makes me think he might have abused her, and with as protective as Jackson was about her reputation later, it just seems like her side of the story is probably pretty damn sympathetic.

  5. Ah, my absolute favorite subject — post-revolutionary divorce!

    Here’s the deal in a nutshell. At the time Rachel and Lewis separated (1790), Mercer County (later KY) was under the jurisdiction of Virginia — it wasn’t a state until 1792. VA had very restrictive divorce laws. In VA, like many new states, one could not file for divorce in a court; one had to pursue a very involved process through the VA House of Burgesses called a legislative divorce — basically, the legislature received a select number of petitions each year, extensively supported by documentation, and they meant to set aside a few marriages that were already defunct so that the aggrieved party could go on and make a better match. Lewis received permission to file the petition in 1790 but did not follow through. The process required much getting together of witness affidavits, persuading neighbors to go on record, and the case had to be unequivocal for it to go through. In 1790, it sounds to me (going on the things I know about other similar instances in VA in the post-revolutionary period) that he either didn’t have the influence or the clear-cut grounds to push it through — otherwise, a short marriage without children between two “respectable” people would have been pretty simple to terminate. It’s a guess on my part, but she was well-connected enough politically that she might have been able to produce compelling counter-evidence that she had been the wronged party. In that case, he might have wound up paying a substantial maintenance payment. It might have seemed to him that since his marriage was effectively over anyhow, what the hell? Why pay money to get an official divorce and wind up potentially having to give back the property she brought with her into the marriage?

    He might have hit a snag, too, because many VA legislators in the 1780s and 1790s disapproved of divorce as being completely erosive of stable political order. In the old colonial order, the husband’s complete sway over the wife and kids, like a master’s control over a slave, was a supposed mirror of how good government operated. However, if you throw off a king for tyranny, do you really put up with tyrannical behavior from a husband or is “seeking to be let at liberty” a more patriotic move? Some historians of divorce believe that it’s this revolutionary spirit (coupled with the rise of a sentimental expectation that one should at least be civil if not loving) that animates a liberalization of divorce laws.

    Anyhow, Lewis Robards’ cruelty and jealous rages would not have been sufficient grounds for a divorce in 1790. A shitty husband, sure, but not divorceable because he was a jealous abuser (speaking of being able to treat one’s “property” however one wanted…). However, between 1790 (when Rachel runned oft) and 1793, Kentucky became an independent state and Robards grew to be a bigger sumbitch within the new government. Big fish, small pond, yada yada. Rachel’s desertion and bigamous marriage to Jackson gave him the ammunition Lewis needed to get the divorce completed in a very sympathetic Kentucky legislature in 1793 — allowing him to be the wronged party.

    Amusingly enough, the Jefferson County, KY court records clearly show that Lewis Robards remarried Hannah Withers Winn in December 1792, so he was a bigamist too. The big fizz to get his divorce finalized appears to be that his second wife was pregnant and he wanted the child to be legitimate. He got his divorce decree in late September 1793 and his first son was born in November.

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