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GENDER AND AGE DYNAMICS

The area of observed gender issues appear in the legal papers such as property deeds and wills. Lt. Col. Benjamin Birdsall’s will had been removed from the Chenango County Courthouse over 150 years ago and has not been returned. Therefore, there are no records of his thoughts or what he may have left for his heirs and heiresses. Likewise I have no copies of property deeds for this family although they surely may be reviewed in the Chenango County Courthouse if the need is evident sometime in the future.

The only tangible things remaining of Benjamin Birdsall, other than his list particulars (inventory at death), is his gravestone are the accomplishments of his offspring.

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=50874637

 

COMPARISON

Gender comparisons, for this report, are better addressed as a comparison between the years ‘1792’ and ‘2012’  rather than between the Henry Birdsall family and the Benjamin Birdsall fam ily. As a starting point in 1792:

Madame d’Autremont contracted for her 300 acres in Greene, Chenango County, with Charles Felix Bue’ de Boulogne “while yet in Paris”, ( ‘From Rafts to      Railroads’, by Cochrane, 2nd printing 1991).

The power of attorney under which the contract between Madame d’Autremont   and William M. Morris via agent de Boulogne, for 300 acres became lost. However, the contract was later upheld.  (“The Story of Some French Refugees”, by L. Murray, 2nd edition 1917)  and (Wendell Common Law Reports, NY, page 82, Vol. 7)

The above facts indicate that women were allowed by  law to hold property rights, both in post French Civil War Paris as well as in New York State. However, it must be stated that Madame d’Autremont was a widow at that time and may have had more property rights than a married woman. As an example of this:

This indenture made the twenty ninth day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifteen Between Peter B. Garnsey and Polly his wife  the town of Norwich County of Chenango and state of New York of the first part and Henry Burdsil (sic) now of the town of Greene and County aforesaid of the second part [sold for $700, 100 acres.” (Book of Deeds “V”, page 346, Chenango County Clerks Office, dated 4/29/1815)

The above document contains the fact that Polly Garnsey, Peter’s wife, was a co-owner of the property, yet Henry was not required to place his wife, Abashaby, on the deed as co-owner.  The presence of Polly as an owner may have been a result of Peter, being legally and financially prudent, placing Polly on the deed for financial protection from possible future debts.

Additional documentation in subsequent pages of the same book:

 Book of deeds “V”, page 348:

Chenango County

What exactly does the above indicate?  It may indicate exactly what is on the surface of the document; that is, that the law and  legal process are protecting women from selling property, which they own (or co-own), while under duress from their husbands. On the other hand why would such a law be necessary?  Was it a common practice for men of that time to make their wives sell property that the wife was entitled to?  Did some women who owned property (through whatever means) then become married only to find themselves threatened by a husband forcing them to sell the property against their will? The answer appears to be an obvious ‘yes.’

Another set of documents that raise gender issues are the papers surrounding the Last Will and Testament of Henry Birdsall dated June 3, 1836. (Chenango County Surrogate Court Record “60A”, with copies for review in Appendix L,  Archived Documents)

Henry, an obviously God-loving or God-fearing man, who dearly loves his wife, and has spent the least 60 years of his life with her leaves his beloved  “ONE GOOD COW” ?

(Current common property laws have changed in New York so that man and wife hold property as equal owners and the rights of the deceased’s ownership reverting to the survivor.)

One must hasten to recognize that a combination of society/culture/class made proper arrangements for widows. This may be observed later in the documents surrounding Henry’s death. Henry’s wife, Abashaby (“Basheba” on her gravestone), who lived with Henry, was quickly taken in by (assumedly) one of her daughters who had married and moved to Broome County (probably North Fenton or Chenango Forks) which can be seen on the following transcribed document:

(The strike-through is transcribed exactly as they appear in the original document)

From the above death certificate it can be seen that James Burroughs, who had written this document (See copy in Appendix L, Archived Documents), assumed that Abashaby still resided in the Town of Greene, Chenango County. That is where she resided when Henry died.

However, she had moved to the Town of Chenango, Broome County sometime within the 2 -3  month period after Henry’s death.

Additional observations regarding gender are those of education and privilege. These can also be found on Henry’s Last Will and Testament.

Henry’s wife and daughters had to wonder why their culture placed them in a position of not receiving any real property or ‘real’ status. Their status appears to have been limited with respect to the men. This becomes apparent when their husbands had to be notified of ‘who received what’ in Henry’s legacy

(‘Citation of Notification’ to be discussed later in this section).

This issue of status had to be apparent when it became obvious that, although their father apparently loved them, they were relegated to second class citizens.

Documented, here, for all to see, at the end of the last will and testament, a woman (apparently James Burroughs wife or daughter), Ann Burroughs, had the status and capacity to sign her name as a witness.

What was true in the culture of others was surely not true in the culture of Henry and his family. This is not to be misconstrued as the actions of a vengeful old man. Just the opposite, for Henry’s will leads one to see the caring he has for his wife, daughters and granddaughters. It was Henry’s obvious belief that they will be taken care of by their husbands, and, that in their culture the men will be making all the financial decisions.

 

The end of Henry’s Will documents the power and authority of other women in their community (Ann Burroughs as an example). Feminine power was the privilege of education and class.

A final document found in the Chenango County Surrogate Court file “60A” was a “Citation” which was circulated to those who received real or personal property as a result of Henry’s Last Will and Testament. This “Citation” was a document stating that the heirs had been notified and it ensured that this notification had been acknowledged. The document exemplifies the fact that the husbands of Henry’s daughters had at least an equal status (if not higher) for being notified of the daughter’s legacy in the will.

With regards to the dynamics of “Age” it has been noted above that the elderly widow, Abashaby, was absorbed into the home of one of her children. This method of caring for the elderly appears to be substantiated by the fact that other elderly people left their homes some years prior to their deaths. See the section of this report on “Maps”.

The descriptions of who lived in which Birdsall home during what years documents the fact that the elderly left their homes prior to their deaths. The location of these elderly can easily be seen in the ‘census’ documents in Appendix A. Quite often the reader can observe that the last person listed in the household is a widow or widower.

The only document that shows a direct change of this ‘family care of the elderly’ occurred just prior to the turn of the century. Epinetus Birdsall, Henry’s grandson and son of Horace, became a resident of the “County Home” and died there in 1893.

Conclusion of Gender and Age Dynamics

The rights and status of women have changed significantly in the period between “1792” and “2012”.

In the 1800’s  there were apparent dichotomies in the status of women. This can be observed in the ownership of real property by the wife of a lawyer (Polly Garnsey).

Another example is the example of a woman (Ann Burroughs)  signing the “Last Will and Testament of Henry Birdsall”.

At the same time Henry’s daughters were required, by citation, to notify their husbands of their inheritance. These dichotomies were the apparent result of class, status and education as well as the family culture of the Henry Birdsalls.

The responsibility of caring for the elderly has also changed significantly during the same period of time. ‘Family care’ was replaced by ‘county care’ and has now progressed on to ‘private care’ in institutions owned by profit makers.

© Copyright – Waldo Tomosky