Jane Campbell Freeman wasn’t my ancestor, but she was my ancestor’s sister. I might not have paid much attention to Jane were it not for the legislative case and associated scandal that like a whirlpool engulfed her life.
Jane was, ahem, divorced!!!
To say that Jane’s divorce was scandalous is an understatement. To begin with, divorce simply did not happen at that time. It’s shocking not only in that it did happen, but because of the public detail provided and the fact that Jane was apparently never provided an opportunity to rebut what was stated. In fact, Jane herself never appears at all – only the allegations against her, orchestrated by none other than her soon-to-be x-husband. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Are the mind-boggling accusations levied against Jane true? I surely don’t know. You’ll just have to read along and decide for yourself.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA)
The Tennessee State Library and Archives has a huge number of resources – many that you wouldn’t necessarily think of consulting under normal circumstances. But then again, my family has never been “normal.”
Among unusual items found in the State Archives are cases bumped to either the Tennessee Supreme Court, the legislature or other courts outside of the county in which the case originated.
Legislative petitions include any petition that at least some residents signed and sent to the legislature which includes regions that were split into different counties. Residents in the part of the county affected signed petitions that were either pro or con. There may have been multiple petitions, so look closely.
Legislative petitions also included divorces and generally affidavits that involve other family members, neighbors, friends as well as those not-so-friendly sometimes.
If you have ancestors in Tennessee, or even family members in Tennessee, you owe it to yourself to take a look. I didn’t think I’d find anything. I mean, what are the chances that anything in my poor farmer families would make it to the Supreme Court? Well, thankfully, one case did – that of the juicy drama-filled contested estate of Samuel Clarkson/Claxton, from burned Hancock County no less. Talk about a goldmine!
A second case involves my Campbell family.
Years ago, when visiting the TSLA in person, I found the divorce case of Jane Freeman, but even AT the library, when requesting the case file, all of the information available today was not in the file at that time. I’m very glad that I ordered this file.
Who was Jane Freeman?
Jane Freeman was born Jane Campbell about 1807 in Claiborne County to John Campbell and his wife Jane “Jenny” Dobkins, my ancestors. Jane’s sister, Elizabeth Campbell married Lazarus Dodson. The divorce record in question is for Elizabeth’s sister, Jane. Elizabeth, older than Jane, had already died when this scandal erupted, but both of Jane’s parents were living, and this must have literally put them through hell – regardless of whether the accusations were true or not.
A divorce in any family in 1830 was quite the scandal, but the circumstances of this particular divorce, which obviously became quite public, was probably devastating to both families along with being the talk of the county for literally decades. It was juicy, to put it conservatively.
A Little Background
Let’s start with Jacob Dobkins and his wife, Dorcas Johnson whose two daughters were both involved in this drama; Jane “Jenny” Dobkins who married John Campbell and Elizabeth Dobkins who married George Campbell.
To make things even more complex George Campbell is long believed to be the brother of John Campbell. Both Y and autosomal DNA strongly suggest that’s accurate. In other words, Dobkins sisters married Campbell brothers.
Brothers Married Sisters
Charles Campbell of Hawkins County had two sons, John and George Campbell to whom he jointly sold land. Some years later, John and George sold the land and disappeared from Hawkins County records about the same time that John and George Campbell appeared in neighboring Claiborne County.
Jacob Dobkins, the father of both Jane Dobkins (mother of Jane Campbell) and Elizabeth Dobkins lived just up the road a few miles in Hawkins County from Charles Campbell. He also arrived in Claiborne County at about the same time as the Campbell brothers. Eventually, the Campbell family would come to own Jacob Dobkins’ land long after his death.
The fact that sisters married brothers means that the children of Jenny Dobkins with John Campbell and Elizabeth Dobkins with George Campbell would be double first cousins. These family relationships are relevant because of the accusations in the divorce petition.
This is already complicated and we’re not even to John Campbell and Jane “Jenny” Dobkins daughter, Jane Campbell Freeman!
Jane Campbell Freeman’s Divorce
Many Claiborne County records are missing, so we don’t have the actual marriage record of Jane Campbell to Johnson Freeman. Jane was born about 1807.
What we do have is the divorce petition and proceedings as obtained from the TSLA. Divorces at this time were not heard or granted in the county courts, but bumped to the state level and required legislative approval.
1831 Claiborne county Freeman vs Freeman Divorce Legislation
Claiborne County (Tennessee)
Personally appeared before me Joseph Lanham acting justice of the peace for the said county. Melinda Chumly who being sworn as the law directs deposeth and sayeth as follows:
Note that at this time, it was customary for the people involved in the case to ask the questions of the people being deposed. These questions were obviously asked by Jane’s husband, Johnson Freeman. I have left the verbiage exactly intact. You can just hear the southern drawl.
Question: While you was a living at my house the house of Johnson Freeman from September 1829 till in February 1830 did or did you not know my wife Jane Freeman to be guilty of the act of fornication.
Answer: I did know it to be a fact.
Question: How did you know it to be a fact?
Answer: I seen the conduct myself.
Question: Who did you see with her?
Answer: Isaac A. Farris
Question: What did she say to your about it?
Answer: She charged me not to tell on her that if you found it out you would leave her.
Question: Did you know of any other person being with her?
Answer: After I found her out with Izaac A. Farris she told me of others that she was guilty of the same act with.
Question: Who did she say they was?
Answer: Benjamin Matlock and her own cozen John Campbell.
Question: Did you see any imprudent conduct with her and these men?
Answer: I did see vary ugly conduct by her and both the men.
Question: Did she not tell you that her father’s black man named Charles ketched her and said Farris together?
(Her father refers to Jane’s father, John Campbell.)
Answer: Yes, she did tell me so and that Farris hired him not to tell an them by giving him a quart of brandy.
Question: Did she not tell you that after that they had said black Charles to make arrangements for there convenience?
Answer: She did tell me so.
Question: Did she not tell you that she laid out in the woods about half the day with her cozen John Campbell on the day that I helped her brother Jacob kill hogs?
(Jacob Campbell was born about 1801.)
Answer: She did tell me so and that his horse got loose in the time and ran home.
Question: What did she say was the cause of her doing so?
Answer: I talked to her and shamed her about her conduct and asked what was the reason of her doing so and she told me she did not know any cause for you had always treated her well and just – the Devil had overcome her and she believed that it was the works of the Devil.
Given under my hand and seal this 6th day of October 1831
Signed Melinda Chumly by her mark
Sworn to and subscribed to before me Joseph Lanham acting Justice of the Peace for Claiborne County this 6th day of October 1831.
<end of record>
This document provides us with a great deal of genealogical information. As it turns out, I already had most of this, BUT, the commentary about “her own cuzin” is surprising in this context, because it was generally accepted for first cousins to marry. Given that, I’m not sure why the commentary about John being her cousin was included. Jane’s first cousin, George Campbell’s son, John Campbell, was born about 1810.
Having said that, my first reaction was that I was thrilled, because momentarily I thought this record would indeed be the confirmation that John Campbell (Jane’s father) and George Campbell (the father of John whom Jane reportedly fornicated with) were absolutely proven brothers because Jane and John were kissing cousins. However, then I remembered that their mothers were sisters, so this verbiage does not confirm that the Campbell men were brothers. ☹ If only the record had said “double cousin.”
I must admit, I chuckled at the thought of the horse breaking loose and running home.
One Melinda Chumbley, daughter of Robert Chumley, was born in 1821, but why was Melinda living with Johnson Freeman? Robert was not deceased. Robert Chumley’s brother, Lewis testifies in the next document.
Personally appeared before me Joseph Lanham…Lewis Chumbly who being sworn deposeth as follows:
Question: Did or did not Jane Freeman my wife, the wife of Johnson Freeman, confess to you after I had left her that she was guilty of the act of fornication previous to my leaving of her?
Answer: She did openly confess the fact of her being guilty of fornication with two different men.
Question: Who did she say they were?
Answer: Isaac A. Farris and Benjamin Matlock.
Question: How long did she say she has been guilty of this conduct before I left her?
Answer: All the previous fall and winter before you left her in April 1830.
Question: How come she to make this confession?
Answer: I was a talkin to her about your distress and asked her why she done so and she said she could not tell the cause for you had always treated her well.
Given under my hand and seal the 4th day of October 1831.
<end of record>
This documents their marriage date at least in or prior to the summer of 1829.
Lewis Chumbley (not Crumley which is a different family) was born in 1808 in Virginia and died in 1885 in Arthur, Claiborne County, Tennessee. The Chumbley family is known to have lived in that area and intermarried with the Dodson family (not to be confused with the Dobkins family) as well.
Another relationship worth noting is that in 1839, Lazarus Dodson, Jane Campbell Freeman’s brother-in-law who became a widower when her sister Elizabeth Campbell died, married Rebecca Freeman whose parents are unknown. Somehow these families are intertwined.
Personally appeared before me…Mary Chumly being sworn…:
Question: Did or did not Jane Freeman my wife the wife of Johnson Freeman confess to you after I had left her that she was guilty of the act of formication?
Answer: She did openly con that she had been guilty of two different men.
Question: Did she say who they was?
Answer: She said she had been guilty of Isaac A. Farris and Benjamin Matlock for some time before you left her.
Given under my hand this 6th day of October 1831.
Mary Chumly sign with an X
<end of document>
Mary Chumley is probably Lewis’s wife.
Ok, now I’m beginning to wonder why all three depositions are from Chumley family members.
The next deposition:
Personally appeared before me…Hannah Huffaker being sworn…:
Question: Did or did not Jane Freeman my wife the wife of Johnson Freeman confess to you after I had left her that she was guilty of the act of fornication while I was a living with her and for which cause I left her.
Answer: She did openly confess that she actly(?) been guilty of fornication with different men before you left her.
Question: Did she say she had any cause for doing it?
Answer: No she said you had always treated her well and she had done the wrong without any cause.
Given under my hand this 6th day of October 1831.
Hannah Huffaker signs
<end of record>
So, we, and the court, are to believe that Jane just went around confessing to multiple people that she had slept with two or three different men while married?
Not only that, but Jane repeatedly stated that her husband had always treated her well?
The bolding in the document below is mine. I could not read the entire document.
Roll – 12
Petition – 1831-147
To the honorable General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, now in session.
Your petitioner begs leave to represent that his wife Jane Freeman in ?icotation of the most solemn obligation of matrimony by the most illicit acts of fornication has disowned his bed, prostituting herself to illicit cauc?ious not only with one person, but with several that showing not only a (“perfect” struck through) total disregard to those solemn obligations by which she was bound as a wife but also the great degree of depravity rendering herself a common prostitute.
Your petitioner begs leave further to represent that he has the deepest sense of those sacred ties by which husband and wife are united feeling deeply sensible that no travail or slight cause ought to induce a ?peratice, but that the greatest degree of forbearance ought to guide the husband towards the woman whom he has taken to his bosom as a companion for life. But when a wife so far transcends the bounds of duty as to trample under foot the most sacred obligation of the holy institution of matrimony stating the honour of her husband prostituting herself and rendering that husband liable to raise foster children who are the offspring of her ?scife and wholly fornication with others – then your petitioner humbly begs leave to represent that the good of society ? in charity and ? to such injured husband a separation ought to take place when the mere name of wife with all the duties notated appertains to a woman the matrimonial obligations notated the husband disowned the wife debased and prostituted then your petitioner humble begs leave to represent that your honorable body is the only tribunal before which he can appear to fully disenthrall him from the dishonorable companion to which he is bound.
Your petitioner humbly begs leave to represent to your honorable body that he and said wife have no children which will make a separate less disagreeable. Your petitioner humbly begs leave to represent to your honorable body that the conduct of said wife was unprovoked on his part having always treated her with ? and humanity for the evidence of which fact together for the fact of conduct your petitioner has represented his wife guilty of your petitioner begs leave to refer your honourable body to the submitted affidavits of Malinda Chumley, Lewis Chumley, Mary Chumley, Hannah Huffaker and Phoebe Hicks.
Your petitioner humbly hopes and prays that your honorouble body will grant his petition and grand him a divorce from his said wife Jane Freeman by passing an act to the effect and as unduty bound he will ever pray.
Johnson Freeman signs
October 7, 1831
Note that the affidavit of Phoebe Hicks was not in the packet.
Marked on the front of the packet:
Johnson Freeman to be divorced from his wife Jane Freeman (underneath) reasonable
<end of record>
Wow, that’s incredibly harsh. Three times Jane was referred to as a prostitute or having prostituted herself. A prostitute is defined in the dictionary as a “person, in particular a woman, who engages in sexual activity for payment.”
There is no testimony about money changing hands. If Jane was literally prostituting herself, I would think there would be a lot more than 2 or 3 men involved. In this case, the term prostitute appears to be used only to further shame and demean Jane and portray her actions even more negatively than simply (allegedly) cheating on her husband with three different men.
Notice that there is no deposition from Jane herself, nor did she depose any of the witnesses. Jane apparently didn’t attend court. It doesn’t appear that the court requested her presence, although one would think that the court would wish to hear from Jane herself in one form or another given the gravity of the charged, basically bankrupting a female, and the lifelong ripple effects it would have on Jane.
Neither of the three men accused were deposed either.
Clearly Johnson Freeman was living with Jane during 1829 and up until April of 1830. We don’t know when they were married but given that most women were pregnant with their first child within weeks of their wedding, I wonder why Jane and Johnson had no children. That in and of itself seems rather unusual.
It seems there is far more to this story that we’ll never know.
And we wonder why divorced women carried such a stigma, even into the late 1900s. Divorced women were considered “fallen” whether they were or not.
I’m left wondering if those allegations of infidelity against Jane are true, and true or not, how this affected the rest of Jane’s life. How could Jane even continue to live in Claiborne County and who did she live with? Who supported her? Single women generally weren’t able to support themselves.
The 1830 census doesn’t show a Johnson Freeman, or anything similar, and Jane’s father, John Campbell doesn’t show anyone of the proper age in his household to be Jane. Mary Freeman, who lives near to Lewis Chumbley doesn’t have any males in her household. I can’t find either Johnson Freeman or Jane.
Who Were the Men?
Apparently, unlike Jane, Isaac’s reputation wasn’t terribly damaged, because just a few months later, he is found on a jury in Claiborne County and married Charity Ruth Snuffer in 1868 in Collin County, Texas, the same location where the Campbell family migrated. Isaac was married previously, as he had a child by 1840.
Benjamin Matlock apparently does not stay in the county, as he isn’t readily found.
John Campbell, the double-first-cousin that Jane Campbell Freeman was accused of having carnal relations with married Sarah Willis about 1830. Apparently his reputation wasn’t terribly damaged either. According to the census, John and Sarah had a child in 1832. At some point, John Campbell and family moved to Missouri.
All I can say is that family reunions must have been quite interesting. These families lived close, interacted regularly and attended the same churches. They couldn’t exactly ignore each other. Did the Campbells unite behind Jane, or did this fracture the Campbell family internally too?
What do we know about Jane Campbell and Johnson Freeman?
What About Johnson Freeman?
I wanted to know as much as possible about Johnson Freeman? What kind of person was he? Was he a stable, respected member of the community or was he a scoundrel?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the Claiborne County court notes for this timeframe are imaged at Family Search. Unfortunately, there is no index, but they are online and you can read them.
Page. By. Bloody. Page.
Thirteen years worth of court notes. Thousands of pages.
I just couldn’t help myself.
I didn’t discover a lot about Johnson Freeman, but I did find something.
During the Monday, March 15, 1830 court session, jurors appointed to next term of court include Johnson Freeman.
This indicates that he owned land given that the requirements to be a juror included being 21 or over, free, white and a land-owner in good standing.
In his divorce petition, Johnson says he left his wife in April of 1830.
On June 22, 1830 Johnson Freeman serves as a juror.
On March 21, 1831, before his divorce was granted, on page 199 of the original Claiborne County court notes and page 103 of the electronic version:
“Delinquent, insolvent and removed out of my county taxes include William Farris, Johnson Freeman,” and others.
Generally, these delinquent/insolvent tax documents aren’t filed for this exact date, meaning March 1831, but reflect the tax due and unable to be collected for some prior time, usually the tax due from the year before.
We know that Johnson’s life was in upheaval in 1830 and that he was still living someplace in Tennessee in 1831, because on October 7, 1831, Freeman signed a final divorce petition document wherein he described, 3 different times, how Jane had “prostituted herself” and how upstanding, moral and chaste he had been, giving Jane absolutely NO reason to cleave unto someone else.
Apparently at least 6 months before Johnson Freeman wrote that October letter to the court extoling his virtues, he skipped town, leaving his taxes unpaid. Was this because he was distraught over his wife embarrassing him? Or was this simply the kind of person he was? We’ll never know, because I have been unable to locate Johnson Freeman anyplace else. Ever. Maybe he changed his name so as not to be caught and held liable for his taxes.
In 1839 Jane is noted as a widow in her father’s estate settlement. It’s possible that this is because Johnson died and being a widow was so much more socially acceptable than “divorced.” In any case, listing her status as widow allows Jane some shred of dignity.
Still, every single soul in the county would have known about the allegations and depositions against Jane. Something like this was not a secret. News traveled fast on the mountain grapevine and communal memories lasted forever.
“You know who that is don’t you? Jane Freeman, the trollop who cheated on her husband, with THREE different men.”
“Yes, and one of them was her cousin too. They got caught by her father’s slave when the horse broke loose and ran home.”
“Said the Devil made her do it.”
“That’s been more than a decade now and no one will be caught dead with her.”
Perhaps the allegations and the resulting gossip damaged Jane more than the divorce itself.
I’m really curious what happened to Jane Campbell Freeman.
In 1845, one Jane Freeman married Ransom Hose, Hare or House in Claiborne County. The Jane Freeman who married was originally believed to have been the daughter of Jane Freeman. However, the 1831 divorce record that says that Jane and Johnson Freeman had no children casts doubt on this scenario.
Could this marriage to Ransom Hare, Hose or House have been Jane Campbell Freeman herself? It’s possible that this was an unrelated Jane Freeman, or possibly Jane’s daughter. It seems very unlikely that Jane marrying in 1845 is the daughter of Jane Campbell Freeman who had no children with Johnson Freeman in 1831. For Jane (the younger) to have been born in 1832 and marry in 1845, she would have been marrying at the age of 13 – which did happen, but very rarely. I cannot find Ransom in the 1850 census.
In Jane’s father’s 1839 estate settlement, Jane is noted as Jane Freeman, indicating that her surname is still Freeman and stating that she is a widow in 1839. She wasn’t exactly a widow, but that was probably a face-saving definition. I know of other “divorced” women, whether legally or functionally divorced who “became” widows on the census. Wishful thinking perhaps and much less embarrassing.
Jane later married a Cloud in Claiborne County according to researcher, Richard Cowling, but he didn’t say which Cloud, when or provide a source. The Claiborne County marriage records don’t reflect this marriage, but they are not entirely complete. Richard had access to older generations for years, so his source could have been family stories.
From now-deceased researcher Mary Price:
Jane Campbell – first married a Freeman. He died and she then married a Cloud. If this is true, Jane was widowed again soon after. In 1842 she reportedly made a contract with John D. Hall for support. She had one known child. Jane and her son reportedly moved to Texas with her Campbell relatives soon before 1870.
I cannot find Jane in one census anyplace. I do find a John Hall in 1850, but no Jane is evident, either with John or a Jane by any last name that looks promising.
Mary Price stated, quite indignantly, that Jane indeed was with her family in Texas in the census, and that she died in Texas. She was reproachful when I asked nicely for documentation or which Campbell family to research in which Texas county. I searched extensively finding no Jane of that rough age, by the surname Campbell, Freeman, Hare or Cloud, born in Tennessee or with any Campbell family.
I read the Claiborne County court notes page by page from 1829 through 1842, finding no mention of John Hall nor Jane Freeman. Either Mary found something I missed, there are court notes beyond the ones I found, or someone misinformed Mary.
Unfortunately, neither the first nor last name of Jane’s son is given. If Jane was born in 1807, she would have been capable of having children until about 1852 which means that there’s a good possibility that her son lived into the 1900s. Death records began being kept in various Texas counties between 1890 and 1910 – but no record of Jane that I can find.
Effectively, Jane disappeared from the records.
As I reflect back on Jane Campbell Freeman, I can’t help but think that she was treated very unfairly.
It’s possible that indeed Jane did do exactly what she was accused of, meaning being unfaithful to her husband. Even if that accusation is true and warranted a divorce, there’s a world of difference between infidelity and prostitution.
Infidelity does not imply prostitution, not by any stretch of the imagination.
I would further state that if Johnson Freeman for some reason decided he wanted to get divorced, finding a few people among his friends to testify that indeed, Jane admitted to having sex with multiple other men would have sealed her fate – and with it, assuring that a divorce would be granted. Not only that, but everyone would understand WHY he requested a divorce and his reputation would not be tarnished. Far from it, in fact, he would be perceived with sympathy as the long-suffering victim.
I also question why Jane and Johnson had no children themselves. If Jane had a child later, it doesn’t appear that she was infertile. What was going on with that marriage? If she was cheating as regularly as implied, why didn’t she get pregnant by one of her lovers?
Furthermore, why did Johnson Freeman skip town and neglect to pay his taxes? That has nothing to do with divorce, but everything to do with his character. We KNOW he did that – we don’t know what Jane did or didn’t do.
Why was Jane never afforded the opportunity and minimal courtesy to either be deposed which would not have required a long expensive trip to the capital in Nashville or to appear in front of the legislature? Why did she not get to question the witnesses when they were giving depositions about her, as was the tradition at that time. Was she intimidated into foregoing that opportunity?
Was it a foregone conclusion that any woman accused of habitual infidelity when her husband was good to her and deserved her loyalty, coupled with an affidavit stating that she admitted being under the influence of the devil would be enough evidence to assure a divorce decree? Was it presumed that NOTHING Jane could have said at that point would have made any difference in the outcome? Is that why Jane didn’t participate, or was she not afforded the opportunity?
Why did Jane stay in Claiborne County after her very public divorce? Was it because she literally had no place else to go?
Was Jane trapped for life by an ugly story, true or otherwise?
Did Jane in fact marry not once, but twice more?
What kind of arrangement did Jane make in 1842 with John Hall, if any, and why can’t I find anything reflected in the court notes as reported by Mary? Are there entire Claiborne County books not microfilmed?
It’s sad that accusations of infidelity and prostitution were used to crucifying someone with words – destroying their life publicly based on who believed uncontested affidavits. There is nothing presented to defend Jane – nothing even noting that she was notified of the proceedings. That’s not punishment or simple evidence, that’s destruction by libel and slander.
And if indeed Jane had a child, assuredly he suffered as well because of the stain, deserved or otherwise, on his mother’s reputation.
Hopefully Texas, the tough land of cattle drives, roughshod gunslingers, sagebrush and new beginnings was wild-west enough that Jane got to leave much of the stigma behind.
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