Gatliff Divorce

Submitted by Arnold Taylor

After Christina Gatliff died, Charles Gatliff married Rachel Cummins (one mistranscription of her name has her as “Bummins”) on 19 June 1809 at his home in “Whitley” County, according to Military Pension Records for Whitley. Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files. Of course, there was no Whitley at that time, so it was in Knox County, which Kozee confirms, Pioneer Families, at p. 69, as does Tri-County Knox-Laurel-Whitley Early Marriages, p. 36. After his death Rachel tried to collect a pension, but her claim was rejected because they were divorced in Pulaski County in the October Term 1827. Pulaski Order Book 7, pages 73-74. They were not residents of Pulaski County. The divorce case started in Whitley County on 21 October 1824 but was transferred to Pulaski because the Judge had a conflict. Charles sued and “Rachiel” counterclaimed. Whitley Circuit Court Order Book A-B-C, pp. 225, 240, 249 and 319. An anonymous source in the family files at KHS says they had a daughter, and that was the first I had heard of that; since then I have read in the Rogers data that there was a child, Peggy/Jana (sic). However, as will be explained in connection with his divorce battle with Rachel, the child was probably not Charles’.

As stated above, the divorce case started in Whitley County, but was transferred to Pulaski Circuit Court. It was alleged by Charles that they married in 1809, that she had abandoned him, and was saying that she would never return. He, of course, said he had always treated her well. When she left, he alleged, she took with her unstated property. He alleged that she often invited men to his house and bedded them, in addition to other provoking things she would do. She was said to have often stated to others that she had no affection for him and only married him for his money. Despite all of that, which he bore with fortitude, he would have continued married to her had she just left him rest, and he had offered to take her back, but she was continuing to harass him and attempting to take from him his living.

Rachel filed an Answer and Counterclaim (Cross-Bill). She (as Rachael) alleged that Charles had treated her in a cruel manner which she suffered with fortitude until he became violent and drove her from his home. She alleged that he frequently kept other women in the house and cohabited with them. She denied that she abandoned him, and that when he forced her from the house she was not even allowed to take her “warrin apparel.” He did take her back on one occasion, but she was beaten by one of his women friends. She denied the charge of adultery. She had no objection to his being granted a divorce, but sought alimony, since he had an estate of $20,000. He Answered, denying everything, but said that she may have had a fight with one or more women, as she was uncommonly quarrelsome. There were a couple of continuances, and then they agreed to the change of venue at the July 1826 term of Whitley Circuit Court. At the October 1826 term of Whitley Circuit Court a Commission was ordered for the depositions of Charles Sullivan and Robert Finley, on motion of Charles. At the April 1827 term the case was finally ordered removed to Pulaski Circuit Court.

The deposition of Charles Sullivan was taken on 1 July 1825. He testified that he was familiar with Charles’ house for nineteen or twenty years; never knew Charles to treat his wife ill; never knew Charles to have had any “bad conduct …towards lewd women” ; has heard some people say Rachel was unchaste; knows of his own knowledge of some unchaste conduct by her, consisting of sexual intercourse during the marriage, with a man other than Charles; knows of nothing done by Charles to warrant some people saying he was an unchaste husband.

Joseph Early was also deposed on the same date. He testified that he had been subpoenaed to give a deposition in a case pending in Rockcastle Circuit Court, wherein Rachel was suing Charles. When he arrived in Williamsburgh for the deposition, the two of them, Cornelius Gatliff, Samuel Cox and James Cummins went behind the courthouse to discuss a compromise. The parties agreed that Rachel would “draw” (withdraw) the suit and return home with Charles, upon his promise to treat her well.

Robert Finley deposed on the same date that he was acquainted with Rachel; knew her to be an unchaste and lewd woman since her marriage to Charles; and never knew Charles to have abused her.

On an unstated date, one William Briant deposed that he was not aware of Charles and Rachel being married, but while they were reputed to be man and wife, Briant himself cohabited with her; and has been at Gatliff’s house on different times and never saw him treat her other than in a husband like manner. Examined by the Defendant, he testified that he never saw her hinting that she wanted him or any other man, but that in his opinion she would submit to the embraces of some men and reject others; that he admittedly attacked her for a favor once on her return from Rockcastle and did not succeed, but has in fact had her favors two or three times.

Nancy Cadwell was deposed on an unknown date. She testified that she lived in Charles’ family four or five years and never saw him treat Rachel amiss; and that she had heard Rachel “say that if she were to give her child to its father, she would be obliged to give it to Reese Gatliff.” On cross examination, she said that comment was made after the birth of the child; that she could not remember how long she stayed at Gatliff’s after Rachel left; no recollection of seeing Rachel with a bloody nose one Saturday morning or pouring water for her to wash or asking her what the matter was; and never saw Rachel sleep with Old Mr. Price or Mr. Reynolds or any man other than Gatliff.

Samuel Cox, Sr. was deposed on 19 July 1825 and testified that he and Joseph Earley were called on by the parties to help them compromise a case between them; that Charles offered to have her come home and he would use her as well as he ever did, but that Rachel did not want to return so long as Jane Cutbirth was there; that Cornelius Gatliff told her that he would move Cutbirth from the house; and Rachel said that Cutbirth should be removed upon Rachel’s return from Tennessee and that the suit would be withdrawn.

William C. Martin deposed on the 20th of July 1825 that he had often heard Rachel abuse Charles without provocation, more than any woman he ever saw; that she said would not live with him and that if she married again it would not be for riches; that she never looked for what she did not work for, that the old man’s children, who had labored for it, should get it and that she (making oaths) said she never expected a cent from him when she married him; that Rachel came to his home “with her wheel,” crying and saying she wouldn’t live “with your Father” (meaning his father in law); denied that Gatliff drove her off, and said that she would not live at such a damned place; asked that she be allowed to stay at Martin’s until the water went down, so she could go to Reece Gatliff’s, but Martin told her to go home; that Rachel said she could not go to live with any of her people for they were all mad at her; that she finally was persuaded to return home; that after she later had her child she once said that she would give it to Reace; and that when she married Charles she had a black mare and an old bed which she may have given to one of the negroes.

Reace Gatliff was deposed on 2 August 1825 and testified that he never considered her a virtuous woman; that during a former suit between Charles and Rachel she suggested that he go off with her, because he could make a damned sight more than in his present position, which he refused; that she said that she did not marry old Gatliff for love and that if she married again it would not be for riches; that she wished to lay her child to him; when asked whether he knew of her cohabiting with other men, he said: “I do not without it was with Myself which I know to be a fact.” He signed by mark.

On 21 July 1827 the Court granted him a divorce and decreed that each should keep the property in his or her possession. This was only been one of several legal battles between Rachel and Charles, and there was plenty of fallout to others. On 11 July 1820, one Joel Watkins sued Charles in Knox Circuit Court for slander, alleging that after Watkins testified for Rachel in another suit, Charles called him a perjurer; Charles’ influence seems to have been much stronger in Whitley County, as the Knox County jury awarded Watkins $500. The Certification of the Record in Pulaski Circuit Court described above was the result of a case Rachel filed in Whitley Circuit Court on 21 February 1845; she alleged that Robert Finley had come into the possession of land in which she had dower rights by reason of her marriage to Charles, who was then dead. Finley defended in part on the grounds that she and Charles were divorced. The pictures all this paints of the characters of Rachel and Charles make one think they may have deserved each other. For instance, remember the Jane Cutbirth Rachel was complaining about? In 1822 the Whitley County Grand Jury indicted Charles for living with one Jane Cutbirth as man and wife from 6 February 1822 to 15 July 1822, the date of the indictment, he then being married.


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