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Friday, October 11, 2013

"Cruelty Unsurpassed": The Drake Divorce Petition I

"Before 1848, If Virginians . . . .wanted complete divorces on the ground of adultery, they had to petition the General Assembly to pass a private act in their behalf. Upon their receipt in Richmond, such petitions were referred to the Committee of Courts of Justice in the House of Delegates. Committee members sorted through the documents, discussed whether they believed the petitions" reasonable", and sent their recommendations for action to the entire House. The delegates then considered the opinion of the committed and voted whether to draw up a private bill to grant the divorce. The bill then had to pass both the House and the Senate before being enrolled into law."*

From the Virginia General Assembly Petitions files . . . with perhaps a little hyperbole thrown in . . .


Your Petitioner Louise W. Drake respectfully represents that she was married in the year 1822 to Robert Drake of New Kent County, by whom she has, without any reasonable cause on her part, been treated with a degree of cruelty unsurpassed in any civilized community- That she has, at length, been driven to the neccesity of quitting his house forever, and throwing herself and her two infant children on the charity of her poor relatives & her own feeble physical resources, to avoid a lingering death, from which there was escape if she remained in the inhospitable mansion of her husband. That after making every effort which could be desired by herself, and her friends to regain his lost affections, after she had drained the drop in the cup of humiliation, by stooping at his mandate to his base mistress, and had remained for months in his house altho' deprived even of the bed on which she lay and cut off by his orders from the charity of her neighbors, whom he would not permit to furnish her, or even his own babes, with a bed, she has felt herself impelled by every feeling of honour and by a regard to her own safety, and that of her children, to ask to be forever divorced from the monster in human shape, who would sacrifice not only the life of his wife, but the present and eternal welfare of his children to the indulgence of a low and grovelling(?) passion, which seems to have expelled every feeling of humanity from his [      ] breast.
She has accordingly filed her statement under the act of Assembly in such case provided, preparatory to application to your Honourable body for a divorce-
This statement has been found true by an intelligent jury of the county, and the copy of the record thereof, duly authenticated, is hereto attached, as a part of this Petition.
Your Petitioner begs leave to remark that no language, however strong, can in general terms convey an adequate idea of the cruelty practised on your Petitioner by the said Robert, and she deeply regrets that your Honorable body cannot hear the testimony which at the trial of said Statement aroused the indignation of every person present. No one acquainted with the facts would consider any language too harsh, from your Petitioner.
She humbly solicits a divorce from the said Robert Drake- and that there two surviving children, a son and a daughter, now under her care may be saved from the grasp of an unfeeling father, and his base and miserable mistress by confiding them to her own protection- To this last prayer, your Petitoner hopes there may be no objection on his part, as he has never since they were taken from his house altho' residing near them, envinced the least regard for them- neither seeing nor supporting them- enquiring after, nor sending, the smallest token of affection. As your Petitioner is suffering from no imprudence or fault of her own, and no earthly tribunal can grant relief save yr. Honorable body, she hopes altho' an humble member of society, that her grievances will be redressed by the General Assembly of Virginia- & she will, as in duty bound, ever pray.

Louise W. Drake


Drake V Drake
Petition for a Divorce
Dec 3  1834
refd. to Atty G


* "To Be Freed from Thate Curs and Let at Liberty". Interracial Adultery and Divorce in Antebellum Virginia
Joshua D. Rothman
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Vol. 106, No. 4 (Autumn, 1998),


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