Jarvis Pierce vs Elewesa A. R. Pierce
Divorce Suit, Saline County, Illinois 1866

Jarvis Pierce vs. Elewesa A.R. Pierce divorce suit, 1866

Elewesa Hubbard Gatewood and Jarvis Peirce/Pierce were married in 1845, the second marriage for both of them. Jarvis's first wife, Sally Wilkerson, had died. Elewesa's husband, William Jefferson Gatewood, a lawyer serving in the Illinois General Assembly, died suddenly in 1842 leaving Elewesa with four young children.

Elewesa and Jarvis had one child, Mary E. Pierce, born in 1848. In 1850, Jarvis's daughter Permelia, 15, was the only one of his children by his first wife to be living in the household. Three of the four Gatewood children were also living in the household: Ephraim, 15, Nancy, 12, and Isaac, 9. Mary E., 2, daughter of Elewesa and Jarvis, was the youngest family member.

By 1860, Elewesa, Jarvis and Mary E. were still there, as was Unite (Unity) Barnes, 41, a servant, widow of Daniel Barnes, along with her young daughter, Louise, age 3.

On 13 July 1866, Jarvis filed for divorce from Elewesa A. R. Peirce on the grounds of desertion. Elewesa had left, so in the courthouse, only Jarvis and his witnesses were there to argue the case.

Several Harrisburg residents give depositions and they all told the same story ? Jarvis was a model husband and his wife had no cause to leave him.

Howard Gaskins, deposed on 10 September 1866: "always treated her as a good and affectionate wife." "does not know any cause for her desertion" "..told him she never loved him.."

James Feazel, deposed on 10 September 1866: "Provided plenty for his wife." "His wife would quarrel very much at times." "Never knew of any cause for her so doing." "She said she would not live with him."

John Tate, deposed on 10 September 1866: "Complainant always conducted himself as a good and affectionate husband." "Defendant left complainant some twelve months ago - complainant at this time being dangerously sick and confined to his bed and needing the attendance of his wife."

Elijah Pierson, deposed on 11 September 1866: "Treated his wife kindly." "Provided for her as well as he was able." "About twelve months ago defendant left complainant and returned in a few days and then left and has not returned."

Moses McGehee, deposed on 11 September 1866: "Elewesa was quarrelling, very abusive at times."

William H. Dove, deposed on 10 or 11 September 1866: Mr. Dove stated that he rented a house belonging to Jarvis Peirce and that "..the defendant came to me and demanded her goods saying she was not going to live with Jarvis any more. Received an order for same from her and let her have what she wanted, about two or three wagon loads." "Always seen and heard of Peirce treating defendant well - giving her plenty of everything."

Unita [Unity] Barnes, deposed 11 September 1866: "Defendant quarrelled often." "Was present when defendant left complainant." "Complainant at this time was seriously unwell and [in] much need of defendant?s services." "Heard defendant conspire with others to defraud complainant by taking his household furniture from the house, contrary to his knowledge and consent." "..she took with her some three wagons load of furniture..." She was staying at Dr. Pearce's Hotel when she came to get the furniture. "Defendant said that if complainant followed her, he would be killed or should be killed." "Defendant said she never loved him and only married him to have a home to raise her children by her former husband." "Never knew of complainant ill using defendant in any way and always conducted himself as a good and affectionate husband."

On the 14th day of September, Unity was deposed again and stated that the defendant "often left the complainant's house without permission of complainant and stayed away for a week or ten days - this at a very busy time when complainant would have but very little help - sometimes none. Parties to the suit at this time [were] keeping [a] tavern. Knows of defendant so leaving complainant when complainant was sick and confined to his bed and by this means losing customers at tavern and boarders having to quit the house in consequence."

Jarvis himself gives testimony, covering several pages, in which he describes himself as a good and dutiful husband, being at all times ready and willing and desirous of securing the wellfare and happiness and contentment of Elewesa. He describes Elewesa as becoming discontented and unpleasant, all without any cause known to him. She abandoned him during a time in which he was severely ill, rendering him mostly helpless. She took a large amount of his goods and chattels. All this without any known cause.

The divorce was granted in September and on the 30th of the month Jarvis and Unity were married.

Page from administration of estate of Thomas Johnson Jr, d.1795, Washington D.C.

There is, of course, another side to the story. In the 1870 census there is another child in the household: Dora - Madora - Pierce. Dora is ten, having been born about 1860, and is Jarvis's daughter. So the "known cause" for Elewesa"s discontent and refusal to live with Jarvis any longer was known, at least, to both Jarvis and Unity. Jarvis and Unity were having an affair as far back as 1859-60. Perhaps the other witnessess, all male, by the way, were unaware of what was going on. They get the benefit of the doubt.

Jarvis was involved in another lawsuit, just the next year, a divorce suit between William Bush and Nancy Bush. One witness stated that she "had seen Nancy in bed, under the covers, with Jarvis Pierce." Unity was also a witness in the case, stating that it was not Jarvis under the covers.

Where Elewesa went after she left Jarvis is not known - Jarvis told the judge that he thought she might have gone to St. Louis, Missouri - but she was living with her daughter in White County, Illinois, not far from Saline County, in 1870. She was recorded in the census as Louisa Gatewood. She died in St. Louis, Missouri, just before Christmas in 1877, and was buried there. Her record of death gave her name as Elewesa A. Gatewood, widow.

Jarvis died on July 4th 1880 in Harrisburg, his burial place unknown. In his probate records, Madora Pierce is named as one of his children. Unity died in 1886 and Madora is named as one of her children.

Related links:
The Pierce family of Massachusetts and Illinois
The Hubbard and Gatewood family
Jarvis Pierce Jr, 1800-1880, biographical sketch
Finding Elewesa - a sketch of Elewesa Hubbard Gatewood Pierce and her disappearance after the divorce

Finding the divorce papers was a stroke of luck. While researching in Harrisburg back in 2001, my daughter and I came across a reference in a book to the divorce of Jarvis and Elewesa. The following day, a Monday morning, we went to the Saline County courthouse to find Jarvis's probate file - he did not leave a will and nothing was online. While copying the papers in the probate file we came across all the divorce papers. These records were filed away in a box, possibly in the basement - it took awhile for someone to bring them up. They are still there and have not been microfilmed as far as I know. Hooray for courthouses and the people who carefully preserve all the records.

The name is spelled Peirce in the documents but I have chosen to spell it Pierce as most of his documents use that spelling and it seems to be used interchangeably during his life.


    1850 U.S. Census, Gallatin County, Illinois. Equality Precinct, p.412

    1860 U.S. Census, Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, p.112

    1870 U.S. Census, Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, p.14.

    Gallatin County, Illinois. County Court, Will and Bond Records, 1849-1901, p.59-61, FHL MF 0977822, item 1. Jarvis Pierce appointed guardian of the minor children of William J. Gatewood---Williamson, Ephraim H., Nancy, and Isaac I.,Sept. 21, 1850.

    Divorce suit: Jarvis Pierce vs. E.A.R. (Gatewood) Pierce Circuit Court, Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, File #89, vol. 1
    Abstract of case:
    Early Saline County, Illinois, Court Records, Divorce abstracts, 1847-1886, Vol. 1, compiled by Mary Douglas Brimm & Rebecca Dardeen Schmook, Harrisburg, Illinois, Saline County Genealogical Society, no date, p.20.

    Probate Docket of Jarvis Pierce, Harrisburg, Illinois, Saline County Courthouse, Probate Box 19, #1.

    Divorce suit: Circuit Court, Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, File #77, 4 April 1867, William Bush vs. Nancy Bush
    Abstract of case:
    Early Saline County, Illinois, Court Records, Divorce abstracts, 1847-1886, Vol. 1, compiled by Mary Douglas Brimm & Rebecca Dardeen Schmook, Harrisburg, Illinois, Saline County Genealogical Society, no date, p.22.

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12 August 2020

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