Asa B. Cook Divorce Case

The following was very kindly provided by David E. Patterson.  The papers appear in the Upson County, Georgia Superior Court Writ Book G, pages 527-534.

Elizabeth W. Cook vs Asa B. Cook, Libel for Divorce in Upson SC (1846)

The papers appear in the Upson County, Georgia Superior Court Writ Book G, pages 527-534.

She declared that they married April 2, 1829 in Baldwin County.  Her maiden name was Elizabeth W. Ivey.  She accuses him of abusive speech, so that she sought protection from her relatives; she returned for the sake of the children; accuses him of such “shocking” behavior in the presence of females that lady friends won’t come to her house thus depriving her of decent female companionship.  Lastly, she accuses him of adultery with his own woman slave, saying that, (pp. 528-9) “lost to all decency [he] would go into his own kitchen in open day & there occupy the bed of said negro woman slave . . .” and accuses him of leaving her bed for that of the slave many nights.

(p. 531)  Asa B. Cook calls her accusations a “tissue” falsely set forth.  He also asserts that she falsely accused him several times in 1844-45 “with being the father of a negro child.”  As to property accumulated during the couple’s marriage, he has received “before & since his intermarriage” a large estate, 200 acres fine land in Jones County, “six negroes viz three men one a carpenter a woman, a girl & boy, two horses, stock . . .[etc]” from his father’s estate – and nearly all the joint property held by the parties is the proceeds from his father’s estate.

(p. 533) He lists his property at the time of separation on April 25, 1845:

House & Lot in Macon $1,300
Land in Henry County $1,000 $500 first cost, improvements added
Land in Upson COunty $750 $550 first cost, $200 improvements added
Daniel $400 Fellow 45 years old
Mima $300 More than 50 years old
Letty $300 More than 40n and unsound
Betty $500 28 years old
Lavicy $300 11 years old
William $200 4 years old
Caroline $100 2 years old
Stock on farm $150

(p. 530):  Elizabeth Cook submitted a similar list of the marital property – but her valuations of each negro are higher than her husband’s.

(p. 533-4)  Two successive juries find for divorce a mensa et thoro [also known as “divorce from bed and board” – in which the parties remain married but are authorized to live separately and apart.]  The seven children of the marriage to be awarded $2,300 to be raised from the property listed in the schedule of property provided by Elizabeth, the property to be levied and sold by fieri facias.  Elizabeth to get the land in Henry County, previously deeded in trust for her by Asa, and furniture.  Awarded October 22, 1847.

(p. 538) Sheriff reports to the court that Asa B. Cook is “not to be found in Upson County” on January 25, 1847.


Depositions taken in the divorce case are in loose papers.  Note from Cobb’s Digest p 267: “An Act to point out and regulate the manner of taking the Testimony of Females, in certain cases” approved Dec. 19, 1829 – allows that when any female may be required to testify in any Inferior or Superior Court of Georgia, that it shall be lawful to take interrogatories except in criminal cases.  [In other words, even if they live in the County, female witnesses do not have to appear in person in court to testify in civil trials]

Nancy Watson (October 9, 1846):

“I did visit them frequently. I saw him on his negroe woman’s bed once in the day time on Sunday I did not see negroe woman on the bed with him it was the month of April 1845…  At one time I heard some difficulty between them about going to Baldwin County.  I think his treatment towards his wife was unhumane and unkind.  I never saw his privates or his exposing them at any time.  his conduct was not kind towards his wife and Children, and obscene unhusband like, in the presence of wife.”

Adeline Stilwell (October 9, 1846):

“I saw defendant abuse his wife one time, the cause grew out of something about eggs  his wife laughed at him and said if he knew what was in them flitters he would not eat them, the defendant then got mad and got up from the table and said he would be damned if he would eat them. I know nothing about his taking up with negroe woman or having illicit intercourse with any person….  Cook did at several different times come in from 8 to 12 steps of my house and while setting on the fence did expose his privates naked and in full view… he never exposed his privates to me in any other way than what I have stated.”  

Nancy Stilwell (October 9, 1846):

“As I was passing from my house to my Brothers along a private settlement way I met the defendant Cook with his private member in his hand shaking it and upbraided him for such conduct and told him to go along home he then got mad and said any body that would get mad at that he did not care a damn for them.”

Sarah Ann McKenney (October 9, 1846):

“I visited their house one morning while they were at breakfast, and as I got to the door I heard a considerable fuss in the house and the defendant Cook cussing some one in the house and heard something like a chair knocked over and one of the children came out of the house with his nose ableeding and then the defendant Cook came out and spoke to me and said something about being in row but said if the Madam of the [house] can put up with it every day he reckoned I could once and awhile.  I think it was in April 1845”

All the above witnesses (October 9, 1846) say:

“…we believe Mrs Cook the libellant a lady of unimpeachable character and of a virtuous habits in all her conduct and we believe she was an affectionate wife Mother and always manifested a disposition to obey and please her husband and never would have left him but for his unhuman and unfeeling conduct towards her and her children…  he has forfeited all marital rights by his conduct.”

Margarett Cox (October 9, 1846):

“in the day time about three o’clock and sometime this spring either in April or May in 1846 it was in defendant’s own negroe house or Kitchen.  I was setting in one house within a few steps of said negroe house and the defendant went into said negroe house to wash and to put on his cloths and while he defendant was in there I saw him and negroe woman standing close together and the defendant was in his shirt tail I saw it through a large crack in said negroe house I did not see negroe womans naked skin it was defendants own negroe woman and her name is Betty.  …I live in defendants houses, and have live here since about last Christmas defendant lives in the house with us and eats at the same table…  [D]efendants negroe woman was living here when I moved here and staid here untill she had a child and was then moved to Mr Weavers plantation I think some [time] in May 1846 and has not been back here to live since.  Defendant has had but one negroe woman here and her name is Betty  said negroe woman has four children  the children is tolerable dark and their mother is a molatto and the children is all darker than their mother”

Jesse M. Cook, Baldwin County (February 2, 1846):

“I have seen the defendant in his own negroe kitchen in the morning between day break & sun rise with nothing but his drawers & shirt on, & I have seen him sitting before the fire at night about an hour after dark with his clothes down & his naked back to the fire, in his negroe kitchen, & in the presence of his negroe woman, the first occurrence took place took place some time about the last of March last & the second about the 24th of April last.  I have seen defendant lying on his own negroe womans bed on a Sunday evening in April last, the day of the month I do not recollect…

“I have seen in April last the defendant abuse Libellant in this way – there came in a plate of bread while eating supper, & he took the plate of bread & tossed it at the libellant across the table.  I heard the defendant tell libellant before she left him to go to her kin people, bury her father, comfort her mother, & stay until dooms day until he sent for her.  I also heard the defendant tell libellant, when she got where her kindred were, to get lawyer Harmon to divorce them, and he, defendant, said to the children, that if he could run this old witch off (meaning our mother) we all would go down to Florida, after staying in Upson a year or two.  All this was said on the night before she left him about the 24th April last.  I have often times heard the libellant speak to the defendant, & get no answer, & at other times, very often answered her with an oath.

“I am their son.”

 George Lewis, Baldwin County (February 2, 1846):

“I am well acquainted with libellant, & have been for more than twenty years, nearly seventeen of which she has been married…   she has sustained a high character for industry, chastity & conduct becoming a wife – she now lives at her fathers house with four little children, one at the breast, partly by her own & her sons industry – she has eight children, four of whom are supported by their labor…  With regard to abuse & ill treatment I can testify to nothing…

“Mrs. Cooks prospects of property for herself & children hereafter, are one ninth part of six negroes, at the death of her father & mother.”

Elizabeth W. Cook vs. Asa B. Cook, Bill of Quia Timet &c, Upson Superior Court, October Term 1847

Superior Court Writ Book G, pp 539-551:   [This separate case involves Elizabeth Cook alleging that she fears Asa Cook may dispose of his property prior to settlement of the divorce case, thus depriving her of an equitable distribution.]

(p. 539) Elizabeth repeats her accusations contained in the divorce petition, and (p. 540) names the slaves: Daniel a man, Mima a woman, Letty a woman, Betty a woman, Lavicy a girl, William a boy, Caroline a girl, and lists the land. (p. 542)  Judge issues order on June 18, 1845, for Asa B. Cook to post security that he will not dispose of his negroes or lands pending outcome of the divorce action.

(p. 544)  Asa B. Cook’s answer, signed August 13, 1845:  He is in possession of the land and negroes in Upson County as charged, but that the negro woman Mimy is in the city of Macon “and the defendant [Asa B.] usually receives from her five dollars a month when he applies for it but that the complainant [Elizabeth W.] as he is informed by his son collected all that was due from her when she abandoned this defendant [and] that the woman Letty is in the City of Columbus & is unsound but he expects to receive at the end of the year fifty dollars for her services [and] that the balance of the negroes are on the land in Upson and with their labor & his he will not be able to do more than make a support for them this year. . .  And . . . further that the House & Lot in Macon is leased till October 1846 & paid for in the Negro woman Letty.

(p. 547)  Asa B. Cook says he never “took to his embraces his own negro woman” and the only times he may have rested on her bed was when “he had come in from his daily labor at evening & was greatly wearied he has gone into the kitchen because there was fire there & none in the dwelling” – an action which he admits was “imprudent.”

(p. 547)  He says the whole problem between himself and his wife is that “he would not reverse the Law of God & substitute in her case the rule of woman instead of the man.

In October 1845, Asa B. petitions Superior Court to dissolve the injunction preventing him from selling his negroes in order for him to pay his debts.