Love and Marriage

cat_coverWell, actually more to the point – Adultery, Prostitution, and Divorce.  This may not be the best blog post topic so close to Valentine’s Day, but it’s all intertwined, so here we go.  In one branch of my family tree, the trail gets very messy and confusing.  Southwest Virginia has numerous families from different origins who have similar birth dates, and exact same names, living in the same place.  It makes ancestry research terribly difficult.  So one day while I was researching a potential ancestor on the internet, I came across her name in an excerpt of a book called “The Great Catastrophe of My Life: Divorce in the Old Dominion“.  The book is about how there weren’t any divorce laws in place for people in the colonial and antebellum eras for remedy of bad marriages.  The book tells many stories of both men and women stuck in bad marriages in Virginia, and their attempts to get relief from the courts.  It’s really quite interesting.  But it was also quite surprising to find an account of the relationship of two of the people I was researching!  I got the feeling I wasn’t going to like what I was going to read.  I was right.

 “But few adulterous wives proved as brazen as Fanny Walling Bishop. “


Reading further, we learn that Fanny had multiple illegitimate children, roamed the countryside sleeping with men, and had no respect for the sanctity of marriage.  The Bill of Complaint filed with the Scott County Circuit Court by her second husband William Bishop claimed that she lived with the Indian Nation in Tennessee or Georgia for several years, and eventually returned to Scott County, VA and moved into a cabin on William’s property where she began running a house of prostitution.  There was certainly no lack of drama in the 1850’s!  So, although not exactly what you want to find out about your potential ancestors, it was pretty fascinating reading.  But even after all my research, it is still impossible for me to confirm or deny whether Fanny Bishop is part of my family tree.  Maybe someday DNA will tell me the ultimate truth.

Click here to read the transcribed versions of William Bishop’s Bill of Complaint, Witness Depositions, and Divorce Decree.  Click here to see the original documents.


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