Marriage is, under the law, a civil contract between a man and woman. Like other contracts, it can be broken, illegally or legally. Illegal disruptions of the marriage contract include adultery, cruelty, and desertion.

There were (and still are) two forms of what is termed divorce in North Carolina. Divorce from the bonds of matrimony is absolute divorce, rendering the marriage nonexistent by dissolving it. It was formerly granted only for serious causes such as adultery and impotence, but in modern times many other reasons are admitted. Divorce from bed and board creates a state of legal separation, suspending a marriage but leaving the bond in effect. Separation deals primarily with changes in the legal rights of parties married but living apart and was resorted to in cases of abandonment or turning out of doors, cruel or barbarous treatment, intolerable indignities, habitual drunkenness, and similar forms of inhumanity. Except in cases of the wife's adultery, the amount of her support payment, or alimony, was normally set at the time of the decree; in recent years, alimony has been granted to divorced husbands as well.

Divorce records generated by General Assembly procedures are at the State Archives among the Legislative Papers. County-level divorce records are held by the clerks of the county superior courts but the State Archives has many older ones. Superior court minutes contain the principal proceedings in divorce cases; loose papers, petitions, orders, and decrees may survive as well. Among the loose papers commonly filed are the complaints or petitions stating plaintiff's reasons for seeking the divorce. Much family information and social commentary many be gleaned from them.
(Source: North Carolina Research--Second Edition; Published 1996 by the North Carolina Genealogical Society; Chapter 10; pgs. 164-165.)

Year Plaintiff Defendant Comments
1827 & '28 Christopher Flowers Sarah [Sally] Flowers Microfilm indicates married in May 1824 in Craven County, N.C.  She was Sarah Fipps. He claims they were married while he was intoxicated. Actual divorce record says Sally Flowers married Christopher Flowers in May 1822 and he deserted her in Jan. 1823 and removed to Hyde County to live with another woman.  Sally & Christopher had one child together.  Craven Co. Marriages says Christopher Flowers married Sally Phipps on Aug. 13, 1822.
1829 Harriet Jones Cason Jones Married June 3, 1827 "That from some cause totally unknown to your petitioner, the affections of her husband have become entirely alienated and that by his cruel treatment and barbarous conduct, her life has been endangered." She asks for a divorce and alimony. No children mentioned.
1829 Eliza Jester Ebenezer Jester Married June 10, 1819. Language in petition similar to above Jones case. Four children mentioned but not named.
1832 John Harris Fanny Harris Married in 1825. Her maiden name was Cutrell.
1833 Joseph S. Dixon Mary S. Dixon Married in 1830--title should be reversed as she is the one asking for a divorce because of her husband's temper and barbarous treatment. No children mentioned. Dixon also spelled Dickson in other places in the petition.
1851 Ada Midyett Jabez Midyett Married for 13 years and that during that time has become increasingly violent in his disposition. In Aug 1849 he began beating her and drove her from their home without any clothes nor their 4 children. She states he has a drinking habit. She has 3 daughters of very tender years and one not yet a year old. Jabez owns 50 acres on Ocracoke Banks, 12 of which were hers before their marriage. For the last 12 months Jabez has been in an adultery with Cassa? Whidby. She believes her husband is endeavoring to convey all his property to his son by a former wife.
1859 Mary Ann Spencer Peleg P. Spencer
1860 Pearly Farrow Abram C. Farrow
1866 Sarah Bell Hodges George W. Hodges Married Nov. 1860. They have two daughters. She accuses him of communicating to her syphilis which he had contracted before their marriage and failed to inform her, then he abandoned her and neglected to provide for her support.
1866 Sarah S. Harper Spencer Harper Married in the Spring of 1864. Spencer Harper was from Nash County, N.C.
1866 William Hall Elizabeth Hall Married in Sept. 1864. She was formerly Elizabeth Hamilton (Hambleton).
1868 Robert H. Harris Sarah Harris Married August 1, 1861.
1870 James Vendricks Jane Vendricks Married March 1861 at Josiah Davidson's house. He accused her of committing adultery in June 1867 and July 1868 and "at other times and places since" with Caleb S. Ballance and in August 1868 with one Thomas P. Ballance.
1872 Sabry Ann Spencer Selby Spencer
1872 William D. Hall Elizabeth Hall Married in 1864. They had two children and in 1866 she abandoned him.
1872 Nancy F. Hooten Bryan A. Hooten Married March 1867. He abandoned her in Jan. 1871 and went to live in Martin County and "during the year 1871 and subsequent to January of that year the defendant did at divers times and places in Hyde County commit adultery by having carnal knowledge of one Laura Pierce, a colored woman of Hyde County and did beget one child of the body of said Laura Pierce which aforesaid illegitimate child was born to this defendant sometime during the month of September 1871. Jury finds in favor of the plaintiff.
1874 Dorcas Jane Peterson Elijah Peterson Married in 1869. "...that in 1872 he committed adultery with Caroline Neal and has begotten a bastard child by her." Dorcas & Elijah had two children, William Jackson, age 4, and Alexander, age 2.
1875 Hannah Green Nelson Green She accuses him of adultery with Sarah Green and Mary Louisa Green. He accuses her of adultery with W.R. Credle. Divorce granted.
1875 Richard C. Sadler Cornelia Sadler Married in June 1873 at Bath, N.C. He accuses her of adultery with Preston Short and the birth of a bastard child whose father was Preston Short. Divorce granted.
1878 Diana E. Davis David Davis Divorce granted.
1878 Moses Watson Jane Watson Married in 1874. He accuses her of adultery (man not named).
1879 Oscar Shaw Melvina Shaw Married in 1875. He accuses her of living with Burridge Selby in 1879 and giving birth to a bastard child whose father is Burridge Selby. Divorce granted.
1881 Stanley Spencer Fanny Weston Spencer Married in 1874. Separated for 5 years. He accuses her of having a bastard child by Frank Selby. Divorce granted.
1883 Thomas Jones Arabella Jones Married in 1877. "...that on or about the 10th day of February 1883 the defendant committed adultery with William Wallace Midgett at Slocum and in 1882 at South Lake with Zach Nixon." Divorce granted.
1883 James Sawyer Orpha Sawyer Married in Nov. 1876. She was formerly Orpha Clark. She left him in May 1878 and "...after her departure she became almost a prostitute, committing adultery with many persons at various times and places and has since married one Joseph Collins." She gave birth about 1880 to a female child. Divorce granted.
Spring Term 1884 David Credle Nancy Credle Married May 9, 1884 (?this must be wrong). He says she committed adultery in September 1883 with David Hudson, Jr. and others. Divorce granted.
1884 W.D. Pugh Margaret D. Pugh Married April 5, 1883. He said that in Feb. 1884 the defendant committed adultery with Lewis Hooper at the house of S.S. Hazen in Dare County and that she has committed other acts of adultery. Divorce granted.
1888 Benders Brooks Recy Brooks Married Feb. 1, 1886. She had told him that she was with child and that it was not his. He accuses her of committing adultery with David Selby and with having a bastard child recently.
1889 Jennette Wynn Samuel Wynn Married in 187_. She states "her husband became addicted to the use of spiritous liquor and other bad habits." She accuses him also of committing adultery with Sarah Nixon and that in August 1888 Sarah gave birth to a child which she publicly admitted was by Samuel W. Wynn. Divorce granted.
1889 Solomon J. Spencer Betsy E. Spencer Married May 29, 1878. He left the county in May 1885 and was absent continuously for two years during which he had not seen his wife and that in March 1887 prior to his return in May, she gave birth to a child by a white man.
1894 Elizabeth Murray Barney Murray Married March 1881. Separated January 1890. She says that the defendant has lived in adultery with George Anna Mann and with others. Divorce granted.
1894 W.F. Ross Laura Ross Married Sept. 1879 in Craven County, N.C. He accuses her of adultery in their home on Sept. 1, 1890 with Job King and later with others including Ozzy Shoemaker. Divorce granted.
1894 Samuel S. Snell Julia P. Snell (alias Lucy E. Morton) Married Feb. 1874. She was formerly Julia P. Hill. They had no children. She left him and lived at 337 Church Street in Norfolk under the name of Lucy E. Morton. She committed adultery Sept. 3, 1893 with Edward Flowers in New Bern after abandoning her home that day. She later took up with James Foreman, age 22. Divorce granted.
1896 Bartlett Hall Bethany Hall Married Nov. 21, 1889. She was formerly Bethany Swindell. On Oct. 15, 1894 she committed adultery with Major J. O'Neal. Also with James Robinson Fisher (name struck through).
1898 Lucetta McPherson George W. McPherson Married June 20, 1888 in Dare Co., N.C. She says his whereabouts are not known. He abandoned her on August 22, 1889. Divorce granted.
1898 John Sadler Rosa Sadler Married Jan. 1, 1870. She left him in the summer of 1893. He accuses her of committing adultery with George Jennette and other persons. Divorce granted.
1898 Orpha Waters W.A. Waters Married January 1892 in Beaufort Co., N.C. They had one child named Kathleen born in 1896. On Nov. 1, 1896 he abandoned her and lived in adultery in Washington, N.C. with Maggie Beachman. Divorce granted.


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