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The mystery of Zaida Brown Leonard

In my previous blog about "The Life of James Henry Leonard", I shared some documentation about my great-granduncle's first marriage, which took place on November 19, 1910, in Moravia, Cayuga County, New York, when he was 19 years old. He married a 21-year old woman named Zaida Brown. This is an established fact, with their marriage license application, shown here, serving as evidence:

James and Zaida had a son named Charles Lewis Leonard, born Sept. 8, 1912, in Moravia, Cayuga, New York, but when the census taken in 1920, they weren't living together, and in 1922, James remarried to Edna Wallace.


So what ever happened to Zaida? Well, as usual, we have to rely on newspapers to tell the story. I found several articles printed in area newspapers from 1915 to 1921, which give us a glimpse of what was going on in her eventful life.


First, an article in a Bridgeport, Connecticut, newspaper called "The Farmer", July 22, 1915, mentions a man named "Henry Vredenberg, age 42, a former factory owner in Homer, N.Y.", and his "alleged common law wife, Zaida Leonard". Note that Homer is about 15 miles from Moravia, where James and Zaida were married in 1910. It was also where her family lived at the turn of the 20th century and her father died there in 1917. Vredenberg was arrested and Zaida was detained after being suspected of violating the White Slave Law. The White Slave Law, enacted in 1910, was not about race, despite what it might seem to imply. It was a law to prevent human trafficking, or detaining anyone against their will, as slaves, essentially. The brief mention in the paper doesn't give us much information, but it appears that the accusation came from Zaida's grandfather, and it was found to be unwarranted as Vredenberg was only charged a fine of $5 for breach of peace.


Then, just four months later, a series of articles pertaining to "George W. Vredenberg, captain of the Steamer Venture", was charged with grand larceny after stealing a clock and a searchlight from another boat docked near his. Vredenberg's "woman companion", Zaida Leonard, was found living aboard the Venture when he was arrested and both were detained and interrogated for several hours. You can read the articles here and maybe you can find more on your own, if you're interested in investigating this case further. If you find anything, please let us know in the comments below!

With no mention of James, and with the Vredenberg scandal occurring just five years after James and Zaida were married, one might wonder if this is the right Zaida Leonard, but one of the articles clearly gives her name as "Mrs. Zaida Brown Leonard". It was The Homer Republican on Feb. 1, 1917, included in the clippings above.


In the end, Vredenberg was acquitted because Zaida, whose damning testimony was to be used against him, could not be found to be served with a subpoena. I could find no further information about her, other than when her father's estate was being settled in 1921. In the second to last newspaper clipping above, it was stated that she lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. My attempts to locate her on the census have proved fruitless, although it is possible she may have remarried and altered the spelling of her name or changed it all together. She may have even had more children, or, with a free and adventurous spirit like hers, maybe she traveled the world. Who knows? Anyone?


As for Vredenberg, his life ended tragically in 1934, when he was involved in an altercation with a 21-year old deckhand employed on his boat. The man inadvertently knocked Vredenberg overboard and then watched helplessly as he drowned. Details were reported in the final newspaper clipping, shown above.




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