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  • Writer's pictureDonna Hechler Porter

A Farmer and a Preacher: David Madison Chaney

Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end. That's the given. How you respond to those losses, what you make of what's left, that's the part you have to make up as you go.

Katharine Weber, The Music Lesson

This is the 3rd article in a continuing series drawn largely from Laura Power Marbut and Sarah Powers Thielbar's book David M. Chaney, 1809-1859, Allied Families and Descendants. The book has long been out of print, having been published in 1971 by Heritage Papers of Danielsville, Georgia. I am taking liberties to add to the information and to adjust and revise it for better reading.

D. M. Chaney was also a farmer, and during his first two marriages probably lived on the land homesteaded by Bailey E. Chaney. His daughter, Sallie, indicated that she was born at this house near Clinton but grew up on the "Viers Place." That latter was also in East Feliciana but about a mile from Bluff Creek . . .

Most everyone, until the 1950s, was a farmer, especially men living in rural areas. Walmarts and HEBs were not on every corner for purchasing food and necessities. In larger cities, there were markets for eggs and milk might be delivered to your house. Even in the 1950s, plenty of families still had small family gardens for fruits and vegetables.

While farming and preaching, David Madison Chaney was married three times - first to Margaret Nesom, second to Winifred Watson Vincent (Vinson), and third to Susan Bankston. According to Marbut and Thielbar, he lived with his first two wives on the homestead carved out by his father and mother, Bailey Eliphalet and Elizabeth (Ratliff) Chaney. As we shall see in later articles, Elizabeth (Ratliff) Chaney ran the plantation of her husband Bailey after his death, and she was quite an astute businesswoman.

East Feliciana Parish is located in Louisiana. Originally known as Feliciana Parish, it was divided in 1824 into two separate parishes with the designations of east and west.

The parish of Feliciana was founded and named in 1810 by Spain who, at the time, controlled the territory. Feliciana comes from a Spanish rendering of the French name Felicité, which means happiness. The Spanish governor named it in honor of his wife, Marie Felicité.

As part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the territory came under the control of the United States and the population continued to swell. The area was known for its sugar cane plantations and production. When the parish was divided in 1824, Clinton was named as the county seat for East Feliciana Parish.

Sugar Cane Field

According to A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States (Albert Henry Newman, Christian Literature, 1894) Bailey Chaney, David's father, before David was born, brought his family from Mississippi to East Feliciana Parish in 1798 while it was still under Spanish rule. A preacher, he commenced in that occupation again, but he was arrested for Spain was Catholic. Chaney was later released on his promise to cease preaching in that jurisdiction.

Whether he abided by those terms or not is not known. There also seems to be some question as to whether or not Bailey returned to Mississippi and died there, and Elizabeth and her children came to East Feliciana Parish, or if Bailey himself moved to East Feliciana Parish and died shortly thereafter.

As for David, the great tragedy of his life may well have been the number of deaths he would endure among his wives and children before his own death in 1859 at the young age of 49. He recorded the deaths of his first two wives and most of his children in his own hand in his Bible, devoting a separate page to each of his three marriages.

David's daughter Sallie, christened Sarah Reeves Chaney, ,was born in 1840 of David's second wife Winifred. She was the only child of five children born to her father in this second marriage to survive past the age of ten years and into adulthood. She was six years old when her mother died and her father remarried a third time to Susan Bankston. By all accounts and in Sallie's own words, her father moved the family to the Viers Place shortly after this third marriage. Whether or not it was the losses in his first two marriages that propelled him to leave the homeplace as he married Susan is not known. As always with family history, we are left with more questions than answers.

What is known, is that while David Madison Chaney did a whole lotta livin' in his short 49 years, he endured a whole lot of heartache, too.

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