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  • Writer's pictureDonna Hechler Porter

A New Start . . . Emily Margaret Chaney Watson and John Swepson Whitehead

A continuing series drawn largely from Laura Powers 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.


. . . marriage license in the Clinton court house.

"Be it remembered that on the day of the date hereof I, J.B. Smith, a minister of the gospel duly authorized to solemnize marriages in and for the parish of East Feliciana and state of Louisiana, did solemnize the rights of matrimony between John S. Whitehead and Mrs. Emily Watson, by virtue of a license issued from William Patterson, clerk of the 7 district court in an for said parish, the parties both residing in said parish. Witness Obv. - - - , D. Barfield, Joseph Whitehead . . . (Marbut and Thielbar, supplement to first book, pg 1).

. . . she had grown up in luxury and lived in a Texas wilderness. (Marbut and Thielbar, pg 5)

East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, courthouse built in 18

In early spring of 1856, Emily Chaney Watson, it will be remembered, returned home to East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, with her young daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, after the death of Emily's husband and Sarah's father, Lewis Watson, near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Watson was working as an overseer and was killed by a slave, either in an isolated incident or, as some have indicated, in a slave uprising.

Emily was not welcomed by her father, David Madison Chaney, who refused her admittance to his home, and thus, she was forced to stay with friends upon her return.

At some point, in the months following her return home, she and John Swepson Whitehead either met each other, likely through friends, or they reconnected, for John was living in East Feliciana Parish in 1850 with his wife Harriet Harvin Hobgood Whitehead and their two small sons, as well as her seven children from her previous marriage to John Hobgood.

John S. Whitehead was twenty-one years Emily's senior, having been born in Monroe County, Alabama, in 1816, to William Whitehead and Harriet Swepson. In August 1837, after having participated in The Florida Wars, John registered several tracts of land. By 3 February 1846, however, he had moved to East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, where he married widow Harriet Rebecca Harvin Hobgood. Harriet was the widow of John Hobgood and the daughter of James and Nancy Harvin.

Widower John Swepson Whitehead, if he was like the other men in the Whitehead family, cut a dashing and large figure. He was a veteran of the Florida Wars, and he was studious and intelligent (he was a schoolteacher upon his arrival in Texas). Likely, by this time, he was entertaining ideas of removing to Texas.

And Emily was certainly no wallflower either. In the 19th century, a woman did not oftentimes live down an elopement, nor the death of a husband at the hands of a slave. And while it is clear she and her father later made up, upon her return he turned her out of his home, and she was forced to rely on the charity of her friends.

A year after Emily's return, on 6 January 1857, Emily Chaney (Watson) and John Swepson Whitehead married in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. They would soon thereafter remove to what would later become Polk County, Texas, where they would raise a large family and carve a home out of the Texas wilderness.

Emily may have grown up in luxury, but she would carve a home out of the Texas wilderness.


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