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  • Writer's pictureDonna Hechler Porter

Caught between winter and spring . . . Emily Margaret Chaney

Updated: Feb 7

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.

Emely Margaret Chaney was the eldest daughter of David M. Chaney and Margaret Nesom, born Jan. 24, 1837 in East Feliciana Parish, and was reported in the 1850 census as living both with her father and her grandmother, Elizbeth Chaney. At age seventeen, Em eloped with Samuel Lewis Watson. This marriage ended in tragedy when Lewis was killed by a slave on a plantation on the Mississippi gulfcoast, where he was overseer. So Em returned to East Feliciana with her infant, Sarah Elizabeth Watson, and soon married John S. Whitehead and moved to Texas. (Marbut & Thielbar, pg 5)

Marbut and Thielbar further note that Mrs. Mattie Jeane Crow of Marion, Texas says of Emily's birth: She was born on a freezing morning and her mother, Margaret Nesom Chaney died at her birth. Her grandmother Nesom took her in blankets and rode horseback seven miles in the snow. (Marbut & Thielbar, pg 5)

C. S. Lewis, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, creates a Narnian world where it is always winter and never Christmas. And the Narnians very much want Christmas. Again.

Winter, like sadness, is generally dreaded by most of us. The cold seeps into our bones and infuses our days. No amount of running can purge us of the quite, cold tiger that threatens to devour us if we stand still.

Much of Emily's life, like her father David Madison Chaney's life, must have been marred by the cold dread of sadness, even from her birth.

Emily's mother, Margaret Nesom, was the first of three wives of David Madison Chaney. The daughter of Abraham Nesom and Louanna Kirby, she was fourteen at the time she married. David, a Baptist preacher and farmer, was only twenty.

For some reason, when it drew near time for Emily to be born, Margaret went to stay with her parents. This was not an unusual thing to do. It was cold that January. Women did not wish to be alone during birthings, for in those days doctors did not attend women when their time came. Her husband was also an active and very, very busy preacher, and with two small children already at home, no doubt she wished to have the help of her mother.

At the time of Emily's birth, older brother William Franklin Chaney had just turned six years old, and brother John Thomas Chaney was just past four years of age. A third brother, Bailey Eliphalet Chaney, had been born on 13 March 1835, two years previous to Emily's birth, and he died at the age of six months old in September of that same year.

Emily and her oldest brother, William, would be the only two children of David and Margaret to survive to adulthood. Margaret Chaney Nesom herself was only 22 years old at the time of Emily's birth and her own death.

Crow notes a winter storm had attended the countryside as Emily was born. Her Grandmother Louanna (Kirby) Nesom. no doubt saddened and in despair at the loss of her daughter, nonetheless wrapped a newborn Emily in blankets and carried her on a horse seven miles through the snows to her Grandmother Chaney (Elizabeth Ratliff). Why, Crow does not say, but on the face of it, it can be supposed that Elizabeth (Ratliff) Chaney had a substantial number of slaves. If Louanna (Kirby) Nesom had no available wet nurse, it would be imperative that she get the infant Emily to one as soon as possible.

When Emily was eight months old, on 29 August 1837, David Chaney remarried to widow Winifred Watson (Vincent). Winifred became a stepmother to William Chaney, aged 6, and Emily, only 8 months old, even as she left her own four children by her first husband with relatives. She also became a stepmother to John Chaney, but in a tragic turn of events, four year old John passed away the day after the marriage, on 30 August 1837. The cause of his death is no longer known.

Emily soon enough had half-siblings. Twins Roxanna Marie and Olivia Jemima were born when Emily was about 18 months old, although Olivia passed away as an infant about two weeks later. Half-sister Sarah Reeves Chaney was born in January of 1840, just after Emily's third birthday. David Cooper Chaney was born two years later, and Harvey Chaney was born about two years after that, about 1844, when Emily was seven years old.

And then, two years later, when Emily was nine years old, her stepmother, Winifred, passed away. Winifred was 33 years old. David Madison Chaney married a third time, in October 1846, to Susan Bankston. Emily, at the age of nine, now had another stepmother.

More step-children were quickly added to the family: Bailey Peter Chaney, in August of 1847, Mary Adeline Chaney, in October 1849, and George Madison Chaney, April 1851, and Susan Chaney, in September 1854. (Flora Chaney would be born in 1858).

Emily, by the time of half-sister Susan's birth, was seventeen years old, and it would appear on the face of the 1850 East Feliciana Parish census, that she made a habit as a young girl of going back and forth between her father's household and her Grandmother Chaney's household. It is also interesting to note, that in that same census, Elizabeth Chaney, aged 70, has an estate valued at $23,060, far exceeding even her son's estate value.

In November of 1854, two months after step-sister Susan's birth, and at the age of 17, Emily ran away from her grandmother's house and eloped with Lewis Watson. She would not see her Grandmother Chaney again, for Elizabeth (Ratliff) Chaney passed away eight months later in July 1855.

After Lewis and Emily's marriage, they moved to Bay St. Louis where Lewis became an overseer on a plantation. But life would not be kind to Emily. Winter would stalk here even now, and it would be a while before she got some relief from a warm and caring spring . . .

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