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  • Writer's pictureDonna Hechler Porter

The Stillness of Pounding Hearts: Lewis Watson and Emily Margaret Chaney

Among my stillness was a pounding heart.

Shannon A. Thompson, Seconds Before Sunrise

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, who lived for eighty-eight years, ran away from her grandmother (her mother having died at her birth), and married Louis Watson. After a short while he was killed by slaves at Bay St. Louis. She returned, the mother of one child, but the family would not admit her to the house. Friends and neighbors cared for them until after her second marriage to John S. Whitehead . . . (Dr. S. S. Nettles, then a youngster, helped her to escape through the garden when she eloped with Louis Watson . . . (Marbut & Thielbar, pg 3)


Young love is, most certainly, always about beating hearts. The first heady days of a romance can call all manner of sound thinking to flee.

What induced Emily to slip out of her grandmother Elizabeth Ratliffe Chaney's home and elope at the age of seventeen we can only guess. Was she enamored with Watson? Did her father and grandmother disapprove of a budding romance between the two? And if so, why? Did they wish Emily to marry another?

Was the elopement the rash act of a young girl trying to control her own life even as so much of her life had been about losses and sadness? Or did she merely believe she knew what was best for her future?

At any rate, the romance between Emily and Lewis was either clandestine and secretive, or it was forbidden. There is little room for any other plausible causes as to why Emily would feel the need to run away and marry without the knowledge or approval of her father and/or grandmother.

As for Silas Simmons Nettles, who later became a doctor - he was no youngster at the time he helped Emily escape through the garden. He was born in 1829, and so he was 25 years old when Emily eloped. He would later marry Emily's younger half-sister, Sallie Reeves Chaney.

Lewis Watson appears as little more than a shadowy figure on the family tree. According to Mrs. Kirven Fields of Corpus Christi, Texas, a descendant of Emily and Lewis through their daughter Sarah Elizabeth Watson (Marbut & Thielbar, pg 15), Lewis Watson, born 4 September 1833, was the son of Artemus Watson and the grandson of Samuel Watson. Lewis' great-grandfather, John Watson, settled on land on Cloud Creek at Ridge spring in Edgefield District, South Carolina. It will be remembered that Winifred Watson, David Madison Chaney's second wife, was Emily's stepmother. Winifred's grandfather was Lewis Watson who was also a resident of Ridge Spring, so it appears that Emily met Lewis through her stepmother. The exact connection between the two, however, has not been determined. While Emily was seventeen years old at the time of their elopement, Lewis was twenty-three.

Exactly what date Emily slipped out of her grandmother's home is not known, but the date of her marriage to Lewis is recorded as having been 19 November 1854. Watson subsequently found work, or went back to his work, as an overseer near Bay St. Louis in Mississippi.

Bay St. Louis is the county seat of Hancock County, Mississippi. One hundred and twenty-six miles southeast of East Feliciana Parish and Emily's home, it lies on the Gulf coast on the west side of the Bay of St. Louis. This area was heavily influenced by early French colonists, and a Louisiana Creole population quickly developed between the French and the white population. Catholicism, to this day, dominates the area.

Location of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is west of Pass Christian

The 1966 movie This Property is Condemned starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford was filmed in Bay St. Louis, although the town in the movie was called Dodson. Interestingly enough, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Bay St. Louis. The hurricane's eye went over the city, and the hurricane decimated the area.

Family tradition has long stated that Lewis was killed by a slave, perhaps during an uprising. The date of his death, according to Fields, is 23 Jan 1856, a mere two years and two months beyond his marriage to Emily. I have tried and tried, but have yet to find out anything more.

Emily returned to East Feliciana Parish with her young daughter. In her absence, her grandmother, Elizabeth Ratliff Chaney, passed away, and her father, David Madison Chaney, refused to allow her into his home. Why, as far as I know, was never stated, but it can be surmised he was quite angry with her still over eloping. She and her daughter, Sarah, were forced to lodge with friends and neighbors.

By now, surely, her heart had stilled . . .

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