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  • Writer's pictureDonna Hechler Porter

To Have Made the Effort: The Aftermath of the Death of David Madison Chaney

To have striven, to have made the effort, to have been true to certain ideals - this alone is worth the struggle.

- William Osler

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.

After his death in 1859, we find on file at Clinton a petition asking for a final partition of his estate made by William F. Chaney, Sarah R. Chaney, wife of John V. Brown, residents of East Feliciana, and of Emily M. Chaney, wife of John S. Whitehead, of Polk County, Texas. Named as parties in interest beside the petitioners are Mrs. Susan Chaney, widow in community with the deceased, who is also administratrix of his succession, and the following minors: Bailey P., Mary A. Georgiana, Susan E., and Flora E. An inventory of the estate of David M. Chaney was filed in the court on Feb. 19, 1859. Among the interesting items listed are: the Morgan tract of land containing 1280 acres, bounded on the north by Dr. G.A. Latham, south by W. F. Chaney (his eldest son), east by E. Smith (husband of Winifred Watson, our Winnie's aunt). Land valued at $6,400; the Homestead tract, which was his mother's original land, containing 640 acres and appraised at $3,000; 34 slaves, valued at $19,875; personal effects consisting of livestock, furniture, etc., appraised at $4,614. The total inventory is recorded as $34,089.33. Of course, in a matter of a few years these slaves were freed and the land was of little value without workmen. It is believed that the surviving widow, Susan Bankston, went to live with her parents, the Peter Bankstons. (Marbut & Thielbar, pg 3-4)

David passed away on 5 February 1859. He was buried in the Bluff Creek Cemetery in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.

After David's death, his three older children, William Chaney, Emily Margaret Chaney (Watson) Whitehead, and Sallie Reeves Chaney Brown, filed a petition as the law required for a final partition of his estate. David must have had a will, for his wife Sarah (Bankston) was noted to have been the administratrix of his estate. If the will mentions why he was writing one, Marbut and Thielbar do not make mention of such, nor could I find a will in the original Louisiana probate records found online on Ancestry.

The original records I did find on Ancestry yielded some information about a debt and the fact Susan was the administratix. I could not find a will, nor could I find the list of minors. I am sure they are there, but it will take some more digging to locate them. (Ancestry does not have the wills indexed well. I had the same struggles with the Probate records in Texas.)

I believe the list of minors as Marbut and Thielbar detail them above is slightly skewed, either by them or in the probate records. The information does not square with the children listed at David's own hand in the family Bible. He lists the third child of Susan and he as George Madison, not Georgiana. Nor does he attach the name Georgiana to Mary's name.

In July of 1855, David's mother, Elizabeth (Ratliff) Chaney, passed away eight months after David's daughter Emily snuck out of her grandmother's house and eloped with Louis Watson. David must have obtained his mother's property and added it to his holdings. It also seems likely that he brought most of her slaves into his household, for the 1850 slave schedule enumerates him with only nine. That same schedule shows Elizabeth (Ratliff) Chaney with 39 slaves. The other slaves may well have gone with some of David's brothers and sisters, although it must also be born in mind that Elizabeth had a number of slaves that were over the age of 50. They may well have passed away about this time, too.

As for David's estate and its value at the time of his death? An inflation calculator shows his total estate of $34,089.33 is worth $1,200,502.99 today.

While Susan herself lived only eight years after David's death (the same number of years he was married to each of his previous wives) and passed away at the age of 49. She was the same age as her husband at his death. Nothing further is known about what took her at such a young age nor where she is buried.

With David's death, his earthly struggles came to an end. The struggle to carve a home and a church from a savage wilderness. The struggle to be a gifted speaker and shepherd to his Baptist flock. The struggle to balance the needs and responsibilities of his ministry with the needs and responsibilities of his family. The struggle against the jaws of death that took two of his wives after only a few years of marriage and took six of his fourteen children before their 10th birthday.

A year after David's death, on 26 January 1861, the state of Louisiana ceded from the United States of America. Three months later, on 12 April 1861, the South Carolina militia opened fire on Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina. The United States Army surrendered the following day.

The Civil War had officially begun, and the children of David Madison Chaney would struggle to survive against a different sort heartache.

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