Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Chaney Redd Cunningham: A Slave in Zion

Chaney Redd Cunningham: A Slave in Zion

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - April 09, 2014

The name Chaney means “oak” in French (chêne). The oak is not the tallest, not the largest, not the longest-lived, not the strongest tree. It is not the most notable in any category but one: it specializes in not specializing. Oaks are all-around hardworking, reliable trees, widely distributed throughout the world, a valuable food source in olden times, and building blocks of civilizations.

Utah pioneer Chaney was, like an oak, not the most notable of the early black pioneers to Utah — names like Jane Manning James and Green Flake come more quickly to mind — but she is remembered as a faithful family servant and member of the Church in the early Mormon settlements.

When Elizabeth Hancock married John Hardison Redd, her father gave her two slaves, Venus and Chaney, and both of them eventually accompanied her to Utah.

Chaney was born in North Carolina around the time of the War of 1812.1 She is thought to have had two daughters, Marinda Redd Bankhead and Anna or Amy.2 Venus was a noted nurse and midwife, and Chaney may have been as well.


The Redds and their slaves arrived in Utah Territory in 1850 and soon moved south to settle Spanish Fork. The four women — Venus, Chaney, Marinda, and Anna — must have been baptized into the Church before they traveled to Utah because they were all rebaptized on June 13, 1852.3

John and Elizabeth Redd died not long after arriving in Utah and their family scattered throughout the territory. Historian Kate Carter noted that Chaney also died not long after arriving in Spanish Fork, but like a good percentage of Carter’s sources, the person who reported that information seems to have been wrong.4


Chaney next shows up in the 1870 census in St. George, working for Texas converts Samuel and Mary Ellis Cunningham. Chaney may have gone to Southern Utah in early 1862 with Redd son Lemuel and his family, or she may have gone with Samuel and Mary Ellis Cunningham when they moved to help settle St. George in late 1862.5 Kate Carter noted in a wispy combination of faint and inaccurate memories:

There seems to be no written account of the number of Negroes who lived in the Dixie area, but some of the older citizens remember that a few lived here for a time. The Cunningham family, pioneers of 1848, came to Dixie in the 1860’s and brought a young Negro girl with them from their home in the Southern States. Although she came along because of her attachment to the family, when she arrived and found no one of her race with whom to associate she felt she would be happier “back home,” and so returned.6

In another of the mysteries surrounding her life, the family of William Bailey Maxwell recalled that Chaney entrusted them with the care of a motherless child, Jule. The 1870 federal census shows the Maxwell family living in Nevada with two “colored” domestic servants, 17-year-old Julia and 12-year-old Jackson, both born in Missouri. Who were they? Could they have been Chaney’s grandchildren? Former Cunningham slaves?7

Another puzzle about Chaney is her name. Slaves were often known by the surnames of their owners. Chaney was definitely a slave of the Redd Family, but it is not known whether she was a slave (the legal designation in Utah Territory was “indentured servant”) or household servant of the Cunningham family. Although she is usually called Chaney Redd, I have listed both names, Redd and Cunningham, since she shows up both ways in government records.8

Based on the memory about the Cunninghams and their servant, Chaney may have left St. George sometime after 1870 and traveled north to live with Marinda or Venus or other friends or relatives. Her death date and place and burial location are currently unknown, but she is remembered at the beautifully-restored Spanish Fork Pioneer Heritage Cemetery.


Chaney: Like an Oak


  1. Her name is sometimes written in the vital records as “Chancey,” as in the 1850 United States Census, but the name “Chaney” was used from time to time for women throughout the South, whereas the examples of the name “Chancey” tend to be a misreading of the male name “Chauncey.” []
  2. There may have been two slaves, Anna and Amy, or just one, and people misremembered her name; the records are unclear. Marinda’s death certificate did not list the name of a mother, so she may not have been Chaney’s daughter. []
  3. Baptism in the early Church was not a one-time event for any given person; early Saints may have been baptized when they joined the Church, then again when they arrived in Utah, when they joined a United Order, when they needed a blessing of health, etc. []
  4. I have not yet found Chaney in the 1860 census, so it is possible that she did die before it was taken, and the rest of the post describes a different woman, but it is unlikely. The following woman has the same unusual name, birth place, and approximate birthdate, and circumstantial evidence suggests that Chaney left Spanish Fork and ended up in Southern Utah. []
  5. The Cunninghams need to be added to the Mormon Overland Travel database. They may have purchased Chaney from the Redds at the same time that Marinda was sold to Dr. William Dennis, but if that was the case, Congress outlawed slavery in the territories on June 19, 1862, and Chaney would have been a free woman on this date. However, I have not yet seen proof that this news reached Utah before the end of the Civil War; this is another in a series of open research questions. []
  6. Although the memory notes that the woman was “young,” which should eliminate Chaney, the Cunninghams were in Texas in 1860 — if they were pioneers of 1848 they did a lot of traveling back and forth — so it is very possible that the person sharing the memory meant Chaney. []
  7. Neither the Cunninghams nor extended family members show up as slave owners in the United States Census Slave Schedules so it is unlikely that they had any slaves or black servants in Utah besides Chaney. Julia is said to have married a man named George Waters and had one daughter, Lizzie Ann Waters. I have not yet found any information about them, or about Jackson. []
  8. Someone has done proxy temple work for her, but there is no proof of her parentage, or that she was married or had children, so she should not be sealed to anyone, and especially not to her owners or employers. []


  1. A quick comment. A few days ago I woke early, feeling that it was time to write about this woman. Since that thought was accompanied by an entire detailed outline of the post, I got on it as soon as I could.

    I put up the post on Keepa last night and then went (exhausted) to bed. (It had been a very long day.) It seemed like all night long I dreamed about Chaney and that she was a baptized member of the Church. That hadn’t been in the post since I hadn’t seen anything to that effect in the materials, so I woke up this morning and looked through everything again. It turned out that more than two years ago when I submitted the Redd slaves to the Mormon Overland Travel database, Elder Wood sent me a reply with some information about the 1852 rebaptisms and the date of Venus’s patriarchal blessing.

    So, many thanks to Elder and Sister Wood, who have served so faithfully in the Church History Department; Kate Carter who collected all the memories, even if some of them were wrong; Pat Sagers and others in Spanish Fork who are preserving the memory of the faithful early pioneers including the slaves; and Mark B. who long ago sent the anecdote about the Maxwell family and also took the pictures of the cemetery.

    Comment by Amy T — April 9, 2014 @ 8:14 am

  2. Another great, informative post! Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — April 9, 2014 @ 8:26 am

  3. Thank you again, Amy.

    Comment by Carol — April 9, 2014 @ 9:11 am

  4. I just added a stub article for Chaney at the Dictionary of Mormon Biography:

    Thank you for your research Amy!

    Comment by Tod Robbins — April 9, 2014 @ 11:02 am

  5. Thank you for your research and story, Amy. We need to keep searching out our lost pioneers.

    By the way, I lost one in Springville sometime after 23 March 1857 (not the best of years to lose someone). Her name is Elinor Jenkins Vaughan, elderly plural wife of Charles Hulet. If anybody sees any sign of her, let me know.

    Comment by Grant — April 9, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

  6. This is such a fine example of memorializing someone who left such slender traces in the records. I love to look for those nobody else is searching for, usually because they have no living descendants — Chaney will be remembered. Thanks, Amy, for letting this be posted here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 9, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

  7. Thanks, all.

    Sorry your aunt disappeared, Grant. Sounds like she’s on your side of the family; otherwise I’d suggest that a good first step would be to assemble her entire extended family. Track down all the brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, children, grandchildren. But since you probably have done all that, perhaps look at ward/stake and probate court records for clues. The first would be at the Church History Library, the second at the Family History Library or Utah State Archives.

    Comment by Amy T — April 9, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

  8. Great research, thanks Amy. I am doing research on slaves in Texas during the 1850s, so I know how difficult it is and how small clues add a lot to the story.

    Comment by Jeffery Johnson — April 9, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

  9. I’m sure looking forward to seeing your project when you’re done, Jeff, and I do wish I could attend MHA this spring to see your presentation and the others on related topics.

    Comment by Amy T — April 10, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

  10. “but like a good percentage of Carter’s sources, the person who reported that information seems to have been wrong”

    Teehee! But I do agree with you as well, that she performed a lot of good service.

    Another strong article. Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 10, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

  11. That was a great article – probably the most accurate and thoroughly researched history about Chaney!

    I can’t remember if I shared this little bit of history with you about Chaney. (Of course, it may not be completely accurate.):

    “The Redds moved to Tennessee and it was there that they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1843. According to the Missionary Journal of John D. Lee, Chaney and another slave belonging to Elizabeth were also baptized into the Church at that time.”

    “The Redds made the journey to Utah in 1850, settling in Spanish Fork the following winter. They brought with them six slaves, among them Chaney and her two young daughters Amy and Marinda.
    “At first the blacks lived in the attic of John H. Redd’s log house, probably sleeping on the floor on a straw tick. The following story about Chaney is told by one of the Redd Children:
    “Before her baby was born Grandmother (Kesiah Jane Butler, wife of Lemuel Hardison Redd, John H. Redd’s son) had a gathered breast and was in much misery. She’d go to bed at night and cry with the pain. There was no one near to confide in or to ask advice of. Great-grandfather (John H. Redd) had married a young girl, and she would be of no help. Aunt Chaney, one of Great-Grandmother’s old Negro mammies, sensed that something was wrong and found out what it was. She thought heat would be good, but they knew nothing about hot water bottles. She must have had experience with this before. She put Grandmother to bed in that little upstairs room. She went down and mixed up a hotcake with catnip tea, cooked it nice and thick, and while it was hot she climbed up and put it on the sore breast, then covered it to keep it warm. Then she went down and made another hotcake, and by the time the first one was cooled she was up with another hot one. She repeated that until the soreness and swelling were very much reduced, and Grandmother was on the way to recovery. She brought Grandmother’s meals up to her, too, so that she needn’t be embarrassed at having them all know about it.
    “Grandmother said she surely learned to love those old black women; they were so good and helpful to her. There were two of them, Venus and Chaney. They were nurses and midwives, and they helped her many times later on with her own sickness and the sicknesses of her children. They were good at it, too, as their whole lives had been spent in caring for white people, and they never knew anything else. They had come out west to do that of their own free will and choice, and they finished their lives that way. After all the Redds were gone from Spanish Fork, they earned their way with the sick.” (Taken from the Redd Family & Their Progenitors, p. 40)

    Comment by Pat Sagers — April 23, 2014 @ 9:55 pm

  12. Thank you for your note, Pat.

    One of these days I’ll get around to reading the JDLee journal since he was instrumental in the conversion of a number of these Southern families. From the bits I’ve read, he was quite a character.

    These family accounts are, as you note, a mixed blessing. The thing that makes them (many of the accounts, not just the Redd family’s) immediately suspect is the oft-repeated claim that the slaves were freed and wanted to come West with the family. Um, no.

    It takes a complete and woeful ignorance of the history of slavery to make a claim like that.

    Emancipating a slave was regulated by the individual states, so the legal procedure was based on where the families lived, but it often took an act of the state legislature, and then freed slaves were subject to restrictive laws and cultural restrictions that made their lives a living hell. See a description of one state’s situation here:

    A Contested Presence: Free Blacks in Antebellum Mississippi, 1820–1860

    By the way, since the family connections are many of these slaves are unknown, it will not be possible to do all their temple work. Anyone who has slaves sealed to their masters is, in effect, making the claim that the masters raped their slaves, and we can’t know that without doing DNA studies. Please see this write-up:

    Hemings and Jefferson Together Forever? Troubling cases of Mormon “proxy sealing.”

    Comment by Amy T — April 24, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  13. I think Chaney might be the same person known as Chauncey Cunningham in the St. George City Cemetery records. See:

    Comment by Tom Brown — May 18, 2015 @ 10:51 am

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