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
- 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.” [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]