Saturday, August 29, 2015

Chaney Caudill Collins: A Woman of Color


 
Born in present Magoffin, Kentucky, circa 1840 into slavery, Aunt Chaney, as she was affectionately known, touched many lives.


Chaney was born into the household of Benjamin and Abigail Pennington Caudill, but all I know of her parents is that they were born in Tennessee. Benjamin died in 1850 and Abigail freed Chaney in 1856 when she was 16 years old. Not much is known about Chaney’s life between then and 1873. We know that she had several sons but not who their father was. According to Todd Preston these sons were blacksmiths and possibly made a little ‘Shine. I think these sons migrated to the Bluegrass horse farms. Chaney was said to love children and be exceptionally kind to them. She was a noted midwife delivering scores of babies.

Chaney married a black man (actually Native American) named Hiram Collins in 1873 and I find them in the 1880 census in the Meadows precinct. I believe they were living close to the new Civil War Park. Hiram Collins age 50, wife Chaney age 40, children Polly Ann age 20, Oteril age 19, Adam age 11, Emily age 10, Ester age 8, Noah age 6. We can infer several things from this census. First, since they had been married only seven years the only child in common most likely was Noah. Polly and Oteril were much older than the other children and were probably full siblings. Adam, Emily and Ester make up the second group of full siblings. Now the question remains which group belongs to whom. Of course Hiram and Chaney each had other children who were not living with them in 1880. The two older children, Polly and Oteril, I suspect belong to Barbara Auxier whom Hiram married 30th November, 1856, the year Chaney was freed.

Hiram was the son of Shepherd and Polly Collins who are buried at the main fork of Puncheon in an unmarked cemetery. I strongly suspect Hiram and Aunt Chaney are also buried there. The Shepherd Collins family is listed on the guion miller Cherokee rolls and is believed to be full Cherokee.
Towards the end of her life and probably after the death of Hiram Aunt Chaney fell on hard times. It is said that she lived at some point under a rock shelter on Dutton Branch. Slabs (first boards off a log with bark) was used to enclose the front of an overhanging rock shelter. Though primitive this made a reasonably comfortable place to get out of the elements. Rock shelters are cool in the summer and with a fire, warm in the winter.

a rockhouse shelter

Aunt Chaney by all accounts was a good natured, loving soul who came into this world unto bondage. She was freed before the Civil War, a testament to Todd Preston’s 2nd great grandmother, Abigail Pennington Caudill. Perhaps in appreciation Chaney seems to have been especially kind to Todd’s mother who obviously had a great admiration for Aunt Chaney.
There is much we don’t know about Aunt Chaney; many details of her life lay safely in her grave. We do know the color of her skin never hindered the love and respect many had for her. We know in many respects her life was hard and we know she had to be a strong woman to overcome her troubles. Aunt Chaney lived the life that providence spread before her with goodwill and grace. Aunt Chaney was a woman of color born a slave and rightly might have been bitter; she was not. She was in every sense an example of a true mountain woman whose spirit stood the test of adversity with quiet dignity.

There is a cemetery on Puncheon Creek unseen; no monuments, no flowers, not even one sandstone. But it commands a striking view and catches the morning sun; a beautiful point on which rest until eternity is done. Here is the resting place of Shepherd Collins and I think Aunt Chaney too; a place that needs its history remembered with reverence and respect. After all, both Black and Native American history in Magoffin County is represented in this old forgotten cemetery. It is part of our heritage and needs to be preserved along with the memory of Aunt Chaney.

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