Skip to content

“Ex-Slave of Page Wants to Hear of People Long Dead”

March 27, 2009

From the Sept. 21, 1928 issue of the PN&C

Mary Powell of Columbus, Ohio, an aged colored woman who seems to have belonged to the Almonds of this county in slave times, some time ago wrote a letter addressed to ‘The Old Baptist Church and David Almond, Luray, Va.’ in which she made inquiry of the people she knew in her younger days spent in Page. In our Aug. 31 issue reference was made to this old woman in an article dealing with the old ex-slaves of the county, who are still living. That article based on information given by John P. Washington, colored, said that Mary Powell left here about 1867, and lived for years with a family at Wheeling, W.Va. who made provision for her support in an institution for the aged in Ohio, Washington’s report that she is 109 years old is not sustained in the letter which is reproduced below:

This letter makes inquiry of people who without an exception have passed away , some of them fifty years ago. It well shows how the minds of the old dwell in the past. The letter was doubtless written for the old woman by some one else.

Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 29, 1928

Mr. Almond: – I felt like I wanted to write to you to know who all is living. Is Tommy and Ida living and is their mother living? Is Mrs. Bell Borst living? Is her husband living? Is Mrs. Betty Ashby living? Is Dr. Almond living. Are any of the Lionbergers and Jordans living? Any of the Buracker family?

I am putting all of the old pastors of the church down by name. I want you to know that I have not forgotten all of the old pastors. There was Ambrose Booton, Is preacher Lauck living?

The 18th of last May I was 96 years old, and the only letter I had was from this church. Give my best regards to anyone I ever knew. I expect to die in the Lord. If any of the boys are living tell them to send me something for Christmas.

Mary Powell
Henry Powell’s widow
1240 E. Long St.
Columbus, O.

Recollections of a white Page Countian about the days of slavery

March 25, 2009

I was wondering if I could interest the present generation by giving them a little of the history of antebellum days of slavery and how some things were done in by-gone days – things that I know did really happen. Now all I shall tell of will be done without doing violence to the truth for I hate a prevaricator. When I was quite a boy scarcely in my teens, I was on the Pike near Marksville one day in the fall of the year, when I came up with a big negro man driving a four-horse team and I soon got in conversation with him while he made some adjustments to the harness, when he said to me, ‘I sho’ do wish it was Chrismus’ and I asked him why? He replied, ‘Caus’ de white folks always gives us flour bread at Chrismus’ and now just think how many hard days work that poor slave did on that farm to produce the hundreds of bushels of wheat that was sold every year and his reward was a few little biscuits at Christmas time – once a year.

Was this not muzzling the ox that ‘treadeth out the corn’ for after using his power to raise it, he could not eat of it.

Now of all that I shall mention I could give the names of every one of them, both male and female, black and white, old or young, but I will withhold all names from the fact I know of just one person yet living in Page county that it might touch and I do not want to mar the feeling of anyone, yet I doubt if anyone now living could give this account of slavery days.

Now, I ask you readers not to get discouraged because we put the dark side first, as I am leaving the best for last.

I knew a farmer who had a number of slaves, among whom was a large negro woman and her mistress was very fond of her ‘toddy’ and was often visibly under its influence and it was on one of these occasions that it seemed that all the slave did was wrong, so the ‘missus’ called one of her sons and told him to bring her the carriage lines, as they were always used to tie up a negro for punishment, just then the slave spoke up and asked what they were going to do with her and her mistress said, ‘I am going to tie you up and give you one hell of a good beating,’ to which the colored slave replied, ‘No I’ll be damned if you do, for I have done nothing wrong, and if you try to beat me one of the other of us dies right here,’ and the mistress seeing violence in the negro’s eyes wilted, and called off the job, and it was never attempted again. The slaves had no happy home in that family, bit judgment came in a short time – their barn burned with a summer’s crop and with it three fine horses. It was my privilege to view the ruins, the morning after the fire.

Just about one mile from the place I have just mentioned was a large plantation on which were quite a few slaves and two of them ran off and the owner offered a reward of $50 for their capture and in a short time words came that they were being held at Moorefield, W.Va. and the captors were instructed ‘to bring them to New Market, Va., where the owner met them, paid the reward and brought them home in his carriage. I lived at that time with my parents in a house that stood very near the present residence of Hon C.C. Louderback, in what is now Stanley. I well remember that my father said as the man drove by with the two negroes tied in his carriage, he said, ‘poor men, I pity them when he gets them home.’ It was said that he tied them over a barrel in the barn and after beating their backs raw, he put salt and pepper on their bleeding wounds, and they were the same men that got his two horses ready for him to drive to church the following Sunday – he was supposed to be a Christian, but was he?

Well, might we say in the language of the late Hon. Charley Crisp [once an officer in Co. K, 10th Va. Infantry, member of the famed “Immortal 600” and later Speaker of the US House of Representatives], ‘how can such things be and overcome us like a summer’s cloud without one’s special wonder.’ Now this was in 1859 and now comes judgment for in 1860, this man’s fine large mansion burned down, entailing a loss that brought discouragement to that man, so much that he sold the farm, great as it was and moved to another county, and now we have just one more picture of the dark side and then comes the brighter side, for like prosperity it is just always around the corner.

About one-half mile from the first place I mentioned a man had three negro men and one of them was suspected of running off the place at night to visit slaves on other farms, and spies were put out to catch him and in due time he was finally caught and reported to his pastor, who with the carriage lines had him tied to a locust tree in the yard and after baring his back and ready to apply the lash the negro said, ‘Master, all the money I have is 12 cents, I will give you that if you will not whip me.’ Now this got under the skin of his master, so he called on of his sons and handed him the lash and told him to operate and he did causing the blood to run down his back – but this broke him from running off for a short time only. A short while after, he was absent at roll call – and although this was [over] 65 years ago he has never been seen or heard of from that day to this – and here comes the judgment again for that fine home burned. This farm is now dotted over with many modern dwellings – ‘the mills of the gods-grind slow, yet they grind exceedingly fine.’ Well, so far – so bad. Now, I will put on the screen the brighter side.

I knew quite a few slave owners that were kind to their negroes and they would allow them to plant melon patches and even sell them as well as tobacco and broom corn. They would make brooms and sell them around among the people, but to do this they had to have a permit on paper from their masters and some of the owners often borrowed money from their slaves. I knew of one slave owner, and a good Christian man, who would allow his slaves to have a party and dance in their homes. I stood one night watching them swing their colored lines around while the master of ceremonies would yet out, ‘Whoop Molly, hoochy, croochy!’

– Jacob H. Coffman ( 1852-1938 ) in a letter to the Page News & Courier, January 1, 1932

This blog post was originally posted on 2/3/09 in Cenantua’s Blog.

Charles Russell Lowell “liberates” a Luray slave

March 21, 2009

Charles Russell LowellIt’s not a lengthy letter, but this has to be one of my personal favorites among those written by Union soldiers about their encounters with slaves in Page County. When writing to his wife, Josephine, from Staunton on September 27, 1864, Charles Russell Lowell remarked,

I haven’t told you either that, the day before yesterday at Luray, I organized a small black boy, bright enough and well brought up; his name is James, but as we have already two of that name about here, I call him Luray, which is quite aristocratic. You can teach him to read and to write this winter, if you have time. The Doctor thinks you would find more satisfaction in him than in your pupils of Vienna.

I’ve often wondered what happened to James (aka Luray); if he was actually sent to Boston or remained with Lowell up to the time of Lowell’s death at Cedar Creek. I cannot find a reference to anyone with the first name of Luray in postwar census records in the Boston area, but would truly like to know what happened to James.

“Page County Ex-Slave Lives at the Age of 109″

March 18, 2009

From the September 28, 1928 issue of the Page News & Courier:

John P. Washington, ex-slave who lives near the Bixler’s Ferry road, on the northwestern suburbs of Luray, says that Mary Powell, a colored woman, who left here about 1867, is still living in Ohio at the age of 109 years. For many years she worked for a white family in Wheeling, W.Va., who out of appreciation for her long and faithful service provided a permanent home for her old age and placed her in comfortable surroundings in Ohio. Ellen Powell was a Mason before her marriage.

Two other aged colored women Ellen Gordon and “Happy Jane” Jackson, sisters about ninety years of age , who are still living in Wheeling, W.Va. left here about 1867, practically at the time of the departure of Mary Powell.

All three of these women were slaves, Washington thinks they belonged to the Keysers in Springfield district, but his mind is not clear as to which Keyser. Probably it was Col Andrew Keyser or Joseph Keyser.

Ellen Gordon referred to above was the daughter of Phoebe Gordon, who lived on a bluff on the Hawksbill in Springfield district. Washington has some recent information about these old slaves from descendants of Fred Lacey, a slave from descendants of Nicholas Yager, who live in Wheeling or vicinity. Fred, who has been dead for a great many years, built the second or third of the houses of colored people on Bixler’s Ferry road near Washington’s present home.

Washington himself who was a boy eight years old when the war closed was a slave of Daniel Koontz a wealthy farmer of near Alma. He is an ardent Old School Baptist, the faith of his fathers, and was the leader in establishing a church of that persuasion here a few years ago.

It is a pity that the recollections of these old colored folks cannot be preserved. They saw the world from a different angle and have the faculty of remembering things of a certain kind with a vividness that others do not equal. As far as Washington’s recollections of the ages of these women is concerned, he says he knew them well and they let here directly after the war and were then persons of mature age with a number of children. Evidence like this has a convincing quality.

Frank Veney… the other half of the Bethany Veney Story

February 16, 2009

In April 1915, the Page News & Courier featured a story about Frank Veney, stating that he claimed to be over one hundred and twelve years old at the time. Though he was, according to census records, more than likely born around 1830 rather than 1803, in his remarkable life span, Veney made the claim of having been married no less than 25 times. The paper read, “Whether his claim of having lived more than a century can be substantiated, the old man bears unmistakable marks of having weathered a long and checkered career. All this is evidenced by his flowing gray locks, his palsied form and unsteady gait. All this coupled with his great memory of the stirring incidents recorded by ancient history and we find the elements that contribute to perhaps the oldest person in Page County.”

Though he claimed to have been married twenty-five times, Veney, in his March 30, 1915 interview, could only recall the names of eleven of his wives. Interestingly, Frank Veney can be found in the 1860 Page County census records as being a free man, 30 years of age and living with his son, Joshua (12) at the William H. Brumback place in Luray. Though he was free, many of the wives that Veney could recollect had been slaves. To the best of his memory, his first wife was “Nancy.” Though he could not recall the first name of the next wife, he did remember that her last name was “Mullen.” Veney could not remember his third wife’s name whatsoever but did recall that she had been a slave and was owned by a man by the name of Mills in Greene County. The fourth wife recalled was Fannie Brady, “who died after being married on year leaving an infant child” (perhaps Joshua). “On her dying bed the woman requested as her last wish that Frank marry her sister, Mary, in order that the child should be taken care of.” Frank Veney married her as his fifth wife, and then followed by Sarah Smith. However, that “domestic felicity was of short duration” as he had “found out some things on her that made him leave her.” Frank Veney’s next marriage was to Mildred Todd, and then a “woman by the name of “Read.” Finally, by the mid 1850s (according to how Bethany Veney’s account reads), it appears that he finally married Bethany. Bethany was at that time a slave belonging to John Printz. According to Frank Veney, “She was a noted cook employed by the late Daniel Adams (likely this was G.J. Adams) who conducted a hotel for many years in Luray. Before being in the employ of the Adams hotel she was bought by the late David McKay of Luray. She did a great deal of the cooking for the hands of Mr. McKay while he as engaged in building a railroad (actually a turnpike) in Bath County.”

Though standing in stark contrast with the story that appears in Bethany Veney’s personal account The Narrative of Bethany Veney: A Slave Woman, published in 1889) and reasoning for leaving Page County in 1858, Frank Veney recalled “Influenced that she possessed in the culinary art finally led to her settling in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she now lives at One hundred and three years of age.”

Frank Veney continued that “After leaving these parts Frank Veney says he never heard anything of her whereabouts for three year, and thinking she was dead, the old man made another matrimonial plunge” with his next wife, Mandy or Amanda Jeffries. To this particular marriage was born a daughter, Flora (ca. 1874), who later married Cyrus Dixon in 1902. It is with Flora Dixon that Frank Veney resided at the time of the interview, “in the western suburbs” of Luray.

Interestingly, Frank Veney stated at the end of his interview that he had been in “correspondence with his former wife in Massachusetts, who has made many contributions to his comfort in his declining years.”

From an article written by Robert H. Moore, II for the Heritage & Heraldry column of the Page News & Courier, July 1, 2004.

Freedmen’s Bureau Reports for Page County

February 13, 2009

In searching the Valley of the Shadow website, more can be found than simply information about Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Augusta County, Virginia. In fact, though Staunton and Augusta County fell under a different sub-district or division than Page, all of the Valley counties fell under the same overall district of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Virginia and therefore, there are actually a number of items of interest in regard to Page County on the website.

On July 13, 1865, Gen. A.T. A. Torbert made an official request for an agent to be appointed to “look after the interest of the Freedmen.” While Torbert noted that “many persons” wished “to get rid of the old men and women left on their places that they may hire white laborers” later reports made after the appointment of an agent in the Valley proved differently for Page County and a few other areas.

In response to Torbert’s letter, Gen. Oliver O. Howard designated that Torbert select from among his officers one that “is capable, reliable, and a strong friend to the Freedmen, and who will see them protected in all the rights and privileges guaranteed them by law and the proclamation of the President.”

The first officer selected was W. Storer How, a dentist and captain from the 83rd New York Volunteer Infantry. Though How had established his office for the 6th District of Virginia on July 28, 1865, there was still a great deal to be done prior to writing reports. Additionally, it would not be How’s responsibility to report to Torbert, but to Col. Orlando Brown in Richmond. A native of Connecticut, Brown had previously served as the “Superintendent of Negro Affairs” in Federal-held portions of Virginia. By the summer of 1865, he had been selected as the Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Virginia. As one website points out, “As the highest ranking officer of the bureau in the state, he [Brown] had a unique perspective on conditions in the Old Dominion.” In Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, it is indicated that Col. Brown once stated that blacks “must feel the spur of necessity, if it be needed to make them self-reliant, industrious and provident.” Foner also points out that “Clearly this position reflected not only attitudes toward blacks, but a more general Northern belief in the dangers of encouraging dependency among the lower classes. Yet the Bureau’s assumption that blacks wished to be dependent on the government persisted in the face of evidence that the black community itself, wherever possible, shouldered the task of caring for orphans, the aged, and the destitute, or the fact that in many localities more whites than blacks received Bureau aid.”

Letters and reports do not indicate that How made an official report on matters until October 5, 1865. In his letter to Col. Brown, he mentioned that Page County would fall under Sub-District C, along with Rockingham and Shenandoah Counties, under Lt. Dexter A. Smith of Co. C, 193rd New York. Regretfully, How gave no specifics as to the status of Freedmen in any one county but gave a general report of conditions throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

By October 1865, the district office had been transferred from Staunton to Winchester.

The first specifics of Freedmen matters in Page came on January 9, 1866, when Capt. How reported to Col. Brown of an attempt to create a Freedman’s school in Luray, but that military support was needed. Regretfully, just what sort of military support needed is unclear.

By May 5, 1866, How would tender his resignation and was replaced in 1867 by Capt. John A. McDonnell. Prior to McDonnell’s taking over, the area was re-designated as the 9th District Department of the Potomac.

Under Capt. John A. McDonnell’s supervision, the next report truly detailing matters in Luray and Page County were written and Page County seems to have measured up well against several other counties in the Shenandoah Valley as to the treatment of Freedmen.

On April 30, 1867, McDonnell noted in his report to Col. Brown that the new 2nd Sub-District, composed of Warren and Page Counties was “very much improved.” McDonnell noted of the Freedmen: “They are self sustaining, industrious and generally well employed. They have not received or desired any assistance from the Government for the past three months except $14 for school [unclear: rent] for the months of February & March.” McDonnell also noted in Page and Warren that it was “the intention of the authorities in both Counties to take care of their own Freedpeople, and they are now doing so, but the means at their disposal are very limited.” In contrast to Gen. Torbert’s report of July 1865, it was noted by McDonnell that “The supply of labor is not equal to the demand, many more could find employment in each County, but the pay will not exceed $12 per month.”

As to judicial services, “full and complete justice is given by the Civil Courts to Freedpeople in cases where they are interested against whites, not a case of unfairness is known or reported to have occurred within the past three months in any cause in which a colored person was interested in either Warren or Page County.” Additionally, a special initiative had been made in the Bureau as to the registering of marriages. Oon this, and in regard to Page and Warren counties, McDonnell wrote, “No Register of Marriages has yet been made in either County, and no blanks were ever furnished for that purpose, with this exception, the paragraphs of Circular No 11 of March 1866 have been carried out.”

Since Capt. How’s letter of 1866 mentioning an effort in Luray to form a school, by the spring of 1866, matters were still pressing to organize schools. “The School at Front Royal was in a very flourishing condition up to its close in March, and the progress of the scholars was rapid. The demands for a school at Front Royal in Warren County, and at Luray in Page County is pressing, about $40 per month I think would be contributed by the colored people at each place, if a school could be established at once. A building would also be furnished for the summer months at Front Royal.”

Six months (Oct. 1, 1867) after his initial report of matters, McDonnell gave yet another report that continued to define matters of Freedmen in the Valley. In regard to specifics in Page and Warren County (still the 2nd sub-district) he wrote that “The general condition of the Freedpeople in this division, is perhaps better than in any other of the Districts, for the reason that they are more equally distributed throughout the Counties and thereby have a better field for their labor, and more constant employment. They are self-sustaining, industrious, and generally receive fair wages, and therefore have not desired any assistance from the Govt for the past three months, except in matters of contracts, and adjusting claims. As in the other divisions, the people of each County will provide as best they can for the indigent freedpeople – In Page County the provisions are ample, but in Warren County, the building is in a most miserable condition.” Additionally, since his April report, the register of marriages had been completed for both of the counties.

While the supply of labor still did not equal the demand, McDonnell did not recommend “the introduction of more, at this season, many however would find employment by the day, and many more, when the spring returns, at $10 per month.”

Lastly, while schools in Warren County were evaluated quite well, Page was still struggling to get one underway. “There seems to be a great demand for a school in Luray, Page County, where the freedpeople have purchased land for a schoolhouse also, but outside of these points, the people are not in numbers sufficient to locate a school.”

By McDonnell’s report of March 10, 1868, Clarke County had been included in the 2nd Division (sub-district) and, as noted by McDonnell, an observer had been designated to oversee matters in the respective counties at different times. “E. H. Ripley A.S.A.C. to be at Berryville, county seat of Clarke County, at the Courthouse, on the fourth Monday of each month, being court day, to remain 2 days, or longer if business demands; To be at Luray County seat of Page County, at the Courthouse on the 15th of each month (for two days) or longer if necessary. To be at Front Royal County seat of Warren County, on Court day, at the office of the Bureau and at all other times when not at Berryville or Luray as above stated.”

Capt. McDonnell’s report of July 1, 1868 added a few more details of matters in Page as well as the other two counties in the Second Division. “In this division no perceptible change in the general condition of the freedpeople is apparent. Although all are employed no cases of suffering are reported, yet as no considerable number of freedpeople are congregated at any one place, it is difficult to estimate the general condition.” McDonnell also commented that “At the principal places, namely Berryville, Clarke Co, Front Royal in Warren County and Luray in Page County, there is evidence that the freedpeople as a class are not far behind many of their white neighbors. The schools in this division have been as well attended as could be expected, and the people generally are believed to be industrious, temperate and prosperous.” McDonnell continued, “Each County provides for its own poor, of both colors. The means as regards buildings, are poor and the feelings of the freedpeople are so strongly opposed to the poorhouse, that it would be difficult to induce even the most destitute to enter them.”

McDonnell readily noted a standout problem as existing in the court systems in Clarke, Page, and Warren counties. Wrote McDonnell, “The likelihood of full justice being given to freedpeople in cases against whites is very questionable. Frequently on colored people applying for redress of grievances to Magistrates their complaints are met with excuses, and only on application of the officer of the Bureau have such complaints been attended to. If official restraints were removed I do not think full justice would be given to freedpeople.”

Schools continued to be a problem, but McDonnell reported that “The demand for schools . . . are not urgent, and if organized it is doubtful if a sufficient number of pupils would attend to warrant the experiment of employing a teacher and other expenses.”

Regretfully, the last report mentioning Luray and/or Page County directly was from December 31, 1868. In it, McDonnell continued to emphasis that “The Freedpeople appear to be in a prosperous condition in the Counties comprising this division. No great number being in any one place, labor is equally distributed, and all who were able to work are employed. Warren and Page Counties are equally prosperous with Clarke, but for the reason that no large number can be found together it is considered inexpedient to organize schools at other than those places where schools are now in operation, viz: Berryville, Clarke, Co. Front Royal, Warren Co. and Luray, Page County. Although the people are constantly employed and labor is abundant, there does not seem to be that disposition on the part of the people to acquire property or homes for themselves that is manifested by the Freedmen in the First division. No suffering exists, and the demand on the Counties, by indigent freedpeople, if any are very few.” McDonnell continued, “In each County, indigent Freedpeople are provided for by the authorities as are the same class of whites. From superstitious causes the most indigent are unwilling to avail themselves of the privileges of the Poorhouses, and consequently few if any seek relief from that source. The demand for labor in each County is greater than the supply for nine months in the year and about balanced for the remainder. Wages range from ($7) seven to ($12) twelve dollars per month, which is generally paid in produce, clothing, &c. As the most exorbitant prices are demanded for articles thus given, it cuts the wages down to a cash value of at least two dollars per month less than the above quotation.”

While McDonnell indicated possible injustices in the judicial system in his previous report, he noted in December: “For some months past, no cases of injustice to Freedpeople were reported, but so long as local prejudices exist, full and complete justice will not be given by juries. A much larger amount of evidence than would be required to sustain the cause of a white man, would alone establish facts in his case, and complaints made by them do not receive equal attention as if made by a white.”

Finally, in his December report, it is made clear that the school in Luray was finally operational. However, he also noted that “The school at Luray would be much improved if a more competent teacher was in charge. Revd Mr. Jones although an excellent man is not qualified for the work, as not being master of words of one syllable himself, and therefore unfit to instruct others.”

In all, what little detail given by How’s and McDonnell’s reports still leaves much misunderstood as to the activities by Freedmen in Page County. While the judicial system left McDonnell somewhat uncertain as to fairness in the 2nd Division (Clarke, Page and Warren), reports for other districts differed little. However, there was not one incident of violence noted in Page while some of the surrounding counties (notably Augusta, Rockingham, Shenandoah and even Clarke) had more than a few occurrences.

For further information and a more broad perspective on matters of the Freedmen’s Bureau in the Shenandoah Valley, visit the Freedmen’s Bureau papers at the Valley of the Shadow website’s Freedmen section.

This article, written by Robert H. Moore, II for his “Heritage and Heraldry” column, originally appeared in a June 2006 issue of the Page News & Courier (Luray, Va.).

Beyond “Aunt Betty’s Story”

February 9, 2009

bethanyveney300dpi1 Filling-in some of the gaps in the story of Bethany Veney and following up “beyond ‘Aunt Betty’s Story,'” the following is from an article I wrote in March 2006 for my column in the Page News & Courier.

Born ca. 1815 in Page County, the daughter of slaves Joseph and Charlotte Johnson, Bethany Johnson – better known as Bethany “Aunt Betty” Veney (for her second marriage to Frank Veney) – has a life story that has been well-documented in “Aunt Betty’s Story.” The booklet can be found in print and even more easily on the web but has a limitation for the fact that it ends in telling the story of her life in 1889. However, “Aunt Betty” actually lived for another twenty-six years.

Now, I’ve brought up various aspects of her story and the life of her second husband in a few articles over the years, but within the last year, I have had the particularly good fortune of having made contact with one of Bethany Veney’s great-great granddaughters, also of Worcester, Massachusetts. Just last week, as some may have noticed in the Page County chronology in the Page News & Courier, there was a photo of Bethany Veney, which was copied and sent to me by by this descendant. I thought it an appropriate addition to the special features concentrating on the 175th anniversary of Page County. In addition to this fabulous photo, I was also very happy to receive a couple of newspaper articles – one relating the story of Bethany’s 100th birthday party, and another, a very informative obituary.

As everyone knows from her story, having been purchased by George James Adams, of Providence, R.I., Bethany was liberated from slavery and taken back to Providence. Of course, there are a few minor details that were not mentioned in the booklet. At the opening of the Civil War, Adams told Bethany that “she was at liberty to go wherever she pleased.” As one article stated, “as she used to put it, ‘the same as white people.’” Aunt Betty then went to Worcester and one of the first things she recalled doing was making gruel and carrying it to the sick Union soldiers in Brookfield. During this time, she also worked on her own as a laundress and earned extra money by going door to door and selling a bluing solution (made to brighten clothing). Aunt Betty apparently had a thriving business in selling this solution to housewives of her neighborhood and “if one of her customers moved to another part of Worcester it was her custom to carry the bluing to them.”

After the Civil War, Aunt Betty returned to Virginia several times and brought sixteen relatives back to Worcester with her, including her daughter Charlotte E. Fickland Jackson (Jerry Fickland being the name of Betty Veney’s first husband and Charlotte’s father) and her husband, Aaron Jackson.

Like Veney, both Charlotte and Aaron had been slaves in Page County, but, their freedom not being purchased like Aunt Betty’s, they remained in Page for a few years after, through the Civil War. Having taken a look into the census records, it looks like Aaron’s and Charlotte’s first child, Bettie L. Jackson, was born in Virginia in 1867. However, their second child, Martha B. Jackson was born in Massachusetts in August 1869 – showing that they relocated from Page County to Worcester sometime between 1867 and 1869. Other children born to the couple in later years included David T. (1871), Blanche (born ca. 1876 and later married a man by the name of Cooper), Harry C. (1879), and Lena (born after 1886? and later married Lesley Martin Wilson of Maryland). Aaron Jackson died on June 13, 1905, while residing at their home at 21 Tufts Street in Worcester. Jackson had been admitted to the City Hospital with blood poisoning. Forty years since having been a slave in Page County, Aaron was 73 years old at the time of his death. In his years at Worcester, he had been a member of the Volunteers of America and was interested in religious work. In addition to his children and grandchildren, he was also survived by a brother, Olmstead Jackson and a sister, Miss Hennie Jackson. It is uncertain whether these siblings had been slaves in Page County or not, but it seems quite possible. Neither can be located in the United States census records.

On March 19, 1912, “Aunt Betty” celebrated her 100th birthday at her home at 21 Tufts Street in Worcester. A newspaper account from the “Telegram” read “It was planned to have a reception from 2 o’clock in the evening until 9 o’clock last night, but it was long before the beginning when visitors, with guests began to arrive and they continued to come all day, and until Aunt Betty retired last night. Relatives present, were her daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Jackson, with whom she lives, granddaughters, Mrs. Lena Wilson, of Worcester and Mrs. Blanche Cooper of Philadelphia, and great-grandchildren Robert and Emily Cooper and Rheta and Mabel Wilson. The party was arranged by Mrs. B.A. Jackson, 2 Clifton Court.” The article stated that over 100 people “called during the day” and “had a chat with Aunt Betty, who appeared in excellent health and in full possession of her faculties. She readily recognized all who came, although there were some she had not seen in a long time. ‘I don’t feel like 100 years old,’ she said. ‘No, I don’t feel that way, but when I stop to look back, I realize I have lived a long time. I don’t think I feel any older than I did a year ago today; when I celebrated my 99th birthday.’”

In addition to visitors, letters had been received “from acquaintances in Boston, Providence, Pawtucket, New York, Washington, Ohio, Michigan and Colorado. In many of each person’s letters, money was enclosed. Many of the guests brought money, and it was put away, not to be counted until this morning. Among the letters which Aunt Betty most cherishes was one from Mayor David F. O’Connell, which the postman brought on his first run.”

As with any good newspaper account of a person’s 100th birthday celebration, there were some great stories about Bethany’s life that are certainly of value in mentioning in this article.

“She has been religious and was of the old fashioned Methodist school,” noted one newspaper account. “She had never danced, played cards, or taken part in any frivolous past times. She was always opposed to dancing especially the so-called modern dancing and always said that these dances were the work of the devil.” She was a member of the A.M.E. Church and for many years preceding her 100th birthday was a member of the Trinity Church. For fifty-seven “consecutive summers she had attended the Sterling camp meetings and her statements of testimony have been the interesting feature. She is a famous blueberry picker and last summer insisted that she had lost little of the strength that has made her old age remarkable for she keeps up year end, in the berry patches, with pickers many years her junior.” She believed that “her long life was due to the fact that she always lived regularly and she never touched liquor and she went to church until the past year and the greatest hardship that she had to bear was owing to the fact that her advancing years made it necessary for her to ‘miss meeting’ on account of her health sometimes and because of the weather.”

When she was 96 or 97 years old, Bethany, along with a friend, was headed for a camp meeting but took a wrong car. Instead of arriving at Sterling, she arrived at Clinton, Massachusetts. So, having reached the incorrect destination, she took to the road by foot and walked six miles to make her meeting. “On that occasion she went into a field to rest and while there picked several quarts of blueberries and took them along with her to the camp grounds.”

At 1 p.m. on November 16, 1916, Bethany Veney, age the age of 103 years, died at the home of her daughter, Charlotte, at 33 Winfield Street in Worcester. It was said that she “retained her faculties, except her eyesight, in a wonderful manner. Her memory was keen, not in the manner of old persons, in remembering dates of long ago, but she kept herself posted on the topics of interest of today and although she could not read because of her eyesight in later years, she kept posted by asking questions.”

Bethany’s daughter, Charlotte, died on February 14, 1921 at a home that she had moved to since the death of her mother, at 89 Mayfield Street in Worcester. She was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery near her mother.

On July 12, 2003, the Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, signed a proclamation honoring Bethany Veney and her life by declaring the day “Bethany Veney Day in Worcester, Massachusetts.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.