Frank Veney… the other half of the Bethany Veney Story
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.