In October of 2022, with support from a Virginia Humanities grant, descendants of Bethany Veney, an enslaved woman who lived in the Shenandoah Valley prior to the Civil War, gathered in Luray to record themselves reading from her autobiography The Narrative of Bethany Veney, a Slave Woman.
Like many enslaved people, Veney labored for several different enslavers. Her first husband, an enslaved man named Jerry Fickland, was sold South by traders engaged in the domestic slave trade, another all-to-common occurrence in the lives of enslaved people. Veney herself was sold to a slave trader and sent to Richmond to be auctioned, but she foiled the sale by feigning sickness on the auction block.
Veney remarried a free Black man named Frank Veney, and they had one son, Joe Veney, who joined a family that included Charlotte Fickland, her daughter from her first marriage. Veney negotiated with her enslaver to hire her time out and went to work as a cook and a servant for two copper mining speculators, G. J. Adams and J. Butterworth, of Providence, Rhode Island, who were trying to restart a mine near Stony Man south of Luray.
When in 1859 it looked as if Veney might be sold away to pay her enslaver’s debts, much like Fickland was, Adams purchased Veney and her son for $775 and took them to Providence, where she became free. Veney eventually settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she was joined by her daughter and her family, as well as numerous members of her extended family whom she brought to New England.
In 1889, Veney published The Narrative of Bethany Veney, which remains one of the most powerful descriptions of slavery in the Shenandoah Valley.
Veney’s descendants, as well as descendants of her husbands Jerry Fickland and Frank Veney, gathered to read “Aunt Betty’s Story” in places associated with her life in the valley. This remarkable event was videotaped. “Aunt Betty’s Story, the Narrative of a Slave Woman: Celebrating with the Descendants of Bethany Veney” is available here, connecting us all to the life and words of this extraordinary woman.