Lancaster County SC Genealogy
Dark Doings at Chaney's Tavern
by Louise Pettus
Milt Chaney's trial, held in the courthouse in Lancaster in March 1856, was a sensation... People still wonder if the bearded giant stashed away gold in the area around his tavern.
The tavern, located in the northeastern corner of the junction of today's Highway 521 and Highway 75 in the Indian Land section, catered to weary travelers between Camden and Charlotte--and points beyond. Too often, it was the last known place the traveler stopped. Relatives missing their husband, father or son, would trace the man, usually returning after selling his stock, perhaps a slave, bales of cotton, or whatever, would follow the route taken by the missing man. The finger of suspicion pointed to Chaney's Tavern.
For years, the story has been told that Chaney killed his victims with an anvil which he hoisted to the ceiling and dropped. Some say the anvil hung in the dining room, and others say it hung in the bedroom. The story probably has no basis, but it is curious that a few years ago some gold searchers, using a Geiger counter, dug up an old anvil.
Chaney's trial, though, centered on another matter. He was charged with "negro stealing." Specifically, Chaney was charged with stealing Toney from the plantation of Dr. R.L. Crawford, taking him to Virginia, and selling Toney as if he was his own. Years after Toney was kidnapped, the sheriff of King William County, Virginia, contacted the Lancaster County sheriff to help him recover the money a Mr. Powell had paid for Toney. It seems that Toney had told his story to the sheriff in the hope of being sent back to the Crawford Plantation in Lancaster District.
Toney's story only confirmed the old belief that Chaney was part of an organized gang who kidnapped slaves to sell out-of-state after enticing the slaves with promises of helping them reach freedom in the north. John M. Steele, a neighbor, was the chief witness for the state. All of the evidence against Chaney was damning, and he was found guilty.
Chaney appealed the verdict and for a time was lodged in the Richland County jail. The appeal failed, and Chaney was sent back to Lancaster to be hanged.
The people believed that Chaney would confess and implicate his co-conspirators. He never did. Instead, "calm and cool," for an hour and a half Chaney addressed the crowd gathered for the hanging. He ignored shouted pleas that he confess.
Later, a poem Chaney penned in his cell was made public. The poem was addressed to Chaney's 26-year-old wife who was listed in the 1850 census only as "P. Chaney." The poem began:
"My days are numbered they are but few When I must bid this world adieu. Dear wife, how happy I could be If your dear face I could see...."
Chaney, according to a Lancaster Ledger account, had three children at the time of his trial. If so, they were all under 6 years. The 1850 census listed only a 12-year-old boy, J. Vicory, in his household. In his poem, Chaney wrote, "Dear infants, I bid you farewell, My love for you no tongue can tell...."
Chaney wrote of his in-laws, referring to his mother-in-law as "all the friend your father had. Her weeping eyes you often see, Is wet with tears and all for me...."
On July 11, 1856, in front of a large crowd outside the Robert Mills designed jail, Milton M. Chaney was hanged. The last lines of his poem were:
"On earth no longer can I stay Because my life was sworn away. His name, it's true, I can't conceal, It was the one-eyed John Steele."
Many years later when Highway 25 to Waxhaw, NC, was being hard-surfaced, construction workers found numerous skeletons close by Chaney's Tavern.