by Shannon A. Justice
Julia Arrants, author and South Carolina native, has been searching for years, but has yet to find what she’s started out looking for. It would be a disappointment to some, but for Arrants who admits the information gained in her journey isn’t exactly what she was seeking, the people she’s met and stories told along the way, have made the trip worth traveling.
Arrant began research for her book, “Searching for Susannah,” nearly eight years ago. The concept of the book was to tell the untold story of a Cheraw woman, murdered in the 1930s or 40s.
The author was working as the artist-in-residence at Cheraw State Park in 2003, when she first heard the story of Susannah Gainey. While spending her days researching local folktales and nights in a rustic cabin, her uncle, a park employee, shared with her a story that ignited the flames of curiosity within. The story was about a woman named Susannah, a fortuneteller living on the banks of Juniper Creek, who was allegedly murdered. According to her uncle Joe, no one really knew if such a woman existed or even if murder had occurred.
Shortly after completing her program at the State Park with no more information than she started with, Arrants approached the newspaper for help reaching out to the community for answers. She hoped that someone would provide her information to prove the existence of a Susannah or knew of a murder in Cheraw that happened decades before. The story ran in The Cheraw Chronicle, June 2003.
“It was Uncle Joe who set her on the trail of the murder in the park, but noone local couldn’t verify the story,” read the article. “No one had heard tell of a black fortuneteller being murdered in her cabin where she lived at the end of the park.”
Arrants told the newspaper, that according to her uncle she needed to look for a picture of a black woman who was barefoot and smoking a corn cob pipe. If she found the old photograph she would be looking at the image of the woman known as Susannah Gainey.
After the story ran, Arrants received a phone call from Vergie Wallace, a woman from the Teal’s Mill area who played in the pine forest along Juniper Creek as a little girl. Wallace shared that she and friends had come to know the woman when they met her by her cabin in the woods. “Aunt Susannah,” was what the children called her and even though they were initially intimidated, they later befriended the old woman. According to Wallace, she and friends would often help Aunt Susannah by hauling wood and water for her.
Arrants, however, was unable to learn much more about the woman the children befriended in the woods. Wallace passed away in 2007, leaving many of the author’s questions unanswered.
One of the pieces of information Arrants has gained during research, was stored in the South Carolina State Park archives. There, she found a faded picture of an old woman sitting in a rocking chair, wearing a sewn dress, with her gray hair braided. Even though, the woman in the photo did not have a corn cob pipe, Arrants knew she is holding the photograph her uncle had told her to look for, it was a photo of Susannah.
Arrants new book, “Searching for Susannah,” is slating to be published later this fall, but before it’s sent to the printers, the author is making one more request to the people in Chesterfield County for information about Susannah Gainey.
Research of area census reports from 1900 to 1930, show only a few women with a name similar to Susannah Gainey. During this time many people were unable to read or write, which could explain why names sometimes vary from year to year.
Some of the individuals in census reports Arrants would like to look more closely at are below, each listed with the area they living in during the census study.
- From 1930 census: Susannah Gainey, born about 1866, living in Cheraw; Susanna Gainey, born about 1883, living in Antioch, Darlington; Susanna Gainey born about 1848 living in Cheraw.
- From 1920 census: Sue Gainey, born about 1895, living in Antioch, Darlington.
- From 1910 census: Sannah A Gainey, (also listed as Savanah A Gainey or Susannah A Gorney) born about 1850, living in Alligator, Chesterfield; Susannah Gainey, born about 1866, living in MtCroghan or Chesterfield.
- From 1900 census: Susan Gainey, born about 1883, living in Steer Pen, Chesterfield.
To contact Julia Arrants with information for the story of Susannah, visit her on the web at www.JuliaArrants.com; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone: (912) 772-3072; or fax: (866) 878-3813. Information that can help clarify by either affirming or denying a connection of any people above, or knowledge of a murder long ago, or anything else of pertinence is urged to make contact.
The book that began with a story of an untold murder has transformed into one about the connectivity community’s share that is common in the South. Within the books pages Arrants will share the stories she’s heard along the way along, as well as the many coincidences and connections Arrants found during the research and interview process.