Winchester observes Fanny Cole Day

A city procla­ma­tion issued by Mayor JoEllen Reed declared October 14th Fanny Cole Day.  The fes­tiv­i­ties were cel­e­brat­ed at Abettor Brewing Company on Depot Street.  Although it was a windy, chilly day, a num­ber of food trucks and ven­dors turned out for the “Fanny Fest.” There was Fanny Cole beer and hard cider for sale.  So, you might ask, who was Fanny Cole?

Fanny Cole was an African American born into slav­ery back in Virginia who came to Kentucky in the 1820s as the prop­er­ty of John Battaille. At some point, she fell in love with Aaron Cole, a free man who saved his mon­ey until he could buy Fanny’s free­dom in 1827.  The deed described her as Aaron’s wife. The indus­tri­ous Aaron was able to pur­chase a house and lot at the north­east cor­ner of Broadway and Maple Street, where he and Fanny kept a gro­cery store.

After Aaron died in the ear­ly 1830s, Fanny expand­ed the busi­ness and became a well-known entre­pre­neur in town.  One of her white con­tem­po­raries recalled that “there were many small fac­to­ries run in Winchester, such as Aunt Fanny Cole’s.”  Fanny had a small brew­ery where she made beer and an “African kitchen” where she made gin­ger cakes that were very pop­u­lar.  She proved so suc­cess­ful oper­at­ing the store that she was able to buy an adjoin­ing lot with a black­smith and wag­on mak­er’s shop.

It is a tes­ta­ment to her innate abil­i­ties and hard work that she was able to achieve com­mer­cial suc­cess at a time when free blacks were sub­ject to severe dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Even more sur­pris­ing is the fact that at the time of her death in 1839 she left a size­able estate, far exceed­ing that of Winchester’s aver­age white cit­i­zens.  Her will bequeathed a total $2,260 to 11 indi­vid­u­als.  In addi­tion, she left the store and its con­tents to her nephew Jerry Johnson, $303 in goods and fur­ni­ture plus $2,258 in cash.  Remarkably, the entire estate was worth near­ly $200,000 in today’s dol­lars, and that’s not includ­ing the val­ue of her properties.

Fanny Cole Day Proclamation. The signed copy may be seen at Abettor Brewing. (Photo by Debbie Barnes)
Fanny Cole Day Proclamation. The signed copy may be seen at Abettor Brewing. (Photo by Debbie Barnes)

Abettor drew a good crowd to Depot Street to hon­or Fanny Cole.  The high­light of the day was an in-per­son per­for­mance of Fanny Cole by the mul­ti-tal­ent­ed Jane Burnam.  Jane had told Fanny’s sto­ry in a rous­ing per­for­mance at “The Voices of Winchester: A Night of Storytelling” at Leeds Theatre on October 6. But her stir­ring dra­mat­ic imper­son­ation on Saturday after­noon showed a whole new side of Jane’s gifts.

Jane grad­u­at­ed from GRC and earned a degree in ele­men­tary edu­ca­tion from Morehead State University with a minor in music before doing grad­u­ate work in ear­ly child­hood devel­op­ment at Eastern Kentucky University.  Now a retired edu­ca­tor, she is an active mem­ber of the Winchester Black History & Heritage Committee, and mem­ber of First Baptist Church where she was the church organ­ist.  Jane has a daugh­ter, Narcissus, and two grand­daugh­ters, Skylynn, and Save’yah.

For Jane’s per­for­mance, she donned a peri­od cos­tume sim­i­lar to one Fanny Cole like­ly would have worn.  Jane first dis­played her beau­ti­ful clear singing voice then gave a mov­ing por­tray­al as Fanny.  I believe all of us in the audi­ence felt like Jane was chan­nel­ing the real Fanny. 

Thanks to Abettor and all the spon­sors and par­tic­i­pants who made the day a tri­umph.  If you weren’t one of those for­tu­nate enough to attend, then let’s hope there will be anoth­er Fanny Cole Day next year.  And cheers to Jane Burnam for her won­der­ful pre­sen­ta­tion of Fanny Cole; sure­ly it will not be her last!

Abettor’s John Howard introducing Jane Burnam. (Photo by James Robinson)
Abettor’s John Howard intro­duc­ing Jane Burnam. (Photo by James Robinson)

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