Fanny Cole Day proclaimed in Winchester

Published 6:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2023

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By Harry Enoch

Contributing Writer

A city proclamation issued by Mayor JoEllen Reed declared Oct. 14 Fanny Cole Day. The festivities were celebrated at Abettor Brewing Company on Depot St.

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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, one might ask, who was Fanny Cole?

Fanny Cole was an African American born into slavery back in Virginia and 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, Cole 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.”

Cole 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 makers shop.

In a testament to her innate abilities and hard work 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, not including the value of her properties.

Abettor drew an excellent crowd to Depot Street to honor Fanny.

One of the highlights of the festivities was an in-person performance of Fanny Cole by Jane Burnam.

Burnam, a George Rogers Clark High School graduate, 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 a member of First Baptist Church, where she was the church organist. Burnam has a daughter, Narcissus, and two granddaughters, Skylynn and Save’yah.

For her performance, Burnam donned a period costume similar to one Cole likely would have worn. Her beautiful, clear singing voice then gave a moving portrayal as Cole.

Burnam had previously portrayed Cole during WinCity Voices “The Voices of Winchester: A Night of Storytelling” earlier in the month.