Susanne of Allen Dale Farm, Part 2: Coming to Kentucky

-A A +A
By Ron Van Stockum

General Baron de Charette died on October 9, 1911, at the age of 79.  His widow, Tennessee-born Antoinette, Baronne de Charette, continued to live at La Basse Motte in Brittany. Here during World War I she entertained American troops on leave from the Western Front.  After her death on February 3, l9l9, her obituary in a Nashville paper closed with this tribute:


A delegation of l50 members of the Thirtieth Division were announced at one of the Friday afternoons - taking their first rest after seven months on the British front.  Their soft drawl announced their place of nativity.  "From Tennessee?" asked the baroness. "Oh, but I know you are, and I'm going to kiss you every one." And she did.

On June 17, 1919 Sue Henning at Allen Dale wrote to express concern that “Susanne’s baby is growing up with the peasants of Brittany.”  The following February, Susanne, Marquise de Charette, wrote that she had taken Little Susanne, age four, to a tea party with other children in Brittany. “She behaved very well except that she shamed me by wanting to eat almost everything on the table.”

The New York Times of February 14, 1921 reported that the Marquis de Charette had arrived in New York the previous day on the French liner, France, accompanying Captain Nungesser, one of France’s greatest combat pilots of the Great War. Charette mentioned that he was planning to visit Tennessee, birthplace of his mother, néeAntoinette Polk, as a representative of French engineering interests.

Charette’s wife, Susanne, and their daughter, Susanne, while not mentioned in the newspaper account, had accompanied him on the liner from France.


First Visit to Allen Dale Farm

Susanne Junior, nearly six years sold, proceeded to Allen Dale Farm in Shelby County, Kentucky with her mother. She recalled with great pleasure her African-American friend at the farm, Tina (Ernestine), daughter of a key employee, Ernest Powell and his wife Carrie. She mentioned years later that she and Tina, both the same age, had a perfectly delightful time together, roaming the farm at will.  “Nobody bothered us. We used to go to the barn to watch them milk.” Ernest Powell taught her to ride. “We had ponies and raced each other.” She also had a two-wheel cart, pulled by a horse.

She recalled going to a children’s theater in Louisville, taking Tina along with her head wrapped in a kerchief so that she could be admitted.

Susanne used to skate with Tina from the kitchen to the living room on the hardwood floors of the Powell’s log house. Later, it burned down, leaving the fieldstone fireplace and chimney still standing, as a reminder of the Powells of Allen Dale Farm, a family of achievers.

Sue Henning, Mistress of Allen Dale Farm was, in many ways, a woman ahead of her time, especially in the matter of relationship between the races.  I quote a letter to the Editor that appeared in the Shelby News of June 1, 1922:

Appreciation of Garden Party

The patrons and friends of Olive Branch colored school extend thanks and appreciation to Mrs. S. T. Henning for the permit (sic) extended us at Allen Dale Friday, May 26.  This place is the garden spot of Shelby County and we know no better friend, white or colored, who has done so much in practical work, educational and religious, to help us save our race for its future betterment. 

Rebecca J. Tilly, ex-teacher and manager Ernest and Carrie’s son, Edward Powell informed me:

We didn't know we were black. One Sunday school for all children was held in the parlor of the main house. One Sunday she [Mrs. Henning] would have a black teacher and the next a white teacher. People that worked for Mrs. Henning took an interest because she instilled that in you."

Susanne said that her grandmother spoiled her during her stay of nine or ten months at the farm, providing affection that she had not experienced in France.

“I did a very stupid thing one evening. Grandmother asked me whom did I love best and I ran to her and jumped on her lap.”Her mother, who was present, was shocked!

Not long after, Susanne was sent to boarding school at Nazereth Academy, about three miles from Bardstown, Kentucky, returning to Allen Dale for holidays.She later described the centipedes that “scared the daylights out of me”!

First Holy Communion at Nazareth

In a letter dated February 3, 1924, Sue Henning wrote:

“Took the train to Nazareth Friday a.m. [with Will Henning’s sister, Aunt Lulie Henning, and Susanne, Senior]. They had with them the gown and all the costume of white—ready to try on, it having been fitted on a little girl of eight at the dressmakers. It was trimmed in white. The veil was made by the sisters and fell to the ground in the back. Then we all went to the church. Susanne [Junior],being much smaller than the two other girls led the class. She looked lovely and was radiantly happy in her devotion.”

A letter, dated June 21, 1924, from Sister Mary Sienne, Nazareth Academy, Kentucky to “My dear little Susanne” bids her farewell:

“I can now understand why you love the farm so dearly… Give my love to all. Good-by, and may God bless you my dear little girl. Yours lovingly in the Sacred Heart.”

In July 1924, having been in America for nearly three and a half years, Susanne, now nine, left Allen Dale and returned to France with her mother.


History Researched

Charles Nungesser sought the Orteig prize, $25,000 offered by a New York hotelier for the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris. He and Captain François Coli took off from Paris on May 8, 1927 and were never heard from again.

Nearly two weeks later, May 20-21, American aviator Charles Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize by successfully flying from New York to Le Bourget Field in Paris, where he was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd of 150,000.  Susanne was there with her father. Half a world away on that date, while delivering newspapers in Bellingham, Washington, a customer shouted to me, “Lindy made it!”


Next: Schooling in France and Switzerland


Ron Van Stockum can be reached at ronvanstockum@mac.com. His latest book, Coming to Kentucky: Heaven is a Kentucky of a Place, as well as his others, Kentucky and the Bourbons: the Story of Allen Dale Farm, Squire Boone and Nicholas Meriwether: Kentucky Pioneers, and Remembrances of World Wars, may be purchased locally at Sixth and Main Coffeehouse  and Terhune’s Style Shop in Village Plaza Shopping Center or from Amazon.com.