This is my 6th year participating in the A to Z blogging challenge. You can find the other 5 years at this link A to Z posts.
During this A to Z Challenge I will, as usual, be focusing on family history. I want to do two things. First, I want to show that finding one document can lead you to other information in ways you never expected. Second, I want to follow some of those leads to bring more humanity to the formerly enslaved Cleages of Athens, McMinn County Tennessee, and their community.
During the past year I have completed two long running investigations where I posted daily, for 42 days each. In the first I used letters written by my grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage, to her friend, Homer, from 1903 to 1905. In the second I used testimony from Katie Cleage’s Widow’s Pension File to tell her story in the words of those involved.
While doing them I learned the value of a good title. I hope that this knowledge will stand me in good stead during this year’s challenge and give me a little more leeway in presenting the posts in both alphabetical and time order.
The last paper in Katie Cleage’s file was an announcement that she had failed to pick up her $12 pension check after November 1893. In 1898, they dropped her from the rolls. After fighting for her pension for over ten years, she received it for one year.
It took me a lot of looking to find a death record for Katie Cleage. I found the record below on ancestry.com, but I first disregarded it because I thought the “W” in the fifth column meant she was white. In fact, I had earlier attached it to Kate Cleage, the white daughter of slave holders Jemima and Alexander Cleage.
After looking and looking for a record for my Katie, I took a closer look at the white Katherine, although the birth date was right for her, I discovered that she had married in 1890 and over the following years had given birth to four children. She did not die until 1936.
I went back to the death record above and saw that the “W” in the fifth column stood for “widow”, not “white”. The age was off by about ten years, but everything else was right. Who was there giving the information at her death bed? A neighbor? Her ten year old son or seven year old daughter? The race column is sort of blurred, but shows with ditto marks that the race is black. Given the date of November for the last pension check, and the December 16 date of death, I decided that this was my Katie Cleage.
City Cemetery was listed as the place of burial on the death record. I had a hard time finding it using maps of present day Chattanooga, google and find-a-grave. Finally, with the help of other researchers and the Chattanooga Historical Society, I learned that City Cemetery became present day Citizen’s Cemetery.
That completes what I know about Katie Cleage. Things I wish I knew – what happened to her two children? What did she do during that last year of her life? I hope that no one took advantage of her and stole her money.
I return herewith the papers in the claim of Katie Clegg, No. 288,391, examined in connection with an appeal entered from the adverse action of your Bureau.
The records of the War Department show a service of the soldier from Feb. 4, 1864, to Feb. 19, 1866, when he died by reason of small pox.
The appellant filed her claim for a pension, as the widow of the soldier, in 1881, and the same was rejected in 1891, upon the ground that the claimant was not the legal widow of the soldier.
The contention of the appeal is that an injustice was done the appellant by the adverse action of your Bureau, and that in fact she is the widow of the soldier upon whose death the claim for a pension is made.
The claimant and the soldier were both slaves, and the only ceremony of marriage which is claimed to have been preformed was by the master, and in the period when both were held as slaves.
The claim of this alleged widow has been twice referred for a special investigation, to determine the question of slave or other marriage.
From the evidence thus obtained and otherwise filed in the case, it appears that this claimant and the soldier were both owned by one master in company with about one hundred other slaves. The claimant then being a house-servant, (seamstress), and the soldier a wagoner and sometimes acting as a coachman.
Neither of these two persons are shown by the evidence on file as having had martial relations with any of the other slaves, nor will the evidence in the case show as a fact that these two persons, while slaves, had martial relations, or were in any sense considered as husband and wife.
Whether as a fact, the claimant and the soldier were married by the master, in accordance with the customs of slave times, cannot be proven, in as much as the master is dead and no witnesses were present when the alleged ceremony was performed. It is shown by witnesses, whose testimony cannot be ignored, that the claimant and the soldier, at the date of his death, were recognized as husband and wife, and no good reason appears why this relation, at said date, is not as fully warranted as it might have been or possibly was, prior to the date of enlistment.
At the time the slaves, who were upon the plantation were this claimant and the soldier were owned, were dispersed by the advent of the Union Army in 1863, this claimant went to Chattanooga, and after the regiment to which the soldier belonged went to Chattanooga and was stationed there, these two parties met, and from this time they assumed the relation of husband and wife. That this relation was known and recognized by the soldier’s comrades and officers is clearly established – one of the regulations of the camp being, that none but married women whose husbands were stationed therein could be admitted. This claimant is shown by the evidence to have been admitted to the camp and to have occupied quarters therein with the soldier, as his wife; and it is also shown that she was with him when he was removed to the hospital. The relation which thus existed, and was recognized as lawful in these two parties, is one which Sec. 4705, R. S. apparently contemplates; and while this relation is not established as having existed in fact at the date of enlistment, yet, during a portion of the period of the soldier’s service it existed and so existed at the date of his death.
Some doubt has been thrown upon the merits of this case by the negative testimony of the claimant’s former mistress, who does not remember the circumstances surrounding the slave life of the claimant and the soldier; but, in this respect, she also expresses ignorance as regards the other slaves who were owned by her husband. It further appears that, in 1872, the hon. Second Auditor of the Treasury paid to a brother and sister of the soldier arrears of pay, upon evidence to him satisfactory as to the fact of the soldier’s celibacy. One of the witnesses was the former owner of the soldier, and when the soldier died in 1866, the laws of many of the Southern states did not recognize the marriage of people of color.
The pension laws recognize a condition as sufficient to admit a pensionable status and the condition of this claimant at the date of the soldier’s death is held as coming within the purview of Sec. 4705, R. S., and therefore, the action of rejection of the appellant’s claim is overruled and set aside.
You are therefore requested to issue a certificate for a pension in favor of the appellant as the widow of the deceased soldier.
Claimant’s Appeal to the Secretary of the Interior
State of Tennessee County of Hamilton in the matter of claim
for Widow’s Pension No. 288 -391 Katie Cleage claimant. On this Apr 6 1891.
Personally came before
me Notary Public in and for aforesaid County and State the said Katie Cleage,
Widow of Philip Cleage alias Klegg late a sergeant of Company A 1st
U.S.C. artillery heavy volunteers a citizen of the town of Chattanooga, county
of Hamilton State of Tennessee, well known to me to be reputable and entitled
to credit and who, being duly sworn declares in relation to the aforesaid case
That her claim or
widow’s pension, having been rejected for the following reasons: that the
evidence fails to show that she is the lawful widow of the soldier, or was ever
married to him.
It has been shown that ever since the death of her husband that her sister-in-law and her brothers-in-law has been trying to supplant her and cheat her out of her just dues. And she believes that they have imposed upon the Hon. 2nd auditor by stating that the soldier had no wife and did they, perhaps, receive the pay, which was justly and rightly due to her. And she is willing and anxious to submit to the strictest scrutiny of this case. And therefore the Claimant appeals for a reconsideration of her Claim for the reason that gross injustice has been done to her in the rejection of this her claim.
As it has been shown that she was a poor ignorant slave, young and childish, about 14 years of age when Mr. Cleage, her master insisted that she should marry Philip, another slave and while Mrs. Cleage was absent home, he – the master – read something, or at least had a book in his hand, and told them that they were married. And as her master is dead and her husband is dead and she has been unable to find any person who was present at the time except other slaves.
She has proven that they were furnished by her mistress, Mrs. Cleage, with a cabin in which to live, that two children were born to them, that the soldier acknowledged her as his wife that they were recognized by officers and others to be husband and wife, that they were permitted to room together in camp when all women not having husbands in the Regiment were ejected and that she insisted on accompanying him to the pest camp to wait upon him and minister to him, but was denied that privilege and thus they were separated forever.
And she had remained his widow these 25 long years, and when at last she asks for her lawful rights she is asked to prove her marriage, a thing which was never at that time recognized by the white people or slave owners, except that it served to keep them at home, by making them believe that they were married.
She hereby appoints,
with full power of substitution and revocation, Thomas Giffe of Chattanooga as
her true and lawful attorney to prosecute her claim. Her post office address is
Cedar St. Chattanooga.
Katie (her X mark) Cleage
I found the information used in this post in Katie Cleage’s Pension file.
Office of Thomas Giffe, Solicitor and U.S. Claim Attorney Pensions A Specialty
South Div. Widow 288-391 Philip Cleage Alias Kleg
Chattanooga, Tenn., April 6th 1891 Hon. Secretary of the Interior U.S.A. Washington D.C.
I have the honor to present to you herewith an appeal from the decision of the Honorable Commissioner of Pensions – together with the letter – notifying the widow of the rejection of her claim, which is the only notice which I have received. I am her attorney, as may be seen by a perusal of the file of papers of the case, and I cannot conceive how it happened that I have received no notice until the widow produced the letter dated Feb 25th last. It is evident that the Hon. Commissioner is mistaken in the merits of this case. A careful examination of the evidence will show that it is a straight forward claim, honest and just. And knowing this to be so I would not be doing justice to my client if I did not do this.
Very respectfully your obt svt. Thomas Giffe Atty for Claimant
I found the information used in Katie Cleage’s Pension file.
Department of the Interior Bureau of Pensions Washington D.C. Feby 25, 1891
South Div. J.B.A. Ex’r Widow No. 288391 Philip Cleage Co. A 1 Reg USCHA
Your above cited pension claim was rejected January 30, 1891 on the grounds that after fair and thorough special examination the evidence fails to show that you are the lawful widow of the soldier or was ever married to him.
Very respectfully, Guin B Ramm Commissioner
Katie Cleage 519 Cedar St Chattanooga Tenn.
Information used from Katie Cleage’s Widow’s Pension file.
Approved for rejection on the ground of the inability of the claimant aided by a special examination to establish her right as the legal widow of the soldier. From weight of evidence it appears that she was never married to soldier by ceremony or custom and that they did not cohabit as man and wife so as to constitute a marriage within the meaning of Sec 4705
January 30 1891
Information used from Katie Cleage’s Widow’s Pension file.
I have the honor to return, herewith, all the papers in case # 288.391, of Katie Cleage, widow of Philip Cleage, late of Co. A. 1st U.S.C. Vol., H. Arty’ and whose post office address is No. 519 Cedar St. Chattanooga, Tenn. The soldier died in the service Feby’ 19, 1865 and claim made by Katie Cleage is the result. Case was referred for special examination to determine whether the claimant was the legal wife of the soldier and whether she has again married since the death of soldier.
In report of special examination dated March 28th 1889 the examiner recommended rejection and the case was submitted to the board of pensions for consideration. The case was subsequently referred for further special examination because the testimony obtained by the special examiner is more favorable to her case than otherwise.
I believe I have exhausted all sources of information relating to this case and relating to reputation of claimant. I am obliged to disagree with former examiner. The claimant is an industrious, steady, hard working woman. She is not bright intellectually and is quiet deaf, which makes it difficult to obtain information from her. The fact that she has not been strictly virtuous at all times does not affect her reputation for truthfulness and I am unable to find any one who questions her integrity.
The testimony is confused and contradictory and in some instances where shown to be inaccurate, the persons testifying were honestly mistaken, notably, James F. Bradford relating to death of Nelson McCaury. Bradford does not know claimant and was misinformed about claim and stated his views honestly and conscientiously. Lucy McCaury is an old colored woman, honest and conscientious, but is clearly mistaken in her testimony relating to claimants marriage, though on my second visit to her, she persisted in that statement. Charles A. Cleage, Thomas Bradford, Sallie Cleage Marsh, all bear good reputations, but were clearly prejudiced and their testimony together with that of Patsy Cleage and Adeline Shurman is contradicted in many particulars by Jemima Cleage (claimant’s former owner) and by Dr. Atlee.
John H. Cleage and Mrs. T. A. Cleage Sr. were biased, not
particularly against this claimant, but in general principals against all
pensioners and applicants for pensions. Sgt., of soldiers Affidavit of William
Pinter, later 1st Sgt. of soldier’s company is filed by request of
claimant’s attorney. After careful consideration and in view of all the
circumstances and the intercessors, I am of the opinion that the claims should
Very respectfully Your Obd, Svt, J. A. Davis Special Examiner
This information is from Katie Cleage’s Widow Pension file.
I am 58 years of age, a
practicing physician since 1853 and my post office address is Chattanooga,
I practiced my profession at Athens, Tenn., from 1852 to 1884. During my practice there from 1853 to 1865 I was the family physician to Alexander Cleage. I recollect a colored household servant named Katie Cleage. I waited on her several times whilst she was a slave. I do not recollect what I attended her for. I do not know as to whether or not she was married or lived with any man as his wife. She was not married because they never married in those days. I do not recollect waiting on her in childbirth.
I do not remember, but I don’t have any recollection of ever attending her for any venereal disease. I don’t think I did, I would be likely to remember if I did. I have no recollection of her ever being locked up and my attending her for any disorder. If she had been locked up, I would remember it. She may have given birth to children but I don’t remember. I recollect Philip Cleage. I do not know whether he had Katie for a wife or not. It was in the early part of the war when I remember the claimant as a young girl, I should say in the neighborhood of eighteen years old. I have no interest whatever in this claim for a pension. I always thought she was a right good darky. I never knew anything to the contrary.
I have had no knowledge relating to her since the war. My answers have been correctly recorded.
Information from Katie Cleage’s Pension file. I found the photograph at Orange Magazine. The newspaper clipping is from Newspapers.com