A-Z Challenge Reveal for 2015

This is my 3rd year to participate in the A-Z Challenge.  In 2013, I jumped around and covered a variety of topics and people related to my family history research. Last year I used my Grandfather Albert B. Cleage’s letters to my grandmother during the years of their courtship and immediately after they were married covering 1909 to 1911.

This year I will tell the story of the formerly enslaved Cleages of Athens Tennessee. Only a few were my relatives, but all were part of the community that my Ancestors belonged to, both before and after slavery.  Most of the people I will write about were slaves before 1865.   A few will be their descendents. Although I have more than enough names to get through the whole month, there are lots of those that start with “A” and “C” and none that start with Q, U,X, Y or Z.  Perhaps a name will appear. Otherwise I will find a topic relevant to the months posts starting with the letter and blog that.

A-Z Calendar 2015

Posted in A-Z Challenge 2015, African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research, Cleages | 16 Comments

Celia’s Death Certificate – 1930

Celia's death certificateonlineI finally was able to see a copy of my great grandmother, Anna Celia Rice Cleage Sherman’s death certificate.  I had been searching for it for years, not realizing that her first name was “Anna”. It doesn’t have her parent’s names or tell where in Athens, Tennessee she is buried.  What it did was to tell me when and where she died and to verify some of the information I already have.

My grandfather, Albert B. Cleage Sr was the informant, he provided the information.  I thought his close friend, Dr. P.B. Gamble signed, but the initials are wrong.

Great grandmother Celia holding my aunt Gladys. 1923. Detroit.

Great grandmother Celia holding my aunt Gladys. 1923. Detroit.

She died on May 31, 1930 of Cerebral Apoplexy, a stroke, which she suffered on May 28, 1930.  That would have made my Aunt Anna 6 years old, the age she told me she was when she saw her grandmother suffer a stroke while sitting at their kitchen table.

Great grandmother Anna Celia married Roger Sherman in Athens, Tennessee  on April 25, 1897.  He was 51 and she was 42.  He was a carpenter and worked for himself.  It was the second marriage for both of them. His 4 children were all grown and living on their own. She had 5 children. In 1900 the oldest daughter, Josie was married with two children and was sharing the house with Roger and Celia Sherman, as were three of her younger brothers (Henry, Edward and Albert) who were all students.  Jake, the 2nd oldest, had been working in Knoxville as a waiter for several years.

Celia and Roger Sherman were living together in the 1910 Census, but by the time of the 1920 Census, Mr. Sherman was living with his daughter, Mamie Sherman Kennedy, in Winston Salem, NC.  Later that same year he died.  His body was also shipped back to Athens for burial in an unnamed cemetery.

Anna Celia lived in Athens with her son Charles Edward and his family in 1920.  In 1924 he died. She moved to Detroit where her other three sons lived.  In 1930 she is enumerated with my grandfather and his family.  Several months later, she died.

On the death certificate, my grandfather says that he doesn’t know when she was born but guesses her to be about 65.  He was 47 at this time.  His oldest sister was 57.  If their mother was 65, she would have been 8 when her daughter was born.  She was old enough when Freedom came to remember her life on the Rice plantation where she was born. If only she could have written it all down.  In the 5 censuses I find her, the date of birth is given as “about 1855″.  She was closer to 75 than 65 when she died.  He says that she was born in Tennessee. The information on the census records are split between Virginia and Tennessee.  All agree her mother was born in Virginia.

What else do I want to find out about my great grandmother Anna Celia Rice Cleage Sherman?  I want to know where she is buried.  I want to find her in the 1870 Census and I want to find out her mother’s name and what plantation they came off of.

In my minds eye, I see a large stone grave marker in Hammonds Cemetery that said “Sherman”.  I did not go up to it, just saw it across the grass. When I get back to Athens, I am going to go look at that marker and see if it has any other information on it.  Not to mention looking at every other stone there.

The header picture shows my grandfather and his family about 1930.


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In the Backyard with Toodles – Winter 1926 & Summer 1928

Grandmother, Doris, Mother, M.V.

Summer 1928 Grandmother, Doris, Mother, M.V. Toodles.” “Grandmother” was my great grandmother Jennie Virginia Turner, “Doris” was my mother, “Mother” was my grandmother and “M.V.” was my Aunt Mary Virginia


In the summer of 1928 my grandmother Fannie, identified as “Mother” in the photograph above, was pregnant with her 4th child, Howard.  He was born on September 6 and lived only 3 years before dying of Scarlet Fever.  Older son, Mershell had died the year before after being struck by a truck on the way to school.  But in this picture, she’s looking forward to the new child they believed had been sent to take his place. My mother Doris isn’t smiling but is giving the dog a pat.

Doris, M.V. Mershell, Toodles 1926.

Doris, M.V. Mershell and Toodles – 1926.

To learn more about the members of the Graham family pictured, follow these links:

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On the way to bury their mother… June 1930

Celia Rice Cleage Sherman with grand daughter Barbara Cleage.  About 1921 in Detroit, MI.

Celia Rice Cleage Sherman with grand daughter Barbara Cleage. About 1921 in Detroit, MI.

Last night I visited Genealogy Bank. I spent several hours looking for items about any of the Cleages of Athens Tennessee.  I was just beginning to think this was a crazy way to spend Friday night when I saw another item mentioning my grandfather, Albert B. Cleage and his brothers on a road trip, stopping at the home of the Cobbs on the way to Athens.  I clicked through to read.  It was in the Colored Section of The Lexington Herald.

celia's death 6-8-1930“Dr. A.B. Cleage, Messrs. Jacob, Henry and Richard Cleage, of Detroit, Mich, were guests of Mr and Mrs. J.W. Cobb Tuesday for a short stay.  They were en rout to Athens, Tenn., their former home to bury their mother.”

I have spent years looking for a death record for my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman without finding any.  My aunt Anna Cleage Shreve, who was born in 1923 and remembered that her grandmother had a stroke in their kitchen around 1930.  I am thinking that they shipped her body home to Athens, TN on the train while they drove down.

Richmond was a little over 5 hours from Detroit and 3 hours from Athens.  It was a good place to stop and get a nights sleep and a good meal during the time when public accommodations were not open to black people.

Now I have to find where she is buried and more about Mr. and Mrs.  J.W. Cobb of Richmond, KY.

Since finding this, someone told me the death certificate information was on familysearch.  It is, and the reason I haven’t been able to find it is before was that I didn’t know her first name was Anna.  I’ve been looking for Celia Rice.  The 1930 census is the only other place I have seen her listed as Anna and I thought that was a mistake!  I’ve ordered the Death Certificate and now will be waiting on pins and needles, hoping that her parent’s names will be on it and the cemetery where she’s buried will be listed. Can’t wait!

Other posts about my great grandmother.

Eight Generations of L3b MtDNA

Celia Rice Cleage Sherman

Posted in African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research, Cleages, sepia saturday | Tagged , | 38 Comments

Jerry Cleage and Charlotte Bridgeman 1830 – 1919

I wrote a bit about Jerry Cleage and his journey from slave to free man previously. This post updates with new information and puts him into the larger historical picture.  To do this I used records from Ancestry.com, Familysearch.com, The Athens Post on Newspapers.com, pension files on Fold3.com, family records from my private collection, articles about slavery in Tennessee online along with maps and online photographs about slavery and the Civil War. I found the books about McMinn County by Joe Guy to be helpful in providing a feel for those times.  As always click the photographs to enlarge.

McMinn County is in red.

McMinn County is in red.

In 1830, Athens McMinn County Tennessee  had a population of 500 and was a thriving community with 4 lawyers, 4 ministers, 4 doctors, 10 stores (3 more than Knoxville), 1 tavern, 1 printing office, 1 painter, 2 hatters, 2 tailors, 2 shoemakers, 2 tanners, 2 silversmiths, 1 wagon maker, 2 mills, 1 factory and a male and female academy. (Note: I found these statistics online but can’t remember where. kcw)

Jerry Cleage was born into slavery in 1827 or 1831 (depending on the record) in Tennessee.  He was the son of Joe and Leah Cleage.

 In the mid-1830s, the Hiwassee Railroad received a charter to build a railroad connecting Knoxville, Tennessee and Dalton, Georgia. Construction began in 1837 but it was not completed until 1851.  In 1836, General John Wool arrived in Athens to coordinate the Cherokee Removal, later known as the Trail of Tears.

In 1841, when Jerry Cleage was about 10 years old, Pleasant M. Lane sold him to David Cleage of Athens Tennessee for $400.

Jerry Cleage - A Slave for life... Click to read post.

Jerry Cleage – A Slave for life… Click to read enlarge.

“Know all men by these presents that I, Pleasant W. Lane of the County of McMinn and the State of Tennessee for and in consideration of the sum of four hundred dollars to me in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have bargained sold and delivered unto David Cleage of the county and state aforesaid a negro Boy named Jerry of bright mulatto colour aged about ten years. Said boy I warrant sound and healthy both in body and mind and free from any defect whatever and slave for life and covenant the title is clear of any encumbrance whatever. And I will warrant and defend by these presents forever. Given under my hand and seal this twelfth day of November One thousand and eight hundred and forty one.”



John King

Thomas Vaughn

In 1846 David Cleage married Martha Bridgman. Among the slaves she brought with her was 10 year old Charlotte Bridgman, who would later become Jerry’s wife. The Cleages were among the small number of slave holders in Eastern Tennessee owning more than half a dozen slaves. The 32 slaves described in David Cleage’s 1850 Slave Schedule included a 18 year old mulatto male and a 15 year old black female who may have been Jerry and Martha.  No names are given in the slave schedules.

1851free barbqueThe_Athens_Post_Fri__Aug_22__1851_

The Athens Post Friday August 29, 1851

The railroad finally reached Athens in 1851, helping local businesses buy goods much quicker and cheaper. Hotels and hack rentals opened as salesmen came to town to sell their wares to local businessmen and merchants in the surrounding country.

1859 family sale The_Athens_Post_Fri__Dec_16__1859_

From The Athens Post, Friday, December 16, 1959.

In 1860 David Cleage’s plantation housed a small community including 75 enslaved people living in 8 cabins, including Charlotte and Jerry and their 4 oldest children – 12 year old Harriett, 8 year old America, 4 year old Joe and 2 year old Mary.  It is important to remember that they were part of a community and not isolated, without ties.  In 1867 Charlotte testified at a widow’s pension hearing that she had known Fanny Cleage Turk, another member of their enslaved community,  for over 20 years and had been present at the birth of Fanny’s daughter Margaret in 1859.

 In 1861, McMinn County voted against secession by a narrow 1,144 – 904 margin. The county sent 12 units to the Union army and 8 units to the Confederate army. General Sherman was briefly headquartered at Bridges Hotel in Athens while preparing his “March to the Sea.”

“The United States Colored Troops were regiments of African-American soldiers who were recruited to serve in the US Army during the Civil War. The 1st Regiment was formed in Knoxville beginning in January 1864, immediately after the Union secured Knoxville as its base in East Tennessee. Free men of color and emancipated slaves rushed to enlist. Their ranks grew to more than 1,100, but despite their crucial role in the Union victory, little is known about these men. Much of the information about their service was poorly documented, if recorded at all.”  Transcription Project.


This drawing from Harper’s Weekly  reflects scenes that took place as the Civil War ended and soldiers returned to their communities.

After the Civil War, the railroad made Athens attractive to investors. Textile mills, flour mills, and timber mills dominated the county’s industry by the late 19th century, complemented by furniture and appliance factories in the 1920s.  A number of Jerry Cleage’s white neighbors were weavers, spinners or laborers at the Woolen Mill in the 1900 and 1910 censuses.

athens weavers best

From Postard History Series MicMinn County by Joe Guy with postcards fro the collection of Don Reid.

In 1870 Jerry and Charlotte lived in a rented house in Athens, TN with 9 of their children and 2 grandchildren. Jerry owned no property and his personal property was worth $100. None of the adults in the household were able to read or write. Charlotte kept house and Jerry worked as a laborer. None of the children were working. None of the children were marked as in school. By 1880, two of his older son have joined Jerry as laborers. Although some of the older children had established households of their own, there were still 8 children from ages 24 to 3 living in their home. Jerry and several of his older sons registered to vote in 1891.

Charlotte died between 1880 and 1897.   Jerry married Hannah in 1897. He was 65 years old and Hannah was 55. In 1900 Jerry owned his home free and clear with no mortgage. He could read but not write. He was doing day labor. I cannot find Hannah before or after the 1900 Census. In 1905, at age 78, Jerry married Jane Reynolds. By 1910 he was again a widower. He worked as a drayman, delivering goods for a grocery store.  Perhaps in a wagon like those in the photograph below.

horse wagon:1900

From Postard History Series MicMinn County by Joe Guy with postcards fro the collection of Don Reid.

On March 28, 1919, at the age of 92, Jerry Cleage died of arterio schlerosis and pulmonary endema.  His daughter, Nellie Cleage Deadrick, was the informant and gave his parents names, where they were born and his date of birth as January 12, 1827.  He is buried in Hammonds Cemetery in Athens.

I will write about his 11 children in future posts.


Posted in African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research, Cleages | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

“Unveil Monument to Dr. J.L. Cook” – 1947

I found this article today.  It had a photo included but it was so dark it was impossible to see anything except that it was the same photograph that I had in my Cleage photos and often wondered what the occasion was.  It was a program in honor of J.L. Cook, founder of the Athens Academy.  I had no idea that my grandfather’s sister, Josie Cleage, was a member of the first graduating class.  That is my grandfather below, on the far right wearing a white suit.  You can read more about Dr. Cook here – The Church and School that Jake Built.  Click to enlarge article and photos.funeral - cookPittsburgh_Courier_Sat__Jul_26__1947_

These Photographs were taken during the same trip.

Gertrude Cleage (wife of Uncle Jake) with feathered hat, next to her is Henry Cleage and in front of him in the dark flowered dress is his wife, Ola Cleage.

Gertrude Cleage (wife of Uncle Jake) with feathered hat, next to her is Henry Cleage and in front of him in the dark flowered dress is his wife, Ola Cleage.

Henry, Albert, Gertrude, Ola and Pearl Cleage.

Henry, Albert, Gertrude, Ola and Pearl Cleage.

Richard and Henry Cleage - cousins.

Richard and Henry Cleage – cousins.

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Summer of 1962 in a sound car – the 3 + 1 Campaign

"Hugh Cleage and 3 plus 1 car"My uncle Hugh Cleage standing by the sound car he rigged up for the 1962 Congressional election in Detroit.  My Aunt Gladys, my sister and I spent hours in that car riding through our community. “Make your children proud.  Vote for Frederick Yates, a Negro in the 15th District…” One of us would ride in the car reciting as Gladys drove down the street while the other would leaflet the houses.  My sister and I were both in high school. I would turn 15 in August 1962.  My cousin Jan sometimes rode with us but she was too young to man the mic.

Below are 4 pages from 2 issues of the Illustrated News put out before the election. Click to enlarge.  Diggs was re-elected but none of our other candidates won.

3 plus 13 plus 1 1vol w no 32 illustrated news vol w no 32 illustrated news 6

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Isaac Turk and Fanny Cleage

This is the first of a series about the freed former slaves from the Cleage plantations in Athens Tennessee once they were free.  Unless I mention that they are my relatives, they are not related by blood.  Our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage, but were not blood relatives.

Isaac Turk, his wives Fanny Cleage and Malinda White and all 6 of his children were born into slavery. All of them lived to see freedom, except his first wife Malinda who died in 1857.

U.S. Colored Troops 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, Knoxville Tennessee.  I like to think the men I studied are pictured here.

U.S. Colored Troops 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, Knoxville Tennessee. I like to think the men I studied are pictured.

Isaac Turk describedIsaac Turk was born around 1828. He was 36 years old on February 8, 1864 when he joined the United States Colored Troops  in Knoxville, Tennessee. He stood 5 feet 6 inches with a dark complexion, black eyes and black hair.  His occupation was listed as “farmer”.  He had been a slave on David Cleage’s plantation in Athens, Tennessee.

Isaac was married twice.  He married Malinda White in 1844. The Rev. Samuel Hope performed the ceremony.  They had five children together, William (Do not know birthdate), Mariah born in 1849, Penelope “Neppie” born 1850, Steve born 1851 and Isaac born 1852.  Malinda died in 1857.

After his first wife’s death, Isaac married Fanny Cleage. Rev. Henry L. Rowley performed the ceremony.  Henry Rowley was enslaved, probably by Erastus Rowley, born in Massachusetts and a professor of languages in the 1860 census, who lived down the way from David Cleage where Isaac and Fanny were enslaved.

Isaac and Fanny had only one child, a daughter Margaret, born August 1859. Charlotte Bridgeman Cleage and Sarah Cleage were both present at the birth along with Dr. M.R. May, a white doctor who also lived near David Cleage.

In February of 1864, Isaac Turk made his way from Athens to Knoxville and enlisted in Company A, U.S. Colored Troops 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment as a musician, a drummer. On July 20 of the same year, he died in the regimental hospital from what was described as “congestion of stomach.”effects of isaac turk given to margaret

Knoxville Tennessee

July 25, 1864

Received of Lieutenant A.B. Eliott Commanding Company A 1st US colored Artillery “Heavy” the following effects of Isaac Turk, private Co. “A” 1st U.S. Colored Artillery “Heavy” now deceased, which I am entitled to as his Legal Representative, viz. child.

One hat, one cap, one uniform coat (musician) one blouse lined two pair trousers, two flannel shirts, one pr shoes, one woolen blanket.

Margaret(X her mark) Turk

Because Isaac Turk was not going by the name Cleage, I would not have known he was a slave on David Cleage’s plantation.  I discovered him while checking Charles A. Cleage, who I knew had been a slave on that plantation and also in the U.S. Colored Troops, in the Civil War Pension Index.  There I found Fanny Cleage Turk, widow of Isaac Turk applying for her pension.  In her file several people who had been enslaved on the same plantation gave testimony. Charles A. Cleage described how he knew the birth date of Isaac Turk’s daughter Mariah, who also applied for a pension as a child.

charles statement - birth“…Charles A. Cleage, who, I hereby certify, is a respectable and credible person, and who, being duly sworn, declares in relation to the aforesaid claim as follows:  that he and the said soldier Isaac Turk were slaves and belonged to the same master during the year 1849 and on up to the war of the rebellion they lived as the custom was, within a few nods of each other, both being married and having children; he further states he is enabled to fix the date of birth of Mariah Witt, daughter of said soldier Isaac Turk, by the birth of his own daughter Juley Ann Wats, which as his family Bible Record shows, occured July 29th 1849, said Mariah Witt being born just one month later which would make the birth of said child Mariah August 29th 1849.”

Fanny Cleage  first appears in the Article of Agreement between the overseer  Samuel Cleage in 1834.   I was unable to find Fanny or her daughter Margaret after the hearings. Fanny and the children signed their names with an X. I was able to follow most of the other children. In the censuses, I found that his sons eventually learned to read and write, although they could not in the 1870 cesus.  The women (sisters or wives) did not.  The grandchildren were all literate. Turk’s sons worked as laborers. His daughters did not usually work outside of the home.

When I began looking for the Cleage freemen and women after 1865, I found several men had enlisted in Company A, U.S. Colored Troops 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment based in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Knoxville is about 60 miles from Athens, depending on which route you take.  McMinn county is in the Appalachian mountain range, so it wasn’t a straight, flat walk.  I have identified 7 Cleage men who enlisted. The name is spelled various ways, even within the same man’s folder. They enlisted at different times and I wish I knew the story of how they decided to leave, how they got away and how they made their way 60 mile to Knoxville to enlist.

Routes from Athens to Knoxville, distance and time it would take to walk from Google Maps.

Routes from Athens to Knoxville, distance and time it would take to walk from Google Maps.

colored troops cleages

Posted in African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research, Cleages | 9 Comments

The Rev. John Brice Officiating

athens overview wide

View of Athens, Tennessee, early 1920s

Lewis_cleage_obit“Lewis Cleage of Athens, Tenn. who has been with his son, Jacob Cleage, of this city, for nearly two years, died Thursday afternoon at the city hospital, where he was taken Wednesday.  The funeral services were conducted today at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Josie Cleage 1323 Massachusetts avenue at 2 o’clock.  The Rev. John Brice officiating.  Besides a daughter, Mr. Cleage is survived by four sons, Dr. Albert Cleage of Detroit, Henry and Jacob Cleage of this city and Edward Cleage of Athens, Tenn.  The body will be taken to Athens for burial.”

I recently received this obituary for my great grandfather Lewis Cleage.  I noticed several things.  First, he was not taken to Athens for burial.  He is buried in an unmarked grave in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, pictured in the header.  He lived in Indianapolis for 2 years before his death.  And I wondered who Rev. John Brice was.  Was he the pastor at their church, Witherspoon United Presbyterian?  Was he from Athens?  Here is what I learned.

Rev John Brice.

Rev John Brice.

John Brice was born in 1878 in Knox County Tennessee the 7th of the 9 children of Hampton and Harriett Brice.  Exceptional for these times they were farmers and owned their own land. Although they were illiterate, all of their children attended school and learned to read and write.  John attended Knoxville College Normal, graduating in 1899.  He finished the Baccalaureate program in 1904 and graduated from Knoxville Seminary in 1909. He met his wife, Ella Hawkins there.  My grandfather, Albert B. Cleage Sr. attended Knoxville College during this same time, graduating in 1906.

In 1910 Rev. John Brice was pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Athens, Tennessee.  He roomed one house over from my great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman and her family, which included her 2nd husband Roger Sherman (who is listed as an architect for First United Presbyterian Church), son Edward and his wife and 2 children, along with 8 year old grandson Richard.  My grandfather, his two other brothers and his sister and her family were already living in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Brice wasn’t pastor in Athens very long, by 1912 he was married and pastor of Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.  My grandparents and my grandfather’s brothers were founders of Witherspoon. Brice’s three youngest children were born in Indianapolis.

He served as a chaplain in France during WW 1. Following the war he taught and pastored in Alcoa, Tennessee.  Alcoa was a company town set up by Alcoa Aluminum.  They used cheap southern labor, black and white.  When things eventually fell apart there as far as the vision some of the black professional people had hoped to implement, he moved to North Carolina to teach and work at the Palmer Memorial Institute, founded and run by his wife’s niece, Charlotte Hawkins.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown & Palmer Memorial Institute: What One Young African Could Do  By Charles Weldon Wadelington, Richard F. Knapp

Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 7.54.06 PMHe died around 1960. A long time family friend and DNA relative has alerted me to John Brice’s death certificate on Ancestry.come.It also turns out that she is related to John Brice’s grandson, Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.

John Brice death record

Of his four children, 3 had careers in music.  The youngest, Carol Brice had a career in opera.  Johnathan and Eugene often accompanied her on the piano and also had careers of their own. Daughter Lolita Brice was an educator and married engineer Guion Stewart Bluford Sr.  Their youngest son was Guion Stewart Bluford Jr, who was the first black astronaut, in spite of his high school counselor in the 1960s advising him to take up a trade because he wasn’t college material.

Posted in African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research, Cleages, sepia saturday | Tagged , | 15 Comments

LOST! African American Search Notices After Slavery, 1865-1892

Earlier I posted some newspaper notices seeking lost family members  after the Civil War. My historian friend, Paul Lee, left a wonderful comment taken from two articles he wrote for “The Michigan Citizen”.  It is reprinted here, with permission.  You can read the previous post at “I have not seen him since the war“.

[Introduction to an article that was published, in slightly different form, in “The Michigan Citizen” (Highland Park), Feb. 13th-19th, 2000]

Compiled and edited by Paul Lee
Special to The Michigan Citizen

Ida B. Wells1893

Ida B. Wells 1893

“My mother…was born in Virginia and was one of ten children. She and two sisters were sold to slave traders when young, and were taken to Mississippi and sold again…. She often wrote back to somewhere in Virginia trying to get track of her people, but she was never successful. We were too young to realize the importance of her efforts, and I have never remembered the name of the county or people to whom they ‘belonged.’”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the uncompromising newspaper editor, anti-lynching campaigner, and feminist wrote this moving passage about the enslavement and forced separation of her mother and aunts some 60 years after Emancipation ended the formal bondage of black people in the now re-United States.

Though written for her autobiography, published after her death as “Crusade for Justice,” its details and tone closely resembled the spare, often poignant search notices placed in black newspapers throughout the nation for at least four decades after the end of the Civil War.

Though Wells-Barnett did not indicate it, her mother might have placed such a notice as part of her “efforts” to find her lost siblings.

We have compiled and edited 41 search and reward notices from six black papers representing four states and one territory (Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, Kansas, and the Oklahoma Territory, respectively) and four regions (the Border-South, South, Gulf States, and Southwest).

Outside of legal notices, black people usually appeared in at least two other ways in the classified pages of 19th-century papers.440 negroes for saleFirstly, as, most often, nameless property in for-sale ads, such as one that advertised “ONE Likely Negro Girl, in her 15th year — a first rate house servant, Also — one new first class top Buggy, and Harness complete. Enquire immediately of John P. Hubbell” — the latter reference underscoring her condition as only one of several commodities being offered.

This notice appeared in “The Weekly Tribune” of March 26, 1852, which, ironically, was published in a small Missouri town named Liberty.

Delta-9-25-1849_Runaway_Slave_AdSecondly, in fugitive slave notices, often illustrated with the familiar “running man,” which did, however, include one notable detail lacking from most for-sale ads — the name of the now “lost” property.

Because of the nature of enslavement, which saw and treated black people as property to be bought, sold, used, and disposed of, and the massive social displacements during and after the Civil War, few black families were left intact by war’s end.

Search notices offer compelling testimony of the strength of black family bonds. Ironically, these valuable sources of information are rarely used by historians and genealogists.

. …

[Introduction to an article that was published, in abridged form, in “The Michigan Citizen,” May 13-19, 2001]

More African American Search Notices After Slavery, 1892, 1895

Compiled and Edited by Paul Lee
Special to the Michigan Citizen

“INFORMATION WANTED OF my husband and son. We were parted at Richmond, Va., in 1860. My son’s name was Jas. Monroe Holmes; my husband’s name was Frank Holmes. My son was sold in Richmond, Va. I don’t know where they carried him to.

“…I and five children…were sold to a [slave] trader who lived in Texas. I am now old, and don’t think I shall be here long and would like to see them before I die. Any information concerning them will be thankfully received by Eliza Holmes, Flatonia, Fayette Co., Tex.”

This moving plea for information, published in September 1895, is but one example of the poignant appeals that appeared in black newspapers from the Civil War to the first years of the 20th century.

Placed by black people in search of relatives and friends that were separated from them — often by force — during the dark period of enslavement, these notices usually bore the headings “LOST!” or “INFORMATION WANTED.”

Last year, we were proud to reprint a compilation of 41 of these notices, published in four states and one territory (“LOST! African American Search Notices After Slavery, 1865-92,” Feb. 13-19, 2000).

More Notices

The response of our readers to these notices was immediate and emotional. Many of the calls, letters, and comments that we received were nearly as poignant as the notices themselves.

We are, therefore, honored to publish 28 additional notices, compiled and edited from two 19th-century black newspapers — one from “The Langston City Herald,” Jan. 28, 1892, and 27 from “The Christian Recorder,” Sept. 12, 1895.

“The Langston City Herald,” published in the old Oklahoma Territory, was the “booster” organ for Langston City, one of the first, and the most famous, of the black-governed towns in what is now western Oklahoma.

It is also believed to be that territory’s first black paper.

“The Christian Recorder,” then published at Philadelphia, Penn., is the organ of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. It is one of the oldest black papers in the world.

The “Recorder,” now published at Nashville, Tenn., was an important medium for news and opinion about black people, not only in the U. S., but also thruout the world.

slaves led awaySeparated, Not Destroyed

The notices demonstrate that, though slavery inflicted lasting damage on black families by ruthlessly dividing them, it could not erase the love and loyalty that family members felt for one another — even after decades of separation.

The notices make clear that, through all of slavery’s horrors, many bondsmen and -women found reasons and ways to maintain their sense of familyhood, and acted upon it when freedom finally arrived.

Freedom Trails

Some separations were voluntary — though no less painful. Tens of thousands of bondspersons managed to escape from enslavement every year, but only a fraction were able to remain free and begin new lives elsewhere.

Most were recaptured and returned to their owners. Those considered “runners” were usually sold or traded.

In their groundbreaking 1999 study “Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation,” John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger assert that, contrary to popular belief, the destination of many “runaways” was neither the northern United States nor Canada.

Instead, most fled to nearby plantations, cities, or other parts of the South.

Even less well known is the fact that some joined “maroon” colonies of fugitive and free blacks that were concealed in woods, swamps, and backcountry.

During the Civil War, the Union Army’s relentless march to smash the Confederacy created new openings. While most of the newly freed persons remained bound to the land, some followed after and assisted their liberators.

Others left in search of relatives, or tested their new freedom by doing what had previously been illegal — going wherever they wished to.

Some, evidently traumatized by slavery and war, simply wandered off, never to be heard from again.

Posted in African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research | 5 Comments