I hadn’t planned yesterday to go to Family Search and look for the Will of Alexander Cleage, but I did.
“I give and devise to my beloved wife Jemima Cleage for and during her natural life the following described Negro slaves – to wit: … Juda and her five children to wit: Charles, Angelen, Lewis, Laura and Frank… I also give and bequeath to her for her natural life a negro man called Frank the husband of Juda…”
30th day of May 1860 Alexander Cleage
Juda and Frank Cleage were my two times great grandparents. Their son Lewis Cleage was my great grandfather, my own grandfather Albert B. Cleage’s, father. I have several other documents that trace them through slavery – a letter to the overseer in 1838 and a bill of sale that mention Frank in 1852, a marriage record for Frank and Juda Cleage in 1866 and the 1870 census, Lewis’ death certificate in 1918.
By the time the will was probated 1 March 1875, my people had been free for 10 years.
These records give me a bare bones outline of their lives. I have no photographs, no stories. Nobody’s memories. These bones and their names. I read the will over and over until I felt it inside of me. I saw my cousins faces, my children’s faces. All descended from these two people – Frank and Juda Cleage and their son, Lewis Cleage. I wish I could see their faces. I wish I knew their stories. I wish someone had shared memories. One thing I know is that I will tell the parts of their stories that I can piece together and I will say their names. Frank Cleage born 1816 in North Carolina. Juda Cleage born 1814 in Tennessee. Lewis Cleage born 1852 in Athens Tennessee and died 1918 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
You can see a copy of the will here: Last Will and Testament of Alexander Cleage