C is for Cleage Bricks

a-to-z-letters-cThis is my third post for the April A-Z Challenge. I am blogging every day in April using the letters of the alphabet as prompts. Today I am going to write about Samuel Cleage’s building operation. Samuel Cleage owned the plantation where my Cleage ancestors were held as slaves. When he died, the slaves were divided between his sons. I am writing about the time before this today.

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Samuel Cleage

Samuel Cleage, who spelled his name “Clegg”, was born in Lanchaster County, PA in 1781. He moved with his parents and siblings to Botetourt County, VA. After his parents died he moved with his family and slaves to McMinn County, TN.

As I was getting ready to write this I realized that he didn’t just get on the train and move, that they must have traveled by wagon down well worn, but primitive roads.  Not only was he moving his whole little community of married children and slaves, 339 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains, he also carried the tools of his trade – whatever he needed to build brick houses. As he traveled he would convince farmers along the way that they needed a fine brick home to go with their fine farm. For payment he accepted slaves, gold or livestock.  They say that some of these houses are still standing. I can’t imagine how long it took the group to travel this way.  A fully loaded Conestoga wagon, the usual method to move through the mountains in the early 1800s, could travel 5 miles a day. That would take about 4 months if you traveled straight through. They didn’t. They were stopping and building brick houses.  And they had to make the bricks! How could that work? All sources agree that by the time he reached McMinn County, Samuel Cleage was a very wealthy man, both in slaves and gold. I think I will have to check into this a little further. Here is a description of the way traveling worked. To read more, click the title.

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A Conestoga wagon.

Sturdy transportation

First the word, Conestoga, America’s first big truck. It was made in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, and it was one huge wagon: 26 feet long, 11 feet high, with the capability of carrying 8 tons. Pulled by five or six horses and followed by as many as a dozen packhorses, the Conestoga wagon became any traveling family’s best friend.

It became the expected sight along the road known by many names: the Warrior’s Path, the Carolina Road, the Valley Pike, the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, or simply the Great Wagon Road.

With a body the shape of a swaybacked horse, Conestogas could float across a river as long as the wheels were taken off. And those wagons were so heavy and laden with a family’s every possession, they created deep wheel ruts all along the Great Wagon Road…

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I outlined the section of the Wilderness Road they would have taken to Knoxville, TN, where the road turns west. At that point they would have continued south to Athens TN in McMinn county.

Above I mentioned that they had to make the bricks before they could build the houses. “They” being the highly trained and skilled slaves that were traveling too. It was not easy to make the bricks. And it wasn’t a quick process.  Here is how Joe Guy described it in his book “The Hidden History of McMinn County”  There is also a link to this chapter in the title.

The Cleage Slaves and the Bricks of History
Joe Guy

 Samuel Cleage, the itinerant contractor who traveled into the Tennessee Valley from Virginia in the 1820’s, is generally credited for the construction of several historic homes and buildings in East Tennessee, especially in McMinn County.  While it is true that Cleage was the driving force behind his construction business, it is important to remember who, in fact, was actually performing the labor.

Besides livestock and gold, Cleage was often contracted to be paid in slaves after having completed a house or building.  Many of Samuel Cleage’s slaves later adopted the Cleage name when they obtaining their freedom, and several black families in East Tennessee still trace their lineage to these Cleage slaves.  Cleage was a wealthy landowner besides being a builder, and so he used his slaves almost exclusively as bound workers in his construction business.  One of the duties often exclusively regulated to the slaves was brickmaking.

By the time Samuel Cleage was involved in building, the art of making brick had been around since 3500 BC.  Essentially, 19th century brickmaking involved five steps: winning or digging the clay, preparation, molding, drying, and firing.

 East Tennessee is well known for having the natural clay useful for brick production.  Once dug by the slaves (normally in the fall), the clay was exposed to the weather so that the winter freezes could break the clay down, remove unwanted impurities, and allow it to be worked by hand. In the spring and summer, water was added and the clay was worked by the slaves’ hands and feet in large open pits until it obtained a smooth consistency and most of the rocks and sticks were removed.  

The clay was then taken to the moulding table, where the slave designated as brickmoulder directed several assistants in the process. A skilled brickmoulder would work at the moulding table for twelve to fourteen hours, producing 3500 to 5000 bricks in a day. A clot of clay was rolled in sand and “dashed” into a sanded mould, which prevented the clay from sticking. Once the clay was pressed into the mould, the excess clay was removed from the top of the mould with a flat stick.  Moulds ranged from single to six bricks at a time, but single brick moulds were often desired because even the slave women and children could be employed in carrying the “green” bricks from the table to the drying area. The “green” bricks were then stacked and dried for about two weeks.

Once most of the moisture had dried out, Cleage’s slaves stacked the bricks in a kiln, or clamp.  Rows of bricks were built up to construct tunnels, which were filled with wood and set fire.  For two to five days the bricks were cooked, the slaves feeding the fires and getting very little sleep.  After the bricks cooled, the slaves removed them from the clamp and sorted them as to their degree of quality, the best being chosen for the building’s outside walls.  Bricks which were closest to the fire sometimes received a natural glaze from the sand that fell into the flames, and were used in the interior courses of the walls. Some bricks would be left with a salmon color, were only slightly underfired, and made for good insulation in the inner parts of the walls.  Bricks that were over burned, cracked, or warped were called clinkers and were saved to be used in garden walls or paths.”

After arriving in McMinn County, Cleage picked out a spot and built the house below, which is still standing. The black and white photographs were taken during the 1930s. The color photo is more recent. I read an article online that described the renovations the new owners were carrying out to make the house livable again.  Unfortunately, I cannot find the article again.

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Front door. A more recent picture on the right shows that some work had been done.
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Front door, outside, drawing and inside.
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Where did all those papers come from?
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Side of the house.

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“Tulane Calls on Members of Race to be Patriotic”

“Victor Tulane, chairman in charge of the negro (sic) patriotic demonstration to be held here next Wenesday, prior to the registration of the classes of 13-21 and 31-45, has issued the following appeal for a 100 per cent registration to the members of his race:

    “As chairman of the colored division of the great “Man Power” celebration, which is to be held in Montgomery Wednesday afternoon, September 11, I desire to take this opportunity to urge all colored male citizens between the ages of 8 and 44 years, who are not already registered, to take advantage of the privilege of participating in this parade.

   “Our loyalty and patriotism as a race cannot be questioned.

   “We have gladly responded to every call that our country has made upon us during the present struggle for world democracy, and have also demonstrated our loyalty in every previous war in which our country has been engaged.

   “The purpose of this Man Power celebration is to arouse public enthusiasm and patriotism so that on registration day, Thursday, September 12, Montgomery and Montgomery county will be successful in having a 100 percent registration of all male citizens within the new draft limit.

   With this end in view I beg to impress upon our ministers and race leaders, in the city and throughout the county, to exert their broad influence in helping to make this undertaking a success.”

*****************

Victor Tulane

I was going to add some facts and figures about how many lynchings of black people took place in the US and Alabama during September of 1918 and that the men he was calling on to step forward and register could not vote or sit where they liked on the streetcars.  Not to mention the large upswing in lynchings after WW1, especially of returning soldiers wearing their uniforms. Looking at the statistics and the pictures and thinking about it got too depressing.  Did you know they sold postcards of actual lynchings?  That one had slipped by me. So, I decided to just run the story and the photo of Victor Tulane and remind you of a few links to letters written in 1918 by young men who were called up or about to be, “Migration story part 2 – Letters from home – Montgomery to Detroit 1918” and “To be Where You can Breathe a Little Freedom”. And to stories of “Victor H. Tulane Dead” and He Had Hidden Him Under The Floor“.

Article of Agreement Between Samuel Cleage and Overseer – 1834

Transcription and Context

Earlier this year I met a new “cousin”, Elbert Arwine, through the connect feature on Ancestry.com.  We started emailing and sharing information.  Elbert is not actually my cousin but he is a cousin of some of my cousins.  His people and mine were slaves on the same Cleage plantation in Athens, TN.  His ancestor changed the family name from Cleage to Arnwine after freedom.  He is related to James Cleage who married my grandfather’s  sister,  Josephine Cleage.  While visiting in Athens, TN, Elert met a woman who bought the house of the slave owner, David Cleage.  She  found some papers that dated back to the 1800’s with names and dates on them.  Some of those names were our people.  She thought he might be interested and of course he was!  She let him make copies which he shared with me.

The Agreement I have transcribed and posted here is the oldest document that names names.  Named in this document are Bill, Henry, Joe, Frank, Lea, Fannie and Peter.  The Frank named here is most likely my great great grandfather and Joe is my almost cousins ancestor.  I will write about what happened to Joe and Frank and some of the others after freedom in a later post.  I have several bills of sale that I will be posting later also.

There are several words I was unable to make out.  I left blank spaces there.

State of Tennessee McMinn county January 17,1834
Article of Agreement made and entered into between Samuel Cleage and Wilson Owens.  Samuel Cleage employs him as an overseer on his farm on Little Mouse Creek and his quarter in Whisteria Valley and Owens is to act as overseer and work with the hands until the work is completed and ordered. ____________got out/  commencing 20th instant to superintend all matters things relating to the working of the farm or farm improvements of every description that said Cleage may direct to keep the hands his Cleage’s negroes employed and make them work as would be right to correct them when they deserve but not to be cruel or abuse them but make them do their duty and not suffer them to run about from the farm at nights.  The hands or negroes are Bill, Henry, Joe, Frank, Lea, Fannie, two little boys and Peter/  Bill is not to be a hand until his master Cleage directs as he is stiller and is to remain in the still house while Cleage carrys on stilling.
Cleage is to have a hand to strike in the shop if he wants one by furnishing a plow boy to work in his place as he expects to have a wagon loaned Owens is to take the hands and go to the Westeria also and work that place to clear a piece of land between the fields and fence and work same and reset the old fences makes rails for farm where said Cleage may direct it and the said Owens is to take special care of farm land timber stock of every kind to be very careful of horses that work the crop and suffer no want of grain to feed as much grain as is now need or what Cleage may direct.  Owens is to have the ninth part of the crop for his services that is of the wheat now growing the oats corn rye fodder.

Cleage is to let Owens have 40 bushels corn for bread at 33 1/3 yards oats 7 bushels oats which said owens is to pay him for out of his share of the crop when said Cleage may want it.  The crop to be undisturbed as respects disposing of same by Owens his share until regularly divided, Owens is to furnish wood for stilling have some cut and hauled in due time and also firewood for the use of Cleage what he wants and for himself.  Owens is to have his wheat share ground toll free Owens to help have saw hauled while water is now flush to the saw mill for plank improving any thing Cleage may want.

Should it be a year that the peaches on said farm should hit said Owens is also to attend to preparing same for tilling and Cleage is to pay Owens what would be right for his actions labour of same.  What they could agree upon if they could not agree each one to choose and leave it to a good man what it is worth now the 9th gallon of same Owens to turpentine and have corn for stilling shelled in proper time as Cleage now attends to same with his hands.

In compliance of same we bind ourselves in the final sum of five hundred Dollars date above                                                                        Samuel Cleage
witness David Cleage                                           Wilson X Owens
                                                                                         his mark