Category Archives: African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research

Emma Cleage

A southern family arriving in Chicago during World War I. (Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago [Chicago, 1922]) The Great Migration In Photographs

For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I am blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. Most  are not related to me by blood, although our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage.   Click on any image to enlarge.

I didn’t expect to have trouble finding a Cleage with the first name starting with “E” and was suprised to find that Emma Cleage was one of the few.

Emma was born in 1881 in Austin Texas  She was part of the first generation of Cleages born after slavery, and the 2nd child of Richard and Adeline (Wasson) Cleage.  Richard, born into slavery in 1858, was the son of Charles Cleage, born into slavery about 1840.  There was a Richard Cleage lodging with Abraham and Amanada Cleage in Austin in 1880 and that is the only sign of him in Texas. The family returned to Tennessee by 1880 (Richard was enumerated with them also) and lived first in Rhea County and then moved to Chattanooga by 1888, when Emma was 7 years old.

Richard worked as a hosteler, a laborer and in a feed stable to support his family. By 1892 that included 9 children, his wife and himself.  Emma and her siblings attended school for 8 months out of the year.  Between 1892 and 1900, Richard Cleage died. In the 1900 census both Emma and her mother were working as washer women. The same year, at the age of 20, Emma married Robert Carter.  He died before 1910. They had no children. That year we find her still in Chattanooga, now working as a servant.

There is no description of how she looked, but there are descriptions of her 5 brothers in their Draft Registration cards.  They were between 5’4″ and 6′ tall, of slim or medium build with light brown skin, black hair and brown eyes. I picture her as being small, slim, with tan complexion,black hair and brown eyes.

By 1912 Emma’s family had joined the First Great African American Migration north. They came looking for more freedom and better jobs.  In 1913 Emma had been in Cleveland, Ohio long enough to know and marry Alexander Foster, a painter. This marriage ended in divorce and without children. By 1917 all but one of her siblings had moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  Her brother Archie  and sister Louise appeared regularly in little society news items in the black press.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland describes the situation for African Americans this way: “The period from 1915-30 was one of both adversity and progress for black Clevelanders. Industrial demands and a decline in immigration from abroad during World War I created an opportunity for black labor, and hundreds of thousands of black migrants came north after 1916. By 1930 there were 72,000, African Americans in Cleveland. The Central Ave. ghetto consolidated and expanded eastward, as whites moved to outlying sections of the city and rural areas that would later become SUBURBS. Increasing discrimination and violence against blacks kept even middle-class African Americans within the Central-Woodland area. At the same time, discrimination in public accommodations increased. Restaurants overcharged blacks or refused them service; theaters excluded blacks or segregated them in the balcony; amusement parks such as EUCLID BEACH PARK were usually for whites only. Discrimination even began to affect the public schools. The growth of the ghetto had created some segregated schools, but a new policy of allowing white students to transfer out of predominantly black schools increased segregation. In the 1920s and 1930s, school administrators often altered the curriculums of ghetto schools from liberal arts to manual training. “

In 1918 Emma married Jacob E. Reed.  She was 39 with no occupation and he was a 64 year old merchant who had been born in Pennsylvania.  He had been married once and his wife was dead.  He had one son, Scott who was 18.  Jacob owned a fish market and his son worked as a salesman in the store.  They owned their home free of mortgage in Shaker Heights Cleveland. It is still standing, as pictured below.

Emma and Jacob's house - 1920, as it is today on google.
Emma and Jacob’s house – 1920, as it is today on google.

 On August 9, 1926, Emma Cleage Reed died from kidney failure and hypertension.  She was ill from June 20 to August 9.  Emma had lived in Cleveland for 14 years.  Her husband, Jacob Reed was the informant.  She is buried in Woodland Cemetery, an integrated cemetery.

Follow the links to read about Emma’s brother  Jerome Cleage  and his wife  Pearl Holmes Cleage   Article about Cleveland.

I used census records, marriage licenses, city directories, newspaper articles and death certificates to find the information in this post.

Buffalo Soldiers on Bicycles

"Bicyclists' group on Minerva Terrace.  [Lt. James A. Moss's company of 25th Infantry, U. S. Army Bicycle Corps, from Fort Missoula, Montana.]  YNP."  October 7, 1896.
“Bicyclists’ group on Minerva Terrace. [Lt. James A. Moss’s company of 25th Infantry, U. S. Army Bicycle Corps, from Fort Missoula, Montana.] YNP.”    October 7, 1896.
Buffalo Soldiers ready to ride cross country on their bikes.

While looking for information about Clarence Cleage for this year’s April A-Z Challenge I came across several stunning photographs of Buffalo Soldiers on bicycles.  Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas after the end of the Civil War. It is said that various Native American groups noticed the resemblance between the hair of the soldiers and that of the curly, kinky hair of the buffalo and gave them the name of Buffalo Soldiers.

In 1896 the army was considering replacing horses with bicycles as a mode of transportation. They picked the Buffalo Soldiers to try it out. In 1897 the Great Bicycle Ride of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps took place. It went from Fort Missoula to St. Louis, took forty-one days and covered more than 1,900 miles.  For more about the Bicycle ride, visit Riding Through History.

To tie this post in with my A-Z Challenge this year, which is writing about Cleages who started on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. Some are related to me, most are not.   Clarence Cleage is a bit of a departure because he was not born until 1893 in Chattanouga, Tennessee, well after the end of slavery. I cannot find him in the 1900 census, and the online death record does not include the names of his parents, so I am unable to connect him to any specific Athens Cleage family.  I know there is a tie in and I will find it eventually.  Clarence is the only Cleage who enlisted in the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldiers driving wagons through town.
Buffalo Soldiers driving wagons leaving Fort Ethan Allen for Pine Camp in New York – 1913 Clarence would have been traveling with them.  Photo from Buffalo Soldiers – Fort Ethan Allen

In Columbus, Ohio in 1909 Clarence Cleage enlisted in the US tenth Calvary, widely known as the Buffalo Soldiers.  In the 1910 Census he was at Fort Ethan Allen, in Vermont. The Buffalo Soldiers were based there from 1909 until 1913, when they were relocated to Fort Huachuca in Arizona.  I can imagine his feelings about the cold and snow he found in Vermont.

The Hamilton National Bank Building. Click to enlarge. (The Chattanoougan)

His military service ended October 1, 1919 and he returned to Chattanooga where he married Anne Mae and worked as an elevator operator at the Hamilton National Bank Building.  He worked there for several years until moving to Chicago, Illinois where we find him in 1930.

In the 1930 Census Clarence and Anne rented their house.  They had a 13 year old son, Scott and several lodgers shared the home.  Clarence works as an auto mechanic for an automobile sales company.  Anna has no outside job and Scott attends school.  Clarence says that he fought in World War 1.  They own a radio.

In the 1940 Census Clarence was still repairing cars.  His highest grade completed was the 6th.  Anne had completed the 3rd year of High School.  Three lodgers shared the house.  Their son Scott married the previous year and lived elsewhere with his wife.  In 1941 Clarence filed his WW2 Draft Registration Card. He was no longer repairing cars, but worked at the post office.  They also provided a description, he was 48 years old, stood 5 ft 11 in and weighted 205 pounds. He had a light brown complexion, black hair and brown eyes.  They continued to live at 6222 South Indiana Ave.  And the row house is still standing.

6222 Indiana Ave.  From Google.
6222 Indiana Ave. From Google.

Clarence Cleage died in 1970 in Chicago, Illinois. His wife, Anne, died in 1976.

More about the   10th Cavalry Regiment – Wikipedia,   25th Bicycle CorpsRiding Through History (This one has a great photograph of Buffalo Soldiers in 1900 posing by some rocks.)

Click for more Sepia Saturday bikers.
Click for more Sepia Saturday bikers.

“Dick” Cleage

Bill of Sale Clint-small
Bill of sale for Clinton, sometimes called Dick.

For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I am blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. Most  are not related to me by blood, although our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage.   Click on any image to enlarge.

Clinton “Dick” Cleage was bought by David Cleage for $700 in January of 1841.  He was about 17 years old.

“From all men by these presents that I, John Armstrong, of the county of McMinn and the state of Tennessee for and in consideration of the sum of seven hundred dollars to me in hand paid the receipt where of is hereby acknowledged have bargained, sold and delivered unto David Cleage of the County and State afore said a negro (sic)boy named Clinton, sometimes called Dick, of dark mulatto colour, aged about seventeen.  Said boy I warrant sound and healthy both in body and mind and free from any defect whatever and a slave for life and covenant that the title is clear of any encombrance whatever and will warrant and defent by these presents for ever given under my hand and seal this 9th day of January 1841.

John Armstrong

Witness:  William Burk, JB King”

On July 7, 1866, Clinton appeared again as a witness in Fannie Cleage Turk’s widow’s pension hearing.  He testified that he knew her and she was who she said she was.

He never appears in any census, but he appears  on his children’s death certificates.  In 1870 his wife, Sallie Marsh Cleage, is listed as a widow. In the 1900 Census Sallie said that she had given birth to 14 children and 5 were still living.  The children that I know the names of, were:

  1. Amanda Cleage 1837 – 1921 Click to read the A-Z post about Amanda & her husband Abraham Cleage.
  2. Lydia Cleage 1852 – 1936
  3. Sallie Cleage 1855 – 1943
  4. Florence Cleage 1858 – ?
  5. Nelson Cleage 1860 – 1917
  6. Mary Cleage 1863 – ?
  7. Robert Cleage 1866 – 1953
  8. John Cleage 1870 – ?


Charles A. Cleage

EPSON DSC picture
Headstone of Charles A. Cleage in Hammonds Cemetery in Athens Tennessee. Photo by me.

For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I am blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens Tennessee. Most  are not related to me by blood, although our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel Cleage and his sons, Alexander and David Cleage.   Click on an image to enlarge.

Charles A. Cleage was the person that got me interested in investigating the Cleages outside of my family, at least his headstone did. In 2004 our branch of the Cleages had a reunion in Athens, TN.  It was my first visit.  My cousins, who were born and grew up there, took me on a tour.  They showed me where family members were buried in Hammonds historic African American Cemetery. We wandered around looking at the other graves.  I noticed the headstone belonging to Charles A. Cleage and wondered who he was and what the letters stood for.

Charles A. Cleage was born into slavery about 1828 in McMinn County Tennessee.  He first appears in the record as part of a bill of sale between the heirs of Samuel Cleage.  After Samuel’s death there was some shuffling around of the enslaved, livestock and household property between the siblings.  It says in part,

“Know all men by these presents that we Alexander Cleage and Walter Nutter and his wife Elizabeth H Nutter have this day bargained and sold to David Cleage and his heirs and assigns forever Charity fourteen,  Caroline sixteen  Jim thirty  Joe eight  Sally near ten  Arch sixteen  Margth fourteen  Bill forty five  Charles twenty four  Mary thirty one  Henry four  Lydia one year of age

For five thousand two hundred and fifty dollars being his distribution share out of the proceeds of the slaves of Samuel Cleage deceased  We warrant said negroes (sic) to be slaves for life and that we as the heirs at law of Samuel Cleage have a right to convey them

Given under our hands and seals this 20th day of March 1852″

In testimony given by Charles on 17 June,1895, at the Pension Hearing of Mariah Turk Witt, he gave a look into his life on Samuel Cleage’s plantation.

“… 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 Watts, which as his Family Bible Record shows occurred July 29th 1849, said Mariah Witt being born just one month later which would make the birth of said child Mariah August 29, 1849.”

In 1863 Charles joined the United States Colored Troops (Co. A USCT) in Knoxville, Tennessee.  His papers described him as 41 years old, 5 feet 9 inches with black hair,  black eyes and a brown complexion.

enlistment charles a.charlesAUSCT


Charles A. Cleage was promoted from private to Corporal on March 15, 1866 only a few weeks before he was mustered out on March 31, 1866 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In 1870 Charles A. was 42 and his wife Martha was 25. Charles was a laborer and owned no property.  His personal worth was $180.  Neither of them could read or write. There were 6 children living with them.  The oldest, daughter Julia, was 21. Her husband, Sam Reynolds was also a part of the household.  He worked as a laborer. His son Hillard was 19.    Frank, 13 and Philip, 11 were attending school. The youngest children were Amos, 2 and Richard 3 months.  If Martha’s age is correct, Charles had a wife before her.  However, we do not know if Martha’s age is correct.  There was a Martha that was in Alexander’s part of the division of slaves in 1852.  She was 21 and that would have made her birth year 1831, closer to the birth year given in 1880, as you will see below.

Ten years later, according to the 1880 census, Charles and Martha had aged 20 years.  They are now 66 and 46.  You have to take the ages on census records, especially for older people, with a grain of salt.  The oldest child still home is 18 year old Phillip who is also working as a laborer, as was Charles. Four new children have joined the family – Henry, 9; Mitchel, 7; Rosa, 4 and Mary, 2.

In 1887 Charles applied for his military pension as an invalid. Charles appeared in the 1890 Veterans Schedule. During 1890 he testified at the pension hearing I mentioned above.  On January 20, 1908, Martha began to receive her widow’s pension.  Charles probably died in December of 1907.  On October 16, 1910, Martha Cleage died of asthma. Her age is listed as 65 years old.

Both images from: The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the United States Colored Troops: Artillery Organizations via

B is for Bart Arnwine

bart arnwine
Bart Arnwine. Photo shared with me by a family member.

For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I am blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens Tennessee. Most  are not related to me by blood, although our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage.   I do have a connection with Bart’s family, not a blood connection but my grandfather’s sister, Josie Cleage, married Bart’s first cousin, James Cleage. James was the son of his uncle Jerry Cleage.  You can enlarge images by clicking on them.

Born into slavery on David Cleage’s plantation about 1860, Bart Arnwine, lived to be 100 years old.  Bart was the son of Jefferson Arnwine and Malinda Cleage.

Oral tradition passed on to me by Elbert Arnwine, one of Bart’s descendents, says that when Samuel Cleage left Virginia heading for Tennessee in the 1820’s, Bart’s grandparents, Joe and Leah were among the few slaves he had with him when he started.

In 1870 Bart was listed as a 9 year old living with parents Jeff and Malinda Arnwine and 6 children from 7 to 14 years old.  Neither the parents nor the older children could read or write. Jeff was 35 and worked as a laborer. He owned no property and his personal worth was nothing.  Malinda was 28 and kept house.

I haven’t yet found Bart in the 1880 census when he would have been about 20.  I found his mother and her new husband, Samuel Reynolds and their daughter.  The rest of the family seems to have vanished.  On January 12, 1883, Bart married Mary Brown. He was using the surname Cleage, although he went back to Arnwine soon after.  He was 22 and she was 18.  She had been married once before.  Henry Cleage, his uncle, and John A. Miller acted as a witnesses.

Through the years, Bart farmed and Mary kept house. They had 13 children together. In 1910 only seven were still living.  The children attended school for varying lengths of time and the younger ones were literate. Eventually the parents also learned to read but not to write. He owned his farm, free of mortage at that time.

By 1920, Mary was dead, leaving Bart a widower.  The household included four of his children ages 16, 14, 13 and 9; a 10 year old grandson and his 80 year old widowed mother Malinda. He was still farming, but now on rented land.

In 1940 he was living in his son Augustine’s home with daughter Lena and several grandchildren.  He was 70 years old and no longer listed as working, but I cannot imagine that he sat in his rocker all day while his son did farm labor.

Bart lived another 30 years, until 1961.  He was remembered in the book TENNESSEE COUNTRY HISTORY SERIES McMinn County by C. Stephen Byrum like this:

“Finally, in this early period, mention should be made of Bart Arnwine. Arnwine had three trademarks — a broad sense of humor, a shining, double-bladed ax, and the reputation of being able to thresh more wheat in one day than anyone in the county. Like several of these memorable people (note: other people mentioned in the book), Arnwine lived to be over 100 years old.”

146 years later, Bart and Mary’s descendants gathered in Athens for a family reunion. From the  Athens Daily Post Athenian Newspaper,  Friday, August 11, 2006.

Recounting History – Descendants of Bart Arnwine Return

2006 arnwine reunionAfter years of living apart, the Arnwine family gathered at Cooke Park recently to enjoy being together once again and recount the family´s rich history.

In 1870, former slave Bart Cleage changed his last name to Arnwine as the recently-freed family stayed in the Niota area where Bart lived.

Through the years, however, members of the family began moving to various parts of the country from Mississippi all the way to New York. There were members of the family who had never met each other before.

That changed recently as the family held its first reunion to catch up with family members they haven´t seen in years and to meet some they had never met.

Frances Williams, one of the organizers of the reunion, said more than 100 people attended.

“Our family just spread out,” Williams said. “We´ve got cousins who have never met. It was time to bring the family back together again.”

Everybody at the reunion was a descendent of Bart and Mary Arnwine. Family members came from New York, South Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi.

The oldest family member at the event was soon-to-be 80-year-old Vera West, and the youngest was 2 1/2 year-old Raen Williams.

“I think it´s great,” West said. “I´m glad they did it.”

The family reconvened at Cook Park where they cooked hot dogs and renewed friendships or made new ones. Elbert Arnwine is the designated historian of the group and knows all about the family´s history.

“I think it´s beautiful,” Arnwine said. “It´s nice getting the family together on a happy occasion.”

Abraham and Amanda Cleage

Tintype of an African-American Couple. From: Auction Finds
Tintype of an African-American Couple. From: Auction Finds…and the stories behind them.

Today begins the 2015 A-Z Challenge.  This year I will be writing a series of sketches about the former slaves from the Cleage plantations in Athens Tennessee.  Most  are not related to me by blood.  Our families came off of the same plantations – those of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage, but were not blood relatives.  Enlarge images by clicking on them.

Abraham Cleage was born into slavery in about 1838 in McMinn County, Tennessee.  By 1864, the Union troops were in control of Eastern Tennessee.  Abraham left slavery and enlisted with the United States Colored Troops Heavy Artillary Unit in Knoxville, TN on July 4, 1864.  His enlistment papers described him as 5 ft 7 in with black hair, black eyes and a dark complexion.  On March 31, 1866, he was mustered out in Chattanooga, TN.  He had $42.15 due him.

Amanda Cleage was born about 1837.  She and her parents, Clinton and Sallie, were slaves on David Cleage’s plantation in McMinn County. Abraham and Amanda married in 1870.  Reconstruction was over with the rise of  lynchings, Jim Crow laws legalized segregation in trains, street cars, restaurants, waiting rooms and schools.  The right to vote was stolen through the use the poll tax, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and property ownership requirements.

Train tracks are shown by the heavy black lines. Credit Line: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Not long after their marriage the couple moved west to Austin, Travis County, Texas.  It is likely that they took a train. There was a train station in Athens and tracks connected all the way to Texas. Their daughter Sarah was born there in 1876.  In 1880 Abraham was working as a laborer.  In addition to their family, the household included a border, Richard Cleage, age 21.  There is a Richard Cleage, same age, who appears in the 1880 census back in Athens with two children born in Texas.

They lived in Austin from at least 1876, when their daughter was born, until they appear in the Los Angeles City Directory in 1888.  Abraham worked as a laborer.  Amanda kept house.

Free people celebrating Juneteenth in Austin, TX 1900.
Free people celebrating Juneteenth in Austin, TX 1900.for family reunions. See more at: Juneteenth.”

They would have participated in the local Juneteenth Celebrations. “Although news of emancipation came at different times during that Texas summer and autumn 1865, local blacks gradually settled on June 19 (Juneteenth) as their day of celebration.  Beginning in 1866 they held parades, picnics, barbecues, and gave speeches in remembrance of their liberation.  By 1900 the festivities had grown to include baseball games, horse races, street fairs, rodeos, railroad excursions, and formal balls.  Two distinct trends emerged with these early celebrations.  First the oldest of the surviving former slaves were often given a place of  honor.  That place of honor rose in direct proportion to the dwindling numbers of survivors with each passing year.   Secondly, African Americans in Texas initially used these gatherings to locate missing family members and soon they became staging areas

In 1888 the family relocated to Los Angeles, California where Abraham registered to vote and continued to work as a laborer.  In 1893 he filed for his pension as an invalid.  Amanda was not working outside of the home during these years.  By 1900, they owned their own home, with a mortgage.  Abraham could neither read or write. Amanda could read but not write. Abraham was 62.  Amanda was getting younger with each passing census and was enumerated as 48, although she was closer to 60.  She had given birth to 2 children and both were alive. I can only name one, Sarah, who was 24 and married to Richard Pierce, a carpenter who had been unemployed for 5 months during the past year.  Sarah had given birth to 2 children but only 1, 6 year old Evelyn was living.  Sarah and Richard could read and write.  They were all living with her parents.

Abraham died on April 14, 1908.  He is buried in the Long Beach Municipal Cemetery.  Although I found his information in several death indices, I have not found a death certificate and so do not know how he died. Amanda began to receive her widow’s pension the following month.

By 1910 only one of Amanda’s children was still living.  I cannot find Sarah anywhere, I assume she died.  Sarah’s husband, Richard Pierce has remarried and is living with his new wife and young daughter.  Evelyn, Sarah’s daughter is missing. It is possible she is living with the other living child.  Amanda began taking in laundry to support herself.

"Washer_Woman"_-_NARA_-_5591541916 found Amanda back in Austin, Texas, continuing to take in washing.  Perhaps she was working her way back East, because by 1920 she was once again living in Athens Tennessee, on her own and still doing laundry.  She gave her age as 58, but she was closer to 83.

On July 22, 1921, Amanda broke her leg, receiving a compound, open, fracture.  She was taken to Collins Chapel hospital in Memphis. Her sister Lydia and her husband Charles lived in Memphis. Amanda may have been visiting or may have moved to Memphis to be closer to her sister.  Two weeks later her kidneys failed and she was dead at 84 years.  Lydia was the informant on the death certificate.

collins chapel home & hospital
From page 43 in “African Americans in Memphis” by Earnestine Lovelle Jenkins.

Amanda Cleage was buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery on August 9, 1921.  According to the Tennessee Historical Commission, “Zion Cemetery, comprising 15 acres, was established in 1879 by the United Sons of Zion Association who responded to the need for a respectable burial site for African Americans.”  As time passed and the original founders died, there was no organization to continue caring for the cemetery and it became seriously overgrown until it was impossible to find the graves. In the last several years improvements have been made and 5 acres have been restored.  Work is still progressing.  The 3 minute video below tells the story.

I gathered this information from census records, death records, city directories at, and other online sources.

A-Z Challenge Reveal for 2015

Click to go to the reveal page.
Click to go to the reveal page.

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.

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

For more Sepia Saturday posts CLICK!
For more Sepia Saturday posts CLICK!

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,, The Athens Post on, pension files on, 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 enslaved people 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 from the collection of Don Reid.

In 1870 Jerry and Charlotte lived in a rented house in Athens with nine of their children and two 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 had 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 Postcard History Series McMinn County by Joe Guy with postcards from 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.


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.                             Source: Library of Congress      The USCT Chronicle


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