John Wesley Cobb 1883 – 1958

I have been writing this post for way too long, getting lost in research and real life. A Sepia Saturday prompt a week ago featured a posh hotel and made me start to work again.  This post does not feature a hotel, rather the lack of one because black motorists back in the 1930s were not welcome in white hotels as they traveled.   In 1936 The Negro Motorist Green Book began publishing and shared information about lodging places that Negro motorists could be sure of a welcome.  Before that people stayed with friends or friends of friends or kept driving. Click on all images to enlarge.

celia's death 6-8-1930

map of trip
From Detroit, MI to Athens Tennessee, passes through Richmond, Kentucky.

I had been unable to find my great grandmother, Anna Celia Rice Cleage Sherman’s death date or death certificate before finding  the above item. After jumping up and down shouting my joy at finding the date, I began to wonder who the Cobbs where that my grandfather and his brothers stayed with.  I came across several other items from different years, with various family members stopping with the Cobbs in Richmond, KY on their way to or from Athens, TN.  How did my family know the Cobbs and who were they?new barber shop 1_30_1889a

John Wesley Cobb was born in 1882 in Richmond, Kentucky to Squire and Malinda (McCallahan) Cobb.  His parents were born in slavery in the 1846 and 1859. By 1889 Squire Cobb was an important member of Richmond’s black community.  He was a barber with his own shop, a member of the Knights of Pythias, and St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal church. Malinda Cobb birthed 9 children.  Six lived to adulthood.  Both parents were literate and the children attended school.  John and one of his brothers were tailors.  His sister Susie was a teacher before her marriage. His oldest sister, Lena, married a barber.  Malinda Cobb died in 1916.  Squire Cobb died at about 89 years of age in 1935.

John Wesley Cobb. Photo curtsey of
John Wesley Cobb. Photo curtsey of Joan Cobb Webb, Granddaughter of John Wesley Cobb.

John Wesley Cobb married Bessie Pollard about 1803.  They had one daughter , Leona Cobb, in 1904.  They later divorced and both remarried. John second wife was Lillian Titus, who taught school when they were first married.  They had no children.

JW Cobb started as a tailor for the R.C.H. Covington Company, a department store in downtown Richmond.  He sewed on clothes like the one pictured in the advertisement below.  Later Cobb, was able to open his own tailor shop and he continued to work on his own account through out the following years.

The_Richmond_Climax_Wed__Oct_31__1917_overcoatJohn W and his wife Lillian  owned their own home at 311 First Street. John Wesley was an active member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church. In several news items, he is listed as Rev. JW Cobb, assisting the Pastor at funerals.  I suspected that the paper had the wrong name but I just found him in the death index on FamilySearch and his title is given as Rev. In 1935, the Cobbs presented gold footballs to the football team at an awards banquet. I wish there had been a picture or a description as I don’t know if they were little pins or full size footballs!

He and his wife appeared regularly in the news/society items in the Richmond Colored Notes.  He served as secretary for the group that sponsored the Madison County Colored Chautauqua.

big chautauquaOn December 16, 1946 Lillian Cobb died from breast cancer that had spread to her spine.  Her husband was the informant.  On the 28th of February 1958, John Wesley Cobb died. I have not yet found his death certificate, and I do not now what he died from.

I still don’t know how my family knew the Cobbs.  Some possibilities are that my grandfather’s brother Henry’s wife, Ola Adams Cleage, knew them.  She was raised and went to school in Danville, Kentucky which is in the same general area.  Or perhaps they knew some of the same people who put them in touch.  Another possibility is that some of JW Cobbs siblings that moved to Michigan met the Cleages.  Some of them lived in Detroit and in Yipsilanti, Mi outside of Detroit at different times.

Links that might interest you.

The Kentucky Colored Chautauqua 1916

Madison County Colored Chautauqua 1915

On the way to bury their mother

Celia’s Death Certificate

For more Sepia Saturday, CLICK!
 I think I will leave this link even though I am a week late!   For more Sepia Saturday, CLICK!

A – Z Reflections 2015

For more A to Z reflections, CLICK!

This is my third year participating in the A to Z Challenge.  This year I blogged a series of sketches about the free people  formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee. I also wrote about some of their descendents.

I found myself (once again) spending pretty much all day, everyday researching and writing up my posts.  I thought I had already done a lot of the research but once I started writing people up, I found there was more I wanted to know about their lives.  Sometimes I spend a lot of time looking and did not find the information.  Other times, it would appear unexpectedly.

I had a limited amount of time to visit other blogs and tended to visit the same ones when I found some I enjoyed. It was difficult to find blogs that I was interested in by the hit and miss method I employed using the gigantic list.  I had more luck visiting people who commented on blogs I already enjoyed.  I also followed people I knew from past challenges and other prompts I participate in throughout the year, Sepia Saturday for instance.

Three of the blogs I consistently followed were: MopDog, Stories I Found in the Closet, and Tell Me Another.  I think it would be a good idea to mention blogs we especially enjoy during the challenge.  I need all the help I can get to find those I enjoy. A blog I found late in the challenge through a comment on someone’s fb page that I will be catching up on and following is Modhukori.  Three blogs that I visited regularly from Sepia Saturday were: Bob’s Home For Writing, Family History Fun and  Anne’s family history.

I will be doing the challenge in 2016.  I like the way it makes me think about my topic and dig up information and actually write it up. My tendency is to get lost in researching.  I am very glad that Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out thought up A to Z and put it into action.

A list of my posts for the April Challenge with links.

Z is for Zero Cleages…

with names beginning with the letter Z.  For this year’s April A-Z Challenge I have been blogging a series of sketches about the free people formerly enslaved on the Cleage plantations in Athens, Tennessee and their descendents.



Yvette Cleage

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 and their descendents. Click on any image to enlarge. Click on links for more information.

Yvette’s mother’s name is spelled wrong int he article. It is “Edith”.

Yvette Cleage is my second cousin.  I have not seen her since the 1960s when we both attended my father, then Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr’s church.  The church was then called Central United Church of Christ, now known as The Shrine of the Black Madonna.

Yvette’s father, David Cleage, was my father’s first cousin, son of James and Josephine (Cleage) Cleage.  James was the son of Jerry and Charlotte (Bridgeman) Cleage. Josephine was my grandfather, Albert B. Cleage Sr’s sister and the daughter of Lewis and Celia (Rice) Cleage. Lewis was the son of Frank and Juda Cleage. And there we are, back to the plantations of David and Alexander Cleage.

I found Ziggy Johnson’s obituary online at The Motor City Muckracker.


eXtra! eXtra! John Cleage Injured in Explosion!

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 and their descendents. Click on any image to enlarge.  Click on links for more information.

Nine injured in explosion
Article from

John Cleage was born in Texas to Richard and Adeline Cleage, he was the oldest of 11 children, 9 survived to adulthood. The family returned to Athens before John was 1 and that is where he grew up.  He completed 8th grade and was literate.In 1910 he was married for the first time to Annis Culberson.

Around 1912, John moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where the explosion mentioned in the article occurred. He later moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  Here he married his second wife, Willard.  They had one daughter, Evelyn.  His mother and siblings moved north to Ohio.

Through the years John worked as a laborer, porter and a groom.  He moved to Chicago about 1828 and lost touch with his family in Ohio for decades. (I have a news item describing this reunion. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it in time for this post!) In Chicago he married for the third time to Cornelius Taner. John’s draft registrations describe him as light brown complexion, brown eyes, black hair (until it turned grey) short (about 5’4″) and slender.

John Cleage died on April 27, 1954 in Chicago, IL.  He was 76 years old.

John's obituary is maked with a dot.
John’s obituary is marked with a dot.  He is in the middle column, second name down. Article from

William Henry Cleage

From: Postcard History Series: McMinn County. By Joe Guy with postcards form the collection of Don Reid.
From: Postcard History Series: McMinn County. By Joe Guy with postcards form the collection of Don Reid.

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 and their descendents. Click on any image to enlarge.  Click on links for more information.

William Henry Cleage was born free on December 4, 1866 in Athens, Tennessee.  His mother was Adeline “Addie” Cleage and his father was Nelson Cleage. His mother married Edmund Sherman shortly after William was born and for over 33 years of his life he used the name William Henry Sherman and was listed in the censuses along with the couples other children as a son of Edmund Sherman.

Until they died Williams grandparents, Henry and Jane Cleage, lived next door.  William and his siblings all attended school and learned to read and write.  In 1866, the Methodist  Church along with the Freedman’s bureau started a school for black children in Athens. I was unable to find out much more but this is the school they probably attended.   Grandfather Henry  and stepfather Edmund worked as laborers and the women of the family worked as laundresses from their own homes, when they had paid occupations.  Eventually his widowed sister Belle and her two children moved next door on the other side.  His sister Sallie and her two children lived with their parents, Edmund and Addie. William lived for many years in the multigenerational family home. All three of the households owned their homes free of mortgage.

In the 1910 Census, 45 year old Williams was identified for the first time as a Cleage and as the stepson of Edmund.  The grandparents were dead. Addie, Belle and Sallie were all taking in laundry and all of Belle and Sallie’s children were attending school.  By this time the Athen’s Academy was up and running and that was probably the school they attended.

William married Laura Hall on June 8, 1911.  He was 44 and she was 22. Laura died eight years later on August 21, 1919 from influenza.  She had been ill for thirty days. The Influenza Pandemic was sweeping around the world. In contrast to other forms of the flu, this type killed more healthy young adults than any other part of the population.

I do not know if they had any children. I tried to find Laura’s sister’s households for the 1920 Census, but so far I have not found them. In 1920 William was working as a porter at a hardware store in Athens. Laura’s 18 year old brother, Clarence Hall, was living with him and attending school. William was renting a house on King Street.

In 1930 William was boarding with Joe and Emma Melton, an older couple who lived on Chester Street. William was a truck driver for a hardware store.

Death Certificate for William Henry Cleage
Death Certificate for William Henry Cleage. (Tennessee State Library and Archives; Nashville, Tennessee; Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1959; via

On June 5, 1937, William died of kidney failure. His occupation was listed as “Merchant”. He was 70 years old. The informant is listed as Silas Sherman.  I wonder if they meant Sallie Sherman, William’s sister.  Several names were misspelled on the death certificate – Nelson is spelled “Nelse” and Henry is spelled “Hewy”.

Virgil Cleage

Black coal miner in McDowell, West Virginia. (Russell Lee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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 and their descendents. Click on any image to enlarge. Click on links for more information.

Virgil Cleage was born free in 1884, the sixth of the nine surviving children of Jefferson and Rachael Cleage.  His father was a coal miner in Rhea County, Tennessee. Virgil was literate and worked as a laborer, probably in the mines.  The children in this family attended school.

In 1906 Virgil married Lillian Brown.  In 1910 they were living in Anderson, Tennessee and Virgil worked in the coal mines there.  His sister Emma and her family lived next door.  Her husband was also a miner.  Virgil’s first three children were born in Tennessee, Agnew was 3, Thelma was 1 and Beatrice was 7 months old.  They rented their house on Wind Rock Road.

McDowell Coal.
McDowell Coal. (From the page: West Virginia Mines)

Their fourth daughter, Bernice, was born in 1916 in Kentucky. Perhaps they tried the Kentucky coal mines for a short time before moving to McDowell County, West Virginia. Here is a page about the West Virginia Mines, information and more photographs.

“West Virginia’s southern coal fields were not opened until about 1870, though they were known to exist much earlier. One of the major southern coal fields was the Flat Top-Pocahontas Field, located primarily in Mercer and McDowell counties. The Flat Top Field first shipped coal in 1883 and grew quickly from that time. Individual mining operations were consolidated into large companies, and Pocahontas Fuel Company, organized in 1907, soon dominated the other companies in McDowell County.

“On March 12, 1883, the first carload of coal was transported from Pocahontas in Tazewell County, Virginia, on the Norfolk and Western Railway. This new railroad opened a gateway to the untapped coalfields of southwestern West Virginia, precipitating a dramatic population increase. Virtually overnight, new towns were created as the region was transformed from an agricultural to industrial economy. With the lure of good wages and inexpensive housing, thousands of European immigrants rushed into southern West Virginia. In addition, a large number of African Americans migrated from the southern states. The McDowell County black population alone increased from 0.1 percent in 1880 to 30.7 percent in 1910.”

From the page: West Virginia Mines

Virgil continued to work in the West Virginia coal mines for more than ten years. Three more daughters and a son were born there. Mattie Belle was born in 1922, Irene was born in 1924, Ophelia was born in 1925 and Harold in 1927.

The winter of 1927/1928 was a hard one for the family.  A week before Thanksgiving Day on November 18, 1927, Virgil’s wife Lillian died of pulmanary tuburculousous. She was 44 years old. Her youngest child was not yet a year old.  The oldest daughter was seventeen.  In February of 1928 both Irene and Harold died of pneumonia. Irene was four and Harold was barely a year old.  That same year oldest son Agnew married Grace Womac and moved to Columbus, Ohio where he worked in the steel mills.

In 1930 the family lived in Browns Creek, Mcdowell County.  They seemed to have moved around a fair amount.  They rented their house for $10 a month.  Virgil worked as a coal loader in the mines.  I found descriptions of the job of coal loader here Who Is A Coal Miner?

“Loaders, inside, bituminous.—Shoot or blast coal from veins or beds after it has been undercut by machine miners and then load the coal into cars with coal-loading machines. In some mines they do the timbering; that is, set props or timbers to prevent the falling of slate, stone, and earth into the rooms of the mines; also lay tracks in rooms of mines and keep rooms in good working condition.

“Loaders, outside, anthracite.—Load coal into railroad cars and refuse into mine cars.”

Virgil’s daughter Thelma had married a coal miner and lived next door to her father.  The other four children lived at home. Beatrice was working as a maid. She had a daughter, Lunetta, a little over a year old. Bernice, 13 and Mattie Belle, 8 were in school.  Lunetta died a month later.  She was a year and eight months old.

By 1936, Virgil had moved to Columbus, Ohio  where he lived with his son Agnew and family. The younger children remained in West Virginia with their older sister Thelma. Virgil Cleage died in on October 9, 1938 in Columbus Ohio.  He was 54 years old.

Miner's children.
Miner’s children. (From: My Business – Gilliam McDowell County WV)


I had almost finished writing this when I decided to Google Virgil Cleage. Through that search I found Irene and Harold and marriages, children and deaths for the other children. I found several death certificates, freely available online. Now I guess I should go back and Google everybody else I have written about.

West Virginia Coal Miners and Coal Camps – Excellent photographs taken during 1935 – 1937  for the Farm Security Administration The exhibit features the work of two photographers, Ben Shahn and Marion Post Wolcott.

United States Colored Troops & Cleages

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 that the men I studied are pictured. (Library of Congress photograph via The USCT Chronicle blog)

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 and their descendents. Click on any image to enlarge. (Parts of this post were published previously on this blog.)

When I began looking for the Cleage free men 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 was not a straight, flat walk.  I have identified 8 Cleage men who enlisted. 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 times it would take to walk according to Google Maps.

1st Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery

Overview:  Organized at Knoxville, Tenn., February 20, 1864. Attached to 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 23rd Corps, Dept. of Ohio, to February, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, District of East Tennessee, Dept. of the Cumberland, to March, 1865. 1st Brigade, 4th Division, District of East Tennessee, to March, 1866.

Service:  Duty at Knoxville, Tenn., till January, 1865. Operations against Wheeler in East Tennessee August 15-25, 1864. Operations in Northern Alabama and East Tennessee January 31-April 24, 1865. Stoneman’s operations from East Tennessee into Southwestern Virginia and Western North Carolina February to April. At Greenville and in District of East Tennessee till March, 1866. Mustered out March 31, 1866. From: The Civil War Archives– Union Regimental Histories.

Below, Mitchel Capel recites “W’en Dey ‘listed Colored Soldiers”.  A poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  His father, Joshua Dunbar, was a member of the United States Colored Troops.

Here are the Cleages that joined the USCT in Knoxville. The names were spelled differently, often even within one man’s records.  David Hamilton was married to Florence Cleage.  Isaac Turk was formerly enslaved on David Cleage’s plantation and was married to Fannie Cleage.  Jefferson Cleage was also in the USCT, although his name doesn’t appear here, it does appear in pension records.

First Name Last Name Battery Rank_In Rank_Out
Abraham Clegg I Private Private
Charles A. Clegg A Private Corporal
George Clegg I Private Private
Hiram Clegg A Private Corporal
Philip Clegg A Private Sergeant
Abraham Cleig I Private Private
George Cleig I Private Private
Isaac Turk A Private Private
David Hamilton I Private Private

Tennessee Cleage

Doris Ulmann, photographer. [African American woman ironing]. Photogravure, 1933. Library of Congress.

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 and their descendents. Click on any image to enlarge.

Tennessee Cleage was my great grandfather Louis Cleage’s younger sister.  She was born into slavery about 1864 on Alexander Cleage’s plantation in Athens, TN.  I found her living with my great grandfather, Louis Cleage’s family in 1880. My great grandfather Louis Cleage was 28.  His wife Celia (Rice) Cleage was 24. They were farming in Loudon County Tennessee. They had been married for 8 years and were the parents of four children – 7 year old Josie, 5 year old Jacob, 3 year old Henry and 1 year old Edward.  Louis’ 20 year old sister, Tennessee lived with them along with 5 year old Louseny.  Their 5th child, my grandfather Albert,  would not be born until 1882.  None of the adults could read or write.  The children were too young to attend school.

athens overview wide
A view of the area about 1920. (Family photo from my Archives. Photographer: Dr. A.B. Cleage Sr.)

The 1880 Agricultural Census Schedule that includes Louis Cleage are in poor condition.  Parts of it are unreadable because they are blackened. Other parts are pale and blurry making them difficult to read.  This is the information I could make out.  He rented his land for shares of his crops.  He had 15 tillable acres and 5 acres in woodland and forest. The farm, buildings, land and fences were worth $150. Farm implements and machinery were worth $125. The livestock was worth $125. He had 1 milch cow and produced 25 lbs of butter in 1879. I was unable to read if he had any swine, chickens, mules or horses, I hope he did. He had no working oxen.   He planted 25 acres of Indian corn, yielding 100 bushels. He planted 5 acres of oats, yielding 25 bushels and 5 acres of wheat that yielded 25 bushels.  I think that Tennessee would have helped on the farm.

Tennessee disappears for twenty years. The census record for Loudon County has many bad spots where it’s impossible to make out names and the rural area  she lived in, did not have a city dirctory, so she does not appear again until 1910. Tennessee lived with her sister Angeline Cleage Rhea and her husband Jacob in Loudon County, TN.  Her age was listed as 46.  Jacob did general farm labor. Angeline and Tennessee had no occupation given.  Tennessee had no children and was single. She could not read or write.  Angeline and Jacob were literate.

On April 19, 1912 Tennessee died of Inflammatory Rheumatism.  This type of reumatism causes the joints to become inflamed and eventually damages the internal organs.  My grandfather’s brother, Edward Cleage suffered with it, as did one of his daughters.  On the certificate Tennessee’s occupation is listed as “domestic”. The disease probably made it difficult for her to pursue any physical type of work in her later years.  Her age was listed as 45.

This is another example of records giving contradictory ages.

Sallie Cleage

Unidentified woman.
Unidentified woman standing in for Sallie Cleage

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 and their descendents. Click on any image to enlarge.

 The first thing I noticed about Sallie Cleage as I started writing about her life, were the wildly differing birth dates.  They ranged from 1817 to 1841. I believe the death record saying she was born about 1823 is closest to the truth.  If she was born in 1841, her oldest child would have been born when she was 4 years old.  If she was born in 1817, she would have been 103 when she died in 1914.

Sallie Cleage was born into slavery about 1823 in Tennessee. Her mother’s name was Silver Baver.  Sallie and Clinton Cleage had fourteen children together, most of them born during slavery. By 1900, only five were living. I have already written about three of them – Amanda Cleage, Nelson Cleage and Lydia Cleage.

1870 Census
1870 Census via

Clinton died about 1869.  In 1870 Sallie lived in Athens TN with six of her children. None of them can read or write and only the oldest at home, Lydia attended school.  She owned no property and her personal property was worth $250.  She was keeping house. Nobody in the household is listed as working outside of the home.

1880 census
1880 Census  via

In 1880 Sallie and seven of her children are living together in the same house as 1870. Roger William Sherman, who later married my great grandmother, lived next door.  Nelson worked as a laborer. Mary was the only literate member of the household. None of the children were attending school and nobody else had a job.  The 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a fire so we have to skip to the 1900 census.

1900 Census
1900 Census  via

In 1900 Sallie owned her house free of mortgage.  Her son Robert, his wife and son, along with Sallie’s granddaughter, Rosie Smith, shared her home.  Robert worked as a dining room servant. He was literate.  Sallie and his wife were without employment. Rosie attended school for 4 months. Robert’s son, Thomas Cleage, was not old enough for school.

Sallie’s daughter Sallie Cleage Waterhouse, lived down the street.  All of the children in her household attended school.  She and her husband were able to read.  He and his oldest son worked as laborers.

sally marsh cleage death certif
Tennessee State Library and Archives; Nashville, Tennessee; Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1959 via

On April 1, 1914, Sallie Cleage died of bronchial pneumonia.  Her daughter Amanda Cleage was the informant. She was 93 years old.


When I started writing Sallie Cleage’s life, I thought that it was a full one because she appeared as mother on so many death certificates. As I wrote, I began to feel that I had been wrong because nothing really seemed to happen. I was wrong, she did live a full life. It was full of her family. She lived to live free and to see her children and grandchildren learn to read and write.  Her husband, Clinton, died so soon after freedom. She gave birth to 14 children and saw nine of them die before she did.   It is easy to overlook what those deaths must have meant to her when we have no record of when or how they died.