Kristin Cleage

My paternal grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr. sitting on the railing. My mother, Doris Graham Cleage, holding me. My father Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. Summer of 1947 on the back porch of the house on King street.
My parents, paternal grandfather and me (Kristin) on our porch of the house on King street in Springfield, Mass. Photo by Hugh Cleage. 1947.

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.

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Kristin Cleage (me) in 1970. Photo by James Williams.

This post is about my relationship to the Cleages of Athens, Tennessee. Kristin Cleage (that is me) was born free in Springfield, Mass. in 1946. My only sister was born when I was 2. My family moved back to Detroit when I was four. I finished high school and graduated with a degree in fine arts from Wayne State University.  I worked as a pre-school teacher, a doll maker and a librarian. Eventually I married James Williams, who had an Associates Degree and worked as an organizer and an inspector of asphalt for the Michigan Dept of Transportation. We had six children. All of our children attended college, lived to be adults and most now have children of their own. At various  times we have shared our home with children and grandchildren, and other relatives. We owned a variety of homes over the years, some with and some free from mortage.  We often lived around extended family.  I was the third generation of my Cleages born out of slavery.Pedigree View - Printer Friendly - Ancestry.com

preaching
Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr, preaching about 1968.

My father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr (aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) was born free in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1911 to parents born in Tennessee and Kentucky. His family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan and eventually Detroit.  He had six siblings.  All of them lived to be at least eighty years old. He attended public schools in Detroit and graduated with a BA from Wayne State University, followed by a Divinity Degree at Oberlin College and doing post degree work in film at the University of Southern California.  He married my mother, Doris Graham and they had two daughters. Both daughters lived to be adults, graduated from college and had seven children between them. My father pastored churches in Lexington, KY; San Francisco, CA; Springfield, MA and Detroit, MI. He was active in politics and with friends and family, published newsletter, advocated self determination and black power for black people. He founded the Shrines of the Black Madonna with churches in Detroit, Atlanta and Houston. He died at the age of 88 in 2000 in South Carolina.   He was the second generation born out of slavery.

My grandfather, Albert B. Cleage - 1909. About the time he graduated from Knoxville College.
My grandfather, Albert B. Cleage – 1909. About the time he graduated from Knoxville College.

My grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr, was born free in Hackberry, Loudon County, TN in 1883.  He was the youngest of 5 children born to Lewis Cleage and Celia Rice.  Eventually the family moved back to Athens, TN and his parents were divorced.  He and his siblings all graduated from high school.  Several attended college. My grandfather graduated from Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN and the University of Indiana medical school, Indianapolis, IN. He married my grandmother, Pearl Reed and they had seven children who all lived to age 80 or beyond.  After completing his internship, the family moved to Kalamazoo, MI. There he set up his medical practice.  After several years they moved to Detroit, Michigan where he opened Cleage Clinic and practiced medicine.  Three  of his siblings and his mother eventually moved to Detroit.  One brother remained in Athens. My grandfather regularly traveled back to visit. During his life, my grandfather helped found three churches and two black hospitals.  This was in the days when black doctors could not practice in most white hospitals.  In the 1950s my grandfather retired and in 1957 he died in Detroit.  He was the first generation born out of slavery.

My greatgrandfather Lewis Cleage was born into slavery on Alexander Cleage’s plantation in McMinn County, about 1852.  He was fourteen when freedom came with the end of the Civil War.  He married Celia Rice in 1872 in Athens, TN and they had five children. They all lived to adulthood and attended high school and/or college.  He worked as a farmer, in the steel mills, on the railroad and did other hard labor all of his life. He never learned to read or write.  He died in 1918 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He lived free for 52 of his 66 years.

My 2X great grandfather Frank Cleage was born into slavery about 1816 in North Carolina. I do not know how he came to be on Samuel Cleage’s plantation, but he was there by 1834 when he was mentioned in the letter to the overseer.  My 2X great grandmother Juda Cleage, was born into slavery about 1814. She  came to Alexander Cleage’s plantation with his wife, Jemima Hurst.  Juda was mentioned in both Elijah Hurst’s and Alexander Cleage’s Wills.  Frank and Juda both gained their freedom after the Civil War and were legally married that same year.  They had at least eight children.  Frank worked as a laborer.  I have not found them after the 1870 census.  I can only trace 3 of their children so I am unable to give death ages.  The three children I have found all did hard physical labor and were unable to read and write, as were Frank and Juda.

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Some of my grandparent’s descendents, including members of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generations born free. 2012 Detroit.

You can read more about each person by following the links or putting a name in the search box in the right hand column.

Frank and Juda Cleage – From Slavery to Freedom

My Great Great Grandfather, Frank Cleage, was born around 1816 into slavery, in North Carolina. By 1834, Frank was enslaved on the plantation of Samuel Cleage in McMinn County, TN.  Samuel Cleage and his traveling group of family and slaves passed through North Carolina moving from Virginia to Tennessee in the 1820s. Perhaps he picked up Frank as payment for one of the fine brick houses he sold along the way. After Samuel’s death, Frank went to his son, Alexander Cleage, as part of the estate.  The photographs of the slave owners came from my cousin. I do not know their original source. I do not have a picture of Frank Cleage and have no stories about him.  I decided to use a photograph of my Grandfather Albert B. Cleage Sr and his siblings – the first generation of black Cleages to be born free, next to some of the bricks from a Cleage building, built during savery, in McMinn County as the header for this story.

The earliest mention I have of Frank is in a work agreement between Samuel Cleage and his overseer in – “Article of Agreement – 1834“.  It includes the paragraph below which mentions Frank. Click on any of the images below to enlarge. Click on links to see full document.

Samuel Cleage
Samuel Cleage

overseer_directions

“… 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 which Cleage carrys (sic) on stilling. …”

My Great Great Grandmother, Juda is first mentioned in the Will of Jemima Hurst Cleage’s father, Elijah Hurst. He gave her 4 slaves, including Juda.  Alexander Cleage and Jemima Hurst married November 22, 1832.  Juda and Jemima would both have been about 19 years old.  Although I have found no record proof at this time, I believe that Juda and the other slaves were part of Jemima’s dowery.

Elija_hurst_will“Dec. 2, 1844

… 7th I will and bequeath to my daughter Jemima Cleage and her heirs forever the four negroes she has had possession of Big Anny, Judi, Jane, and Matilda together with all the other property I have given her …”

Frank is mentioned again in the 1852 Bill of Sale after the death of Samuel Cleage and the division of his slaves and property between his children and wife.  David Cleage, Walter Nutter and Elizabeth Cleage Nutter sold Frank to their brother, Alexander Cleage.

Alexander Cleage 1866bill of sale frank

“Know all men by these presents that one David Cleage and Walter Nutter and his wife Elizaeth H. Nutter, have this day bargained and sold to Alexander Cleage and his heirs and assigns forever, Joe forty four years of age, Tom Eighteen, Lynd eleven,  Frank thirty nine, Phillip forty, Lewis twenty six, Sam two, Martha twenty one, Lea thirty four, Julian forty three, Patey five.

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 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 1860, Alexander Cleage wrote his Will.  He leaves to his wife, Jemima Hurst Cleage, 13 slaves. Frank and his wife Juda and 5 of their children are in that group.  Because he didn’t die until 1875, all of them were free before the will was executed.

alexander_will_exert Jennimia Hurst Cleage 1866 age 52

 

“Second; I give and devise to my beloved wife Jemima Cleage for and during her natural life the following described negro slaves – to wit: Amy and her child a boy called Jeff,  Juda and her five children  to wit: Charles, Angelen, Lewis, Laura and Frank, Jane and her child Adaline and a negro man called Tom, they all being negroes that came to my said wife from her father and from her father’s estae and the increase of each negroes as she received from her father and from his estate.  Also I give and devise to my wife Jemima Cleage for and during her natural life my home farm upon which I now live containing about eleven hundred and twenty five acres in addition to the negros above given to my wife for life.  I also give and bequeath to her for her natural life a negro man called Frank the husband of Juda and another negro man called Tom known as Tom Lane, I also give to my said wife all my household and kitchen furniture, farming tools and farming implements, all of my livestock and provisions which may be on hand …” 

 30th day of May 1860 Alexander Cleage

emancipation
Idealized view of emancipation from “Harper’s Weekly”

CINCINNATI, Saturday, Jan. 14, 1865

The Commercial has a special dispatch from Nashville, which says:

“The Tennessee State Convention have unanimously passed a resolution declaring slavery forever abolished, and prohibiting it throughout the State.

The convention also pasted a resolution prohibiting the Legislature from recognizing property in man, and forbidding it from requiring compensation to be made to the owners of slaves.”

In 1866, soon after the end of the Civil War, Frank and Judy Cleage were legally married in Athens, TN.

marriage blog

In the 1870 Census Frank was living with his wife, Juda and six children, including my great grandfather, in Athens, Tennessee.  I had been looking for my grandfather’s father, Lewis Cleage and found this census record on Ancestry.com.  Although this Lewis was the right age, and there were no other Lewis Cleages anywhere in the right age range, I had no name for his father and relationships are not specified in the 1870 census. He could have been living with his uncle and aunt, I didn’t know.

1870UnitedStatesFederalCensus frank blogFrank, age 54, worked as a laborer, was born in N. Carolina and nobody in the household could read or write. Juda, age 56, was keeping house.  Their personal estate was worth $300. Juda and all the children were born in Tennessee.  The children were Adaline 14, Lewis 16, Laura 11, Phillip 9 and Andy 7.  There was no Charles or Frank mentioned, although there was a Charles Cleage living elsewhere in Athens, TN, I don’t know for sure if he was the Charles mentioned as one of Juda’s children in Alexander’s Will.  Aside from Lewis Cleage, I cannot find family members again after this census. Did they change their names? Die in one of the several epidemics of cholara and yellow fever that swept the county during the 1870s?  Believe me, I’ve tried every permutation of “Cleage” and searched page by page the McMinn County 1880 Census and the one for Louden county, where I find Lewis and Celia and their children living in 1880.

After searching a variety of spellings of Cleage, I was able to track Lewis Cleage from job to job and location to location up through the 1910 Census. I could find no death certificate for him.  I finally found him living at the same address as his daughter, Josie Cleage and her family in Indianapolis, IN in 1918, while researching at the Indianapolis Library where I could check each Directory, year by year, on microfich.  Frank Cleage’s name appears on my great grandfather, Louis Cleage’s death certificate. Jacob Cleage, my grandfather’s older brother was the informant.  He did not remember Louis’ mother Juda’s name or where his grandparents were born.  This, along with the Will of Alexander Cleage of 1860, documnted the names of my Great Great Grandparents, Frank and Juda Cleage.lewiscleagedeathcertif_cropped

 

Alexander Cleage’s Last Will & Testament – 1860

Athens, Tennessee about 1919. Probably taken by my grandfather Albert B. Cleage, SR
Athens, Tennessee about 1919. Probably taken by my grandfather Albert B. Cleage, SR.  Men unknown.

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

Click to see more Sepia Saturday posts.
Click to see more Sepia Saturday posts.