“My mother was the first child of my grandmother who was one of seven children born to Dock Allen, a free man and Eliza, a woman freed from slavery at seventeen. Before being freed this woman, my mother’s grandmother had been trained as a seamstress in the “big house” of the white master, Colonel Edmund Harrison, who was her father. Her mother, Annie, was the slave seamstress in the “big house”. For three generations, in slavery and in freedom, each mother taught her daughters to sew. My grandmother earned her living as a seamstress for white folks in Montgomery, Alabama. But she never taught my mother or her other two daughters to sew.”
My mother wrote me this as part of a piece she was writing about her own mother, Fannie Turner Graham. We grew up hearing it. There was also the part about Colonel Harrison’s wife. She was so angry about her husband having this child, my great great grandmother Eliza, with a slave that she was cruel to both Annie and and Eliza. Col. Harrison, the story went, finally freed both of them and married Eliza to a free man, Dock Allen, who was a carpenter in Montgomery, Alabama.
Because he was always referred to as “Colonel Harrison of Virginia” I pictured him driving Annie and Eliza in a carriage from Virginia to Montgomery, finding a free carpenter and arranging a marriage between his daughter and the carpenter before returning to his plantation in Virginia. I wasn’t really clear on the distance or terrain between Virginia and Montgomery, AL but I wondered why he took her all the way to Alabama. Later I read that freed slaves had to be taken out of the state they had been enslaved in.
In 1980 my mother began writing down her memories and stories of all her great aunts, Eliza’s daughters. She wrote about her mother and about herself growing up too. She made duplicates and sent my sister and myself both copies.
In one she mentioned a strange phone call from her cousin Margaret McCall Ward, who was a librarian and a genealogist and a founder of the Fred Hart Williams Geneological Society in Detroit. The first black genealogical group in Michigan. My mother wrote:
“Note of recent strange happening here: Teen (note: a longtime family friend) is still working on her family tree and sees Margaret who works in that dept. of the library. Margaret kept sending word to me by Teen that she would be happy to help if I wanted to get the family history together….I never called….but finally did one day when Teen insisted….somewhere in the conversation Margaret said of course you know our grandmothers were not really sisters (Aunt Mary and Grandmother Turner whom I had always thought were Dock Allen’s children…had never heard a suggestion of anything else)..I said o really…how…she mumbled…I mentioned Dock…she said you’ve seen the sisters you know how different they looked…I knew she meant some were light like her grandmother and some were dark like mine… they had different mothers? I said..she mumbled again (I have never heard her mumble before …different fathers? I said, really intrigued by this deep family secret now to be uncovered…more mumbles..at any rate, I said, if they weren’t sisters, we aren’t cousins, right?…more mumbles…I let it go, said good-bye and crossed her off the family list….who needs her?…. then a few weeks ago (the other conversation on the phone was months ago) she sends word by Teen that as she was helping someone search records she came across a record pertaining to our family and it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that our grandmothers were sisters and we are cousins. I told Teen off again on again cousins I do not need and have heard no more…but I’m curious about what she was talking about in the first place and what she found in what records…I mentioned it to MV who had never heard it…she called Aunt Gwen (the only one left in that generation to talk to) who is the gossip of the group who said as far as she knew they were all full sisters and brothers (there were two of these.) I await further developments but not with baited breath…”
In 1982 my mother died of ovarian cancer. I inherited her photographs, scrapbooks and letters which she had inherited from her mother. In 1991 I wrote to my aunt, my mother’s only sister, Mary Vee and asked her to tell me about her parents and grandmother. She told me the little she knew and suggested I write to cousin Margaret asking for help with the family tree. I did. A year later I received a reply filling in blanks in the tree. She wrote that my letter revived her interest in looking at this branch of the family again, and be sure to look her up if I got to Detroit.
I decided to accept the Saturday night challenge. After looking and not finding anything but parking lots and weed covered land where my ancestors used to live, I found 910 Fayette standing. My father, Albert Buford Cleage, Jr, was born in this house on June 13, 1911. His parents had married the year before after Albert completed his medical training and received his physician’s license. The little house must have been crowded with five adults and an infant. The three Cleage brothers, Jacob, Henry and Albert and wives Gertrude and Pearl shared the house until the following year when Albert opened a practice in Kalamazoo Michigan and moved his family there.
Elias Hopkins presented to him by his brother + sisterinlaw James + Elizabeth Canfield July 4th 1875 Youngstown Ohio (Initials that I can’t make out. First seems to be Y)
Who are these people and how did they happen to give Jacob Graham the Bible in 1913? It is a small pocket size New Testament. The edges of the pages are golden. It has a flap that used to open and close but it is all starting to fall apart. I don’t want to handle it more then I can help. But here is one last scan.
I have not found out how these people are connected to my grandfather Mershell Graham.
So much for wordless….
After posting this I decided to go look for Jacob Graham at Family Search. I used the pilot program and found a death record for Jacob Graham who died June 30, 1913 at the Salvation Army Fresh Air Camp. I googled the Fresh Air Camp and found several photographs in the Alabama Archives about Fresh Air camps the Salvation army ran in Montgomery for Old men and others for poor women and children. I also found a google book “By Alabama. Dept. of Archives and History”, Thomas McAdory Owen, an entry that mentioned under the section Benevolent Insititutions in Alabama, that the Salvation army had a Fresh Air Camp on the upper Wetumpka Road, founded in 1911 conducted by the Montgomery Anti-Tuberculosis League for tubercular cases.( Alabama official and statistical register.) I’m sending for the death certificate.
Know 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 whereof is hereby acknowledged have bargained and sold and delivered unto David Cleage of the county and state aforesaid two negro boys, to wit, Bob aged about thirteen of dark mulatto colour and Jim, aged about eleven of deep mulatto colour. Each of said boys I warrant sound and healthy both in body and mind and free from any defect whatever and slaves for life and covenant and agree that the title is clear of any encumbrance whatever, and I also warrant the title of the same to the said David Cleage his heirs or assigns against the lawful claim of all and every person or persons whatsoever, for which I bind myself my heirs, Executors and C. Intestmony (note: I’m not sure of this word) whereof I have here unto set my hand and affixed my seal this the sixteenth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty three.
Dear “Shell” – From my early acting in answering your letter, you may know or imagine how proud I was to receive a letter from the boy. I have thought of you often and wondering at the same time, if I was just to receive a postcard from you; for as you have said about me, I consider you one of my closest and most trusted worthy friends. It doesn’t seem that one can realize the feeling that exists until a separation, but after looking into the proposition, knowing that you had to get located, being in a new land, and being among strangers would consume lots of your time. I am certainly pleased to know that you are so well satisfied with Detroit and the surroundings. Yes, I would be tickled to death if I could be up there with you, for I am sick and tired of this blooming place. I know it must be an inspiration to be where you can breathe a little freedom, for every body down here are beginning to feel that slavery is still existing in the south. The Teacher’s Association has been in session here from the 4th to the 7th and quite a number of visitors are here. The boys thru my chivalry managed to give a subscription dance, and believe me I came in an inch of being fagged out. You know how you have to run a “jinke” down to get a $1.00 from him. We had quite a success as well as an enjoyable one. Cliff was to make the punch but on account of his training being too late for him to even come to the ball, it fell my time to do something and I did wish for you but managed to brave the situation and tried to follow as close as I could remember my seeing your making punch and for a fact I really made that punch taste like “a la Shell punch”, and it turned out to be perfect class. Alabama Medical Association will convene here on 9 and 10 and they are giving a dance at Tabors Hall on Randolph and Decatur Sts. No, not a full dress affair, so I think I shall attend. Sam Crayton is here from Chicago and he is very anxious for me to return with him, but I am afraid he will have to go and I come later. Well, the U.S. is really in War with Germany and we can’t tell what the next war may bring. It will mean suffering for humanity, and we people down here especially. I am just as neutral as can be and expect to stand pat in the idea. Yes, people are leaving here in droves for all directions and now you can miss them off of the streets. As many people that hung around the drug store on Sunday, you can scarcely find a dozen there now. I have seen Miss Turner but once and that was down town. I know she keeps you well informed of herself. There is no news of interest. My sister Jessie was married in February and is now living in Pensacola, so you see so far 1917 has been lucky for me. Now old boy, I shall expect for you not to allow such long gaps between our writing each. All of my family sends the best of wishes to you and Mrs Wyman and Hubby. The boys and girls join in with me and send their share.
You may be wondering when I am going to find Eliza. I decided to post the information in the order that I received it. We’ll get there eventually. Today I am posting another writing by my mother. I also posted the personal parts of the letter she wrote to give you some idea of my mother as a person.
5 Nov 1980 by Doris Graham Cleage Dear Kris, Election Day! Did you ever? Here is a joke that sums it up for me: Man, traveling on horseback down a road toward a certain town, comes to a farmer working in a field. Just ahead was a fork in the road. The man hollered to the farmer, “Does it matter which road I take to _______, ” and he named his destination. “Not to me it don’t, ” said the farmer, who hardly looked up from his work. You don’t get it? That’s OK. It gives us a good laugh every time we tell it.
Today I’m going to write about Grandmother. Grandmother Turner was born about 1872, nine years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t know if she finished high school – but she did go. Her mother taught her to sew and it was a good thing she did because grandmother worked the rest of her life supporting herself and her children at sewing. That is, she worked after husband Howard Turner died. They married when she was about sixteen. Don’t know his age. He looked something like grandmother’s father and also like my father, mother said. He was a farmer’s son from around Hayneville, AL, but he preferred the big city – Montgomery. His father had three sons and planned to give each one a large share of the farm when they married. Howard and Jenny received their farm, but neither one liked the country. One day they were in Montgomery. He was at a Bar-B-Q. She was at her parents with their daughters, Fannie Mae, 4, and Daisy Pearl, 2. someone brought word that the had been shot dead. Apparently no one ever knew who did it, but mother always said grandmother thought his father had it done because he was angry that Howard would not farm and had even been talking about selling his part. The father did not want the land sold, but wanted it to stay in the family forever. (Bless his heart!). He and the son had had some terrible arguments before they left to come to the Bar-B-Q. I often wondered why he was there and grandmother wasn’t. She always seemed to like a good time.
I remember her laughing and singing and dancing around the house on Theodore. She was short, about five feet I guess, with brown eyes, thin dark brown hair that she wore in a knot. She was very energetic, always walking fast. She always wore oxfords, often on the wrong feet, and never had time to change them. We used to love to tell her that her shoes were on the wrong feet. (smart kids!)
She never did thing with us like read to us or play with us, but she made us little dresses. I remember two in particular she made me that I especially liked. My “candy-striped” dress – a red white and blue small print percale. She put a small pleated ruffle around the collar and a larger one around the bottom. I was about Deignan’s (note: that would have been about 5) size, I guess, and I really thought I was cool! The other favorite was an “ensemble” – thin, pale green material with a small printed blue green and red flower in it – just a straight sleeveless dress with neck and sleeves piped in navy blue – and a three – quarter length coat of the same material – also straight -with long sleeves and lapels – also piped in navy blue. She never used a pattern. Saw something and made it! She taught us some embroidery which she did beautifully but not often. She never fussed at us – never criticized – and I think she rocked me in the upstairs hall on Theodore when I was little and sick. The rocker Daddy made stood in that hall. I remember lots of people rocking in that chair when I was small.
Grandmother went to work when her husband was murdered – sewing for white folks – out all day fitting and sewing – and sewing all night – finishing while mother and Daisy stayed with their Grandfather Allen, who would tell on them when Grandmother came home and she would spank them. Mother said she remembered telling Daisy to holler loudly so Grandmother wouldn’t spank them hard or long and it worked!
Grandmother stayed single until she was about 37 or 38 when she married someone Mother hated – looked Italian, hardly ever worked. Liked a good time. Fathered Alice and left when she was very small. Somehow when mother spoke of him I had the feeling he would have like to have taken advantage of her. She was about 20 and had given up two college scholarships to stay and help Grandmother.
Sometimes after her husband’s death, Grandmother took the deed to the farm to a white lawyer. (was there any other kind?) and told him to sell it for her. He went to see it and check it out – told her to forget it – her title wasn’t clear, but he never gave the deed back and she figured he made a deal with her father-in-law.
Aunt Abbie said the father-in-law built Grandmother and Howard a “shotgun” house on the farm. She would turn up her nose as she said it. You know that is a house like this – no doors on front or back, you could shoot a gun through hall without damage. Animals (pigs, dogs) would wander into the hall and have to be driven out. Aunt Abbie only stayed there when the plague was raging in Montgomery. Yellow fever (malaria) and/or polio every summer. Many people sick or dying. Huge bonfires in the streets every night to ‘purify’ the air”, and closing the city if it got bad enough – no one in or out. More than once they fled the city in a carriage through back streets and swamps because they were caught by the closing which was done suddenly to keep folks from leaving and spreading the “plague”
In Detroit, when they came in 1923 when Mother and Daddy had bought the house on Theodore and had room for them (room? only 5 adults and 3 children!) Grandmother, Daisy and Alice got good jobs, (they were good – sewing fur coats, clean work and good pay.) at Annis Furs (remember it back of Hudsons?) and soon had money to buy their own house much farther east on a “nice” street in a “better ” neighborhood (no factories) on Harding Ave. While they lived with us I remember violent arguments between Alice and I don’t know who – either Grandmother or Daisy or Mother. Certainly not Daddy because when he spoke it was like who in the Bible who said, “When I say go, they goeth. When I say come, they cometh.” Most of the time I remember him in the basement, the backyard or presiding at table. Daisy and grandmother were what we’d call talkers.
Maybe here a word about Aunt Daisy. Look at her picture, sweet, soft, pretty, taught school awhile in Montgomery (with high school diploma) loved Congregational preacher named Duncan Erby who loved her and waited for her for years. Had the church in Buffalo, NY. Whenever she really considered leaving, Grandmother did the old guilt trick “How can you leave me to take care of Alice all by myself?” and “No man in this world is good enough to touch your little finger. They are all no good except (maybe) Shell.” and Daisy listened and stayed and played numbers, studied dream books and drank a little apricot brandy. I always found their house light, cheerful, full of magazines (McCall’s, Journal, etc.) which I loved to read, full of good things to eat. All three were super cooks and they had always just had a bunch of friends to dinner and to play cards or just about to have.
Daisy took us downtown to the show every summer and to Saunders for ice cream afterward. And I always ended up with a splitting headache. Too much high living I guess. She and Alice would buy us dainty, expensive little dresses from Siegel’s or Himelhoch’s. They all went to church every Sunday, Plymouth Congregational. Daisy always gave us beautiful tins of gorgeous Christmas candy, that white kind filled with gooey black walnut stuff, those gooey raspberry kind and those hard, pink kind with a nut inside, and chocolates, of course! She loved to eat and to cook. Never seemed bitter or regretful about her lost love.
Grandmother got old, hurt her knee, it never healed properly. Daisy worked and supported the house alone. Alice only worked a little while. She had problems getting along with people. Grandmother was eventually senile. Died of a stroke at 83 or so. Alice spent years taking care of her while Daisy worked. Daisy added to their income by being head numbers writer at Annis!! Did I ever show you the picture of the “coloreds” who worked at Annis? Will send if you like. Looks like people from Mr. Polks book, were supposed to be the “best looking colored girls in Detroit” Mr. Annis had a colored mistress, of course.
15 Nov 1980 Dear Kris and Pearl, Figured I’d make a carbon of the stuff about the family and send you each one…this is a sort of wrap up of Grandmother….but first something the Snoopy cartoon (from Pearl) made me remember….about four blocks around the corner and down the street from Theodore was a vacant lot where for some years they had a small carnival every year…. I don’t remember the carnival at all… I never liked rides anyway… not even the merry-go-round..but I remember it being evening, dark outside…and we were on the way home….I don’t remember who was there except Daddy and I….he was carrying me because I was sleepy so I must have been very small…I remember my head on his shoulder and how it felt…the best pillow in the world…I remember how high up from the sidewalk I seemed to be…I could hardly see the familiar cracks and printings even when the lights from passing cars lighted thigs…which was fairly often because we were on Warren Ave. I remember feeling that that’s the way things were supposed to be. I hadn’t a worry in the world. I was tired, so I was carried. I was sleepy, so I slept. I must have felt like that most o my childhood because it’s still a surprise to me that life is hard. Seems that should be a temporary condition.
Now as to Grandmother and her sewing… you know how long and voluminous dresses were either side of 1900… how many stitches there were in one I hate to think… machines were available at that time but whether or not she had one I don’t know… this is what she did… she was a seamstress. Let’s say you could afford to have someone make your clothes and she was your regular person. Every July she came to your house and sewed for you and your children, making everything, including winter coats, suits, dresses, sleepwear, underwear, everything except knitted stuff like socks and hats. She might have made shirts for the man of the house too. She had no patterns. She made a pattern or just cut the material if it wasn’t complicated, basted it together, fitted it, made corrections, got it ready for final sewing. All this she did at your house, all day. When she finally went home about supper time, she took with her the things ready to be sewed and worked on them all night, because the faster she finished things the faster she got paid and the more jobs she could take. She did plain stuff if they wanted it or she could tailor a suit (easy tailoring, she always said, and she didn’t like it. Too exact, she said) Or she could make fancy like smocking, the gathery stuff across the front of little girls dresses or nightgowns or ladies fancy blouses, or embroidery or ruffles or lace trim. She could even make the lace (tat, that is), put fur collars and cuffs on coat or suit, she could do it all and she did it all all the time.
One thing she liked about her work, it was not dirty. She was not a maid of any kind. She could choose her customers to some extent, because she was good, I guess., and there were people for whom she would not work. Usually referred to as “white trash” meaning in this case I guess that they were rude to her since they could not have been poor and had a seamstress. Another thing she liked was that she could talk while she worked and she loved to talk. I remember her talking all the time when she lived with us. And Daisy was a talker too. Grandmother would talk sometimes about the folks she had sewed for. Some were Jewish. I remember only two specifics. One who advised her to cut her long hair because it would “sap her strength” and also not to take hot or long baths for the same reason the other was complaining about life and GM said (with a mouth full of pins all sticking out and her talking through them as I remember) “Well, when we get to Heaven we won’t have to worry about that any more” The lady was horrified and said “Surely, Jennie (her name was Jennie Virginia and I almost named one of you after her) you don’t think you and I will go to the same Heaven”. Grandmother always laughed at that story and said she wouldn’t mind dying so much if she would just remember that she would see that lady in Heaven and enjoy her consternation at seeing Grandmother there too with NO segregation. Mother and Daisy always shook their heads at this and said she shouldn’t talk like that about dying. Grandmother laughed some more. She liked to shock them.
My grandfather, Mershell Cunningham Graham was born in Coosada Station, Alabama about 1888. He didn’t know his exact birthday and chose to celebrate Christmas day. His parents were William and Mary Graham and he had a brother named Bill and a sister named Annie. Aside from that and a few stories about digging sweet potatoes in the rain and sleeping outside the bedroom door of a little girl he was servant to, I don’t know anything about his childhood. He taught himself to read. Eventually worked in the dining car on the railroad. He moved to Montgomery where he met my grandmother, Fannie. He lost an eye in a hunting accident. During WWI he moved to Detroit where there was already a contingent from Montgomery, and got a job at Fords Motor Company. He proposed to Fannie by mail and I still have the letter she wrote back accepting his offer of marriage. He could fix anything and make most things. He always had a wonderful vegetable garden and flowers in the yard.
I can’t find him until the 1910 census when he is single and living in Waycross Georgia with Irwin and Mary Warren’s family as a boarder. He was working as a car repairman in a railroad shop. June 4, 1917 according to his WW 1 draft registration card he was single, responsible for his father, living in Detroit and working as a steward for the D & CAN Co. on the Lakes. Jun 11, 1919 he and Fannie Mae Turner were married in Montgomery, AL. In the 1920 census he and his wife Fannie are boarders in the house of Moses and Jennette Walker in Detroit. He worked as an inspector at an auto factory. By 1930 he owns his home and lives with his wife Fannie and three children, Mary, Doris and Howard on Theodore St. in Detroit. He was a stock keeper in an auto factory. Mershell Graham died peacefully in his sleep at home, September 6, 1973 in Detroit, Michigan.
Today I am posting some entries from his little notebook. Although everything isn’t dated, it begins in 1934. He writes the person’s name first on jobs. Completed jobs are marked through with an X
Daisy – 1 set of shelves for attic stairway – 5 ft tall 12 “ wide
Gwen – 1 table for basement 5 ft long 3 ft wide folding legs
Lottie Brandon – 1 porch flower box
Mother – 1 bookcase for house – use any size
1 Bulletin Board for Church – 1934 2 1/2 ft x 2 ft 10 “ Glass Front Brown Board in Back clear glass 26 1/2 x 30 7/8
Car struck by M.C. (note: Michigan Central) engine Mar. 10th 1935 At 2:15 P.M. Doris in car with me. No one hurt very bad. Doris received small cut on left hand M.C. RR settled for $25.00 part cost on fixing car.
B.T. Washington Died Nov. 15, 1915 At Tuskegee Ala.
Social Security Act Account number 374-20-3906 12-21-1936