George Cleage

“The Escaped Slave in the Union Army,” Harper’s Weekly, July 2, 1864, p. 428. (Courtesy of the House Divided Project)
“The Escaped Slave in the Union Army,” Harper’s Weekly, July 2, 1864, p. 428. (Courtesy of the House Divided Project)

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.

George Cleage was born in Memphis, Tennessee about 1845.  He joined the 1st U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery in Knoxville, TN in 1864. His enlistment papers describe him as 19 years old, 5 ft 8 inches with black hair, black eyes and yellow complexion. His occupation was listed as “farmer”. His military record was uneventful, except for being confined to the military prison at Chattanooga for several months. 

When he was mustered out in October of 1865, he had $10.50 coming to him, that would be worth $156.72 today.  Not a lot to start a new life.

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

In 1868 he married Martha Rice in Athens, Tennessee.  His first daughter, Sarah was born in 1869.  While looking at him in the 1870 census, I looked to see who his neighbors were and right there above him was Fannie Turk, widow of Isaac and their children! I have been looking for her and not finding her in censuses.  Isaac and Fannie came off of David Cleage’s plantation and Isaac also enlisted in the USCT in Knoxville. To read more about Fannie and Isaac, go to the link above.

In 1880 Martha and little Sarah are gone (presumed to have died) and George has married Jane.  There are three daughters, Anna, 6; Mary, 4 and Lizzie, 2 years old.  George continues to have employment listed as laborer, but by 1900 he is listed as a brick mason. I wonder if George had been doing brick work all along.  Coming off of a plantation known for building with bricks, I expected more of the free Cleage men to be brick masons. (Cleage Bricks to learn more about Samuel Cleage’s brick making and construction business.)

In 1900 George was a widower.  Two of his daughters are enumerated with him.  Although daughter Anna married Frank Cunningham, she is using Cleage.  She has one child, 2 year old Mazinia.  George’s daughter Lizzie is working as a cook.  Both of the daughters are literate, George is not.  Tom and Sallie (Cleage) Waterhouse lived down the street from them.  Sallie was the daughter of Clinton (sometimes Called Dick) and Sallie Cleage, who I wrote about in “D” is for Dick.  I am loving the way people show up in each other’s lives.

That is the last I find of George Cleage. Lizzie ended up in Knoxville. Mary and Anna ended up in Indianapolis where they died in the 1920s.  Anna is listed in the city directories as “Anna Cleage (widow of Frank) and that caused me some confusion because I thought she might have been a wife of my great grandfather Louis’ brother Frank Cleage, but that turned out not to be the case.  She must have gone back to her maiden name after Frank Cunningham died.  My grandfather and 3 of his siblings lived in Indianapolis at this time. I wonder if the two families crossed paths.

16 thoughts on “George Cleage

    1. I don’t think it was very serious because he was right back serving and present the next month. Maybe absent without leave?

  1. Yeah, that prison stint is curious…

    I love how as this continues, the figures intersect and connect to each other, painting a broader and broader picture of the family. By the time you’re done you’re going to need a wiki to keep everything straight.

    1. I’ve got it all written down, but I’ve gone over it so much that I recognize people when I run into them again. I’m hoping to meet my elusive great grandparents as somebody’s neighbors eventually. I can’t find them after 1870. It doesn’t help that Cleage is sometimes spelled Claig, Clegg, Cleag and who knows what other way.

  2. I just love it when I find someone I had almost given up on when looking for someone else. And like you, I enjoy seeing people moving in and out of each other’s lives over time.

  3. Genealogy is so much fun, discovering ancestors, near and distant. Where they lived. Their occupations, friends and so much more. And your pictures are fascinating. Great post.

  4. Alrighty George! I loved Mazinia … I want to know where her Name comes from? I love the new touchup you did! It also looks good on my cell phone.

    1. These aren’t my relatives, they lived in the same community as my great great grandparents and have the same surname, Cleage. I find the information online at, and sometimes Fold3 when they have been in the military. I love the way the lives intersect, which isn’t surprising because lives in small communities always intersect!

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