This is my 7th year participating in the A to Z Challenge. In the 2015 challenge, I wrote about the Cleages formerly enslaved on the plantations of Samuel and his sons Alexander and David Cleage of Athens, McMinn County, Tennessee.

Since that time I have learned that their lives were much richer and more complex than I could learn from census, death and other records. Some of the suppositions I made were wrong.

Historical Society Long Beach Cemetery Tour 2018 – Zadie Cannon as Amanda Cleage
Photo by Kayte Deioma

In August last year, I received a comment on this blog from Roxanne Padmore of the Historical Society of Long Beach offering to share information about the death of Abraham Cleage, if I was interested. Of course I was interested! We began several months of sharing information and gathering more about Abraham and Amananda who had relocated from Athens, TN to Austin, TX to Los Angeles, CA and finally (for Abraham) Long Beach, CA.

The Historical Society puts on a graveside reenactment at the end of October in Long Beach Municipal Cemetery, where Abraham is buried. Abraham was highlighted in the past but in 2018 they wanted to tell the story from Amanda’s point of view.

After sharing newspaper articles and information from records and speculating, we ordered Abram’s and Amanda’s Civil War Pension files. The information we found there changed the narrative significantly and prompted me to order the pension files for other men who served with Abram Cleage and their widows in Company I, 1st Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery, during the Civil War.

You can read the original “A” post from 2015 by clicking this link Abraham and Amanda Cleage. We will begin with Amanda Cleage as she talks about her life with Abram Cleage in this Deposition from her pension file.


Deposition A

Amanda Cleag
25 May 1909
Long Beach, County of Los Angeles, California

I am 58 years of age. My post office address is No. 903 East 11th Street Long Beach, Calif. – Occupation, Domestic. I am claiming a pension under the Act of April 19, 1908, as the widow of Abram Cleag, who served in CO I, 1st U.S.C. Heavy Artillery, during the Civil War.

My husband, the soldier, enlisted in said organization in Knoxville, Tenn., July 12, 1864,, and was mustered out in Chattanooga, Tenn., March 31, 1866, as shown by his discharge certificate now in my possession and exhibited to you.

So far as I know, my late husband only rendered this one U.S. service, either military, naval or marine.

My husband was pensioned under the Act of June 27, 1890, Certificate No. 1064324, at the rate of $6 per month before his death, and I now hand you his pension certificate and an unexecuted voucher for filing in my pension claim.

I am not a pensioner, but I have this one pension application pending. I was married to the soldier under maiden name of Amanda Armstrong, in Chattanooga, Tenn., in about the winter of 1868. The soldier had been out of the army about two (2) years when we were married. I can’t fix the time any better than that. No, we were not married in Athens, Tenn. in the year 1862, as stated by my husband, the soldier, during his lifetime, in his marital history circular. No, I did not marry him before he went into the army. It was after he came out of the army – two years afterwards.

We were both then traveling with some white people, Mr. Ben E. Tucker and wife and children, on our way from Athens, Tenn. to Austin, Texas, and the soldier and I got off the train at Chattanooga, Tenn., and were married by a colored preacher, Rev. Henry Rowley, of the Methodist Church. Yes, sir, they gave me a marriage certificate, but I lost it here in Los Angeles, some way unknown to me.

My father, Clinton Armstrong, and brother Robert Armstrong, both then of Chattanooga, Tenn., but now both dead, were witnesses to my said marriage to the soldier. No one else was present. We were married in my father’s little restaurant in Chattanooga, but can’t give the exact locality. My father and brother used to go by the surname Cleag too, as he used to own us. We had to change cars at Chattanooga, Tenn., for Texas, and lay over there for about 2 hours, and that was when the soldier and I were married. I can’t say, whether or not a license was obtained authorizing our marriage. No, I do not know whether or not there is a public record of my marriage to the soldier.

I had known the soldier all my life, before my marriage to him. I was raised and owned by Thomas Cleage, near Athens, Tenn., and my husband was raised and owned by Alexander Cleag, the father of Thomas Cleag. I meant to say that I lived in Athens, Tenn. where I grew up. My owner, Thomas Cleag, having a wholesale dry goods store there, and my husband, the soldier was raised on the farm of Alec Cleag, near Athens., Tenn. Husband was a good deal older than I, but I knew him when I was a slave. He was bought in by our people from Russell Hurst, before the war. My father was raised by the Amstrongs and then sold to David Cleag, Alec Cleag’s brother. The Cleags never sold any of their slaves.

When General Sherman’s army came into Tennessee the Cleags were held as prisoners of war as they wouldn’t take the oath of allegiance, and they were sent North and I do not know whether or not, they – or any of them ever got back to Tennessee. I never saw any of them around there after the war was over.

34 thoughts on “AMANDA Cleage

  1. This was such a great read this morning…I find your historic information always interesting, and going back to see what you said in the past is like a gold mine. Thank you for doing an excellent job, and providing the facts with your own interests as well. You give me hope that doing genealogical research is worth while.

    1. If we don’t tell their stories and keep them alive, who will?

      I enjoy your stories too, even though if I’m on my phone, I can’t comment.

    1. The pension file is over 100 pages long and I have 6 or more newspaper articles. All of them were a real help in being able to imagine her life. I could well still have it wrong though.

  2. There is something so very beautiful about that photo, her expression, the feathered church hat. Lovely.

  3. The actual voice, the actual words of a person, in this case, Amanda Cleage, never ceases to amaze me, as we hear her speaking to us over a century and more, and reaching back more than half a century to the days of enslavement. It is also wonderful that both Amanda and Abraham were brought to live in graveside reenactments. Congratulations on completing your first A-to-Z post!

    1. Yes, there is no substitute for having people speak for themselves. And it was a real thrill to have them brought to life. Even though it was much too far for me to go see them, two genealogy buddies did get to go see it.

  4. What a great story and follow up to past research. It is a tribute to your family that the historical society wants to bring Amanda and Abraham’s story to life with reenactment. I am working with an African-American woman who is tracing her line to a white Revolutionary War patriot for membership in DAR. You can guess where our stumbling blocks are. This post gives me ideas of where else to look.

    1. When I discovered those files with the depositions, I was amazed and thankful. The first one belonged to my grandmother’s uncle. I did the 2017 A-Z using that one file.

  5. In 2015 you wrote “It is likely that they took a train.” the extra details you have uncovered through the pension file are marvellous.


  6. What a wonderful continuation for AtoZ 2019. Excellent writing and portrayal of the era and persons involved. The deposition is incredible as a historical document and account of life at the time. I look forward to more during this AtoZ 2019 challenge. I am adding you to my Blog Roll…don’t want to miss any of your posts. Thanks for stopping by so I could visit your blog.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

    1. This was part of Amanda’s application for a pension from the U.S. government as the widow of a Civil War soldier. The files are a wonderful source of information. Neighbors and family members, sometimes members of the family that enslaved them give testimony about their lives. Abram’s and Amanda’s file contained more than 100 pages.

    1. Yes she did. And no fellow members of the plantation community came forward to caste doubt on the marriage. Abram had also talked about their marriage in his application for pension.

  7. Kristin this post is truly amazing! It brings the hidden history of the McMinn County in which I live to stark reality! Thank you again and again for sharing with us this wonderful research!

  8. Really enjoyed reading about the collaboration, reenactment, and the Civil War Pension Files that give a glimpse into the lives of your ancestors in Tennessee. What’s remarkable is that the amount of detail contained in these pension files can still lead to reconnections in the present, even though the connections were missed after the war.

  9. What a wonderful post, Kristin! Pension files are so amazing; I so wish I had just one, somewhere in my own family history!
    Your yearly commitment to the A-Z project is so inspiring! Keep up the great writing!

    1. I never knew I had any among my ancestors until the past few years and I now have 2 – a great great uncle and my great grandmother’s step father.

  10. You are good, please help me! I’m stuck with my 4 x grandfather fought in the civil war under the last name Woods. After the war was over he changed it to Woodland. He was owned by Stanton, TN the city founder, he had one child a girl child. She married a rich Adams and her father passed so all of the slaves was hers. Every year they have a Dick Woodland day in Stanton, TN they call him the grandfather of Stanton, TN. He has a headstone that comes up to my waist.

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