Category Archives: African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research

Are you a married man?

From my drafts. Abram testifies about his marriage and children.

Question 1.  Are you a married man? If so, please state your wife’s full name and her maiden name.
Answer: Amanda Cleag.

Question 2. When, where, and by whom were you married?
Answer: At Athens in 1862 by Rev. Henry Rowley

Question 3. What record of marriage exists?
Answer: Have none.

Question 4. Were you previously married? If so, please state the name of your former wife and the date and place of her death or divorce.
Answer: No.

Question 5. Have you any children living? If so, please state their names and the dates of their birth.
Answer: Sally Idena Cleag

“…first came to Dr. Phillip’s plantation”

Another from the drafts folder. More testimony for Amanda Cleag’s Widow’s Pension hearing. His wife testified here Rented Land.

Los Angeles County in 1888

“Pomona, South Pasadena and Compton are incorporated as cities. Long Beach is also incorporated for the first time, but is disincorporated years later in 1897 (but then reincorporated before the end of that year). Heavy floods occur. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is established at a meeting of the city’s principal boosters. Los Angeles Times publisher, Harrison Gray Otis, makes the motion. A small African American community forms in Los Angeles, initially centered around First and Los Angeles Streets. Occidental College is founded in Eagle Rock.” Click on map to go to page.


Deposition C in Amanda Cleag’s Widow’s Pension Claim

Mason Davis
I am 57
My address is: 1239 Birch Street, Los Angeles California
Occupation: Express man

I have been living in Los Angeles for about 21 years and I lived in and around Austin, Texas, for 20 years before coming here to reside.

I first became acquainted with Abram Cleag and his wife Amanda Cleag when they first came to Dr. Phillip’s plantation, near Austin, Texas, all of forty years ago, and I knew them in and around Austin, Texas for all of 20 years, and I knew them as long here in California. They came here a little ahead of me and my wife, from Austin, Texas. 

When they first came to Dr. Phillips plantation, they were a young looking married couple, and said they had come from San Marcos, Texas, where they had gone from Athens, Tenn. with the Tucker family, and that the Tucker family had gone into the state of Virginia to live.

No, I do not know how long Abram Cleag and Amanda Cleag had been married before they came to Dr. Phillip’s plantation, and I don’t recollect that they ever told me where they had gotten married, but Abram Cleag told me that he had been in the army during the civil war, and after he came here he got a pension for his army service.

I know personally, however that Abram Cleag and Amanda Cleag always lived together as man and wife all the time I was associated with them in Texas for 20 years, and that they lived as man and wife all the time here in California up to the time of Abram Cleag’s death in Long Beach, Calif., about a year ago. Yes, sir, I attended his funeral in Long Beach, and saw him dead. My wife and I used to visit the Cleags in Long Beach, and have styed at his home for a week at the time.

I personally know that Amanda Cleag, this claimant for pension has not remarried since the death of her husband, Abram Cleag, and that she has had to work to support herself.

Yes, I know of my own knowledge that Abram Cleag and Amanda Cleag always lived together as man and wife, never being separated or divorced, during all the 40 or more years I knew them up to the time of Abram Cleag’s death, and that they were known and recognized as man and wife by all who know them both in Texas and California. I also know that the Cleags had two children born to them, but none of them are alive. She had a granddaughter, Avalon Price, with whom she lived in Long Beach, after the death of her husband Abram, but that granddaughter died recently and Amanda is now alone in the world.  She has no relations alive that I know of, and I don’t know that Abram Cleag has any living relatives.

Question: Had Abram Cleag been married before his marriage to Amanda Cleage, this claimant for pension, as you may have heard?

Answer: I never heard that he had been married before his marriage to Amanda, and he never told me that he had been.

Question: Had Amanda, the claimant been married before her marriage to Abram Cleag, the soldier?

Answer: Not that I know of. I never heard it said by either of them that Amanda had been married before her marriage to Abram Cleag. If either one of them had ever been previously married, I never heard of it.

It is my understanding that they had grown up in Tennessee, but I never met anyone who knew them there.

No, I never heard that Amanda Cleag had been married to a Lou Dedrick, from whom she was divorced before her marriage to Abram Cleag. I can’t hardly believe that, as she was a young woman when I got to know her in Texas.

I know for sure, however, that they always lived together as man and wife all the years I knew them, and that they were never separated or divorced.

Yes, that is my signature to that joint affidavit shown me. No, I can’t fix the date any better that I have done to you,  when I first got to know the Cleags.

Am not interested nor related. This has been read to me and I have understood questions, and my answers are correct.

Mason Davis
27 May, 1909

Bound for the Promised Land

“The Reason,” by Albert A. Smith. The Crisis, (March, 1920)

From Florida’s stormy banks I go;
I’ve bid the South “Good by”;
No longer shall they treat me so,
And knock me in the eye.
The northern states is where I’m bound.
My cross if more than double –
If the chief executive can be found.
I’ll tell him all my trouble.

Thousands have gone on there before,
And enjoyed their northern live;
Nothing there they can deplore,
So they wrote back for their wives.
Thousands more now wait to go
To join the glorious sop.
The recruiters failed to take one more
Because the “Crackers” made ‘em stop.

Arise! ye Darkies now a-slave
Your chance at last has come;
Hold up your head with courage brave,
‘Cause times are changing some,
God is punctual to his word,
Faithful to his dating;
Humble prayers is what he heard,
After years of faithful waiting.
All before this change was made
They took me for a tool.
No respect to me was paid –
They classed me for a fool.
For centuries I was knocked and cuffed,
And imposed upon by southern “whites”;
For fifty years they had me bluffed
And robbed me of my “right.” . . .

Hasten on, my dark brother,
Duck the “Jim Crow” laws.
No “Crackers” north to slap your mother
Or knock you in the jaw.
No “Crackers” there to seduce your sister,
Nor hang you to a limb,
And you’re not obliged to call them mister,
Nor show your teeth at them.

Now, why should I remain longer south,
to be kicked and dogged around?
“Crackers” to knock me in the mouth
And shoot my brother down.
No, I won’t. I’m leaving today,
No longer can I wait.
If the recruiters fail to take me ‘way,
I’m bound to catch a freight.

by Mr. Ward
originally published in the Chicago Defender, November 11, 1916

In 1916 the word was everywhere – move north, you have a better chance. Friends and neighbors who had made the journey sent back word. The Chicago Defender sent newspapers all over the countries with articles about lynchings and poems like the above. There were articles about a better life in the north. Jobs that paid a living wage. About being able to vote. Pullman porters distributed the Defender throughout the south, even though the white authorities tried to prevent.

Heading of the Chicago Defender

The newspaper was read extensively in the South. Black Pullman porters and entertainers were used to distribute the paper across the Mason/Dixon line. The paper was smuggled into the south because white distributors refused to circulate The Defender and many groups such as the Klu Klux Klan tried to confiscate it or threatened its readers. The Defender was passed from person to person, and read aloud in barbershops and churches. It is estimated that at its height each paper sold was read by four to five African Americans, putting its readership at over 500,000 people each week. The Chicago Defender was the first black newspaper to have a circulation over 100,000, the first to have a health column, and the first to have a full page of comic strips.

“During World War I The Chicago Defender waged its most aggressive (and successful) campaign in support of “The Great Migration” movement. This movement resulted in over one and a half million southern blacks migrating to the North between 1915-1925. The Defender spoke of the hazards of remaining in the overtly segregated south and lauded life in the North. Job listings and train schedules were posted to facilitate the relocation. The Defender also used editorials, cartoons, and articles with blazing headlines to attract attention to the movement, and even went so far as to declare May 15, 1917 the date of the “Great Northern Drive.” The Defender’s support of the movement, caused southern readers to migrate to the North in record numbers. At least 110,000 came to Chicago alone between 1916-1918, nearly tripling the city’s black population.

NPR “The Chicago Defender”

Mershell on the railing, Mary Graham in the chair and Clifton on the steps of 224 Tuscaloosa Street in Montgomery, AL

On February 14, 1917. he sent a letter from Detroit to Montgomery to ask for a recommendation from Seligman & Marx, Wholesale Grocers. Which means he had relocated to Detroit sometime before February 14. And to make that trip he took the train.

In the 1916 Montgomery City Directory, my grandfather was was living with Clifton and Mary Graham. They were his “adopted family” and as far as I know not blood relations.

From the 1916 Polk Montgomery Directory

Separate but equal was a legal doctrine in United States constitutional law, according to which racial segregation did not necessarily violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

My maternal grandfather, Mershell C. Graham was one of those who listened and decided to leave Montgomery and head to Detroit.

There was no food served to black people either on the train or at stops below the Mason-Dixon line. He would have bought a box with food for the journey, fried chicken, sandwiches, perhaps fruit, biscuits, and cake. Maybe enough to share with a fellow passenger who hadn’t brought food.

Although the price was the same for both black and white passengers, the accommodations were anything but equal. Below is a description. There are several other links at the end of this post to information about segregated travel.

A Way of Travel
“From the 1830s through the 1950s, people traveled in trains pulled by steam locomotives. Cars in these trains were almost always arranged in a particular order—an order that reflected social hierarchy. Coal-burning steam engines spewed smoke and cinders into the air, so the most privileged passengers sat as far away from the locomotive as possible. The first passenger cars—the coaches—were separated from the locomotive by the mail and baggage cars. In the South in the first half of the 20th century, the first coaches were “Jim Crow cars,” designated for black riders only. Passenger coaches for whites then followed. Long-distance trains had a dining car, located between the coaches and any sleeping cars. Overnight trains included sleeping cars—toward the back because travelers in these higher-priced cars wanted to be far away from the locomotive’s smoke. A parlor or observation car usually brought up the rear

Jim Crow Journeys: An Excerpt from Traveling Black
The 1880s railroads and segregation
From Jim Crow to Now: On the Realities of Traveling While Black

Guided by the Ancestors

A post about finding my great great grandmother Susan Rice Ragan that I wrote several years ago and never published.

My great great grandmother Susan Rice Regan’s grave stone in Hammond’s Cemetery in Athes, TN

Riding home today after getting my ears dewaxed, my mind wandered to… pension files.

Recently I joined fold3 to find information about one of the people I wrote up in the Katie Cleage’s series – Lucy McCaury. I couldn’t find anything about her, so I decided to see if there were any interesting widow’s files from the same Troop with the Cleages. I found one yesterday for Susan Regan, from Athens TN. As I went through her file, I noticed a name I recognized – W.R. Sherman and thought, well, I know him. He was my great grandmother Celia’s second husband. He was writing concerning final expenses for Susan Regan and he listed himself as son-in-law. It took me overnight to realize that would make her Grandma Celia’s mother.

Susan Ragan and the three children of Nelson Ragan/Reagan were named in the file. They were born in 1857, 1860 and 1864. My great grandmother was born in 1855. Henry was born in 1854. They weren’t named in the pension file because they were not Nelson’s children and therefore didn’t qualify for any pension money. In the 1870 census, Susan Ragan appears with those three plus Ann and Henry. All were using the Ragan surname. I had looked at that file several times before when trying to find Celia in the 1870 census and discarded it because the names were “wrong”. This time I remembered that Celia’s first name was Anna on her death certificate.

Monday I was following my newly found 2X great grandmother Susan Ragan through the census records on She was only appearing in every other census. I finally decided to go ahead and add her to my main family tree as my great grandmother’s mother. (I had set up a separate tree for them until I was sure.) Once I added her as my great grandmother’s mother, she appeared in the missing censuses as Susan Rice . “Rice” being the name of their former slave holder and my great grandmother’s father so “Rice” became one of Susan Rice Ragan’s surnames and she began to show up when she used that surname. The children identified as ‘Ragan” before, now appeared as “Rice” in those censuses. It’s all so amazing to me. I even found her grave on Find-a-grave and had it transferred to me.

Other posts about Susan Rice Ragan

TIMELINE: Susan Rice Ragan
QUITE a Surprise
ON this the 29th day of March…
PHILLIP Born Dec. 21, 1857
VALVULAR Heart Disease
UNDERTAKER: Susan Rice Ragan’s burial
SHOT By Robbers
WILLIAM Roger Sherman

“Had the soldier been married before his marriage to you?”

I published part I of Amanda Cleag’s Deposition during 2019 at this link – Amanda Cleage. While going through blog posts I never published, I found this one and decided to publish it today.

A page from the deposition

Part II of Amanda Cleag’s Deposition

Question: What persons or person are in or about Athens, Tenn. now who knew you and the soldier there before your marriage?

Answer – I don’t know of anyone in there. I have had letters written there to different persons whom I knew, but my letters have all been returned to me. Well, I knew Amos Jackson and his wife, colored; Mr. and Mrs. Ross, colored, and Mr. and Mrs. Blizzard, colored, and Mr. and Mrs. Turner, colored.

Question-Where had you lived after the war and before your marriage to the soldier?

Answer: I worked for and lived with Mr. and Mrs. John Bridges in Athens, Tenn., after we had been freed by General Sherman, and I lived with them until I went to live with Mr. Ben E. Tucker and his family, just above Athens, and left with them to go to San Marcos, Texas, for awhile. We were in San Marcos, Texas for about a year with the Tuckers, then husband and I went to Austin, Texas, on our own account, engaging in farming and where we first became acquainted with Mr. Davis and his wife, on Dr. Phillips farm. We all were on the same farm, renting land from Dr. Phillips.

Question: Where did your husband live after he came out of the army and before his marriage to you?

Answer: He lived right there in Athens, Tenn. Working for Dr. Atlee, and with whom he remained until he went with the Ben E. Tucker family and myself to Texas, as aforesaid.

Question:  Had your husband, the soldier been married, before his marriage to you?

Answer: No sir, he never had been. I know it because I lived right there with him. No sir, he did not have a slave wife. He never lived with any woman in martial relations before his marriage to me, that I know of or ever heard of. He may have run around with women, for all I know, but I never knew or heard of his living with any women as man and wife live together.  I lived continuously with the soldier from the time of my marriage to him as aforesaid, never being separated or divorced from him, up to the time of his death, which occurred here in Long Beach, California, April 14, 1908, and he was buried here in the cemetery.

Before my mother married my father she was also owned by Russell Hurst who owned the soldier, and mother told me that she had the care of the soldier as a little boy, for some reason or the other, and my mother always told me that the soldier never had been married before his marriage to me. My father, mother and the soldier were afterwards sold to the Cleags. Yes, father had been owned by the Armstrongs previously and used to go by that name and also the name of Cleag. By which one he was ever called.

My father and mother are both dead. I had four brothers and three sisters. Three of my brothers are dead, but I do not know where the other one is, if alive.  Two of my sisters are also dead, but the third one, Mrs. Sallie Ross, wife of George Ross, was living in Washington, D.C., when I last heard from her 5 or 6 years ago. If I am not mistaken she was living at Tacoma, near Washington D.C.

Question: How many times had you been married before your marriage to the soldier?

Answer:  I was only married once before my marriage to the soldier. I was first married to Lou Dedrick in Athens, Tenn., while I was still a slave and owned by Thomas Cleag. I was married about six months before the close of the war.  My second husband, the soldier, had not come out of the army then: I can’t fix the date better than that. I was married to Lou Dedrick by a colored preacher named “Uncle Sam Armstrong”.   He was an old man. I was married in “Cindy Dedrick’s” house, sister of first husband. I only lived with my first husband Lou Dedrick, for six months, when I got a divorce on account of cruelty and threats on my life. “went before the Grand Jury” and got my divorce. Lawyer Blizzard my divorce proceedings for me, and I was given a general decree of divorce by the Court and it must be of record. No, I haven’t my divorce paper now.  Yes sir, I was given one. It got misplaced and lost with other papers in Tennessee. Yes, I went into court to get my divorce. I know I did get a divorce from Lou Dedrick, and I was given a divorce paper. Lawyer Blizzard saw that I got my rights and I got the paper.

Lou Dedrick went away after I got a divorce from him, and I have never seen him since or heard of him. I don’t know whether or not his sister, his sister is alive and if her so, her place of residence. He had no other relatives that I know of. He never was a soldier, but had lived in Athens, Tenn., for a long while. I was just a young girl when I married him, about 14 or 15 years old. I was too young to marry him. I had one child by him, which subsequently died. I had 2 children by the soldier, which also died. My oldest child, a daughter, died during the San Francisco, Cal., earthquake.

I swear between God and man I was only married once before my marriage to the soldier, as aforesaid, and that I never lived with any man as his wife, without being married to him. I only had those two marriages. That is the God’s truth. Yes, I was divorced from Lou Dedrick, and Lawyer Blizzard got the divorce for me in Athens, Tenn.

The soldier had four brothers, Isaac, Charley, George, Jeff and Jerome Cleag and two sisters Kitty and Sarah Cleag. The four boys lived in Chattanooga, Tenn., and they all died there. Kitty also died in Chattanooga and Sarah died in Atlanta, Ga. The soldier has no relatives alive that I know of. I know that they all died before my husband, except Sarah, who died since his death. Her name was Mrs. Sarah McMillan, and she died in Atlanta, GA.

After my marriage to the soldier as herein before set forth, we went to San Marcos, Texas, with the Tucker family and remained there a year with them. When they went into Virginia some place to live, as Mr. Tucker was a sick man and died in Texas, and my husband and I went to Dr. Phillips farm, a mile from Austin, Texas, and we lived there and in and about Austin, Texas, until we came here about 22 years ago, and have lived in Los Angeles and Long Beach all the time since then. Mr. and Mrs. Davis, whom we knew in Austin Texas, came out here shortly after we did.

While in Austin, Texas, I can refer to Mr. and Mrs. L. Leverman, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Jenkins, Mr. and Mrs. Bantam, all colored people. Also the following white people:  Mrs. Mary Deets, George Marcum, a storekeeper, Mr. and Mrs. Bertie Barns, grocery business, the finest in the city, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Freedman.

Question: you have stated in an affidavit that you were married to the soldier in the year 1866 in Athens, Tenn. How about that?

Answer: That is a mistake. I was married to the soldier in Chattanooga, Tenn., while on our way to Texas as I have told you, and it was about two years after the war was over. The person who drew up that affidavit misunderstood me.

Question; Can you write your name?

Answer: No I cannot. No, I never learned to write my name.

Question; who wrote your name “Amanda Cleag” to that pension application I now exhibit to you?

Answer: My name on that pension application now exhibited to me, was written by my deceased granddaughter, Avalon Pierce, at my authorization. Yes sir, I told my granddaughter Avalon Pierce to write my name to that pension application, because I could not write my name, and afterwards I swore to the correctness of the contents of said application, and the notary public, who drew up my pension application, and before and how it was executed, said it was all right. He said my granddaughter could sign my name for me, because I was unable to write it myself.  Mr. Spooner was the notary public I appeared before to execute only application for pension. He didn’t tell that I had to sign by mark, because I couldn’t write, but another notary public, before whom I appeared to execute an affidavit in my said pension claims, said I would have to sign by mark, and I did so.  My granddaughter, Avalon Pierce, also signed my name as aforesaid, has been dead for three months, having died in this city on account of tuberculosis.

Question: By whom can you prove that the soldier was not married before his marriage to you, and that you lived continuously with him from the time of your marriage to him to the day of his death?

Answer: I don’t know as I can prove that he was never married before his marriage to me outside of my own statement, but I can prove by Mr. and Mrs. Davis that one lived together as man and wife in Texas from the first time they knew us there, and also they have known me all the time I have lived in California, or nearly all the time. No, sir, I have not remarried since the soldier’s death.

Question: By whom do you expect to prove that you were only married once before you marriage to the soldier, and that you were divorced from your first husband, Lou Dedrick?

Answer: I can’t get “no” proof of that, as I don’t know where any of those people are who knew me before my marriage to the soldier. Maybe some of those people can be located in Athens, whose names I have given you. I have given you all the information I possess in regard to that.

Question: How is it you stated in your pension application that you never had been married before your marriage to the soldier?

Answer:  I didn’t think it necessary to say anything about that because I had gotten a divorce from my first husband. I know I did. No, I never was married in my life more than twice, first to Lou Dedrick, and the second and last time to the soldier. Mr. J.G. Parrish of Long Beach, Calif. is my pension attorney, but I have not paid him or anybody the any money for services rendered

This statement of mine herein made to you is the exact truth and I have not concealed any important facts. There is nothing more I can tell you.

You have explained to me all my rights and privileges, and I waive my right to be present or represented in the further examination of my claim.

Witness:  J.G. Parrish  A.C. McPeak
Amanda (x her mark) Cleage
25th May 1909
Alford L. Leonard (special examiner)

Other posts about Amanda and Abram Cleag

Abraham and Amanda Cleage – this is the first one I published in 2015 before I ordered their pension files.

Sarah IDENA Cleag – Amanda and Abram’s daughter

RENTED land – a neighbor of Amanda and Abram talks about how they met

DEADRICK & DIVORCE – Amanda’s first husband gives his version of their marriage.

BOTH BURIED in Plot 40 – Both Abram and his granddaughter Avalon are buried in the same plot.

H – History of St. John’s

This is my ninth year of blogging the A to Z Challenge. Everyday I will share something about my family’s life during 1950. This was a year that the USA federal census was taken and the first one that I appear in. At the end of each post I will share a book from my childhood collection. Click on all images to enlarge.

In Memory of John Brown “Hero of Harper’s Ferry” A window in the Sanctuary. Other windows are named for former members.

I thought I would define “Congregational” for those that don’t know what makes this denomination different from other protestant denominations. Congregationalism emphasizes the right and responsibility of each congregation to determine its own affairs. It eliminates bishops and presbyteries. Each individual church is autonomous.

St. John’s Congregational Church is one of the oldest African American churches in New England. It was founded in 1844. First as the Sanford Street Church. After a few years, it was known as the Free Church. Many members were actively involved in the Underground Railroad and in the movement to abolish slavery.

In 1892, the Sanford Street Church merged with the Quincy Street Mission to form St. John’s Congregational Church, which was named in honor of John Brown, who was a member of the congregation during his three year residency in Springfield. Some years later Brown launched the attack on Harper’s Ferry leading up to the Civil War.

William Deberry as a young man. Click to see original photo on the Springfield Museum site.

Reverend William DeBerry came to Springfield in 1899, a week after graduating from Oberlin Theological Seminary in Ohio. He was ordained as pastor of St. John’s Church on June 28, 1899.

By 1911 the congregation had raised the funds and built a new church at the corner of Hancock and Union Streets. Some subterfuge was needed as the original white owner would not sell to African Americans. Another white man agreed to purchase the property for the church, with their funds, and deed it over to them after the sale.

Rev. DeBerry believed in combining traditional religious services with community involvement. In 1913 St. John’s Parish Home next to the church on Union Street was opened to provide safe residential accommodation for working girls and women. It also included quarters for the minister and his family. This is where we lived in 1950. A free employment bureau was opened for men and women, along with a night school which taught domestic science. The Women’s Social Union and the Boys Club were formed to provide social and sports activities for young people.

Springfield’s Black population almost doubled between 1917 and 1922 as people from the South moved North. Due to the population increase and housing segregation in Springfield, there was a need for housing. The church purchased buildings on Quincy Street and Orleans Street and rented it to black families.

In 1920 property was purchased for a summer camp in East Brookfield. Camp Atwater continues to this day as the oldest African American camp in the United States.

In 1924, DeBerry separated the social programs division from the church in order to bypass restrictions on the funding of religious programs. He resigned from the pulpit to lead the new organization, reorganized in 1931 as the Dunbar Community League. The church found itself in the midst of the Depression and without much of it’s social programming and income.

Rev. Albert B. Cleage on church steps.

In 1945 my father, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr became the pastor of St. John’s. He had also graduated from Oberlin Theological School and belived in combining traditional religion and social involvement.

In 1947 the church began a move to have the buildings DeBerry had separated from the church when he left, returned to church ownership. The dispute ended up in court. Some members of the church sided with DeBerry. After DeBerry died in January of 1948 arrangements were made between the Dunbar Community League and St. John’s Congregational Church for the buildings to be returned.

Springfield Union February 21, 1948 Transcribed below. Click to enlarge.

St. John’s and Dunbar Dispute is Settled

Out of Court Agreement Provides Church Pay League $11,000 for Two Properties

An out-of-court settlement of the long-standing property dispute between St. John’s Congregational Church and the Dunbar Community League, Inc., was announced jointly yesterday by counsel for the two groups, John T. Quirk, Jr., and Robert W. Bodfish for the church and Milton J. Donovan for the league. The settlement provided payment of $11,500 by the church to the league.

The terms will be incorporated in a consent decree terminating equity proceedings in Superior Court according to the attorneys. Their statement said, in part:

“St. John’s Church will pay to Dunbar Community League, Inc. $11,500. Dunbar will transfer to St. John’s the properties at 643 Union St. and 146-152 Quincy st., which are adjacent to the church property. The Dunbar organization will continue to occupy it’s present office location at 643 Union St., until Nov. 1, 1948.

Springfield Union February 21, 1948
Continued from above. Transcription to the right.

“Suitable releases will be mutually exchanged to terminate all questions raised by the equity suit or outstanding between the parties.”

The proceedings against the league had aroused considerable controversy in Springfield’s Negro community, involving, as it did, one of the largest Negro congregations and an outstanding Negro social agency. It centered around title to several properties acquired by the church and St. John’s Institutional Activities, Inc., of which the Dunbar League is the successor.

Last spring, the church obtained a temporary injunction and restraining order against the league forbidding the league to dispose of the properties involved, and this was followed by issuance of an interlocutory decree, continuing the injunction and restraining order until final disposition, by Judge William C. Giles. The following parcels of real estate were listed in the case.

A house and lot at 49 Hancock St., two buildings and lots on Jennette Ave., interest in a house and lot at 59 Quincy St. and a house and lot at 610-612 Union St., all conveyed to St. John’s Church in 1915 under th will of Henrietta H. Coleman.

Property at 72 Marion, obtained by will, and in Pease St., owned by the church prior to Jan. 10, 1924, the date on which the Dunbar League’s predecessor acquired al the real estate by conveyance from the church.

The main point in the church’s bill against the Dunbar League was that the property originally was bequeathed for religious purposes and that the conveyances to the league’s predecessor were in violation of these purposes. The bill further said that the church was unable to enumerate other parcels of real estate and personal property of “great value” intended for and belonging to the church, because essential records were in the exclusive possession of the league.

It also set forth that the church believed the defendant was on the point of selling the real estate and averred that any transfer of the properties involved by the defendant would be illegal, and an unlawful diversion for purpose wholly foreign to the original purpose. Other properties later added in the equity bill were 81 Orleans St., 146 Quincy St., 150-152 Quincy St., 154-156 Quincy st., 43 Hancock St., and 616 Union St.

Court proceedings were begun several months before the recent death of Rev. W. N. DeBerry, pastor of St. John’s Church who, in later years, devoted his efforts largely to the Dunbar League.

St. John’s Congregational Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

St. John’s Congregational Church (Sanford Street Church, Free Church)
Springfield, MA – Our Plural History
Historic St. John’s Congregational Church to open New Worship Center
Rev. William N. DeBerry
Prophet of the Black Nation by Hiley H. Ward. ©1969 United Church Press

Here Comes A Parade

We never went to a parade but I remember looking out of our front door watching a religious procession going past our house. They carried large statues down the street.

Annie Williams – Death Notice

The Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery, Alabama 05 Oct 1898, Wed  •  Page 7

Annie Williams was the mother of Eliza Williams Allen and my 3X great grandmother. She was born into slavery about 1820 in Virginia or South Carolina. There are no death records that early for Alabama. I know that Annie Williams appeared in the 1880 census and she didn’t appear in the 1900 census. This death is in the right place, Ward 1 and I believe it to be my 3 X great grandmother. Still looking for further proof – cemetery records for instance.

Annie Williams was listed as 50 in the 1870 census. She was born in Virginia about 1820. She lived with her daughter Eliza and her family in Ward 1, Montgomery, Alabama.  She was illiterate and worked as a domestic servant. She was identified as black.

Ten years later in the 1880 census, Anna Williams age was 53. Her birth date was 1827 and her birthplace listed as South Carolina. She lived with her granddaughter, Mary Allen McCall and her husband Edward. The house was next door to Ann’s daughter Eliza and her family.  She was unable to read or write and worked as a cook. She was a widow.

The only thing I remember hearing about her growing up, aside from that she was Eliza’s mother, was from my Great grandmother’s sister, Aunt Abbie. She said she remembered cutting her grandmother’s toenails when she was a girl and that she had very bad arthritis.

Death of Susan Richardson Abbott – Pension File #5

Letter from A. J. Crovatt

Corvatt & Whitfield
Attorneys and Counselors
Brunswick, Georgia

February 26, 1909

United States Pension Agent,
Knoxville, Tenn.

Dear Sir:
IN RE: Susan Abbott certificate
No. 416395, dated February 20th 1895

I beg to advise that Susan Abbott died January. 17, 1909.

Your Truly,
A. J. Crovatt


The Brunswick Journal; Monday 18 January 1909

SUDDEN DEATH OF OLD SERVANT—For Many Years a Faithful Servant in Family of Judge Crovatt.
There will be genuine sorrow expressed by a very large number of white people when they learn of the death of “Mammy Sue,” who has been faithful servant in the family of Judge A.J. Crovatt for the past thirty years.
Everybody knew “Mammy Sue”; she had been so identified with the family of “her people” as to be one of them.
Born in Charleston, a slave, Susan Abbot [sic], as she was known, was brought to St. Simons Island and was the servant of the Hazzard family there.
At the close of the war, Susan became a member of the family of Col. C.L. Schlatter, the father of Mrs. A.J. Crovatt. After the marriage of Miss Mary Lee Schlatter to Mr. A.J. Crovatt, “Mammy Sue” went with her young mistress and was the nurse of three children of Judge and Mrs. Crovatt.
As the widow of a soldier in the Federal Army during the war, Mammy Sue was awarded a pension by the government. Though her husband fought on the Federal side, Mammy Sue staid [sic] with her “own people.”
Famous as a cook, devoted to the interests of those with whom she had been so many years, the death of Mammy Sue removes another of the rare ante-bellum negroes.
Her illness was of only a few hours duration; the young daughter of the house, Mary Lee Crovatt, had gone to see the old woman at ten o’clock to give her a cup of tea; Mammy did not complain of being ill, and had been about her usual duties all day yesterday. Though eighty years of age, Mammy Sue was remarkably active, and was in full control of all her faculties. At one o’clock another of the servants heard the old woman calling, and Miss Crovatt and her brother went to the room in the servant’s house. When the door was opened, Mammy Sue was unconscious and died with(in) a few minutes.
Four children survive, Thomas and Joseph Abbot and Eliza Cuyler, all of whom live on St. Simons. Another son, Randolph Abbot, being in Charleston (note: no Randolph found). The body will be carried to St. Simons where it will be interred tomorrow.

The body of Susan Abbott, or “Mammy Sue” the aged servant of Judge A.J. Crovatt, was carried to St. Simons this morning for interment.
Services were held last night in the First African Baptist Church, of which church, Mammy Sue had long been a member. The Brunswick Journal; Tuesday 19 January 1909; pg. 1


Susan Richardson Abbott – Part 1 – 1829-1866
Susan Richardson Abbott – Part 2 – 1867-1909

From the Pension File
Susan Abbott’s Deposition
Susan Abbott’s MarriagePension #2
Death of Randolph Abbott – Pension #3
Character of Susan Richardson Abbott – Pension File #4

Character of Susan Richardson Abbott – Pension File #4

Susan Richardson Abbott 1830-1909

Susan Richardson Abbott seems to have had an easier time getting her widow’s pension than other’s I have read about. I believe it was because she had several important white citizens testify as to the truth of her statements and her good character. There was also testimony from several people that had been enslaved on the Col. Hazzard’s plantation on St. Simons Island.

This character reference was given by A. J. Crovatt, who was her employer and a well known attorney and eventually mayor in Brunswick, across the Mackay River from St. Simons Island.


State of Georgia, County of Glynn, ss:

In the matter of the application of Susan Abbott widow of Randolph Abbott because late private Co. “A” 33 Regt U. S. C. Inft

On this 5th day of January, A. D. 1895, personally appeared before me notary public in and for the aforesaid county, duly authorized to administer oaths, A. J. Corvatt aged 36 years, a resident of Brunswick, in the County of Glynn, and State of Georgia. Whose Post office address is Brunswick Georgia. Etc. etc.

Affiant has had Susan Abbott in his employ as a nurse for fourteen years and therefore knows her well. She is now in the employ of his family and has always been and is a faithful servant – reliable, trustworthy and truthful – She is as well as can be properly written in the neighborhood of seventy (70) years and is therefore feeble and will not be able to work much longer – She is now from time to time complaining and is frequently forced to remain in her room and bed and be treated by a physician.

Affiant further states that he fully believes from his knowledge of all the parties concerned their characters and the character o Susan Abbott that all of the statements made in and concerning her application for pension are true.

In making this affidavit I am not prompted by any written or printed statements or recital prepared or dictated by any other person but make it from knowledge gained from personal acquaintance with said Susan Abbott and her witnesses.

And we further declare that we have no interest in said case, and that we are not concerned in its prosecution

A. J. Corvatt
(signature of affiants)


This is the sixth post about the life of Susan Richardson Abbott. You can read earlier parts of Susan Abbott’s story at these links.:

Susan Richardson Abbott – Part 1 – 1829-1866
Susan Richardson Abbott – Part 2 – 1867-1909
Susan Abbott’s Deposition – Pension File Part 1
Susan Abbott’s Pension File Part 2 – Marriage
Death of Randolph Abbott – Pension #3