Tag Archives: Martha Cleage

MARTHA Cleage, Widow of Charles A. Cleage

“Black woman working in an Alabama kitchen”

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. Most of the people in these posts are not related to me by blood or DNA, however my ancestors were enslaved on the same plantations with them.

Late last year, I ordered the Civil War Pension files of the Cleage men who served in 1st Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery (USCHA), during that war. Through these files I learned that their lives were much richer and more complex than census, death and other records can show. I am using the information from pension files and records that I found through the pension files for this years challenge.

Deposition A

The Case of Martha Cleage, No. 898,476
On this 18 day of February, 1909, at Athens, County of McMinn
State of Tenn., before me, N. H. Nicholson

Special examiner of the Bureau of Pensions, personally appeared Martha Cleage, who being by me first duty sworn to answer truly all interrogations propounded to her during this special examination of aforesaid claim for pension, deposes and says:

I am 65 (?) years of age; my post office is Athens, McMinn Co. Tenn. I am claimant for pension as the widow of Charles A. Cleage late of Co. A 1 U. S. C. H. A. He never had any other service. My husband was sometimes called Charles A. Evans, because his mother was an Evans, but he was owned by David Cleage and took the name of his owner when he enlisted in the army. My owner was Judge Alex Keith and I married this soldier, Charles A. Cleage, two or three years before the war. I can’t remember just what  year it was. We were married by a colored preacher named Gillent Crawford and the marriage was with the consent of our owner. I lived with Charles A. Cleage as his wife until he died. I have never been married before I married Charles A. Cleage. I have not remarried since his death.

Charles A. Cleage had been married before. He had one wife before he was married to me. His first wife was Amy Cleage. She was owned by the same man who owned him. I knew her. I lived about a mile from them and knew her and visited her while they were living together. She died about three miles from Athens Tenn.

I was at her funeral. She died as near as I can remember a year or so before Charles A. Cleage and I were married. I know that she died before I was married to Cleage. I visited her while she was sick and was at her funeral and a year or two later Charles A. Cleage and I were married.

Charles A. Cleage and I lived together from our marriage until he died and were never divorced or separated. We always regarded our marriage as binding and never remarried after we became free. Charles A. Cleage died here in this house at Athens, Tenn.  June 16, 1908.

Yes Sir, I have only been married the one time and that was to Charles A. Cleage. We were living near Athens when he was enlisted in the army and I staid here awhile and then went to him at Knoxville Tenn and staid there while his regiment was stationed there. After his discharge we came back here and lived within three miles of Athens until his death.No. I never heard of him having any wife except Amy before he and I were married. I am satisfied he was never married except to Amy and myself. I knew him from my childhood. He was living with Amy when I first knew him. I am not sure of the name of the colored preacher who married us. It may have been preacher Robert McDermott who married us and it may have been Gilbert Crawford. I am not sure which it was. I was young at the time and I don’t remember positively but I know we were married at my master’s place. I can prove that I was never married before I married Charles A. Cleage, by Sally Cleage, Edmund Sherman and Jerry Cleage. I can prove by the same parties that Charles A. Cleage was never married except to Amy and me. I can also prove by my sister Sarah Smith that I have never been married but the one time. Also by my stepson Hilyard Cleage and by Jerry Cleage, who belonged to the same family my husband did (name “Jerry” erased and Hilyard” line 67 underlined before signing) All of them also know that I have not remarried since the death of Charles A. Cleage.

My attorney is John J. Jackson, Athens, Tenn. There has been no agreement between Mr. Jackson and I about his fee and nothing has been said about it. I want him to have whatever fee the law allows if my claim is allowed. I have not paid him anything. I have not paid the notary Public for swearing me or my witnesses to the papers in my claim. I do not want to be present or represented by my attorney during the further examination of my claim and waive notice of all further examination I have understood the questions asked me and have heard the above read and my answers are correctly recorded.Martha (her X mark) Cleage deponent

Rosa M. Pettill
No other available.


Charles A. Cleage

EPSON DSC picture
Headstone of Charles A. Cleage in Hammonds Cemetery in Athens Tennessee. Photo by me.

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 Cleage and his sons, Alexander and David Cleage.   Click on an image to enlarge.

Charles A. Cleage was the person that got me interested in investigating the Cleages outside of my family, at least his headstone did. In 2004 our branch of the Cleages had a reunion in Athens, TN.  It was my first visit.  My cousins, who were born and grew up there, took me on a tour.  They showed me where family members were buried in Hammonds historic African American Cemetery. We wandered around looking at the other graves.  I noticed the headstone belonging to Charles A. Cleage and wondered who he was and what the letters stood for.

Charles A. Cleage was born into slavery about 1828 in McMinn County Tennessee.  He first appears in the record as part of a bill of sale between the heirs of Samuel Cleage.  After Samuel’s death there was some shuffling around of the enslaved, livestock and household property between the siblings.  It says in part,

“Know all men by these presents that we Alexander Cleage and Walter Nutter and his wife Elizabeth H Nutter have this day bargained and sold to David Cleage and his heirs and assigns forever Charity fourteen,  Caroline sixteen  Jim thirty  Joe eight  Sally near ten  Arch sixteen  Margth fourteen  Bill forty five  Charles twenty four  Mary thirty one  Henry four  Lydia one year of age

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 (sic) 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 testimony given by Charles on 17 June,1895, at the Pension Hearing of Mariah Turk Witt, he gave a look into his life on Samuel Cleage’s plantation.

“… that he and the said soldier Isaac Turk were slaves and belonged to the same master during the year 1849, and on up to the War of the Rebellion they lived as the custom was, within a few nods of each other, both being married and having children; he further states he is enabled to fix the date of birth of Mariah Witt, daughter of said soldier Isaac Turk, by the birth of his own daughter Juley Ann Watts, which as his Family Bible Record shows occurred July 29th 1849, said Mariah Witt being born just one month later which would make the birth of said child Mariah August 29, 1849.”

In 1863 Charles joined the United States Colored Troops (Co. A USCT) in Knoxville, Tennessee.  His papers described him as 41 years old, 5 feet 9 inches with black hair,  black eyes and a brown complexion.

enlistment charles a.charlesAUSCT


Charles A. Cleage was promoted from private to Corporal on March 15, 1866 only a few weeks before he was mustered out on March 31, 1866 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In 1870 Charles A. was 42 and his wife Martha was 25. Charles was a laborer and owned no property.  His personal worth was $180.  Neither of them could read or write. There were 6 children living with them.  The oldest, daughter Julia, was 21. Her husband, Sam Reynolds was also a part of the household.  He worked as a laborer. His son Hillard was 19.    Frank, 13 and Philip, 11 were attending school. The youngest children were Amos, 2 and Richard 3 months.  If Martha’s age is correct, Charles had a wife before her.  However, we do not know if Martha’s age is correct.  There was a Martha that was in Alexander’s part of the division of slaves in 1852.  She was 21 and that would have made her birth year 1831, closer to the birth year given in 1880, as you will see below.

Ten years later, according to the 1880 census, Charles and Martha had aged 20 years.  They are now 66 and 46.  You have to take the ages on census records, especially for older people, with a grain of salt.  The oldest child still home is 18 year old Phillip who is also working as a laborer, as was Charles. Four new children have joined the family – Henry, 9; Mitchel, 7; Rosa, 4 and Mary, 2.

In 1887 Charles applied for his military pension as an invalid. Charles appeared in the 1890 Veterans Schedule. During 1890 he testified at the pension hearing I mentioned above.  On January 20, 1908, Martha began to receive her widow’s pension.  Charles probably died in December of 1907.  On October 16, 1910, Martha Cleage died of asthma. Her age is listed as 65 years old.

Both images from: 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 ancestry.com