Tag Archives: #Sam Cleage

Prelude to Freedom

Slavery on the Cleage Plantations

This is a brief summary of Samuel, Alexander and David Cleage from 1810 to 1870 as the family went from enslaving no one, to collectively owning over 120 people. These are the plantations on which the people in this series lived during slavery.

Samuel Cleage
Samuel Cleage

Samuel Cleage

Samuel Cleage was born in 1781 in Pennsylvania.  The family later moved to Botecourt, VA.  His father, Alexander Cleage, had no enslaved persons according to the Federal Censuses he appeared in.

Samuel worked as a building contractor in Virginia. In 1810 he was 29, had a household consisting of 7 white people and 1 enslaved person.  After his parents died in 1823 he moved his whole household to McMinn County, Tennessee.  He was about 42 years old. Read about the move at C is for Cleage Bricks.

The trip took several years because he stopped to build brick houses at farms along the way, collecting pay in gold and enslaved people.  Although some sources say that he arrived with hundreds of enslaved and barrels of gold, the 1830 Census lists a household of 4 free whites and 15 enslaved blacks. After arriving, Samuel picked out a parcel of about 1,125 acres and using enslaved labor, built a fine brick house.  The land that Samuel Cleage bought was part of the land opened for white settlement when some Cherokee, hoping to profit from the already occurring influx of whites, signed the Calhoun Treaty.  It was called the Hiwassiee Purchase.

In a 1834 agreement between Samuel Cleage and his overseer, 7 enslaved persons were named and 2 little boys were unnamed. Some of the tasks mentioned in the agreement are clearing land, distilling and planting. Article of Agreement Between Samuel Cleage and Overseer – 1834.

By 1840 the household consisted of himself and his wife and 23 enslaved people.  Eleven are involved in agriculture.  In the 1850 census Samuel and his wife shared their home with his son David, his wife and 2 small sons.  They now owned 31 slaves, 1,200 improved acres and 20 unimproved with a value of $20,500.  That translates to about $560.000 in today’s dollars. Samuel Cleage died in 1850 at age 69.

Alexander Cleage
Alexander Cleage

Alexander Cleage

Alexander Cleage, born in 1801, was the oldest son of Samuel and Mary Cleage.   He married Jemima Hurst in 1832 when he was 31.  She brought 4 enslaved women to the marriage.  One was my 2X great grandmother. They were named in her father Elijah Hurst’s Will.  The first census I found him was for 1840. There were 6 white family members and 4 slaves – 3 women and a boy. That is 1 less woman than the 4 that came to the marriage.

By 1850, Alexander was a bank officer.  There were 9 white family members and 31 slaves, 24 women and 7 males.  His real estate was worth $5,750.  In 1852 there was some moving around of slaves from Samuel Cleage’s estate and Alexander came into possession of 12 named slaves.  In 1857 there was a bill of sale for an unnamed slave.

In 1860, Alexander was a farmer with estate was worth $43,500 and a personal estate worth $55,000.  There were 7 family members, 52 slaves and 8 slave dwellings.  He wrote his Will that year and gave the names of the 12 slaves his wife received at her marriage and “their increase”, plus two men.  I only recognize 2 of the names as being the same as those in Elijah Hurst’s  Will.

In 1870, Alexander was a 69 year old farmer.  He owned land worth $40,000 and his personal estate was worth $20,000.  Two of his 2 children, a young man 23 and a girl 13, at home and both attended school during the past year. Everyone in the family was literate.  There are no slaves in the household, but the 16 year old live in black servant is illiterate and she has not attended school during the past year.

David Cleage
David Cleage

David Cleage

David Cleage was born in 1806 in Virginia.  I have 2 bills of sale for 3 named slave boys, ages 10, 11 and 13 for 1841 and 1842.  In 1846 David married Martha Bridgman.  She brought at least 1 enslaved girl with her, Charlotte who was about 10.

In 1850, David Cleage was 44. He was a cashier at the bank in Athens, TN.  His real estate is valued at $1,000.  He and his family are sharing a home with his parents.  He owns 32 slaves.

By 1860, the number has risen to 75 slaves living in 8 slave dwellings. He is still a cashier at the bank, real estate worth $2,000 and personal estate worth $90,000.  The household includes 5 family members and an overseer.

In 1870 David was 64,a   retired banker with real estate worth $18,700 and a personal estate worth $41,995.  All 7 people in the household are literate. The children between ages 21 and 8 attended school within the last year.

 Sources:  I used documents founds on Ancestry.com and Familysearch.com, several bills of sale that I have copies of, “The Cleage Slaves and the Bricks of History” by Joe Guy and “Botetourt County, Virginia Heritage Book – 1770-2000”

Death of Sam Cleage – July 20, 1850 Athens, TN

Samuel Cleage was the owner of my 2 X great grandfather, Frank Cleage. In July of 1850, Samuel Cleage was killed by Ambrose Griffith. Unfortunately the only information that I have is a very splochy xerox copy of an article from (I think) a 1850  Athenian Post.  I do not have the previous article that talks about the reason for the argument that led to the murder.  I looked for Ambrose Griffith in the 1840 and 1850 and 1860 census.  The only person by that name was a young man born in 1842 (too young to have been the murderer.)  In 1860 he was overseer for Samuel Cleage’s son, David. 

After Samuel’s death, my great grandfather, Frank ended up with Samuel’s other son, Alexander. He was mentioned in these three documents: A letter to the overseer from Samuel Cleage in 1834,  Bill of sale from David to Alexander Cleage in 1852, The Will of Alexander Cleage in 1860.

Samuel Cleage
Samuel Cleage

Sam cleage dead complete
Click to enlarge.

“In the last issue of our paper appeared an account of a difficulty between Samuel Cleage and Ambrose Griffith in which the former was cut and stabbed by the latter.  This occurred on the morning of the 17th June.  Sam Cleage died of his wounds the following Saturday night.  The funeral sermon was preached on the succeeding Monday by the Rev. J.H. Martin at Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, Athens of which the deceased was a member.  His friends who were with him in his last hours state that he was conscious of his dying condition and full of hope – even forgiving(?) the miserable man who’s fatal act was depriving a stricken wife and  _____  children of their natural protector. We are __________ with him ___ and_____ was regarded him as ________ Since his connection with the church which occurred seven  years ago, his walk had been consistent with _____ actions.  The widow and the ______ children ___ the ___ this afternoon that was___upon them.

It is said that Griffith remained secreted in the neighborhood until he learned that Cleage was dying and then fled the country.  We are not advised whether any steps are being taken to have him captured and brought to ______ for his crime.  This is the fourth murder committed within the last two or three years – two in this town and two in the immediate vicinity-  and in neither case has any vigorous or well directed effort been made to bring the murderer to the seat (?) of justice.  Here as elsewhere the community is horrified at such things for a day or two and then drops into stolid indifference until  startled(?) by the announcement of another bloody tragedy.  It is so all over the United States.  Punishment for crime of the higher grade is the exception and immunity the rule and the fault rests not with the officers of the law, but a demoralized and degenerate public sentiment which hunts down and sends a  petty thief to the penitentiary and lets the red handed murderer escape without an effort.”

C is for Cleage Bricks


This is my third post for the April A-Z Challenge. I am blogging every day in April using the letters of the alphabet as prompts. Today I am going to write about Samuel Cleage’s building operation. Samuel Cleage owned the plantation where my Cleage ancestors were held as slaves. When he died, the slaves were divided between his sons. I am writing about the time before this today.

Samuel Cleage, who spelled his name “Clegg”, was born in Lanchaster County, PA in 1781. He moved with his parents and siblings to Botetourt County, VA. After his parents died he moved with his family and slaves to McMinn County, TN.

Samuel Cleage

As I was getting ready to write this I realized that he didn’t just get on the train and move, that they must have traveled by wagon down well worn, but primitive roads.  Not only was he moving his whole little community of married children and slaves, 339 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains, he also carried the tools of his trade – whatever he needed to build brick houses. As he traveled he would convince farmers along the way that they needed a fine brick home to go with their fine farm. For payment he accepted slaves, gold or livestock.  They say that some of these houses are still standing. I can’t imagine how long it took the group to travel this way.  A fully loaded Conestoga wagon, the usual method to move through the mountains in the early 1800s, could travel 5 miles a day. That would take about 4 months if you traveled straight through. They didn’t. They were stopping and building brick houses.  And they had to make the bricks! How could that work? All sources agree that by the time he reached McMinn County, Samuel Cleage was a very wealthy man, both in slaves and gold. I think I will have to check into this a little further. Here is a description of the way traveling worked. To read more, click the title.

A Conestoga wagon.

Sturdy transportation

First the word, Conestoga, America’s first big truck. It was made in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, and it was one huge wagon: 26 feet long, 11 feet high, with the capability of carrying 8 tons. Pulled by five or six horses and followed by as many as a dozen packhorses, the Conestoga wagon became any traveling family’s best friend.

It became the expected sight along the road known by many names: the Warrior’s Path, the Carolina Road, the Valley Pike, the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, or simply the Great Wagon Road.

With a body the shape of a swaybacked horse, Conestogas could float across a river as long as the wheels were taken off. And those wagons were so heavy and laden with a family’s every possession, they created deep wheel ruts all along the Great Wagon Road…

I outlined the section of the Wilderness Road they would have taken to Knoxville, TN, where the road turns west. At that point they would have continued south to Athens TN in McMinn county.

Above I mentioned that they had to make the bricks before they could build the houses. “They” being the highly trained and skilled slaves that were traveling too. It was not easy to make the bricks. And it wasn’t a quick process.  Here is how Joe Guy described it in his book “The Hidden History of McMinn County”  There is also a link to this chapter in the title.

The Cleage Slaves and the Bricks of History
Joe Guy

 Samuel Cleage, the itinerant contractor who traveled into the Tennessee Valley from Virginia in the 1820’s, is generally credited for the construction of several historic homes and buildings in East Tennessee, especially in McMinn County.  While it is true that Cleage was the driving force behind his construction business, it is important to remember who, in fact, was actually performing the labor.

Besides livestock and gold, Cleage was often contracted to be paid in slaves after having completed a house or building.  Many of Samuel Cleage’s slaves later adopted the Cleage name when they obtaining their freedom, and several black families in East Tennessee still trace their lineage to these Cleage slaves.  Cleage was a wealthy landowner besides being a builder, and so he used his slaves almost exclusively as bound workers in his construction business.  One of the duties often exclusively regulated to the slaves was brickmaking.

By the time Samuel Cleage was involved in building, the art of making brick had been around since 3500 BC.  Essentially, 19th century brickmaking involved five steps: winning or digging the clay, preparation, molding, drying, and firing.

 East Tennessee is well known for having the natural clay useful for brick production.  Once dug by the slaves (normally in the fall), the clay was exposed to the weather so that the winter freezes could break the clay down, remove unwanted impurities, and allow it to be worked by hand. In the spring and summer, water was added and the clay was worked by the slaves’ hands and feet in large open pits until it obtained a smooth consistency and most of the rocks and sticks were removed.  

The clay was then taken to the moulding table, where the slave designated as brickmoulder directed several assistants in the process. A skilled brickmoulder would work at the moulding table for twelve to fourteen hours, producing 3500 to 5000 bricks in a day. A clot of clay was rolled in sand and “dashed” into a sanded mould, which prevented the clay from sticking. Once the clay was pressed into the mould, the excess clay was removed from the top of the mould with a flat stick.  Moulds ranged from single to six bricks at a time, but single brick moulds were often desired because even the slave women and children could be employed in carrying the “green” bricks from the table to the drying area. The “green” bricks were then stacked and dried for about two weeks.

Once most of the moisture had dried out, Cleage’s slaves stacked the bricks in a kiln, or clamp.  Rows of bricks were built up to construct tunnels, which were filled with wood and set fire.  For two to five days the bricks were cooked, the slaves feeding the fires and getting very little sleep.  After the bricks cooled, the slaves removed them from the clamp and sorted them as to their degree of quality, the best being chosen for the building’s outside walls.  Bricks which were closest to the fire sometimes received a natural glaze from the sand that fell into the flames, and were used in the interior courses of the walls. Some bricks would be left with a salmon color, were only slightly underfired, and made for good insulation in the inner parts of the walls.  Bricks that were over burned, cracked, or warped were called clinkers and were saved to be used in garden walls or paths.”

After arriving in McMinn County, Cleage picked out a spot and built the house below, which is still standing. The black and white photographs were taken during the 1930s. The color photo is more recent. I read an article online that described the renovations the new owners were carrying out to make the house livable again.  Unfortunately, I cannot find the article again.

Front door. A more recent picture on the right shows that some work had been done.
Front door, outside, drawing and inside.
Where did all those papers come from?
Side of the house.