Clingman Family

The Clingman Family Part 1– The Escape to Freedom

-Samuel Gabriel Clingman learns to read and write before escaping enslavement and finding success as a teacher and minister in Canada. Read more below.

Have you ever heard of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850?  This law was passed by the United States Congress and stated that those who escaped enslavement and took refuge in the North could be captured and returned to the South.  This law also fined and/or imprisoned those who assisted in the escape of freedom seekers and took away the right for African Americans to testify on their own behalf in court.  This law is often an explanation for why 30,000-40,000 freedom seekers came to Canada, but did you know that there were numerous freedom seekers who escaped to Canada years, even decades, before the passage of this law? Members of the Clingman family are examples of those who came to Canada before the 1850 law. Samuel Gabriel Clingman, for example, escaped enslavement in the early 1820s and came to Upper Canada (Ontario), demonstrating that there was Black settlement in Upper Canada before the 1850’s mass migration.

It was while enslaved that Samuel Gabriel Clingman learned how to read and write with the assistance of Moses MacKoy, the son of the neighbour of Gabriel’s “master,” Thomas King. Did you know that it was illegal to teach enslaved people how to read and write?  Before the Civil War, southern states banned the education of enslaved people because slaveholders, who were also lawmakers, saw literacy as dangerous. Slaveholders feared that literacy allowed the Black community to read abolitionist pamphlets which would, in turn, inspire slave revolt.  Additionally, if enslaved people displayed their literacy, it contradicted claims of their intellectual inferiority which was a key justification for the enslavement of Black people.

Despite this, 17-year-old Moses secretly taught Samuel Gabriel how to read and write in his father’s horse-mill each Sunday morning.  It was referred to as the “mill-house school.” Unfortunately, Samuel Gabriel’s “owner” caught him practising his writing on the inside of a barn wall and demanded that Samuel Gabriel reveal who his teacher was. He had no choice but to reveal that it was Moses, which resulted in the immediate closure of the mill-house school.  This was further motivation for him to escape.

It was in the early part of 1820 that Samuel Gabriel Clingman escaped Thomas King’s plantation, but King was not willing to give up Gabriel so easily.  Thomas King placed an advertisement that said: “100 Reward! Left my house in Greenup, Kentucky, four miles above Portsmouth, on the 18th of March, 1820, a negro named GABRIEL.” About 5 feet 10 inches high, and of a very dark brown or black complexion between 21 and 22 years of age.  He has a small scar on his breast occasioned by a burn when young, and is very apt to stammer when speaking.  His clothing was a London brown broad cloth and Lindsey pantaloons, swansdown waist-coat.  Said negro man is supposed by some to be drowned.”

The advertisement continues by saying “Any person finding him alive and delivering him to me shall have the above award; or fifty dollars for securing him in any jail so that I cannot get him again together with all reasonable expenses.  If he is drowned any one finding him will confer a particular favor by writing a few lines to the subscriber directed to Portsmouth post-office. Thomas B. King April 1.”

Fortunately, King was unsuccessful in his search and Samuel Gabriel Clingman reached Canada.  It was there that he found success and became a teacher and an ordained New Connexion Methodist minister who returned to the United States after gaining his “Freedom Papers.”  Samuel was very active in the US but was reassigned to Colchester as an itinerant circuit minister and it was at the Colchester AME Zion Church that he found his home.

Even after his escape, Samuel Gabriel stayed in contact with Moses MacKoy (who taught him to read and write) and told him to find out from Thomas King (Samuel Gabriel’s former “master”) what it would cost to acquire his freedom papers. King replied, saying that it would cost $200 cash. In response, he immediately sent $200 and on September 7, 1835 his Certificate of Freedom was signed by A.W.G. Nichols, making Clingman a free man.

According to Milo Johnson’s book, New Canaan, Samuel Gabriel Clingman likely had a son named Gabriel while enslaved.  Samuel and Gabriel Jr. were born on the same plantation and it is believed that when Samuel Gabriel left in 1820, he left behind a child.  That child is believed to be Gabriel Jr. and he, along with his descendants, are who we are going to discuss next.  

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 2.

The Clingman Family Part 2- Sharing the Story

-Gabriel Clingman Jr. escapes enslavement in 1846 and shares his story in the press and at church gatherings. Read more below.

Gabriel Clingman Jr. was born in Kentucky in 1816 and worked on a plantation located in Greenup County, Kentucky, which enslaved roughly 15 persons. It was in 1846, just before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, that Gabriel Jr. escaped with his wife Mary Ann Atkinson, 3 children and a few of his cousins.  His journey to freedom was documented in the August 27, 1889 edition of the Grand Rapids Herald.  The article states that “One day Mr. Klingman [sic] was pedaling peaches on a canal boat when the captain asked him if he were a slave.  Receiving an affirmative answer the captain asked whether or not he had a wife. Klingman explained that he had a wife and three children.  ‘Then why do you not go to Canada where your family will always be safe. Nobody can sell you or any of your family if you go there?’ asked the captain … I just asked that captain if it was true that people froze and starved there, and if there was so much danger from the bears as we had been told. He said that this was all nonsense as he had been to Canada to see for himself.’”

The article continues, saying “The young slave took the captain at his word and gathering his family and a few friends about him, prepared to travel to Canada by way of the ‘Underground Railway … One dark night in the summer of 1846, during Polk’s administration and just at the outbreak of the Mexican War, a small party of Negroes crossed the Ohio River in a skiff they called the James K. Polk ……. On the Ohio side, the party sent the skiff adrift and drove off towards Canada in wagons which were waiting for them.  At day break, they pulled up to a farm house where the fugitives were concealed until the following evening when the journey was resumed.  Traveling at night and hiding in the daytime for a week and a half brought the fleeing slaves to Sandusky, Ohio, where they were carried by boat to the Canadian shore.”

Interestingly, the Amherstburg Echo mentions on December 17, 1897, that “The A.M.E. Zion Sunday school will give a grand Christmas tree and concert on Friday evening, the 24th of Dec.  There will be a slavery dialogue given by Gabriel Clingman and others.” Clearly, Gabriel continued to share his story for many years until his death a few years later, on March 10, 1900. According to his obituary in the Amherstburg Echo, “He settled in Sacksville (Colchester), about 50 years ago, coming there from slavery, and has been a peacable resident of the township of Colchester South for the half century.” Just a few years earlier, in December 1894, Gabriel’s wife Mary Ann passed away in Colchester.

When Gabriel Jr. escaped with his wife Mary Ann Atkinson in 1846, they brought their three children with them: Ester Ann (b. 1841), James Milton (1843-1894) and Uriah (1845-1911).  After reaching Colchester, the couple had eight more children: John (1847-1873), Robert (1850-1923), Obediah (1855-1929), Eraustes (1857-1940), Frances (b. 1858), Mary (b. 1859), Augustus (1859) and William (1863-1884). We will now discuss their eleven children, starting with Esther Ann.

Esther Ann Clingman, the first child of Gabriel Jr. and Mary Ann, was born in 1841 in Greenup County, Kentucky.  She married Henry Kirtley, who was born in 1839.  The couple had nine children: George (born in 1863), Hiram (1864), James (1867), Lewis (1868), William (1869), Lucy (1870), Ida (1873), Charles (1875) and Judson (1877). No further information was available for George, Hiram, William, Charles or Judson, but there is more to share about Esther’s remaining children: James, Lewis, Lucy and Ida.

James Kirtley, sometimes spelt Curtley in documents, married Adeline Lewis on December 13, 1902.  Their marriage record lists James as a labourer and the son of Henry Curtley and Hester (Esther) Clingman, while Adeline’s parents are not listed. At the time of their marriage, both James Clingman and Adeline Lewis were previously married and James’ brother, Charles Curtley (Kirtley), acted as a witness to the event.

James’ other brother, Lewis Kirtley, married Emily Leach, the daughter of Anderson Leach and Mary Ann Day, on February 4, 1891 in Windsor.  Lewis was 22 and born in Colchester, while Emily was 20 and born in Sandwich. Lewis was also listed as a sailor on his marriage record.

Next is Lucy Kirtley who married Albert Chambers, a 26-year-old labourer and the son of John Chambers and Christina Morrison. Lucy’s sister Ida married James Mulder on June 9, 1889 in Colchester South. James Mulder was born in Colchester South in 1864 and was the son of James and Ellen Mulder. Following her first marriage to James, Ida married a second time to Edward Love on February 28, 1906 in Windsor. Edward was born in Georgia and was the son of Oliver and Mary Love.  He worked as a barber and, at the time, they were living in Detroit.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 3.

The Clingman Family Part 3– Food for the Soul

-Lulu Clingman serves soul food to residents in Colchester. Read more below.

So far, we have only discussed one of Gabriel Jr. and Mary Ann Clingman’s children: Esther.  Next up is James Milton Clingman.  Just like his sister, Esther, James also escaped enslavement with his parents via the UGRR in 1846.  He later married Nancy Ann Hatfield on June 12, 1868 in Colchester.  Nancy was born on September 22, 1858 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was the daughter of Charles Hatfield and Mary Ann Conway.  James and Nancy had 14 children: William (1866), Mercilla Ann or “Mercy” (1870-1918), James M. (1873-1912), Joseph (b. 1873), Ernest (1877), Charles (1877-1882), Amos Burt (b. 1880), Albert (1882-1893), Harvey Richardson (1884), Jessie (1886), John (1888-1925), George (1889), Francis (1890) and Laura (b. 1892).

There is a significant amount of information about Nancy and James’ first child, William.  He married twice: first to Matilda Ridout (daughter of the Reverend William Henry Ridout and Catherine Harris), and his second wife was Sarah Ferren (daughter of William Ferren and Jane Gerock). William and Sarah married on August 24, 1914, following Matilda’s passing in 1913.  In Matilda’s obituary, the Amherstburg Echo states, “Mrs. Clingman was a Christian woman with many excellent traits of character, and was a member of the B.M.E. church, Harrow. She was a loving wife and affectionate mother (one who loved motherhood), good neighbor and kind friend.  She was always willing to do her part to assist Christian or moral enterprises in any way she could until her health failed her sometime over a year ago … Mrs. Clingman and family have the sympathy of the community.”

Matilda Ridout and William Clingman had seven children: James, Jennie (1891), William Henry (1893), Ethel May (1896), Mina (1898), Matilda Josephine (1903) and Olive (1907).  James Ellis Clingman was born on May 4, 1887 in Colchester South and later married Lucretia “Lulu” Moore (Moore was her married name).  Lulu made money by serving meals out of her house in the early 1950s and remained in business into the 1970s.  She served soul food style meals and operated mostly on weekends during the summer months.  Her husband James worked as a labourer on the McCormick farm in Colchester for over 50 years and was described as “an excellent worker who could ‘turn his hand’ to any farm job, in the field, about the yard, with livestock.”

Matilda and William’s next child, Ethel May Clingman, married Ernest Mulder, the son of Albert Mulder and Charlotte Delia Johns, on December 22, 1912. Their marriage record states that Ernest was born in Windsor, a bachelor and 27-years-old, while Ethel was born in Colchester South, a spinster and was 16. There marriage record also has a small note stating that “I [Ernest Mulder] have had the consent of the mother personally that this should be made out,” meaning that the marriage should proceed, despite her young age.

Next is Mina Clingman who married Robert Kersey, who was born in December 1881. According to her November 1917 obituary, she was survived by Robert and three small children, but their names are not listed.  Mina’s sister Matilda Josephine married the Reverend Emit Frye, son of Joseph Frye and Melinda Sims, on December 17, 1917.  According to their marriage record Emit was 26 and born in Virginia, while Josephine was 16 and born in Colchester South.  Neither were previously married.

Matilda Josephine’s sister Olive Clingman married Elwood Bow, the son of William Bowe and Mamie Hughes, on June 19, 1926. Their marriage record states that Edward was born in Detroit, 20-years-old and a labourer, while Olive was a domestic and 19-years-old.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 4.


Lorene BridgenClingman Family