We want to share a new telling of an old story written in August 1885 by a highly respected Unitarian minister William Greenleaf Eliot. He wrote The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom, yet there was only so much of the story he could share, and only so much America was willing to hear. Originally written for his grandchildren, it wasn’t until his friends suggested that he publish it that he approached a publisher. It was immediately rejected. American wasn’t ready yet. He turned to his close friend Mrs. Jessie Benton Fremont who took it upon herself to help Eliot’s cause along. This was a difficult time for our country and the wounds were still fresh. Reconstruction had begun. Today we now know that the untold story is even more amazing! Its’ time we take another look at the story of Archer Alexander an American hero, the face of slavery in our Nation’s Capitol on the Emancipation Memorial. ! This amazing story is more relevant than ever.
Eliot shares the life of a former slave from Virginia, brought to Missouri in 1829 with 27 other enslaved, and whose brave act of reporting treasonous activities of his master to the Union Army, gained him his freedom. Eliot shares the story as he recalls it, as seventy-four year old Archey shared it in his last days, just before his death, five years earlier. Eliot wants the reader to understand the man he describes as “the last fugitive slave taken in Missouri under the old laws of slavery. His freedom came directly from the hand of President Lincoln, by provost-marshals authority, and his own hands had helped to break the Chains that bound him. His oldest son had given his life to the cause.”
This description fits the same man, Archer Alexander, that William G. Eliot worked to see immortalized on the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.. The monument that was dedicated by President U.S. Grant, with Frederick Douglas, on April 14, 1876, just four years prior to Archer Alexanders death in St. Louis on December 8, 1880.
The Story, as Eliot shares it is “a fair presentation of slavery in the Border States for the twenty or thirty years preceding the outbreak of hostilities. I am confirmed in this view by the fact, that on submitting the manuscript to a leading publishing house…it was objected to.” For that reason, historians today, believe that Eliot had to alter several names of individuals involved. When descendants of Archer Alexander enlisted the help of a professional historian and genealogist, they were able to discover the true resting place for their ancestor. This led to more research into Eliot’s book, helping them to understand Eliot’s motivation. Written just 20 years after the events, with many of the figures prominent still, it would not suitable in any publishing house at that time. However, Eliot, was determined to see his beloved friend Archey receive the acknowledgement he deserved. He proceeded to simply change a few key names in order to assure that “The Story” of this former slave could be told. The events that took place were real, and can still be documented in historical records today. They are as important and relevant today, as they were when Eliot originally wrote them, and they need to be shared. This is the story of a true American hero that deserves to be heard.
“No sea swells like the bosom of a man set free: A wilderness is rich with liberty.” Wordsworth