William Greenleaf Eliot (1811-1887) moved to St. Louis from Boston, where he was born in 1811, in 1834. He brought the Unitarian Church to St. Louis, Missouri in 1836 with the founding of the Church of the Messiah on Lucas Avenue. Also the founder of the Public School system in St. Louis, Washington University, and the Western Sanitary Commission, he was known for his views of what was referred to at that time as “gradual emancipation”which he felt would be achieved because of the huge wave of German immigrants coming to the U.S. at that time. In the 1840s, in order to keep his personal views from the Congregation, he would write under the pen name “Crises” on the difficult subject of slavery.
His home Beaumont was close enough to Camp Jackson that on the day of the event he said ““When broken up by General Lyon and the Home Guards, the rifle bullets came close to our fences”. And when the 6,000 German troops involved (the majority) with the Camp Jackson affair happened he would also write “Missouri was saved to the Union by taking Camp Jackson and the scattering of the disloyal legislature three days before an ordinance of secession would have been passed.”
Within two years, he would take in a Fugitive Slave from St. Charles County, and under that law, could have been jailed himself. However, he would instead assist that slave in achieving that freedom, an act that he said President Lincoln himself (who was a personal friend) helped in. Later, that same slave was immortalized when he was the face of freedom on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C. But that would not be enough of the story for Eliot, and in his last years he would pen “The Story of Archer Alexander” so that all would know the story.
Eliot’s work with the Western Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, with his close friend James Yeatman, would be the backbone for the Union Army west of the Allegheny mountains. They were the network of supplies for the military hospitals and prisons, refugees and soldiers homes. They were also key for the Freedmans Bureau, opened Freedman Schools with an important headquarters at what was called Camp Ethiopia in Helena, Arkansas. And then they opened a Colored Orphans home in St. Louis, in December of 1863. They were the first in the country to give aid to colored schools establishing a High School for African Americans in 1864 in St. Louis.
William Greenleaf Eliot and James B. Yeatman are both buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum in St. Louis, Missouri. Archer Alexander is buried at St. Peters U.C.C.Cemetery, on Lucas and Hunt, in St. Louis as well.