Keith Winstead’s ancestor was the enslaved Archer Alexander, who is on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.. That memorial to President Abraham Lincoln was entirely paid for by formerly enslaved individuals and dedicated in 1876, in the period of America’s history known as Reconstruction. Alexander’s likeness was used because of the work of a Unitarian minister, William Greenleaf Eliot, who founded Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1885, following Alexander’s death, Eliot would also share an account of Alexander’s life in the book The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom, telling the story of his heroism in St. CharlesCounty, Missouri. Alexander had risked his life, by bravely informing the Union Army of his owner’s efforts to destroy the local railroad bridge. Alexander would flee via the underground railroad to St. Louis, where he was taken in by Eliot’s wife, Abigail Adams Eliot, who was the great-niece of John and Abigail Adams, a President who never owned slaves.
Alexander had been brought to Missouri in 1829 by William M. Campbell, and by James H. Alexander and his wife Nancy McCluer, along with 28 other slaves, from Lexington in Rockbridge County Virginia. Their journey, took over six weeks along the same pathway used by thousands of Americans and immigrants on their way west following the Revolution. In Missouri, Alexander and his wife Louisa would raise ten children.
In an effort to trace Alexander’s early roots Keith Winstead and I will begin in Virginia. Join us as we take a journey along the same route, footstep by footstep, laid out in Campbell’s diary that brought these people to Missouri. Winstead, who shares the DNA of his cousin Muhammad Ali, has been researching his family for thirty years. We invite you to share in this journey of Discovery.