Entry 27 – Date 22 September 1829

Started on Monday Morning. Passed into Shelby County, tolerably good land. Went through Shelbyville, a handsome town and entered Bowers in Jefferson County. Jefferson County is a level rich county, sickly and cultivated for the supply of the Lewisville [Louisville] market. Large fields were planted in cabbage and other vegetables; the wagons and carts were running by our camp almost the whole night on their way to market.

THIS IS THE JOURNAL OF WILLIAM CAMPBELL (1805-1849) LEADING several FAMILIES FROM LEXINGTON, IN ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA TO ST. CHARLES COUNTY MISSOURI, WRITTEN IN 1829. AMONG THEM IS ARCHER ALEXANDER, BORN IN 1806, IN ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA THIS JOURNAL IS LOCATED IN THE COLLECTIONS OF THE LEYBURN LIBRARY, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND ARCHIVES, LOCATED AT THE WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY, IN LEXINGTON, VIRGINIA, AND FOR WHICH WE ARE DEEPLY INDEBTED TO LISA MCCOWN. EDITOR IS DORRIS KEEVEN-FRANKE

In 1829, Kentucky was an agrarian community. These farmers would have large fields, that were tended by their enslaved. Kentucky was formerly part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. On December 18, 1789, Virginia gave its consent to Kentucky statehood. These families, the McCluers, the Campbells and the Alexanders were farmers, who like the Boone’s lived close to the land, hunting and fur trapping, and made friends with the Native Americans. Unlike the larger plantation owners back in Virginia, they owned a few hundred acres, and thus their community of enslaved, was smaller as well. Often that meant everyone was more directly involved in the day to day tasks of living. Thus while there was still the social distinction, there was more familiarity, and even kinship. However, that never prevented an owner from doing what was best for his white family, or his commercial interests, with his enslaved. All of the enslaved lived with the daily threat that if they didn’t behave they would be “sold south” and separated from their families forever.

When the McCluers left Rockbridge County, Virginia they stopped enroute to pick up members of their family. They stopped at a relatives to pick up a newborn child that needed a nurse. That nurse would have been a female member of their enslaved that had just recently given birth herself. The Alexanders, James H. and Nancy McCluer, had left with five children, but would arrive in Missouri with four, all under the age of 10. We do not know the age of that fifth child, who could have also been a newborn. While it seems that William Campbell seldom devotes space in his journal for such tedious details as birth and deaths, there is oral history in the family of Archer Alexander that seems to reveal the “backstory” here.

Archer Alexander

Archer Alexanders son, perhaps by a woman other than Louisa, was “born” in Louisville, but “dropped off as a baby in the area of Louisville Kentucky” around 1829. We do not know if actually born in Louisville, or if that is simply where the family history first puts him. Presumably this son, named Wesley Alexander, could also be the son of the African American nurse for the Alexanders and the McCluers, all of whom are related. This branch of Archer Alexander’s family also has (DNA) connections to the statesman Henry Clay, who did hail from Kentucky and the abolitionist Cassius Clay. However, Henry Clay also owned many acres of farmland west of St. Louis as well, where one of his enslaved Squire Clay hails from. And sometimes, the true parenthood of these children blurs the lines even further, making their identities even more hidden and more difficult to unravel accurately.

TODAY

Wesley Alexander was born approximately in 1829, and presumably in Louisville Kentucky, according to oral history of the family, shared with me by Keith Winstead in October of 2018.. That oral history should never be discredited, because with diligent and exhaustive research, most likely it can be documented. By 1855, Wesley has married the enslaved Patsy Fry, who gives birth presumably to their first of what is said to be 20 children. From this branch of the family, also comes an even more famous descendant, Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay in Louisville Kentucky. For more about that family connection see the Washington Post article of October 2, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2018/10/02/dna-evidence-links-muhammad-ali-heroic-slave-family-says/ As it explains “The lineage, according to Winstead, goes like this: Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., was the son of Edith Greathouse, who was Alexander’s great-granddaughter.

As Muhammad Ali said in 1964 “Why should I keep my white slave master’s name visible and my black ancestors invisible, unknown, unhonored?”  At that time, Ali did not even know of his family connection to Archer Alexander. And although Keith Winstead was unaware as well , the family has since said ““He would have loved knowing he was connected to someone like that,”

In October 2018, when the Washington Post shared the DNA story, I first met Keith Winstead when he asked me the question “Do you know where Archer Alexander is buried?” That led to further discoveries of the untold story of Archer Alexander’s (see the Archer Alexander blog) life. When the Unitarian minister William Greenleaf Eliot shared Archer’s story in 1885, America’s great “Reconstruction” was changing what a publisher was willing to print, and it was necessary to fictionalize the names of the actual participants names in order for Eliot to achieve his dream and see the biography of Archer published. There is no Thomas Delaney family owning the plantation called Kalorama in Botetourt County in 1816. We know now, that Archer Alexander was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1806 and came to Missouri in 1829 at age 23. He died on December 8, 1880 and was buried in St. Peters UCC Cemetery (Lucas & Hunt Road) is St. Louis County (now Normandy) and not Centennary Cemetery near the Clayton Courthouse. For more about that discovery see Chad Davis’ story A Louihttps://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/louisville-family-learns-about-their-ties-st-louis-slave-who-saved-lives#stream/0

Family Reunion of A Alexander 2019
Family Reunion of A Alexander 2019

Archer Alexander portrays the enslaved man rising and breaking his own chains, on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.” s Lincoln Park. This monument was the dream of the former enslaved Charlotte Scott when she learned of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln “the best friend” of the enslaved. Funded by the enslaved, it was dedicated in 1876, on the 11th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, by the great African American orator, the former enslaved Frederick Douglass and President Ulysses S. Grant.

Continue the Journey

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