Reached home…journal of William campbell
is what the final entry of William M. Campbell’s journal of the enslaved Archer Alexander’s journey from Virginia to Missouri reads. It took them over six days to travel from Marion County in Illinois to St. Charles County in Missouri. It had taken them nearly two months to travel from Lexington, Virginia [August 20, 1829]. They had ferried their way across the Mississippi River into the bustling city of St. Louis, founded in 1764, and visited the courthouse, as Campbell had made every county’s house a destination on this journey. The great city of St. Louis would have definitely been one of his stops. This would be the future site of the famous case of the enslaved Dred Scott, that would greatly affect the future of Archer Alexander and the 24 other enslaved in this caravan. Archer had lost his father when “sold south” back in Virginia, and left behind his mother, a little over six weeks earlier. From St. Louis they would continue westward over the road to St. Charles (today known as the St. Charles Rock Road).
Archer’s father Aleck (Alexander) had been sold. He would never see his mother Chloe again, after the caravan left Virginia. This was the life of the enslaved.
It was in the case of a man named Aleck, a full black, forty-five years old, strong, stalwart, intelligent; in fact, his very best “hand.” Somehow or other, this fellow had learned to read. Nobody knew how, but probably from the children and by chance opportunities. A good deal of discussion about slavery was going on at the time, which was not very far from the Missouri compromise days; and Aleck had got some advanced notions of which he was rather proud, talking them out rather freely among his fellows. In fact, “he made himself altogether too smart.” At a colored prayer-meeting he had gone so far as to say that “by the ‘Claration of ‘Dependence all men was ekal,” and that “to trade in men and women, jess like hogs and hosses, wasn’t ‘cordin’ to gospel, nohow.”The story of Archer alexander: from slavery to freedom
Reaching the ferry (today’s Bridgeton) they would cross the wide Missouri River, as thousands had before them. St. Charles had been founded in 1769, by the French Canadian fur trader, Louis Blanchette, who called it “Les Petite Cotes” or the little hills. Part of the Louisiana Territory, it jwas purchased by the U.S. in 1804, and the village would incorporate itself as St. Charles in 1809. By 1820, Missouri would petition for Statehood and enter as a slave state in 1821, thereby sealing Archer’s fate for the next thirty-four years. Archer’s dream of freedom would remain unobtainable. The great Missouri Compromise by the statesman Henry Clay, would allow Missouri to enter as a slave state by allowing Maine to gain statehood first as a free state, thereby keeping the tentative balance in place for a while longer. Some would say this was the actual beginning of the Civil War…
In 1824, a German author, named Gottfried Duden, had also passed this way, and written a journal of his travels like Campbell. In 1829, his small journal was published in Germany, called A Report upon a Journey to the Western States of North America. It would bring hundreds of thousands to Missouri, and eventually lead to changing the demographics of Missouri from a slave state to a Union State and enable Archer’s wife and family to have their freedom.
In St. Charles, Campbell would visit the St. Charles County’s Courthouse on Main Street. The village had served as Missouri’s first State Capitol from 1821 until 1826, when it was moved further west to Jefferson City near the Osage River. By that time, roads had been well established leading to Campbell’s destination of Dardenne, where other family members and friends had already established themselves along what everyone called the Boone’s Lick Road. Within three weeks, the Alexanders, Icenhauers, Wilsons, Campbell and the McCluer families joined the Dardenne Presbyterian Church, established in 1819, transferring their membership from Virginia. the enslaved would sit in the back in the second floor gallery and a few would become members.
Archer would gain the trust of his owner, so well, that he would be sent to work in the “brick yards of St. Louis” and continue to hone his carpenter skills. He would be allowed to travel from St. Louis to St. Charles, using and becoming familiar with the pathways necessary to travel between them. Within four years, Campbell’s sister Sophia’s sister-in-law, Nancy McCluer, wife of James Harvey Alexander would die from the Cholera epidemic that was sweeping Missouri. By 1835, her husband James would die from the Cholera as well, leaving behind four orphaned children. They would both be buried in the old Dardenne burying ground. The children would be returned to Virginia, and into the care of their uncle, and James Harvey Alexander’s brother-in-law, Alexander B. Stuart. Stuart had married James’ sister, Elizabeth Alexander, and would serve as the children’s legal guardian until they reached maturity. Meanwhile, James H. Alexander’s last will had firmly established that none of his “slaves” or other property were to be sold. The income generated by them was to be used solely for the benefit of his children. They were to be rented out. One of those “slaves” at that time, was Louisa, who had become the wife of Archer Alexander and would be the mother of ten of his children. Attorney William M. Campbell, was made executor of James Alexander’s estate and have total control the future of Archer, Louisa, their children, and all of the enslaved that had been owned by James Alexander but several other estates as well.
While the four small children were returning to Virginia, Campbell had left instructions for the erection of a stone house to be built that resembled his former home. He left Archer Alexander in charge of the enslaved, while the Pourie brothers who were stonemasons from Ireland, completed Campbell’s house. The labor to build the large stone house was supplied by the enslaved. Campbell had given express orders that this was to be built as close as possible to the Booneslick Road, as he wanted to avail himself to travelers, like those who had helped him as he traveled from Virginia. The house was completed in 1836, and the enslaved would continue to live in the two room log house that had been built years before and was now located behind the stone house.
This was a picturesque scene, very much like Archer’s boyhood in Rockbridge County Virginia, where he was born in 1806. This is where the Scotch-Irish families like the Campbells, McCluers, and Alexanders from Virginia, had packed their “peculiar institution” called slavery, and brought it to Missouri.
By 1843, Archer Alexander had become the property of a neighbor of Campbell, Richard Hickman Pitman. The Pitman family, like many of their neighbors had lived in St. Charles County since 1818. With the close of the War of 1812, those who had served would receive their pay in the form of a bounty called a Land Warrant. Using this, families from Virginia and Kentucky flooded the hillsides of Missouri. Revolutionary War veteran John B. Pitman was one such settler as were many other early St. Charles County settlers. Unlike the Campbells, the Pitmans were strong Methodists.
In February of 1863, Archer Alexander overheard Pitman, Campbell and other men in his neighborhood, bragging about how they had managed to saw enough of the wooden timbers of the railroad bridge that was five miles north of his cabin. On a cold February night, Archer would make a brave decision to warn the Union Troops in the blockhouse which guarded the Peruque Creek crossing. The troops’ who were called “Krekel’s Dutch” were all German immigrants who had come to America after reading Duden’s book. This brave act would save countless lives, and would keep the vital link for the Union Army operational. By law, if his owner was found guilty of treason, Archer would be granted his freedom!
Learning that he was under suspicion, as someone had learned his identity, and knowing that he would certainly face a lynching if caught, Archer had to flee without a word to his wife Louisa. Archer not only knew the way to St. Louis, he knew who he could trust to help him. However he would be putting them in danger as well. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act: The Fugitive Slave Acts were a pair of federal laws that allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves within the territory of the United States. Enacted by Congress in 1793, the first Fugitive Slave Act authorized local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners and imposed penalties on anyone who aided in their flight. Widespread resistance to the 1793 law led to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which added more provisions regarding runaways and levied even harsher punishments for interfering in their capture. The Fugitive Slave Acts were among the most controversial laws of the early 19th century. [https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts]
Helped by his German neighbors, he reached a butcher shop that was a “stop” on what is often referred to as the “underground railroad”. There he would be taken in by Abby Adams Cranch Eliot, wife of William Greenleaf Eliot. Eliot would immediately go to the Provost Marshall, who would provide Archer “temporary” custody. Eliot would have the help of his friend Edward Bates, Lincoln’s Attorney General, to send a request to Pitman to purchase Archer, in order to emancipate him. Instead, armed with the whereabouts of Archer “bounty hunters” would brazenly attack and drag him from Eliot’s home,to the St. Louis slave pen to be sold for Pitman. After this incident, and Eliot had rescued Archer, the Provost Marshall would see that Archer’s order of protection was permanent.
When President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, and a plan had begun by the formerly enslaved, for a memorial for Lincoln “the best friend the colored people ever had” called the Emancipation Memorial, the image of Archer Alexander was chosen to represent the enslaved. In Lincoln Park, in Washington, D.C.., it would be dedicated in April of 1876, by President U.S. Grant and the former enslaved orator Frederick Douglass. It was paid for by the formerly enslaved and is their only monument to Abraham Lincoln.
William Greenleaf Eliot (1811-1887) had arrived in St. Louis in 1834, bringing his ministry to start the first Unitarian church, Church of the Messiah, west of the Mississippi. His wife, Abigail “Abby” Adams Cranch, was a great niece of the President John Adams. Eliot was an advocate of public education and would work to see public schools begun in St. Louis in 1849. In 1853, he would begin Eliot Seminary, which would become Washington University. When the Civil War began, he would inspire Lincoln to create the Western Sanitary Commission, a private organization headed by his friend James Yeatman, that would be of service and benefit all hospitals and Colored Troops west of the Appalachian Mountains during the war. This would be a private bureau, with its funding all being private donations. They would work with the Ladies Union Aid Society and the Freedmans Bureau. And when the war ended, they would work to see the Emancipation Memorial erected with Archer Alexander “the representative form of a negro …helping to break the chain that had bound him.” William Greenleaf Eliot.
Eliot’s book is historical fiction based on actual events. Research can document the actual events, but many of the names of the people involved have most likely been changed. Research has revealed the real owners and that Archer Alexander was actually buried in St. Peters United Church of Christ Cemetery on Lucas and Hunt Road, in Normandy which is in St. Louis County. He was buried in a unmarked grave in the Common Lot on December 8, 1880, near his last wife Julia. William Greenleaf Eliot wanted Archer Alexander’s life’s story to be heard by all, and would pen, Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom, for his grandchildren. When urged to publish it, Eliot would contact publishers only to have the original manuscript rejected. With the help of his close friend, Jesse Benton Fremont, daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, one of Missouri’s first State Senators, it was published in 1885.
It is the record of a humble life, but one which was conformed, up to the full measure of ability, to the law of the gospel. I have felt as proud of the long-continued friendship and confidence of Archer Alexander as of anyone I have known. He was I believe, the last fugitive slave taken in Missouri under the old laws of slavery. His freedom came directly from the hands of President Lincoln, and his own hands had helped to break the chains that bound him.Archer Alexander – From Slavery to Freedom by William G. Eliot
For more about Lewis Miller’s Virginia Sketchbook and drawings of Rockbridge County Virginia
- APA Citation:Luck, B. Lewis Miller’s Virginia Slavery Drawings. (2012, November 15). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Lewis_Miller_s_Virginia_Slavery_Drawings.
- MLA Citation:Luck, Barbara. “Lewis Miller’s Virginia Slavery Drawings.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 3 Oct. 2019.
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