From Virginia to Missouri
Missouri became a state in 1821. The French had brought “the black code” which was their laws regarding slaves, with them back in the 1760s when they had settled St. Louis and St. Charles. By the time America purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1804, families like Daniel Boone had already settled there with their slaves. And by 1821, the great compromise of Henry Clay would allow the continued institution of slavery, brought by families like Bates and Pitman.
In 1829, over fifty people from Virginia, both black and white would fill a caravan from Lexington, in Rockbridge County and head for Dardenne Township in St. Charles County Missouri. This is their story, as taken from the Journal of William Campbell, who first settled on the Boone’s Lick Road. If you look closely and listen, you might hear the voices of the enslaved. Follow their journey, along the way babies will be born and children will die. More would join them in Kentucky and others will depart in Ohio. They were headed to the land of opportunity, and what the Germans called the Garden of Eden.
This is the story of an enslaved man, born in Rockbridge Virginia, taken to Missouri in 1829, who is on the Emancipation Monument in Washington, D.C. today named Archer Alexander. Our story begins on August 20th of 1829 in the beautiful valleys of Virginia. Where several well-educated families whose fathers had fought for independence had lived for several generations. There were many families that had small farms and large plantations which would be worked by their enslaved, just as many generations had before them, back as far as 1619. Missouri was a young state with cheap land that would allow these families, both black and white, to continue the only lifestyle they knew. Four families, yet over fifty people, both black and white would make a journey from Virginia to Missouri, beginning on August 20th.
I started from Lexington, Virginia on a journey to the state of Missouri. My own object in going to that remote section of the Union was to seek a place where I might obtain an honest livelihood by the practice of law. I travel in company with four families containing about fifty individuals, white and black. The first family is that of Dr. McCluer, his wife (my sister) and five children from six months to thirteen years old and fourteen negro servants. Two young men, McNutt and Cummings, and myself form a part of the traveling family of Dr. McCluer. Dr. McCluer leaves a lucrative practice and proposes settling himself in St. Charles County Missouri on a fine farm which he has purchased about 36 miles from St. Louis. The second family is that of James H. Alexander, who married a sister of Dr. McCluer, with five children and seven negro slaves. Intends farming in Missouri. Third family, James Wilson, a young man who is to be married this night to a pretty young girl and start off in four days to live one thousand miles from her parents. He has four or five negroes. Fourth family, Jacob Icenhoward, an honest, poor, industrious Dutchman with several children and a very aged father in law whom he is taking at great trouble to Missouri, to keep him from becoming a county charge. He has labored his life time here and made nothing more than a subsistence and has determined to go to a country where the substantial comforts of life are more abundant.
Our caravan when assembled will consist of four wagons, two carryalls, one Barouche and several horses, cows and fifty people. Two of Dr. McCluer’s children are in Charleston, Kenahwa, with their Uncle Calhoun. Our caravan will not start until the 25th of August. But I, with my sister and nurse will proceed forthwith in the Barouche to Charleston, Kenawha, where we will await the arrival of the caravan. This evening we left Lexington, our native town; possibly never to see it again.
I bid adieu to numerous friends and acquaintances, all of whom professes to wish me well. Many of them sincerely, some of them from the bottom of their hearts, some deceitfully and others with indifference. I parted from many whom I respected and esteem highly. I left a numerous tribe of relatives and many old friends. Many requested me to write to them and give them an account of the country and numbers intimated a hope of coming to Missouri in a few years. We came three miles to the residence of my aged father and mother with whom we stay all night, perhaps for the last time. Tomorrow morning we will start in our barouche for Warm Springs…
The group of over fifty travelers would have twenty-five enslaved individuals, including Archer, between the four families of the Alexanders, McCluers, Icenhaurs and the Wilsons. Among the enslaved there were six boys under the age of ten, three young males between ten and twenty-three, two young men between twenty-four and thirty-six, and one older man between thirty-six and fifty-four. There were also four little girls under the age of ten, seven young women of child-bearing age between ten and twenty-three, two older women still of child-bearing age between twenty-four and thirty-six, and one older woman also between the age of thirty-six and fifty-four. Among these was Archer’s newborn son Wesley, and his mother Louisa the black nurse for the McClure’s newborn baby Sally McClure.
AUGUST 20, 2020 The Rockbridge County Historical Society (below) is located in the Campbell House c. 1845 and has an excellent and helpful staff. We thank Eric Wilson for his help. The Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church (below) is where both the Alexander and McCluer family were members and were buried. This church was begun by the father of Sam Houston. The Alexander family still lives near Cherry Grove which was the former home of James McDowell, grandfather of Jessie Benton Fremont, and where she spent much of her time growing up.
There are 38 entries to Campbell’s journal, that you can read on this blog that will be posted on the dates of their entry and follow the story of Archer exactly 191 years ago. The next entry is dated August 21, 1829. Here is the link https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/21-august-1829-second-entry/ Campbell’s journal is located in the Archives at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and is being shared here so that we may hear all the voices, including those whose voices were not shared originally. Please keep in mind the context of the time in which this journal was written. Feel free to share your comments directly on the blog or today’s Facebook page. You may sign up for alerts of future blog posts on this website.