This is the journey of Archer, the enslaved property of James Alexander of Lexington, Virginia. Alexander is a member of a caravan of families moving to St. Charles County in Missouri being led by his cousin William Campbell, a young attorney hoping to set up a law practice there. If we listen closely to Campbell’s words, we might hear the voices of the enslaved… after all this is their story too.
Staid next day to rest our horses and selves, it being Sunday...*
Its’ September 20th if its Sunday … These travelers have been on the road for one whole month now… they have traveled over 350 miles of rugged terrain. They began on…
August 20, 1829… “I travel in company with four families containing about 50 individuals, white and black. The first family is that of Dr. Robert 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 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 Icenhaur, an honest, poor, industrious German with seven 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..“
These travelers would not forget their religion as they traveled from Virginia to Missouri. A caravan of 53 people, with nearly half of them enslaved, most would consider it a day of rest. The Campbells, McCluers and Alexanders were all devout Presbyterians. Many of them, or their parents had served as Elders in their church in Virginia. Their religion was packed, carried and brought along and considered just as important as the feather ticks, blacksmith tools, and slaves. Sunday was considered a day for rest for most of them.
Half of the people making this journey are enslaved people. While the horses were rested, the meals still needed to be cooked, and babies were still nursed, while a carriage seat got repaired, all by the enslaved. The enslaved people would develop their own way to fulfill their spiritual needs, in songs and dance. Laws forbid marriage of slaves. Their ceremony, often referred to as “jumping the broom” solidified the act for the couple. And while Archer is the property of the Alexander family, his wife Louisa, who was born property of the McCluer family, was now owned by James Alexander, by right of his marriage to the former Nancy McCluer, daughter of John McCluer and Agnes Steele, as her dowry [property].
Archer was born enslaved by the Alexander family in Rockbridge County Virginia in 1806. In 1829, the Alexander family moved from Virginia to Dardenne Prairie in Saint Charles County, in Missouri. Archer lived there enslaved for over thirty years, working first in the brickyards of St. Louis, and then as a carpenter. By 1844, he had been sold to David Pitman, while his wife Louisa lived on another farm a few miles away. In the winter of 1863, Archer would risk his life to inform the Union Army that his owner had sabotaged the nearby railroad bridge. With his owner and a lynch mob in pursuit, he used a well known route of the Underground Railroad, to make his way to St. Louis. There he was taken in by William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian minister, founder of Washington University, and a member of the Western Sanitary Commission.
In 1865, when the former enslaved Charlotte Scott heard the news of Lincoln’s assassination, she gave her first $5 earned in freedom to her former owner, William Rucker, with hopes that a monument could be erected to Lincoln. Rucker would see that the James Yeatman President of the Western Sanitary Commission would help the former enslaved establish the fund for the monument. When Eliot’s close friend James Yeatman shared Scott’s dream for a memorial with Eliot, it would be decided that Archer would be the face of freedom seen rising from his broken shackles alongside Lincoln on the Emancipation Monument in 1876. In 1885, William Greenleaf Eliot would publish the historical slave narrative From Slavery to Freedom – Archer Alexander.
Today, the Emancipation Monument in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park is in danger of being removed. This Federal Monument, was paid for entirely by the former enslaved people, as a memorial to President Lincoln. To sign the petition to keep it in place see https://www.change.org/EmancipationMonumentDC
*This is the journal of William Campbell (1805-1849) leading four families from Lexington, in Rockbridge County, Virginia to St. Charles County Missouri, written in 1829. 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 and author is Dorris Keeven-Franke.
The next entry in William Campbell’s journal is September 22, 1829… https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/2019/09/22/22-september-1829/