Heroes

On a cold January night in 1863, Archer Alexander was visiting his wife Louisa at Naylor’s Store, when he overheard the area men in a meeting in the back room. He could hear his own enslaver Richard H. Pitman amongst the men, and Captain James Campbell too. They were plotting the destruction of the bridge over Peruque Creek, where the Union troops were stationed. Archer knew that bridge was a vital link for soldiers and supplies that traveled across that steep gorge daily and they had to be alerted. If it were to collapse hundreds of lives would be lost.  Archer said goodnight to Louisa, and without another word, did the unthinkable. He took off for the guard house five miles away.

Union Guard House at Peruque Creek Bridge in St. Charles County

It wouldn’t be long after that someone figured out who had alerted the soldiers.  He had to move fast because they were looking for him. Without a word to Louisa, he had no choice but to run, using the network of friends known as the Underground Railroad. He followed the stars and headed for the river, and then St. Louis. It took time, he slept in the woods during the day and made his way during the night. It was cold, and he was hungry. Finally, he came to the edge of the city, and when he turned up at a German butcher’s shop, he knew exactly what to say.  Soon Archer found himself in the home of a generous Unitarian minister named  William Greenleaf Eliot.

Beaumont, the home of William Greenleaf Eliot in St. Louis

Eliot had helped others achieve their freedom. He listened to Archer and knew exactly what to do. Early the next morning Archer and he visited the Provost Marshall’s office, The Marshall issued a temporary Order of Protection, and Eliot would reach out to Pitman, asking to purchase  Archer. But that only alerted Pitman to where Archer was hiding, and it wouldn’t be long before two men showed up at Eliot’s home. When Eliot left for work, they beat Archer senseless, right in front of Eliot’s children and threw him in the City Jail.  When he returned home that day, Eliot was furious and alerted the Marshall, who sent his officers to retrieve Archer and Pitman.

The old City Jail, at 6th & Chestnut, in St. Louis Missouri

By law, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 mandated that Eliot should return Archer to Pitman. However, in 1862 Congress had passed Lincoln’s Second Confiscation Act so that treasonous slave owners could be fined or jailed; and lose all of their enslaved property if found guilty. That is if Archer could live to tell his story.  On September 24th of 1863, Lincoln would officially emancipate the last fugitive slave, according to Eliot, named Archer Alexander. Citing his service to the Union Army, and his bravery, Archer was then a free man.

When Lincoln was assassinated, it would be this American hero named Archer, whose image would be used for the first memorial to Lincoln. The formerly enslaved people had raised thousands of dollars to erect a memorial to Lincoln; placed by a black committee the Emancipation Monument still stands today in Washington, D.C. Archer would die in 1880 and after a funeral at Washington Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church, he was buried in an unmarked lot in St. Peters U.C.C. Cemetery on Lucas and Hunt. Archer Alexander is the ancestor of Muhammad Ali.

The Emancipation Monument in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.

One Comment on “Heroes

  1. Pingback: The Thirteenth Amendment – Archer Alexander's Untold story

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