January 1863

The Campbell House built in 1837
Captain James Campbell’s home was built in 1837

On a frigid January night in ‘63, nightfall came just about dinnertime. Under the cloak of darkness, several area secesh men met in the backroom of James Naylor’s store, just north of Dardenne Creek on Boone’s Lick Road. Missouri winters can be brutal, and the windswept prairie was especially cold and windy that year. Like most every Sunday, Archer Alexander left his cabin at Richard Pitman’s place to make his way five miles down Boone’s Lick Road for his weekly visit with his wife of nearly forty years, Louisa. Her enslaver, James Naylor owned the local mercantile and was the Dardenne postmaster, and this had been her home for the past thirty years. When he came in, Alexander heard the men in the back room of the store, in an excited conversation, talking about some guns that they had stored in Captain James Campbell’s ice house, halfway between here and Pitman’s place. Alexander himself and others had helped build the Campbell house in 1837. Furtively, the men had managed to undermine the huge wooden railroad trestle that crossed Peruque Creek about five miles north of Naylor’s Store. They were waiting for the bridge to collapse, which could be any day now. If there were any survivors, the guns would handle them. Alexander knew the bridge was important to the Union soldiers stationed at the blockhouses that they had just built there.  Colonel Krekel’s men, many of whom were his friends, took turns there, guarding it. Archer realized what was about to suddenly happen! Anger welled up in him, and he was overcome with the memories of so many injustices and losses. He knew what needed to be done. He couldn’t let this happen…

The guardhouse at the Peruque Creek Bridge
Guardhouse at the Peruque Creek Bridge in 1863

Back Story

Missouri entered the Union as a slave state in 1821 because its residents at the time were enslavers from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, thanks to Henry Clay and the Missouri Compromise. But a massive influx of German immigrants dramatically changed the state’s demographics in the decades of 1830 through 1850. They were against slavery and had become active abolitionists, in both words and deeds. Push had come to shove, and by the 1850s, the very same compromise that had given them statehood had been deemed invalid by Congress. Those like Dred and Harriet Scott would be denied their freedom suits, no longer allowing the same rights of “once free, always free” to achieve emancipation.  Earlier that month, on January 1st, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect, for those states that had seceded and still embraced slavery.  Missouri had not seceded. The proclamation did not free those enslaved in Missouri, like Archer, Louisa, their children, or their grandchildren. Few ways were left for men like Archer Alexander to achieve freedom, other than the network of friends known as the Underground Railroad. The Fugitive Slave Act gave the enslaver the right to pursue his property, anywhere in the country, offering a reward. Anyone anywhere found harboring such a fugitive was dealt severe consequences as well. They would not only be fined but could be imprisoned or hung. These were dangerous times.  

The Fugitive Slave Law

January 2023

James Naylor’s Store (no longer standing) was marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1913. The marker on the north side of Missouri State Hwy N, which is Boone’s Lick Road today, is approximately 2.5 miles west of Captain Campbell’s home (which is circa 1837 and still standing at 38.756667, -90.707096), which is just west of its intersection with Hwy K. The home of Colonel John Pitman (no longer standing) the father of Archer’s enslaver Richard Pitman, was less than 2.5 miles further east towards Cottleville. All locations are in Dardenne Township of St. Charles County, Missouri. For more about Boone’s Lick Road see their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Booneslickroad/ or website https://booneslickroad.org/

1915 Collapse of the Peruque Creek Bridge
Close-up of Peruque Creek Railroad bridge collapse in 1915.

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