The Emancipation Monument

On April 14, 1876, a 70-year-old African American named Archer Alexander, would be immortalized as the man that represented the former enslaved on the Freedom Memorial, also often referred to as the Emancipation Monument, in our Nation’s Capital. With him was President Abraham Lincoln, the very man who had given him freedom. His first biographer William Greenleaf Eliot stated “whose freedom came directly from the hand of President Lincoln… and his own hands had helped to break the chains that bound him.  The identity of the monument’s enslaved man would not be fully recognized until Eliot’s The Story of Archer Alexander was published in 1885. However, recent research reveals that there is much more to this story and that Eliot’s book should be treated as historical fiction. Today, it is even more important that Archer’s actual life be known and his story told.

Archer Alexander

Archer, born in 1806 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, was brought to Missouri in 1829 by his enslaver James H. Alexander. He and his wife Louisa would live the next 30 years in St. Charles County and raise at least 7 of their 10 children. By 1844, the family had been split between two owners with Louisa’s enslaver being a merchant named James Naylor and Archer being enslaved by his neighbor Richard H. Pitman. In January 1863, Archer overheard the area men plotting to destroy a nearby railroad bridge where it crossed Peruque Creek, a vital link for the Union troops in Missouri. Archer informed them of the threat, thereby saving hundreds of lives and a nearby contraband camp. When the informant’s identity was discovered, Archer had to flee via the network to freedom known as the underground railroad.

Archer found refuge in St. Louis in the home of an abolitionist and Unitarian minister named William Greenleaf Eliot, the founder of Washington University. Eliot was also a founding member of the Western Sanitary Commission, a non-profit commission established by Major General John C. Fremont at the beginning of the war, that would be in charge of establishing hospitals, nurses, and necessary aid for the Union Troops, both white and black. They also assisted with the contraband camps, Freedmen’s Bureau, and the refugees fleeing the south.

Not only did Eliot provide refuge for Archer, but used his military connections to see him “declared to be an emancipated slave and a FREE MAN by virtue of the proclamation of President… His freedom was granted for “important services to the U.S. military forces and “disloyalty of Master” on September 24, 1863.

Their fateful connection did not end there. On April 14, 1865, at 10:15 in the evening at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC John Wilkes Booth entered the back of Lincoln’s theater box, crept up from behind, and fired at the back of Lincoln’s head, mortally wounding him. After being attended by doctors, Lincoln was taken across the street to Petersen House. Lincoln died at 7:22 in the morning on April 15. The morning following the assassination, upon hearing of President Lincoln’s murder “Charlotte Scott, an emancipated slave, brought five dollars to her former master, a Union refugee from Virginia, residing in Marietta, Ohio. It was her first earnings as a free woman, and she begged that it might be used “to make a monument to Massa Lincoln, the best friend the colored people ever had.””Mr. Rucker placed it in the hands of General Smith, who forwarded it to Mr. James E. Yeatman, President of the Western Sanitary Commission of St. Louis …Would it not be well to take up this suggestion, and make it known to the freedmen? The suggestion was accepted, and a circular letter was published inviting all freedmen to send contributions for the purpose to the Commission in St. Louis. In response, liberal sums were received from colored soldiers at Natchez, Miss., amounting to $12,150, which was soon increased from other sources to $16,242.

William Greenleaf Eliot
Missouri Historical Society

Portraits n38667

The project fell into the commission’s lap because of its relief work for the many thousands of black refugees in the western theater during the war. The circular states “A Monument is proposed to be erected in the City of Washington, by contributions from the Colored Regiments of the National Army, and the. Freedmen of all the United States, in honor of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, and in the testimony of the gratitude of four million American Citizens…”


After 1865 there were other national monument organizations springing up and the political struggle over the legacy of the war was turning increasingly on the definition of the rights of the freedmen. They redoubled their fund-raising efforts by appointing the distinguished black lawyer and activist Professor John Mercer Langston of Washington, D.C. to solicit contributions from African American communities. When a Springfield Illinois group’s decision to avoid any representation of emancipated figures, whether secondary or not, came to an end, the Western Sanitary Commission’s project took a surprising turn. Still lacking sufficient funds Eliot visited his friend and sculptor Thomas Ball, from Boston “In the summer of 1869, I was in Florence, Italy…I saw a group in marble which he had … executed immediately after President Lincoln’s death. When I told him what we were trying to do, … he said at once, with enthusiasm, that the group was at our service … When told of the sum actually in hand, he said it was amply sufficient.” The Commission would accept this with one change…”the representative form of a negro should be…helping to break the chain that had bound him. Photographic pictures of ARCHER ALEXANDER, a fugitive slave, were sent to him…“. Ball would be asked to straighten Archer’s right arm and make it culminate in a clenched fist. In 1873, St. Louis Newspapers would share photos of the proposed monument titled Emancipation by Sculptor Thomas Ball.

President Abraham Lincoln

On April 14, 1876, newspapers would carry the story: “The unveiling of the Lincoln statue…was a feature of today’s holiday. The colored people were out in full force. The procession was very large, including the colored troops, Knights Templars of St. Augustine, The Sons of Purity, Sons of Levi, Good Samaritans, Labor League, and other uniformed benevolent associations, accompanied by music. There was an immense assemblage at the park. The statue, covered with flags, was a great object of interest. The first contribution to the statue funds was made on the morning after the assassination of President Lincoln, by Charlotte Scott, a colored woman of Marietta, who gave five dollars. The original cost of the monument was $17,000 and other incidental expenses have all been paid by subscriptions by colored people. The last congress appropriated $3,000 for a pedestal and the statue was allowed to pass the customs house free of duty. The statue is of bronze, twelve feet high, resting up a pedestal ten feet high…..There was on the speaker’s stand the President, members of the Cabinet, Justices of the Supreme Court, foreign ministers, senators, representatives, and other persons of prominence. After prayer music by the Marine band, Hail Columbia, and reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Prof Langston [colored] formally accepted the statue on behalf of the entire country and then called upon President Grant to unveil it. Prolonged applause greeted the words of the speaker and increased when the president stepped to the front and grasped the rope that was attached to the flag veiling the statue. Amidst deafening cheers of the multitude music, and booming of cannon, the beautiful monument stood unveiled. A poem was read and composed by Miss Cordelia Ray (colored) of New York.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was then introduced amid applause and delivered an eloquent oration “I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have today. This occasion is in some respects remarkable. Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lesson of our history in the United States; …who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion; they will think of it and speak of it with a sense of manly pride and complacency… Nowhere else in this great country, with its uncounted towns and cities, unlimited wealth, and immeasurable territory extending from sea to sea, could conditions be found more favorable to the success of this occasion than here. We stand today at the national center to perform something like a national act-an act which is to go into history; and we are here where every pulsation of the national heart can be heard, felt, and reciprocated… For the first time in the history of our people, and in the history of the whole American people, we join in this high worship and march conspicuously in the line of this time-honored custom. First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things.[1] This would be the only National monument to Lincoln in Washington, D.C. until 1922, which celebrates its’ 100th Anniversary this year.

ORATION BY FREDERICK DOUGLASS DELIVERED ON THE OCCASION OF THE UNVEILING OF THE FREEDMEN’S MONUMENT, APRIL 14, 1876, Collection of Frederick Douglass materials, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Box 2, Folder 2, April 14, 1876

On December 8, 1880, Archer would be buried by his family in the former Deutsch Evangelical Church Cemetery, today’s St. Peters United Church of Christ [2] in St Louis. In a common lot grave, several deep, and no markers. [The cemetery has provided a location, where the family is planning to erect a marker that gives testimony to their ancestor. Archer is the great-great-great-grandfather of Muhammad Ali.] Because of one split-second decision, with an act of supreme heroism, Archer would become the “last fugitive slave” on the Emancipation Memorial. Today, Archer Alexander represents all those enslaved whose heavy chains have been broken, and by some is seen as rising – his freedom now within sight – still fixed on that moment in time of April  14th of 1865. While this monument was totally paid for by those who were enslaved it belongs to our entire Nation.

[1] ORATION BY FREDERICK DOUGLASS DELIVERED ON THE OCCASION OF THE UNVEILING OF THE FREEDMEN’S MONUMENT, APRIL 14, 1876, Collection of Frederick Douglass materials, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Box 2, Folder 2, April 14, 1876

[2] St. Peters United Church of Christ Burial Records, 2101 Lucas and Hunt Road, Normandy, MO 63121

Photo from National Park Service:

What Makes a Hero

In January of 1863, each and every black person enslaved in the United States is free due to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. That is, except for those enslaved in slave states bordering the south, like Missouri. Saint Charles had begun way before Missouri even became a state, it was made up of slave owners from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. And then came the Germans. Beginning in 1830, a tidal wave of emigrants had turned the state into the very essence of what the Civil War was about – Slavery. In the center of it all, a hero was made.

On a cold winter night, Archer was visiting his wife of thirty years, Louisa. Her enslaver, James Naylor was a wealthy merchant who ran the Dardenne Post Office, where letters to families named Bates, McCluer, and Pitman arrived daily. Archer was enslaved by Richard Hickman Pitman, who lived just down the Booneslick road, past the home of Captain James Campbell. Archer overheard the area men talking about how the work was going on the railroad bridge. Any day now, with the weight of the next Northern Missouri engine bearing down and over that steep gorge filled by Peruque Creek, their mission would be accomplished. They had been stealthily working at sawing the wooden timbers. And, they had stored arms and ammunition for when the great event happened! Any day now…

If left unchecked hundreds of Union troops and vital supplies being shipped to the State’s Capitol would be lost! With a cost of several hundred lives as well! Perhaps even the stability of the state would be jeopardized with this act.  German-born Lt. Col. Arnold Krekel’s troops had built a wooden blockhouse at the bridge, where hundreds of black men and their families had established a contraband camp. As fugitives, their safety and lives depended on the Union troops’ protection. Area slave owners had begged Governor Gamble to make the troops return them. A lot was riding on this.

Archer Alexander understood the gravity of the situation and made his decision. Without a word to his wife, he took off at a run for the camp. There he told the Captain in charge that night what he had just heard. That was a moment that would change his life forever. It would not be long before it was realized that the informant was none other than Pitman’s man and an angry mob was after him. If caught he would certainly be lynched, and his only chance would be the network for freedom called the underground railroad. Making his way carefully to St. Louis, he was taken in by a Unitarian minister named William Greenleaf Eliot.

Eliot, the founder of Washington University, was a member of the Western Sanitary Commission, organized at the beginning of the war by Col. John C. Fremont, who was in charge of the Union’s Army of the West. A private benevolent organization, its purpose was to provide hospitals, nurses, and aid, to Union troops both black and white. Authorized by Lincoln to work in any camp, Eliot knew the officers well. He went straight to the Provost Marshall’s office to obtain an order for the protection of Archer. He then sent a message to Pitman, through Barton Bates who was the son of Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates. In return, Pitman sent slave catchers to Eliot’s home, to attack and retrieve Archer. Eliot would once again rescue Archer, and Pitman would be thrown into the Myrtle Street Prison.

Archer would be granted freedom on September 24, 1863, by Lincoln through the Provost Marshal due to his heroic actions. Freedom, for “important services to the United State military forces”. Freedom under the provisions of the Act of Congress of July 17, 1862, and “disloyalty of master” by orders of Brig. General Strong. Freedom was this hero’s reward. Through the work once again of William G. Eliot, the Emancipation Memorial, the first and only monument to Lincoln in Washington, D.C., prior to 1922, will share both heroes.  Today, President Abraham Lincoln, “the best friend the colored people had” shares the world stage with Archer Alexander. Two men, both of whom are truly American heroes.

Free At Last

After a life of enslavement, on September 24th, 1863, Archer Alexander was free at last! Nine months earlier, the freedom seeker had made a run for freedom that had nearly cost him his life. In January, Archer was visiting his wife Louisa at Naylor’s Store, where she was enslaved, when he overheard his owner and area men talking.  James Naylor’s Mercantile was the local Post Office on Boone’s Lick Road near Dardenne Presbyterian Church and was where the Bates, McClure, Naylor, and Alexander families had established a church in 1819. Archer’s enslaver, Richard Hickman Pitman, who lived a few miles down the road, had joined the Campbell,  Zumwalt, and Heald families in organizing a Methodist Church. Many of them were slave owners that had been joined by a flood of German emigrants like the Krekel brothers who’d arrived back in the 1830s. Many Germans, like Molitor, Schone and Freymuth were Catholic, but the Germans would also bring their Lutheran and Evangelical faith with them. Germans vehemently opposed slavery and would make up a majority of Missouri’s Union troops hoping to put an end to the practice.

Archer Alexander

That cold winter night, Archer would overhear James Naylor and area men discussing their plot to overthrow the Union troops stationed at the nearby Peruque Creek Bridge, with rifles they had stored in James Campbell’s icehouse. They had sawn the timbers of the North Missouri Railroad’s wooden trestle, and if left unchecked it would certainly collapse when the next train passed. Hundreds of Union troops and other necessary supplies were being shipped westward to the State’s Capitol via the railroad daily, making it a vital link for the Union Troops. The previous fall, Lt. Col. Arnold Krekel’s troops had built a wooden blockhouse to guard the bridge. Archer would risk his life to make it to the blockhouse and the Union troops stationed there to inform them of what he had overheard. It would not be long though before it was realized that the informant was none other than Richard Pitman’s enslaved man Archer.

Fleeing for his life, Archer would certainly be shot or lynched if it were not for the network to freedom, called the Underground Railroad. People like William Greenleaf Eliot were willing to risk everything to help. The Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress in September of 1850 required that slaves be returned to their owners. Missouri, organized in 1821 had always been a slave state. In July of 1862, Congress had passed the Second Confiscation Act pertaining to states like Missouri,  calling for court proceedings and seizure of land and property from disloyal citizens, as well as the emancipation of their slaves that came under Union protection. This act formed the legal basis for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, freeing all those enslaved except for border states like Missouri.

Eliot took Archer into his home and sought protection for Archer under the U.S. Confiscation Act, from the Union Army’s Provost Marshall at St. Louis.  He asked his friend Judge Barton Bates, son of Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates, a neighbor of Pitman’s for help. Eliot wanted to see Archer manumitted, and the only way he could do that was to first purchase the enslaved man. He had helped emancipate others in the same manner. In reply, Pitman’s message was to send several men to recapture his property! They bludgeoned Archer senseless in front of Eliot’s children and took him to the Confederate Jail at 6th and Chestnut, to be sold south. Fortunately, Eliot was able to save Archer before that happened and Pitman was thrown into the Myrtle Street Prison instead.  

Archer’s Order of Protection was not enough apparently. Eliot took Archer upriver to Alton, Illinois, a free state, by steamboat. Back in St. Louis, court hearings would be held and depositions were taken. Bates and his brother-in-law Missouri’s Governor Hamilton Rowan Gamble would both be questioned. The entire Dardenne Township was thrown into turmoil, and Archer’s wife and children were held under strict guard by Naylor. Finally, a St. Louis newspaper announced

Archer Alexander, a negro, aged 47 years, 5 feet 8 inches high, black color, whose last master was R. Hickman Pittman of the County of St. Charles, State of Missouri, is hereby declared to be an emancipated slave and a free man by virtue of the proclamation of the President of the United States made 1st January 1863 under the provisions of the Act of Congress of July 17, 1862, and for important services to the United States military forces, and disloyalty of master.

Eliot’s admiration of Archer’s heroism, and the enslaved man’s gratitude, formed a strong bond of friendship. When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865, a formerly enslaved woman named Charlotte Scott would donate $5 to a fund to build a monument to their fallen hero. Thousands of the formerly enslaved and the U.S. Colored Troops would contribute to the monument’s fund held by the Western Sanitary Commission, which had done so much for the freedmen. When the monument was dedicated on the 11th Anniversary of Lincoln’s death in 1876, it would be due to the efforts of William G. Eliot, that the likeness of Archer would portray the formerly enslaved individuals, who had broken their own chains and were rising to meet their new freedom.

Emancipation Monument

Today, in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. the monument still stands. Archer Alexander is the great-great-great-grandfather of Muhammad Ali, who was born Cassius Clay. On September 24, 2022, the descendants of Archer Alexander will celebrate Archer Alexander’s Day of Freedom.


In 1885, Boston Publishers Cupples, Upham, and Company would print THE STORY OF ARCHER ALEXANDER  FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM March 30,  1863, BY WILLIAM G. ELIOT  A MEMBER OF THE WESTERN SANITARY COMMISSION OF ST. LOUIS, MO. Too many historians today take this book as absolute factual history when the research of primary documents reveals a different story of the life of Archer Alexander. Iver Bernstein, is a professor of history and African and African American studies at Washington University and is co-teaching the course Rethinking Wash U’s Relationship to Enslavement: Past, Present, and Future. Earlier, this year, Wash U joined Universities Studying Slavery, a consortium of more than 80 colleges and universities. Just as they have examined the life of the author William G. Eliot its’ also about time we re-examine Eliot’s book about Archer Alexander. On February 20, 1863 Eliot gave refuge to this fugitive slave, endangering his own life and the safety of his own family. On March 30, 1863, Eliot would address a letter to Archer’s owner Richard H. Pitman asking to purchase him, as he wanted to see Archer Alexander emancipated. In his book, The Story of Archer Alexander, Eliot would later write …

William G. Eliot, source WUSTL
William Greenleaf Eliot

THE following narrative was prepared without intention of publication; but I have been led to think that it may be of use, not only as a reminiscence of the “war of secession,” but as a fair presentation of slavery in the Border States for the twenty or thirty years preceding the outbreak of hostilities. I am confirmed in this view by the fact, that, on submitting the manuscript to a leading publishing-house in a Northern city, it was objected to, among other reasons, as too tame to satisfy the public taste and judgment. But, from equally intelligent parties in a city farther south, the exactly opposite criticism was made, as if a too harsh judgment of slavery and slave-holders was conveyed, so that its publication would be prejudicial to those undertaking it.

        I therefore asked the opinion of several friends, who, like myself, had lived all those years under the shadow of the “peculiar institution,” in one or other of the northern tier of the slave States, and who labored faithfully for its abolition, giving the best service of their lives to the cause of freedom, “possessing their souls in patience” while contending against what seemed to be an irresistible power. Their concurrence has confirmed me in the opinion, that, however feebly drawn, a true picture, so far as it goes, is given in these pages of the relation between master and slave, and of the social condition of slave-holding communities. Without claiming to be more than a plain story plainly told, it shows things as they were, and how they were regarded by intelligent and thoughtful people at the time.


        Only those who lived in the border slave States during that eventful period from 1830 to 1860, can fully understand the complications and difficulties of the “irrepressible conflict,” and how hard it was fully to maintain one’s self-respect under the necessities of deliberate and cautious action; to speak plainly without giving such degree of offence as would prevent one from speaking at all. Yet it was in these States that the first and hardest battles for freedom were fought, and where the ground was prepared upon which the first great victories were won.

        It is a subject upon which I speak with deep feeling; for I have known many cases in which those who worked with faithful and self-denying energy have been severely censured for their “temporizing, time-serving policy.” Perhaps, upon mature thought, it may appear that the man who stands at safe distance from the field of battle, though he may have a better general view of the conflict, is not always the best judge of the hand-to-hand fight of those to whom the struggle is one of life or death. No city or State in the Union has greater reason to be proud of its record in the late war of secession than St. Louis and Missouri.

        Gradually the mists of partial knowledge clear away; but it will be many years yet before the North and South will thoroughly understand each other, either as to the past history of slavery or the present relations of the negro and white races. Meanwhile mutual forbearance may lead to increasing mutual affection and respect.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Marissanne Lewis-Thompson recently interviewed a team of Washington University students and faculty who recently uncovered this long-forgotten history while exploring Eliot’s legacy. “Many people view William Greenleaf Eliot as an abolitionist. History books highlight his role in co-founding Washington University as paramount, but they don’t question his anti-slavery views. Eliot was a pre-Civil War-era man, but the long-held belief that he was an abolitionist is nothing more than a myth that Eliot’s own writings disprove. Eliot was opposed to abolition, and he supported the idea of colonization. []

Iver Bernstein: Looking at the label from the present day, it really does seem that having that label serves some obvious function. It makes Eliot sort of a founding father you can be proud of — of Washington University. It’s a simple label. And it seems to put him on the side of morality and the angels. So there’s no question that the branding of the university as a kind of progressive enterprise, which of course in so many ways it is. But to have Eliot’s abolitionist imprimatur attached to that has been something that the university has been happy to have. But the question of when over the last 100-150 years, the mythology of Eliot as an abolitionist came about is something that I think is going to be a subject of future research.

In all fairness, future research must consider our country’s laws in which these people’s lives were spent, and not judge them by those of today.  Archer Alexander was born enslaved in Virginia, he bravely reported the treasonous actions of his owner to the Union Army and earned his place on the Emancipation Monument in Washington, D.C. which still stands today. Its’ time we get the story right.

Archer Alexander – The Untold Story of an American Hero is a forthcoming biography of Archer Alexander, by author Dorris Keeven-Franke [ }as revealed by original documents of his lifetime from 1806 until 1880. For more about Archer Alexander see

The Untold Story

In the fall of 2018, I first met Keith Winstead when he asked me the question “Do you know where Archer Alexander is buried?” Winstead has been researching his family history for over 30 years and had hit one of those proverbial ‘Brick Walls‘ so many genealogists face. Not because his family was black, not because the information wasn’t out there, but because the information he had found was incorrect. Not wrong because someone had whitewashed the information which was our first assumption, but because society just wasn’t ready for the truth.

William Greenleaf Eliot was not only the grandfather of poet T.S. Eliot, he had also founded the first Unitarian Church west of the Mississippi in 1834, and had also founded Eliot Seminary which became Washington University, and the Western Sanitary Commission (WSC). The WSC was a little-known and often misunderstood philanthropical non-profit that brought nurses and hospitals to thousands of Union troops, both black and white, giving the same assistance to U.S. Colored Troops as it did to its regular troops. And it helped those troops and the freedmen erect the first monument to Lincoln in Washington, D.C. in 1876. Archer is the unidentified black man rising beneath Lincoln on the Emancipation Monument in Lincoln Park, in Washington, D.C. that is controversial because his image looks too much like a slave.

Archer’s identity is first revealed to the world in a book by Eliot published in Boston in 1885, five years after Archer’s death. In the book, Eliot states that originally the story was written for his grandchildren, and not intended for publication. A friend, Jesse Benton Fremont, who was the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton who served as one of Missouri’s first U.S. Senators for over 30 years not only urged Eliot to publish the manuscript, but also “tweaked” a few of the facts, and gave it its’ title Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863.

Archer was actually born in 1806 in Rockbridge County, Virginia to a slave of John Alexander. In 1829, he had been brought to Missouri, in a caravan that had stopped near Louisville, where his son Wesley was left behind. Wesley’s great-great-grandson who was born Cassius Marcellus Clay now known as Muhammad Ali a cousin to Keith Winstead. None of this part of Archer’s story was known in March of 2019 when Muhammad Ali’s brother and various other Clay family members first visited St. Louis.

Research builds upon previous research. That’s why Winstead was having difficulty going further, and could only rely on modern DNA evidence. Not everything in Eliot’s book is factual, but it is actually a product of its time. Today good research relies on actual documented facts that are becoming more and more available due to the work of historians like Dr. Henry Louis Gates. Today’s readers want a juicy disclose-all book that shares the true identities, but that was not always the case. Just as the world was not ready for the actual story of Archer’s life, it was not ready for a monument with a slave that was standing in 1865, when Charlotte Scott first envisioned it. Today we can look back on the great story produced by Chad Davis from St. Louis Public Radio and NPR, and the first visit of Keith Winstead and his family where A Louisville Family Learns About their St. Louis Ties to a Slave that Saved Lives. Learn about their visit at where you can read or listen any time.

Just as we have come a long way in our recent research of Archer’s life, we have also come a long way in understanding the full story of the monument, thanks to fellow researchers, historians, and writers. Archer was a hero in his own right, an unknown American hero, whose untold story is difficult to share yet needs to be told. Don’t you think the time is right? For more about Archer visit online anytime.

Encyclopedia Virginia

Archer Alexander

A recent entry on the Virginia Humanities’ Website Encyclopedia Virginia shares the story of Archer Alexander. The contributor is Dorris Keeven-Franke who is an award-winning author of books on Missouri history whose forthcoming book Archer Alexander – The Untold Story of an American Hero shares the story of the unidentified enslaved man rising before President Abraham Lincoln on the Emancipation Monument.


Archer Alexander (d. December 8, 1880)


Archer Alexander was a formerly enslaved man who served as the model for the Emancipation Monument dedicated on the eleventh anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Alexander was born enslaved in Rockbridge County in the early nineteenth century. In 1829, Alexander’s enslaver, James Alexander, brought him to Missouri, where Alexander worked as an enslaved laborer, eventually being sold to members of the Pitman family… 

Encyclopedia Virginia

To read the entire entry click here

Encyclopedia Virginias mission is to provide a free, reliable, multimedia resource that tells the inclusive story of Virginia for students, teachers, and communities who seek to understand how the past informs the present and the future. Encyclopedia Virginia (EV) is a reliable and user-friendly resource on the history and culture of Virginia. Encyclopedia Virginia anthologizes the best and most current scholarship that exists on a given topic. A project of Virginia Humanities in partnership with the Library of VirginiaEV publishes topical and biographical entries written by scholars, edited to be accessible to a general audience, and vigorously fact-checked. Content creation is a work in progress, with new entries published regularly. Entries are accompanied by primary documents and media objects, including images, audio and visual clips, and virtual tours of historic sites. Many of our media objects are unavailable elsewhere and are published courtesy of partnerships with museums and cultural institutions in Virginia, the United States, and Great Britain.

Christmas 1862

The war had begun last year. For Archer Alexander in Dardenne Prairie, news from St. Louis of Union soldiers marching into the rebels’ camp excited everyone! A General named Lyons had taken over a Camp named “Jackson” so-called for the Governor and people had been shot and killed. The war had begun. People would choose sides, change sides, and lie about whose side they were on. Things had gotten even worse this past year. Word was that things were changing…

Close to home here many things had changed. In March, the Dardenne Presbyterian Church had burned. Some said Union Soldiers had done it. Some said the Rebels did it. No one knew for sure, but everyone blamed everyone. The families were meeting in the member’s homes now. Last fall the Union soldiers had built two guardhouses, big strange-looking lookout points where the railroad crossed the Peruque. If one did manage to “get away” you could always count on the soldiers there to help you and your family. They would feed you and hide you. Word was that things were changing…

Missouri Home Guards (Union) at the Peruque Creek Bridge on the North Missouri Railroad.

Christmas was a time when some Masters were generous in spirit. Some had made their “agreements” for the new year which might put you with a new Master too. Sometimes it was close, sometimes it was far away, away from your family. If you had a pass to visit family… many took advantage and used it to get a two-day head start for freedom. Word was that things were changing…

Word had passed in September that President Lincoln made a great speech at a far-away place called Gettysburg and that he would make all slaves free at the beginning of the year. It was called the Emancipation Proclamation. Word was that things were changing…Freedom was coming!

But not for Archer or Louisa. Another year had passed. Pitman gave him a pass to go and visit her and the girls over at Naylor’s. The Proclamation didn’t apply here. While word was that things were changing… not here in Missouri.

At Christmas of 1862, America was at war with itself. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect on January 1st, 1863 making hundreds of thousands of enslaved people free at last. Yet in four states, Missouri being one, which had stayed with the Union, the proclamation would not apply. There the tenuous balance between owners and abolitionists, neighbor versus neighbor, and even brother against brother, was delicate. And Lincoln knew that the delicate balance could easily tip and everything would be lost. For hundreds of thousands still enslaved in Missouri… nothing would change. In less than two years though, hundreds of thousands of men, both black and white, would have paid the price with their lives to preserve these changes and put an end to slavery and ensure freedom for all.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was the new pathway to freedom beginning January 1st, 1863. But not for Archer Alexander and his wife Louisa.

A son named James

This is the story of two men named James Alexander, one white, one black. On October 8, 1829, a caravan of four families from Virginia arrived in Dardenne, Missouri, bringing with them their enslaved. James Alexander, son of John, was one of them. Of those fifty people in the caravan, twenty-six of them were enslaved. Among them was 23-year-old Archer Alexander, and his wife Louisa, and two of their children. A cholera epidemic would soon be raging across the countryside, indiscriminate of color or culture, and Archer’s owner James Alexander died in 1835. His will strictly stated that his property, both his slaves and his land, was NOT to be sold, appointing his friend William Campbell as executor. The revenue was to be used entirely for the care of his four orphaned children, John, William, Agnes Jane, and Sarah Elizabeth.

By that time, Archer’s son, also named James had been born. His life would be very different. His parents were leased to area families, and sometimes he and his siblings were sent away. By 1844, they were assessed as the property that would be disbursed among the four heirs, and fourteen-year-old James was valued at $200. At some point he was sold to a farmer in Callaway County, where he would meet Harriet. By 1857, James and Harriet would “jump the broom” and they would be married. They would have at least nine children together, William, David, John, Bell, George, Ellen, Mary, Kate and little Frederick. The oldest would all be born in Callaway County, but George, Ellen, Mary, Kate, and Frederick would all be born in St. Charles County.

In 1863, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would free those still enslaved in all states, except those border states that had not seceded, like Missouri. It did allow for U.S. Troops to be formed here and to fight in the Civil War. If a black man like James wanted to join, he had some choices to make. If a slave was allowed to join, the owner could claim that they had given permission, and the owner received $300 from the U.S. government for that slave. James’ owner allowed him to join the 18th Regiment of the Union’s U.S. Colored Troops in September of 1864. Many owners would forbid their slaves to leave, but the men would runoff. The owner would try to claim that they had allowed, but the slave would insist, and the owner would be turned down. Then those that simply ran off, and joined the Union troops, using another name. In January of 1865, James received word from home and took off for Missouri without permission. He was marked as a deserter, taking with him, one rifle valued at $22.65. January 11, 1865, Missouri’s Constitutional Convention had declared all of Missouri’s slaves to be emancipated.

James and Harriet would make their home in the town of St. Charles following the war. His mother, Louisa, had died at her owner Jim Naylor’s home in Dardenne. But by 1880, Harriet and James had moved to Wentzville and live on Railroad (today’s Allen) Street. The family were members of the Grant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their younger children would attend the black school nearby. By 1890, James would claim and receive U.S. Union Veterans benefit, for an injured leg that had left him disabled and unable to work. Harriet would die in 1902. James would remarry twice more, first to a Clara, who had also been born enslaved and who died in 1916 and would be buried at Grant Chapel A.M.E. Cemetery behind the Church. James would marry once more, to Caroline, a widow of Henry Callaway, both of who had been born enslaved and who would die of old age in 1920. On the 21st of March 1929, Archer Alexander’s son James Alexander would pass away, and after a funeral at the Pitman funeral home, also be buried at the Grant Chapel A.M.E. in Wentzville.  James Alexander’s father, Archer Alexander is the face of freedom, on the Emancipation Monument in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. This monument was dedicated and paid for by the U.S. Colored Troops and the former enslaved in 1876 and still stands today. If you are a descendant of Archer’s son James please contact us at

1905 Atlas of St. Charles County from the Library of Congress, Map of Wentzville

Taking another look at the Emancipation Monument

On November 3, 2021, an excellent new video was released that began….”Where you stand depends on what you see”…as protestors chanted “Do you not hear us?” in the background. As Thoreau stated, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” The video reminds us that “behind everything you see, is something you don’t see”.

It shares the history of the monument, explaining the story of Charlotte Scott, who called President Abraham “a great friend” and who raised the call for an enduring monument to Lincoln from the colored people. As a black man named Joseph T. Wilson who extensively wrote and promoted the fundraising for the monument states “something tangible and visible”.  All of this at a time, when as the video also states women, native Americans or blacks had “little agency”.

After sharing the history and the dedication proceedings the video also informs us of the meanings and symbolism of the imagery and the “action” that the monument reveals. It begins by taking a closer look at the formerly enslaved black man named Archer Alexander who as Langston says he sees as rising with his face “lighting with joy! Facing the manhood of freedom.” Going on to compare everything from the clothes or lack thereof to the height differences between Alexander and Lincoln, the video does an excellent job of “Taking another look at the Emancipation Monument”.

The video shares the story of a monument that many think they know the story of, yet makes one stop, think and discover and is well documented. Written by Marcia E. Cole and Jill Giroir, video production by Jill Giroir, with voiceovers by Marcia E. Cole and Eric Garvanne, you can find the video on their website Emancipation Monument or or on YouTube at anytime.

From Taking Another Look

Previous video about the Emancipation Monument

From Virginia to Missouri

First Entry – The Journey begins 8.20.29

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.

This journal of a journey from Lexington, in Rockbridge County in Virginia to St. Charles County Missouri was written between August through October, 1829, includes the enslaved Archer Alexander. Written by William Massilon Campbell (1805-1849) the son of Samuel LeGrand Campbell (1765-1840) , the second President of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and his wife Agnes Reid Alexander (1772-1846). It can be found in the Leyburn Library, Special Collections and Archives, located at the Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia. A very special thanks goes to Lisa S. McCown, Senior Assistant and all of the staff there. . This journal is presented here with the spellings as presented by the writer in 1829. All photos by Dorris Keeven-Franke with a special thanks to Donna LaBrayer Sandegren.

And so begins the journal of William Massilon Campbell from Lexington, Virginia to Dardenne Township in St. Charles County Missouri. Begun in August of 1829, the group of over fifty travelers would have twenty-five enslaved individuals, including Archer Alexander, between three families, the Alexanders, McClures, and Wilsons . 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. Also there were 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, the black nurse for the McClure’s newborn baby Sally McClure.


This portion of the life of Archer Alexander could not be told were it not for the journal of William Massilon Campbell. Our purpose here though, is to share the story of these people, both white and black, who made this trek of over 800 miles, and not only the mountains and the plains that they crossed, but the rivers they followed. In 1829, they would all walk the same pathway, climb the same hillsides, and follow the same rivers. The women and children would ride in the wagons, and the men and many of the enslaved would follow on foot. Join us as we follow their journey, and share photos taken today in July of 2019, to gain a greater understanding of their journey.

Keith Winstead

Rock Castle, the home of Samuel LeGrand Campbell and his wife Sally Alexander, the parents of William Massilon Campbell is still standing, as seen in this photo (left) with Keith Alexander, a descendant of Archer Alexander. Located on the banks of Whistle Creek, opposite the location of the Old Monmouth Presbyterian Church and the Old Monmouth Cemetery. Samuel was a Presbyterian elder, a physician and a President of Washington and Lee University.

Rockbridge County Historical Society
Lexington, Virginia

The Rockbridge County Historical Society (right) is located in the Campbell House c. 1845 and has an excellent and helpful staff. The Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church (below) is where both the Alexander and McClure family were members and were buried. This church was begun by the father of Sam Houston. The Alexander family still live nearby at Cherry Grove, (below) which was the former home of James McDowell, grandfather of Jessie Benton Fremont, and where she spent much of her time growing up.

Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church
“Cherry Grove” home of James McDowell, Grandfather of Jessie Benton Fremont
Tom Alexander, a descendant of John Alexander of Rockbridge Virginia, with Keith Winstead, a descendant of Archer Alexander. Today, Cherry Grove is owned by the Alexander family and is a large dairy farm.

Continue the journey…

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