“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 50 individuals, white and black.”
I’d like to share a very old story in a new way. In the early 1800s the Missouri territory was a wide-open land of freedom and opportunity for nearly everyone. Thousands were making the trek. The great Westward Expansion was on! Wagons were loaded with the women and children, while the cows were herded, and the dogs followed, the slaves walked behind.
In 1829, a young man from Rockbridge County named William Campbell kept a diary of his journey from Lexington, through Kentucky, and Illinois to settle along a branch of the Dardenne Creek in St. Charles County. With that caravan were twenty-six enslaved who took that journey, leaving their families behind. Among them was 23-year-old Archer Alexander and his wife Louise. They kept no journals. It was against the law to teach a slave how to read or write.
For six weeks though they walked the same paths and climbed the same hills. People died and children were born. It’s an old story but we will tell it in a new way.Armed with Campbell’s journal in hand, Archer Alexander descendant Keith Winstead and I will make that journey again and share that story on the Archer Alexander blog. Starting in July, you too can follow the Archer Alexander blog and join in the journey. To truly know an ancestor, we sometimes have to take a walk in their shoes. What better way to understand a story, than to take the journey for oneself?
Sign up today and follow the journey. Archer Alexander is the Missouri slave that became an American hero, on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.
People have been chronicling their family histories for centuries, and there are some really “good books” out there! Some families are better at it than others, and some prefer the leaf, click and save method on Ancestry. I prefer – and teach – the cite at least three original sources, also known as document, document document. That’s fine if you are white, well educated, and prominent. For those of us more common folk it does help if you didn’t have a foreign-born ancestor that no one could understand when he arrived, and that there weren’t at least fifty others known by the same name. But then that’s why the pastime of family history is so interesting! However if you were born before 1865 and not white, you really have a problem. And while the science of DNA has created thousands of new relations out there, most of them will not be found written down and documented three times over.
As America feared the uprising of the “uppity” slave, they created laws forbidding their education. A slave’s value could even be diminished if he were considered too smart. They weren’t something to be educated anyways, because they weren’t “people”, they were simply property. You gave them a name, simply as something to differentiate them on a Bill of Sale or in your will, so each of your children could know who gets who. A woman could have brought slaves to the marriage in her dowry, and they sometimes would receive that surname to differentiate when there were others that shared the same name. And if children were born after the marriage those children were most likely given the “Master’s” name. Most likely you were just a slash mark in a column marked “under the age of” or something similar. After all the only person who really cared was the tax assessor. And he didn’t care what your name was. The only people who cared were your family. Most likely they had a whole other name for you, which you loved and used. Why would you use your “Master’s” name? He may have been the one that sold your father, raped your mother, or just assumed that it was what you wanted. Many did keep and use their surnames though, in hopes that when freedom came, they would be able to find each other. But after all, these were documents made BY the owners and FOR the owners. This was not to record your family’s history.
Sometimes there are some very unexpected, and unexplainable reasons that make everything even more difficult! In October of 2018, Keith Winstead of Louisville, Kentucky used DNA to expand his family tree research. Winstead had been researching his family tree for nearly thirty years and had compiled an extensive family tree, that already included his famous “cousin” Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay Jr., named for his white ancestor (but that’s a whole other story) and had everything well documented. However, that DNA test opened Keith up to the slave Archer Alexander, who portrays the slave on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington DC.. And there were even books written about him that shared whose son he was, his life and where he was buried. Easy – right? Not exactly. Because when he contacted historian Dorris Keeven-Franke in St. Louis, Missouri he discovered, you can’t even trust everything you read.
When William Greenleaf Eliot, a highly esteemed Unitarian minister, and founder of Washington University wrote the book The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom he did it just like the rest of us do, jotting down our family history, just for the grandchildren. His friends suggested that he publish it. He writes “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.” [Emphasis by the author] In other words, unlike today, where the public often devours the raciest and sometimes “fake” news it can find, this might reveal some people’s true identities! This was a time in our history known as Reconstruction, and no publisher was going to take a chance like that. How do you fix this? With a little “historical fiction” by your close friend, Jessie Benton Fremont. Eliot assures his readers “The story of Archer, given in the following pages, is substantially a correct narrative of facts as learned from him, and in all the important particulars as coming under my own immediate knowledge. He was the last fugitive slave captured under civil law in Missouri.”
When Winstead first posed the question to Keeven-Franke of “Do you know where Archer Alexander is buried?” both believed the final resting place as Centenary Cemetery near the Clayton Courthouse, as depicted in Eliot’s book. After some help from their friend Jim Guenzel, they learned that the book wasn’t correct. Archer Alexander was actually buried in St. Peters U.C.C. Cemetery on December 8, 1880. And this has been confirmed with a Certified Death Certificate from the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds office as well. Both documents state that Archey Alexander was 74 years old as well, indicating that he was born in 1806. Both are as close to original documents regarding this former enslaved hero of the Civil War that can be located in St. Louis and St. Charles communities currently.
What do you do in order to find another source or more of the story? You do what any family history researcher does! You make a road trip! Knowing too, that since Archer was born in 1806 in Virginia, there’s not going to be too many records. Archer is simply a piece of property. The search for that special slave known as Archer Alexander has begun and needs to be found. Only then can that “true” story, as Keith Alexander calls it, be really known. Not easy when you are trying to find the genealogy of a slave. This is what is known as thorough and exhaustive research, for those of you who like the leaf, click and save method. And while it is not easy, the rewards are truly “Amazing”!
In August 1885, when a highly respected Unitarian minister William Greenleaf Eliot wrote The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom there was only so much of the story he could share. Only so much America would be willing to hear. Originally written for his grandchildren, it wasn’t until his friends suggested that he publish it that he approached a publisher. It was immediately rejected. American wasn’t ready yet. He turned to his close friend Mrs. Jessie Benton Fremont who took it upon herself to help Eliot’s cause along. This was a difficult time for our country and the wounds were still fresh. Reconstruction had begun. Today we now know that the untold story is even more amazing! Its’ time we hear the true story of Archer Alexander an American hero!
Our story begins in August of 1829 in the beautiful valleys of Virginia. Where several prestigious families and their enslaved had lived for several generations. These were families that had fought in our War for Independence. While several families began the journey with 28 enslaved individuals, along the way babies would be born and children would die. More would join them in Kentucky. They were headed to the land of opportunity, leaving their mothers behind forever.
Beginning on July 15, 2019, we will begin in Virginia and once again make a journey to Missouri and share the story through Louisville, Kentucky, and visit all of the places in their journal. Join us in our journey as we share the past and the present, and the untold story of Archer Alexander. You can also follow us on Facebook
Started from Lexington, 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 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 servents [sic], 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 several negro slaves. (1) 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…
One of those nine slaves being brought to Missouri by James Alexander was 23 year-old Archer Alexander (2), sometimes referred to as Archey, born in 1806. James was one of the thousands of Virginians moving to Missouri, where land was plentiful and cheap. HIs brother-in-law Dr. Robert McCluer has already purchased land in St. Charles County, near Dardenne Creek. They were leaving Rockbridge County Virginia, where their families, and the families of their slaves had lived for several generations. The author of this journal is William M. Campbell (3) who would want to share with the families back in Virginia, the best places to stop, where the inns and the food was accommodating. He wants others to know which roads are best, the tolls, and ferries.
(1) The 1830 Census for James Alexander shows the following: Slaves – Males – Under 10 1; Slaves – Males – 24 thru 35 1; Slaves – Females – Under 10 2; Slaves – Females – 10 thru 23 5. There were a total 28 slaves in the party of 50 people in the caravan.
(2) The death record for Archer Alexander (1) states that at the time of his death on December 8, 1880 that he was 74 years old. At the St. Peters UCC Cemetery where he is buried in an unmarked grave, he is stated to be 74 years old.
(3) William Massilon Campbell was born in 1805 the son of Dr. Samuel LeGrand Campbell (1765-1840) and his wife Sarah “Sally” Reid (1774-1846).
The untold story of Archer Alexander is the life of an enslaved Virginian born in 1806, and brought to Missouri in 1829. An intelligent man, considered uppity, he wanted freedom. He would work with his fellow slaves in 1836 to build the home of William Campbell on the Boone’s Lick Road. By 1844, he was sold and had become property of John Pitman.
In February of 1863, Archer Alexander would overhear the area men talking about how they had sawed the timbers on the Peruque Creek Railroad Bridge and that there were arms stored for the Confederates in Campbell’s icehouse. Risking his life, he warned the Union troops called Krekel’s Dutch stationed at the bridge. Immediately under suspicion, he fled via the Underground Railroad and friendly Germans in the area. If caught he would definitely been lynched like Absolom White. Taken into the home of William G. Eliot, a Unitarian minister and head of the Western Sanitary Commission, who was also in danger due to Missouri’s Fugitive Slave Act.
Later, Eliot would write a fictionalized account of Archer Alexander and see that he was the slave represented on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, DC. Today, we know the site of Archer Alexander’s grave, where he was buried on December 8, 1880 and the names of nine of his children born before 1845 after he and his wife Louisa were separated. If you are a descendant please email firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story. A reunion is being planned in August of 2019 in St. Charles. Please share our story!
Archer Alexander or “Archey as he was known by family, was born enslaved by John Alexander in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1806.John Alexander was a respected Elder of the Presbyterian Church when he died in 1828, passing his property on to his son James Alexander. In 1829, James Alexander would make a journey to Missouri, with several other slave owning families, bringing at least four slaves of his own with him. James Alexander, would die from the cholera epidemic sweeping the state in 1834 and 35, leaving behind four orphans. The executor of the James Alexander estate, William Campbell, would make the journey back to Virginia with the orphans, leaving behind Archey, in charge of the other slaves. At that time, there were at least ten slaves, who would work with two Irish stone masons, to erect Campbell’s large beautiful home on the Boone’s Lick road near the Dardenne Presbyterian Church. There, Archer and his wife Louisa (whose value was $200), raised at least seven children, all born enslaved and prior to 1846: daughters Eliza ($325) and Mary Ann ($300), sons Archey ($225), Jim ($200), Alexander ($175), and the youngest daughter Lucinda ($150).Years later, Archey would tell his biographer, William Greenleaf Eliot, that a couple of his children had been sent away.Oral family history leads us to believe that these children were Ralph and Wesley Alexander.
Archey was considered uppity by many, because what he wanted more than anything was his freedom. In the 1840s, when the Alexander family slaves were sold off at an estate sale, Archey and his wife and his children would all be separated. Louisa, would become the property of James Naylor, a merchant, and Archey would become the property of Richard Pitman, both who also lived in Dardenne along the Boone’s Lick Road (today’s State Highway N in St. Charles County). There Archey was well acquainted with activities of his former and current masters. In February 1863, he would overhear how there were firearms stored in Campbell’s icehouse, and how the men had managed to saw some of the timbers of the Peruque Creek Railroad bridge. Archey would risk his life to make his way five miles to the north to where the Railroad Bridge was being guarded by the Union Troops, called Krekel’s Dutch.
So, ended Archey’s life in St. Charles County. Suspicion fell immediately on him, forcing him to use the aid of local Germans who facilitated his escape to St. Louis. Using what we call today, the “Underground Railroad” in St. Charles County, he made his way to the home of Eliot. The fugitive slave law enabled emancipation of the enslaved, of any owner found guilty of treasonous activities. Due process of the laws moved slowly, and eventually free he turned again to help from local Germans, to help Louisa also escape. After the war ended, Louisa would return to Naylor’s farm, and mysteriously die at Naylor’s farm just two days later. Her grave is supposedly in St. Charles County and has not been located yet.
Archey never returned to St. Charles County and is buried at St. Peters U.C.C. Church (on Lucas & Hunt Road in St. Louis). Before he died on December 8, 1880, Archer Alexander would be used as the representative of those enslaved breaking his chains and rising before President Abraham Lincoln, on the Emancipation Memorial, in Lincoln Park in Washington D.C. in 1876. That monument was paid for and erected by the formerly enslaved. The family of Archer Alexander is planning a family reunion in St. Louis and St. Charles in August 2019. They are looking for other descendants of Archer Alexander and can be contacted at email@example.com by email.
St. Louis Death Certificates, Recorder of Deeds, St. Louis, Missouri
Estate of James Alexander, Partition of Slaves for the four orphans
The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom, William Greenleaf Eliot, Cupples, Upham and Co. Boston, 1885. Eliot was a Unitarian Minister, founder of Washington University, and organizer of the Western Sanitary Commission.
Keith Winstead . The Great Great Grandfather of Keith Winstead is Wesley Alexander, believed to have been born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1829. Family DNA proves that Archer Alexander is the ancestor not only of Keith Winstead, but also Louisville native, Muhammed Ali.
When his friend William Greenleaf Eliot shared a photograph of the Emancipation Memorial with Archer Alexander, he emotionally exclaimed I’se free![i]The bronze monument features Alexander, an enslaved African-American on one knee and wearing a slave’s cuff and rising before President Abraham Lincoln. It was dedicated April 14th, 1876, marking the 11thAnniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The beautiful monument located in Lincoln Park was placed[ii]in direct view of the U.S. Capitol during America’s period of Reconstruction, and is the only Washington, D.C. monument featuring an African-American and funded entirely by America’s former enslaved themselves.
Alexander, was born enslaved in 1806 in Rockbridge, Virginia and taken to Missouri in August of 1829. Property of James H. Alexander, son of a Presbyterian elder, five families and their slaves made the trek to Missouri and settled in St. Charles County, near Dardenne Creek. James Alexander would die of the cholera epidemic that was sweeping the region, leaving behind four orphans under the guardianship of their relative William Campbell, also from Virginia. In 1846, Archer, his wife Louisa, and their children would be separated when partitioned off in the settlement of Alexander’s estate, and eventually Archer would become the property of Richard H. Pitman, and his wife Louisa that of James Naylor, both who lived in the Dardenne Prairie neighborhood as well. It was there that Archer would overhear their owners plotting to undermine the nearby railroad bridge by sawing its supports. The slave would bravely run that night over five miles to warn the Union troops, known as Krekel’s Dutch, stationed to guard the bridge. Archer also informed them that Campbell had guns stored in his ice house for use by the area’s Southern sympathizers. Suspicion fell immediately on Archer, and he had to flee, leaving behind Louisa and their children.
Using the network known as the Underground Railroad, Archer made his way to St. Louis, where he was taken in by the Eliot family. William Greenleaf Eliot (1811-1887), was from Boston, Massachusetts, and his wife the former Abigail Adams Cranch was a niece of former President John Adams. A Unitarian minister, and the founder of Washington University, Eliot was the founder of the Western Sanitary Commission, and lived near Benton Barracks, where the Union’s contraband camps had established themselves. Eliot would work to establish Archer’s freedom, based on the law that anyone found treasonous to the U.S. and its’ military, their property was automatically confiscated and then freed. The two became close, and their friendship was cemented when in their final years Archer would share details of his life with Eliot, an abolitionist. After Archer’s death December 8, 1880, and burial at St. Peters Cemetery, Eliot would write The Story of Archer Alexander From Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863. Published in 1883 in Boston, it was still an era rife with emotion, and changing the identity of some of the characters would be necessary to see the publication happen.
Eliot’s book begins with “Freedom’s Memorial:Abraham Lincoln. – Archer Alexander. “And upon this act I invoke the considerate judgement of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” – Proclamation of Freedom, Jan. 1, 1863. Eliot shares how the bronze group known as “Freedom’s Memorial” represents President Lincoln in the act of emancipating a negro slave who kneels at his feet to receive the benediction, but whose hand has grasped the chain as if in the act of breaking it, indicated the historical fact that the slaves took active part in their own deliverance”[iii]and gives a brief account.
Soon after Lincoln’s assassination, an African-American woman named Charlotte Scott took to her former owner, Mr. William P. Rucker, the first five dollars earned after emancipation. She wanted to see it used “to make a monument to Massa Lincoln the best friend the colored people ever had.”[iv] Mr. Rucker, a Union refugee from Virginia who was living in Ohio then, gave the fund to General T.H.C. Smith, a close friend Eliot and James E. Yeatman, head of the Western Sanitary Commission. Smith told Yeatman “Such a monument would have a history more grand and touching than any of which we have account”[v].The Western Sanitary Commission invited all freedmen to send contributions, and $16,242.00 was soon raised. But then“came a revulsion of feeling, from various causes, after the accession of President Johnson, which checked the movement”[vi]and the movement for the memorial was almost lost.
In 1870, Eliot would retire and visit his friend Thomas Ball, also from Massachusetts. The sculptor had moved to Florence, Italy after the Civil War. Eliot and Ball would talk, and Eliot share the photo and story of the brave hero and former slave Archer Alexander. Ball would state that the contributions so far would be ample and sufficient to commission the monument, and would superintend the cost of producing it in bronze and at its’ colossal size at the foundry in Munich in 1875. Congress accepted the statue as a gift from the “colored citizens of the United States“[vii]and appropriated $3,000 for a pedestal upon which it would rest. Dedicated on the 11thAnniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, it reads “This monument was erected by the Western Sanitary Commission of Saint Louis Mo: With funds contributed solely by emancipated citizens of the United States declared free by his proclamation January 1 A.D. 1863. The first contribution of five dollars was made by Charlotte Scott. A freedwoman of Virginia being her first earnings in freedom and consecrated by her suggestion and request on the day she heard of President Lincoln’s death to build a monument to his memory.”[viii]
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places “The campaign for the Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln, as it was to be known, was not the only effort of the time to build a monument to Lincoln; however, as the only one soliciting contributions exclusively from those who had most directly benefited from Lincoln’s act of emancipation it had a special appeal … The funds were collected solely from freed slaves (primarily from African American Union veterans)”[ix]and was dedicated by President U.S. Grant with world renown orator Frederick Douglass also present and speaking that day. Douglass’ words must be heard We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.[x]
[i] Eliot, William G., The Story of Archer Alexander From Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863, St. Louis, MO, Cupples, Upham and Company Boston, 1883. Available online https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/eliot/eliot.html
v National Park Service , National Register Information System, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service
[x]URL captured 14 April 2019 https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/4402 River Campus Libraries ORATION IN MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, delivered at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1876
Inaugural Ceremonies of the Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln, Washington City, April 14, 1876, St. Louis, 1876, pp. 16-26
William Greenleaf Eliot (1811-1887) moved to St. Louis from Boston, where he was born in 1811, in 1834. He brought the Unitarian Church to St. Louis, Missouri in 1836 with the founding of the Church of the Messiah on Lucas Avenue. Also the founder of the Public School system in St. Louis, Washington University, and the Western Sanitary Commission, he was known for his views of what was referred to at that time as “gradual emancipation”which he felt would be achieved because of the huge wave of German immigrants coming to the U.S. at that time. In the 1840s, in order to keep his personal views from the Congregation, he would write under the pen name “Crises” on the difficult subject of slavery.
His home Beaumont was close enough to Camp Jackson that on the day of the event he said ““When broken up by General Lyon and the Home Guards, the rifle bullets came close to our fences”. And when the 6,000 German troops involved (the majority) with the Camp Jackson affair happened he would also write “Missouri was saved to the Union by taking Camp Jackson and the scattering of the disloyal legislature three days before an ordinance of secession would have been passed.”
Within two years, he would take in a Fugitive Slave from St. Charles County, and under that law, could have been jailed himself. However, he would instead assist that slave in achieving that freedom, an act that he said President Lincoln himself (who was a personal friend) helped in. Later, that same slave was immortalized when he was the face of freedom on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C. But that would not be enough of the story for Eliot, and in his last years he would pen “The Story of Archer Alexander” so that all would know the story.
Eliot’s work with the Western Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, with his close friend James Yeatman, would be the backbone for the Union Army west of the Allegheny mountains. They were the network of supplies for the military hospitals and prisons, refugees and soldiers homes. They were also key for the Freedmans Bureau, opened Freedman Schools with an important headquarters at what was called Camp Ethiopia in Helena, Arkansas. And then they opened a Colored Orphans home in St. Louis, in December of 1863. They were the first in the country to give aid to colored schools establishing a High School for African Americans in 1864 in St. Louis.
William Greenleaf Eliot and James B. Yeatman are both buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum in St. Louis, Missouri. Archer Alexander is buried at St. Peters U.C.C.Cemetery, on Lucas and Hunt, in St. Louis as well.
Modern science is giving family historians everywhere a big boost. Keith Winstead has been working on his ancestor Wesley Alexander for nearly 30 years, and tried the new technology. The amazing results revealed all kinds of surprises. He knew his family’s connections to Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammed Ali. But it was not until he did further DNA tests this summer, that he learned that they were all related to the slave immortalized in the Emancipation Memorial, Archer Alexander.
Read more about this amazing discovery here…
The final resting place of Archer Alexander, who was famously immortalized in the Emancipation Memorial, in Washington, D.C. in 1876 has been found. The location was unknown, and searched for by his descendant Keith Winstead for years. The funding for that memorial began when a woman in Virginia named Charlotte Scott, donated the first $5 she earned as a free woman for a monument honoring Lincoln’s proclamation. That started a fundraising effort among newly freed people that raised $16,242 — enough to build a memorial. The statue, also known as the Freedman’s Memorial, sometimes referred to as the “Lincoln Memorial”, now sits in Washington‘s Lincoln Park and depicts Lincoln standing above a former slave holding broken chains.
Archer “Archey” Alexander succumbed to asthma on December 8, 1880 and was buried in the Common Field burying ground at St. Peter’s U.C.C. Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, (2101 Lucas & Hunt Road) without any stone to mark his grave site. Though “his last words were a prayer of thanksgiving that he died in freedom” he would never see the beautiful monument that bears his image.
Born in Virginia, Archer Alexander is thought to be a slave of the Alexander family. In the early 1830s the Alexander family moves to St. Charles County Missouri, and Archer is sold to Richard Pitman, son of David Pitman. Sold because he was considered “too uppity” as punishment. Archer meets Louisa, who is the nearby property of James Naylor.
In February of 1863, Archer becomes one of America’s heroes, when he informs the Union Troops in St. Charles County, known as Krekel’s “Deutsch” that the railroad bridge has been tampered with! Knowing that he was in mortal danger, Archer manages to flee to St. Louis.
There Archer meets William Greenleaf Eliot. He is a radical abolitionist who hires Alexander to be his gardener and when he learns Alexander’s story, obtains an order of protection for the fugitive slave, and then attempts to purchase his freedom. After the war finally ended, Eliza began to yearn for her former belongings. She went to her former master to retrieve them, and suddenly took ill. She died within two days. Her belongings were sent to St. Louis to Archer. Archer eventually remarries, to Julia, who also knew how to speak German. She died September 13, 1879 and is also buried at St. Peter’s U.C.C. Cemetery in another unmarked grave in the Common Grounds.
William Greenleaf Eliot shares the story of Archey’s life in 1885 in The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom – March 30, 1863.(1) In that Eliot writes: His funeral, at which I officiated, took place from the African Methodist Church on Lucas Avenue, and was largely attended. He was decently buried in the Centenary Burial-Ground near Clayton Court-House, followed to his last resting place by many friends. A part of the expense of his long sickness funeral charges, were defrayed from the funds of the Western Sanitary Commission. (pages 87-88).
When historians Dorris Keeven-Franke and Jim Guenzel began looking into the passage further, they checked Centenary but were unable to find him in the records. They began checking all possibilities still to no avail. Dead ends frustrated the pair, until a clue on Ancestry pointed them in the direction of St. Peters U.C.C.. The index had revealed an Alexander on the right date, but the first name was illegible. When the same records turned up a death date and burial for Archey’s second wife Julia, they felt sure it was the right place. With the assistance of a first hand look at the original Cemetery records, they were able to indeed confirm, they had the correct location.
The funding drive for the Emancipation Memorial began, according to much-publicized newspaper accounts from the era, with $5 given by former slave Charlotte Scott of Virginia, for the purpose of creating a memorial honoring Lincoln. The monument features Abraham Lincoln with Archer Alexander rising before him and boldly breaking his own chains. The Western Sanitary Commission’s James Yeatman and William Greenleaf Eliot joined in the effort and raised some $20,000.
In 1869, Eliot was already working with the group to build a statue of Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator”. The statue was was designed and sculpted by Boston native Thomas Ball, who corresponded with another Boston native, William Greenleaf Eliot. Ball had made an acceptable model, but Eliot’s group wanted to have a real freedman pose for it. Eliot gave Ball a photo of Alexander, and he was chosen as the model.
According to the National Park Service, the monument was paid for solely by former slaves: The campaign for the Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln, as it was to be known, was not the only effort of the time to build a monument to Lincoln; however, as the only one soliciting contributions exclusively from those who had most directly benefited from Lincoln’s act of emancipation it had a special appeal … The funds were collected solely from freed slaves (primarily from African American Union veterans) or U.S. Colored Troops which was assisted by the Western Sanitary Commission.
The turbulent politics of the reconstruction era affected the fundraising campaign on many levels. The Colored People’s Educational Monument Association headed by Henry Highland Garnet wanted the monument to serve a didactic purpose as a school where freedmen could elevate themselves through learning. The revision also replaced a pile of books with the pillar.
When the preliminary monument was cast, the monument featured a kneeling African American with a service cap. Eliot conferred with Ball, and sent him a photograph of Archer Alexander. They may have met prior as well. The monument was changed to Alexander as a bare chested slave. This was the first such monument to feature an African American in 1876, and would have been radical at that time period, as only eleven years following the close of the Civil War. Reconstruction would not have been conducive either.
Compared to the original design, in which Lincoln’s hand seems to awaken the slave to his new freedom and to the realization that his shackles are gone, the memorial is more of an amalgamation of approaches. It is no longer allegorical but realistic. While the original design poses the question — will this slave become a man? — the revision implies a relationship between the two men.
In the final design, as in Ball’s original design, Lincoln holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. A vine grows up the pillar and around the ring where the chain was secured while the Whipping Post in the background is draped. The document rests on a column that has George Washington, patriotic symbols and the stars and stripes. When the monument was cast in Munich, it was shipped to Washington D.C.. the following year, 1876 and accepted as a gift from the “colored citizens of the United States” and appropriated $3,000 for a pedestal upon which it would rest.
A plaque on the monument names it as “Freedom’s Memorial in grateful memory of Abraham Lincoln” and reads: “This monument was erected by the Western Sanitary Commission of Saint Louis Mo: With funds contributed solely by emancipated citizens of the United States declared free by his proclamation January 1 A.D. 1863. The first contribution of five dollars was made by Charlotte Scott. A freed woman of Virginia being her first earnings in freedom and consecrated by her suggestion and request on the day she heard of President Lincoln’s death to build a monument to his memory.”
In 1876, the statue was unveiled, in Lincoln Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C.. There was a number of notable people in attendance at the event, including President Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass, another former slave, who was the Keynote Speaker. However, neither Alexander nor Eliot was present. John Cromwell , a Howard University historian who was in the audience, reported that Douglass said the statue “showed the Negro on his knees when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.”. This statement is still being made today, which shares the difference in attitudes between 1876 and the 21st Century. In many ways, it exemplified and reflected the hopes, dreams, striving, and ultimate failures of reconstruction.
The statue originally faced west towards the U.S. Capitol until it was rotated east in 1974 in order to face the newly erected Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial. It is a contributing property for the Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C. list on the National Register of Historic Places.
The monument has long been the subject of controversy. According to information from American University, historian Kirk Savage condemned it in 1997, saying it was a monument entrenched in and perpetuating racist ideology because of the kneeling position.