Award winning author, public historian, educator, and professional genealogist
I like to share the more difficult stories…
The Emancipation Monument
Join me as I research the difficult stories that bring our history to life…
“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…will make a note of this occasion, they will think of it. And speak of it. With a sense of manly pride and complacency…Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have today. An act which is to go into history.” Frederick Douglass at the dedication of “Freedom’s Memorial” also known as the Emancipation Monument in Washington, D.C. on the eleventh anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
When the formerly enslaved Charlotte Scott heard the news of President Lincoln’s death, she was horrified and took five dollars in money she had earned as a free woman, and gave them “to make a monument to Massa Lincoln, the best friend the colored people ever had”. Those funds were given to Union Gen. T.H.C. Smith, in charge of Union Troops in Natchez, Mississippi and he would make sure that they were given to Mr. James Yeatman, Head of the Western Sanitary Commission, of whom he asked: “Would it not be well to take up this suggestion and make it known to the freedmen?”
The Western Sanitary Commission, a non-governmental non-profit, organized at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, solely to assist the Union Army, would work to see Charlotte Scott’s dream happen. Organized for the Union troops, both black and white, the WSC worked with the Union Army’s U.S. Colored Troops, contraband camps, fugitive slaves, and the Freedman’s Bureau. Yeatman would put the Commission’s William G. Eliot at the helm of the project. Fundraising efforts were known throughout the country and all of the funds came from everyone from formerly enslaved individuals to the Union Army’s United States Colored Troops. The entire project was “with funds contributed solely by emancipated citizens declared free by his proclamation”. “These funds were given in grateful memory of Abraham Lincoln.” This President had worked to keep our country united and see that its’ Declaration of Independence which had proclaimed “all men are created equal” and endowed with “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” was upheld and that all slaves were declared free and slavery was ended. This man had given his life because of his work to emancipate all blacks.
By 1866 Gen. J. W. Davidson’s troops had helped raise $12,150.(Today that would be equal to over $385,000). In 1869, Eliot would visit his friend Thomas Ball’s studio and share how the funds were coming entirely from the formerly enslaved for this memorial and that it was to be “their monument.” Ball quickly agreed that the number of funds already collected were sufficient. The WSC asked Ball to make changes because it was felt that the monument was “too passive”. The slave was to be seen rising, having broken his own chains and taking an active part in gaining his freedom. That slave that is immortalized and represents those formerly enslaved is Archer Alexander. William Greenleaf Eliot, was a Unitarian minister who had founded Washington University in St. Louis was his benefactor. In 1863, Eliot had seen that Archer received his freedom, calling him “the last fugitive slave.” “In the Capitol grounds at Washington, DC there is a bronze group known as Freedoms Memorial. It represents President Lincoln in the act of emancipating a negro slave…but whose hand has grasped the chain as if in the act of breaking it, indicating the historical fact that the slaves took active part in their own deliverance.” William Greenleaf Eliot, From Slavery to Freedom – Archer Alexander.
For more about Archer Alexander see https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/
Author of the blog…
In February 2019, Archer Alexander’s family would visit St. Louis and St. Charles and the visit would be captured by Chad Davis for St. Louis Public Radio. Here is the link..
Discovering the backstory
The backstory to the stories, as I share the discoveries…
When Archer Alexander arrived in Dardenne Prairie in Saint Charles County on October 8th in 1829, he was 23 years old. Born in 1806, his parents Aleck and Chloe were the property of the Alexander family. He was owned by James Alexander of Rockbridge County, near Lexington, in Virginia. His wife Louisa, born as property of the McCluer family, was part of the dowry of James’ wife Nancy. Together Archer and Louisa would have ten children, Ralph, Nellie, Wesley, Eliza, Mary Ann, Archer, Jim, Aleck, Lucinda, and John. By 1835 their owners James and his wife Nancy had succumbed to the cholera epidemic. James Alexander’s final Will expressly demands that absolutely none of his slaves are to be sold, but to be rented out for the support and to pay for the education of his four small remaining children that were now orphans. The Alexander children, John, William, Agnes and Sarah would return to Rockbridge County Virginia, where they were raised by their relatives Alexander B. and Elizabeth (Alexander) Stuart. The orphans’ property, including Archer and Louisa, would be under the control of the Estate’s Executor and Administrator, William Campbell.
By 1863, this area was a mixture of not only Confederate sympathizers from the south, like Archer’s owner Richard Pitman, but German immigrants who had begun arriving in the 1830s. Germans were pro Union, and strong abolitionists, and sympathetic to the plight of Archer and other blacks. In February, Archer had overheard some of the area’s Confederate men discussing how they had undermined the local railroad bridge. The men who were southern sympathizers, had stored guns and ammunition in the Campbell icehouse for an attack when the bridge, which was a vital link for the Union Army, collapsed. Archer would risk his life to warn the Union troops stationed at the bridge five miles away. Almost immediately suspicion fell upon Archer as being the informer, and a lynch mob set out after him.
Archer, availed himself of the area’s established underground railroad to make his way to St. Louis, where he would be taken in by a Unitarian minister who was also a member of the Western Sanitary Commission, William Greenleaf Eliot. Eliot would secure an Order of Protection from the local Provost Marshall. Archer’s bravery would secure him a place in Eliot’s home, and on the Emancipation Monument with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C.. Archer would die December 8, 1880 and was buried near his second wife Julia, in the St. Peter’s German Evangelical Cemetery, in a common lot grave. Eliot would write the story of Archer’s life From Slavery to Freedom, in 1885, using pseudonyms for many of the characters.
For more about Archer Alexander see https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/
Dorris Keeven-Franke is an award-winning writer, public historian, educator, and professional genealogist. A lifelong resident of Missouri, she resides in Saint Charles County and writes about the history of Missouri, German American immigrants and African Americans. Her forthcoming book is the biography of Archer Alexander (https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/) being written with the Alexander family.
The Untold Story of an American Hero – Archer Alexander. In 2018, I met Keith Winstead, a cousin of Muhammad Ali, when he posed a question to me “Do you know where Archer Alexander is buried”. Winstead, from Louisville, is the family historian of his family who had just made an amazing DNA discovery, that he and his cousin were descendants of a slave that had lived in St Louis and had been searching for his ancestors grave. That began an amazing journey of discovery. Stories of fugitive slaves, underground railroad, and emancipation at the hand of Lincoln himself would be learned by both. Inspired to share the untold portion of Archer’s life that had not been previously shared, work on the book and screenplay for The Untold Story of An American Hero- Archer Alexander is underway.
Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America
In 1833, two university students from Giessen, Germany, Friedrich Muench and Paul Follenius, decided to immigrate to America and settle in the west. They wanted to create a German utopia in Missouri, and they recruited others to join them by distributing throughout Germany a promotional pamphlet detailing their ambitious plans. The resulting participants spanned various religions, cities, and villages and called themselves the Giessen Emigration Society. By July of 1934, each member had settled along the Missouri River, forming a vibrant German segment of the state whose cultural footprint can still be seen and felt today.
In the bilingual book Utopia, this story is brought to life through more than two hundred historic photographs and documents and contributions from both Americans and Germans. The book accompanies a traveling exhibit that will begin in Germany and travel to the German-American Heritage Museum in Washington, DC, and then land in St. Louis at the Missouri History Museum, following the path of the Germans who immigrated to America so many years ago. Utopia serves as both an exhibition catalog and as a historical narrative of the Giessen Emigration Society.
1833, when Warren County was officially created by the State of Missouri, its pages of history were already filled with the lives of famous people. It would become the final resting place of American pioneer and trailblazer Daniel Boone after the Spanish government promised him land in return for bringing settlers. In 1804, when Lewis and Clark and their corps visited, it was the last settlement of whites in the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. This led German-born writer Gottfried Duden to come and see what made this area so appealing to the American pioneers. He returned to his homeland and in 1829 published A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America, filled with glowing descriptions of a promised land. His book opened the floodgates of German immigrants coming to this nation in the 1830s, and by 1850 nine out of ten residents were German born or of German descent–the largest concentration of German Americans in the state.
I find the best things when I am lost.
Discovery happens when we open our minds and allow new stories in.