Emancipation Memorial

“And upon this act I invoke the considerate judgement of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” – Proclamation of Freedom, Jan. 1, 1863, were the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his Emancipation Proclamation. Today marks the 144th Anniversary of the dedication of the Emancipation Memorial[1] a bronze group which “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”[2] The enslaved is represented by Archer Alexander, who was born enslaved by the Alexander family in Virginia in 1806, taken to Missouri in 1829, where he later lived as a slave of Richard Pitman in Saint Charles County until February 28, 1863. He lived the final years of his life in St. Louis, with William Greenleaf Eliot where he lies buried in an unmarked grave in St. Peters United Church of Christ Cemetery.[3]  

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.[4]  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 of Eliot and James E. Yeatman[5], 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” ”[6]. 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[7] and the movement for the memorial was almost lost.  

Archer Alexander had overheard his owner, Richard H. Pitman plotting to undermine the nearby railroad bridge by sawing its’ supports. Archer would bravely run that night over five miles to warn Krekel’s Deutsch, Union home guards stationed there. He informed them that James Campbell had guns stored in his icehouse. Suspicion fell immediately on Archer, who had to flee or risk lynching, who left behind his wife Louisa and their youngest children. Using the network known as the ‘Underground Railroad’ he made his way to St. Louis and 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. 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.

In 1870, when Eliot retired, he visited his old friend and renowned sculptor Thomas Ball also from Massachusetts, about the creating the Freedman’s memorial and monument to Lincoln. The sculptor had moved to Florence, Italy and established his studio there after the Civil War. Ball would agree that the contributions raised so far by Yeatman and Eliot and the Western Sanitary Commission would be ample and sufficient to commission the monument, and that he 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[8] and appropriated $3,000 for a pedestal upon which it would rest. Dedicated on the 11th Anniversary 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.”[9]

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)[10] and was dedicated by President U.S. Grant with world renown orator Frederick Douglass also present and speaking that day. Douglass’ words “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.”[11] Douglas, also said the statue “shows the Negro on his knees, when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.” However, even Douglas’ would never see that comment printed in any newspaper.

Archer and Eliot became close friends. They did not attend the dedication. When Eliot shared a photograph of the Emancipation Memorial with Archer he would exclaim “I’se free!”[12]. The dedication April 14th, 1876, marked the 11th Anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Located in Lincoln Park it was placed[13] in direct view of the U.S. Capitol during America’s period of Reconstruction, and was the only Washington, D.C. monument featuring an African American which was funded entirely by America’s former enslaved themselves. 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, Eliot would write The Story of Archer Alexander From Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863.  Published in 1885 in Boston, it was still an era rife with emotion, and changing the identity of some of the characters would be necessary in order to see the publication happen.

James Yeatman, William Greenleaf Eliot and his wife Abby Adams Cranch are all interred at Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum in St. Louis, Missouri.


Endnotes

[1] The Monument with the words the Emancipation Memorial on its’ front base is referred to as “Freedom’s Memorial” by William Greenleaf Eliot, but is referred to as the Freedman’s Memorial on the National Register of Historic Places.  

[2] 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

[3] Burial Records of St. Peters United Church of Christ and St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Burial Certificates. For more see https://dorriskeevenfranke.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/march-30-1863/

[4] Ibid

[5] James A. Yeatman (1818-1901) was a founder of Bellefontaine Cemetery, Washington University and the Western Sanitary Commission. A key figure in Winston Churchill’s The Crisis, he came from a Tennessee family of slave owners. For more see Daniel Gonzales, St. Louis Magazine A forgotten St. Louis community with a big story to tell: James Yeatman and the development of Glencoe, September 28, 2017. https://www.stlmag.com/history/a-forgotten-st-louis-community-with-a-big-story-to-tell-james-yeatman-and-the-development-of-glencoe/

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

6 National Park Service (2010-07-09). “National Register Information System”National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service

[10] National Park Service (2010-07-09). “National Register Information System”National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service

[11] 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

[12]  Eliot, William G., The Story of Archer Alexander From Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863, St. Louis, MO, Cupples, Upham and Company Boston, 1885. Available online https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/eliot/eliot.html

[13] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/55/WMA_button2b.png/17px-WMA_button2b.png38°53′23.3″N76°59′24.9″W

Published by Dorris Keeven-Franke

Public Historian aka Storyteller, I like to share the stories of people and places and help others reconnect to their own past.

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