Archer Alexander was born into slavery in Lexington, Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1806. His owner John Alexander was a respected Elder of the Presbyterian Church when he died in 1828, and passed his property on to his son James H. Alexander. In 1829, James Alexander would make his way to Missouri, with several other slave-owning families, where he settled in St. Charles County, Missouri. James Alexander and his wife would die from the cholera epidemic sweeping the state in the 1830s leaving behind four young orphans. Executor in charge of the slaves and estate, William Campbell would take the children back to Virginia while leaving Archer in charge of the other slaves. While Campbell was gone the slaves would erect Captain Campbell’s huge stone house under the direction of two stonemasons, on the Boone’s Lick Road (today’s State Highway N) near the Dardenne Presbyterian Church.
In the 1840s, when the Alexander family slaves were sold off at an estate sale, Archer and his wife and his children would become separated. Louisa became the property of merchant James Naylor, and Archer would become the property of his neighbor Richard Pitman, both of whom lived near Campbell. There, Archer and his wife Louisa (whose value was $200), raised at least seven children: daughters Eliza ($325) and Mary Ann ($300), sons Archey ($225), Jim ($200), Alexander ($175), and the youngest daughter Lucinda ($150). Years later, Archer 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 one of these children was the baby Wesley Alexander, a great-great-grandfather of Keith Winstead.
In February 1863, Archer would learn that the local men had sawn some of the timbers of the nearby Peruque Creek Railroad bridge. Knowing that the bridge would collapse with the next train’s crossing and the risks he was taking, Archer made his way five miles north to where the bridge was being guarded by the Union Troops known as ‘Krekel’s Dutch’. This ended Archer’s life in St. Charles County as suspicion fell upon him immediately. With the aid of local Germans who facilitated his escape to St. Louis, Archer used the “Underground Railroad”. He was taken into the home of a Unitarian minister and founder of today’s Washington University, William Greenleaf Eliot. The fugitive slave law provided for the emancipation of any enslaved persons whose owner was found guilty of treasonous activities. The two became close friends.
In 1876, Eliot and the Western Sanitary Commission would see that Archer portrayed the slave rising in front of President Abraham Lincoln on the Emancipation Memorial. The monument that was created entirely by funds of the colored people formerly enslaved, is in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. Its’ dedication’s speakers were President U.S. Grant and the great orator, Frederick Douglass. When Archer died in 1880, he would be buried in an unmarked grave in the St. Peters United Church of Christ cemetery in Normandy, in St. Louis County with his second wife Julia. Then in 1885, William G. Eliot would write a slave narrative The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom, March 30, 1863, sharing the story of his friend. However, in order to see the book published, certain details such as names and dates were changed.
In 2018 a descendant of Archer Alexander, Keith Winstead, contacted professional Genealogist and author, Dorris Keeven-Franke, looking for help. Research has led to discoveries not previously known, which Keeven-Franke will be sharing in her next book ‘Archer Alexander, the Untold Story’. At 11 am CST, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, Winstead and Keeven-Franke will be sharing how they discovered these new details in Never say Never, on Bernice Alexander Bennett’s program https://www.blogtalkradio.com/bernicebennett/2020/05/13/never-say-never-with-dorris-keeven-franke-and-keith-winstead. Please share this with your friends and join us with your questions.