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NEVER SAY NEVER

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.

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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

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Tomorrow’s history is Today

My love of history began literally at the knee of my great-grandfather when I was seven-years old. Many years later, I discovered the copy of the “tree” we were working on in his personal papers, in my childish script. How lucky is that? Both my grandfather and father have passed, and I have acquired the role of ‘family historian’!

My fascination with history has only grown stronger, and besides writing several books on local history, I have spent years doing genealogy professionally. Besides tracing heirs for attorneys, I have worked on locating the descendants of the 500 members of the Giessen Emigration Society that arrived in 1834 in St. Charles County. Locating the descendants of those buried at Sage Chapel Cemetery helped me prepare its nomination and subsequent listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently working on my latest book Archer Alexander, The Untold Story (working title) I work with his descendants, including the family of Muhammad Ali of which Archer is an ancestor, who live all across the United States.

Descendants of members of the Giessen Emigration Society at the Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America exhibit at the Missouri History Museum. Photo by Folker Winklemann

For many years as an educator, with programs about how to research your home’s history, and how to compile your family history (for the City of St. Charles Adult Education) I shared the tactics I have developed. As an archivist at St. Charles County Historical Society, and now at Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, I feel that there is a wealth of information on our ancestors that is untapped by many working on their family history, their property’s history, or those researching local history.

L-R John Griesenauer, Mary Stephenson and Booker Edwards. Photograph by Dorris Keeven-Franke

Now, we are all together, living in an historic time period that will be written for centuries I am sure. And while classes at the City of St. Charles are suspended, online education is being considered. Would you be interested? I am also considering how to share online classes on how to do an Oral History and Property Research? Please give me feedback on how we can each preserve our own history? We are all in this together, and I hope all of my friends are safe staying ‘at home’ during this historic time.

Dorris Keeven-Franke and Cecilia Nadal. St. Louis Magazine photograph.
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March 30, 1863

I thought I was familiar with the story of Archer Alexander, the slave that portrays the gratitude the African Americans felt for President Abraham Lincoln. On the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. erected in 1876, Alexander is the image of the enslaved.  After writing about the history of St. Charles County in Missouri for well over thirty years, I had encountered him several times, and had included his story in museum exhibits, shared his story on O’Fallon Missouri’s public media channel in a documentary on him, and written several blogs about him.  I thought I knew his story.

In 1885, William Greenleaf Eliot, the grandfather of poet T.S. Eliot had published THE STORY OF ARCHER ALEXANDER FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM March 30, 1863, which is what Dr. Henry Louis Gates would call a “slave narrative”.  Eliot, the founder of Washington University in St. Louis Missouri, and a young minister who had brought the Unitarian Church to St. Louis in 1834, simply refers to himself as “A member of the Western Sanitary Commission in St. Louis, MO”. The small narrative of the life of Archer was published in Boston by Cupples, Upham and Company with the help of his closest friends, James Yeatman and Jesse Benton Fremont. Fremont, who was the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, a Senator for the State of Missouri for its’ first 30 years. I wondered why the date of March 30, 1863.

Frontspiece of The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863

It would not be until a year long journey of discovery that I would understand.  In October of 2018, fellow Bellefontaine Cemetery researcher Jim Guenzel, shared Charlotte Carroll’s article in Sports Illustrated that revealed the recent DNA discovery that Muhammed Ali was the great-great-great grandson of Alexander. After I shared that exciting news on several social media platforms, I received a cryptic text asking me “do you know where Archer Alexander is buried?” by Ali’s third cousin Keith Winstead. I thought I did.  After all, Eliot’s book told us – or so we thought.

Eliot states “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 expenses of his long sickness, and all the funeral charges, were defrayed from the funds of the Western Sanitary Commission.” However, Archer, is actually buried with his second wife Julia, in St. Peters Cemetery in Normandy, on Lucas and Hunt Road, listed as Archey Allexander, Age 74 on 12/8/1880 in the Public lot #1. This new evidence would lead us to question why. Why had changes to the story been made?

New discoveries

Archey, was born in 1806, in Lexington, Virginia, and brought to Missouri by James H. Alexander in a caravan led by William Massilon Campbell in 1829. By 1843, he had become the property of a Union man Richard H. Pitman, in Dardenne Township of St. Charles County. Eliot writes “In the month of February 1863, he learned that a party of men had sawed the timbers of a bridge in that neighborhood, over which some companies of Union troops were to pass, with view to their destruction. At night he walked five miles to the house of a well-known Union man, through whom the intelligence and warning were conveyed to the Union troops, who repaired the bridge before crossing it.

Pitman was apparently aware that it was his slave that had pointed the finger. Archey would flee for his life, to avoid a lynching, leaving his wife Louisa and their youngest children behind. Using the ‘underground railroad’ he made his way to a ‘station’ a German butcher, near Beaumont Street ran. There he would be rescued by the wife of Eliot, Abigail Adams Cranch, a niece of the former President John Adams and namesake of his wife, who Archey deemed an “angel”.

Eliot would immediately seek an order of protection for the slave, and contact Pitman asking him to name a price so that he could purchase Archey. Eliot would use his close family friend Barton Bates, the oldest son of Edward Bates who was Lincoln’s attorney general, also a friend and related by marriage to Pitman as intermediary for the transaction. After Pitman returned an answer to Eliot at his home, by sending slave catchers to attack and kidnap Archey, who nearly succeeded in selling him “south”, Eliot took matters into his own hands. On the date of March 30, 1863 William Greenleaf Eliot would pen his own letter to Pitman, informing him that his efforts were unsuccessful and that he would do everything he could to see Archer Alexander free!

For more of this story…. https://wordpress.com/home/archeralexander.wordpress.com

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Acknowledgement

I began as a small child with listening to my Great-Grandfather share his search for our ancestors. Always the “family historian” I began helping others, then professionally and as a consultant, and finally teaching genealogy. I retired from teaching this spring, because I had become enmeshed in the story of Archer Alexander and decided I wanted to write a book.

When Keith Winstead asked me “Do you know where Archer Alexander is buried?” and I went looking I was amazed at what I discovered. Not only was this an amazing story, but how the original book written by William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian Minister, about Archer, was told. Eliot said “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 the white races. Meanwhile mutual forbearance may lead to increasing mutual affection and respect.” It is my hope that by going back to where Archer’s life began that we will be better able to share that story again.

St. Peters U.C.C. Cemetery, Lucas and Hunt Road, St. Louis, Misssouri

It is my hope that a new telling of this old story, will help us all come to a greater understanding. Beginning July 22, you can join Archer’s family and walk in the footsteps with this American hero, from Lexington, Virginia to St. Charles County Missouri. Families like the Boone family, the Alexanders, the Pitmans, and the Campbells, all owned slaves. In American history, we don’t see them in this picture. But they were there…

William Greenleaf Eliot was a Unitarian Minister who founded Washington University of St. Louis Missouri and was an organizer of the Western Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.

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.

Archer Alexander

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. 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?  to follow see https://archeralexander.wordpress.com

Its time we acknowledge this history. Its time we tell these stories and remind everyone that the enslaved cooked the meals, fixed the broken axle on the wagon, put in the crops, and built the houses. Its time we understand that the building of America did not happen in a vacuum, that these people were here too.

PHD29102 Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap, 1851-52 (oil on canvas) by Bingham, George Caleb (1811-79); Washington University, St. Louis, USA; (add.info.: Daniel (1734-1820) and his wife Rebecca travelling westwards to Kentucky;); American, out of copyright

I have a lot of people to acknowledge and thank for all they are doing to help me with this! I couldn’t do this alone! Keith Winstead, Leontyne Clay Peck, Donna Sandegren, Dan Fuller, Tom Allen, Jim Guenzel, Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum and Cleta Reed Flynn, Thank You for all of your support.

The Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, DC was dedicated in 1876 and paid for by the formerly enslaved population of America. Archer Alexander portrays the slave breaking his chains and rising to meet his freedom..
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Ask the question

When researching a building’s history, there are so many things that can tell the story. Yes, the first step is to find who legally owned the LAND that it was built on, and that gives us a framework of just that, who owned it. That is done through the deeds at the Recorder of “Deeds” office at the Courthouse. Then you can cite book and page about the ownership. However there is so much more! Taxes are not the only thing relative either. After the Civil War, if you owned a building on St. Charles’ Main Street and you were pro Southern, your taxes would have most likely risen..but not if a Union man.

SO MANY WAYS to find the buildings real story…there are maps, plats, Birdseye views, Sanborn Insurance maps, City Directories, newspapers, photographs, local history and even family histories! Sometimes people are credited with something when they are not even alive! Plus property is sometimes inherited, but the transfer of deeds doesn’t happen for years and years afterwards. Plus sometimes, the family says someone NEVER lived somewhere, but his brother lived in the house on the property. This kind of information comes from a family history.

CAN’T BELIEVE YOUR EYES? Photographs are great, but a date – ANY DATE – can be written on a photograph. Even if time stamped that can be manipulated through the camera itself. After a deed research is conducted, the lives of the people who owned it needs to be studied. A building is architecture, it is bricks and stone. It is the lives of the people who actually lived in it that tell its story. What did they do? Where they a City leader or a crook? Where did they come from? If the story is that they started a school for the blacks, how can that be documented? 

And history is continuous. Fifty years ago, historians only had the story told over the clothesline to go on.The documents to go on could only be found right there, and we didn’t have the internet to help us find things tucked away in other archives, or historical societies. Families move away, and old family stories and photographs go with them. You have to be a bit of a history detective, not just the deed research and the family genealogist, too. 

You must keep an open mind, and realize that is the way we learn new things and grow! That is how history progresses! Ask questions…don’t just take everything at face value…even if it is on a deed. Remember to read the whole story…you might learn that when that deed was written that it was the meeting house for the Colored Odd Fellows Lodge too. Ask, is this possible and why did they do this? 

And most of all.. look at it through the eyes a that time, don’t be judgmental. We have all made mistakes…we’re human. That’s how we learn from our mistakes. Thats history. The real story comes from when we put the people’s lives into the context of the times in which they were born. Slavery was evil. Slavery was wrong. And there were thousands of Union soldiers who gave their lives to end that wrong. To understand the stories, one has to look at the times in which someone was living. Not just within a building at an address, but to consider their dreams, their failures and the time in which they lived.

Think…Question…dig deep…look for the whole story.

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Archer Alexander

The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863 by William G. Eliot, a member of the Western Sanitary Commission St. Louis was published by Cupples, Upham and Company, Old Corner Bookstore in 1885 in Boston Massachusetts.

Eliot shares the life of a former slave from Virginia, brought to Missouri, whose brave act of reporting treasonous activities of his master to the Union Army, gained him his freedom. Eliot shares the story as he recalls it, as seventy-four year old Archey shared it in his last days, just before his death, five years earlier. Eliot wants the reader to understand the man he describes as “the last fugitive slave taken in Missouri under the old laws of slavery. His freedom came directly from the hand of President Lincoln, by provost-marshals authority, and his own hands had helped to break the Chains that bound him. His oldest son had given his life to the cause.”

This description fits the same man, Archer Alexander, that William G. Eliot worked to see immortalized on the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.. The monument that was dedicated by President U.S. Grant, with Frederick Douglas, on April 14, 1876, just four years prior to Archer Alexanders death in St. Louis on December 8, 1880.

The Story, as Eliot shares it is “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…it was objected to.” For that reason, historians today, believe that Eliot had to alter several names of individuals involved. When descendants of Archer Alexander enlisted the help of a professional historian and genealogist, they were able to discover the true resting place for their ancestor. This led to more research into Eliot’s book, helping them to understand Eliot’s motivation. Written just 20 years after the events, with many of the figures prominent still, it would not suitable in any publishing house at that time. However, Eliot, was determined to see his beloved friend Archey receive the acknowledgement he deserved. He proceeded to simply change a few key names in order to assure that “The Story” of this former slave could be told. The events that took place were real, and can still be documented in historical records today. They are as important and relevant today, as they were when Eliot originally wrote them, and they need to be shared. This is the story of a true American hero that deserves to be heard.

“No sea swells like the bosom of a man set free: A wilderness is rich with liberty.”Wordsworth

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House Bill 1851

The Missouri Humanities Council is asking everyone to show your support for Missouri’s German heritage! Tell Governor Nixon to sign HB 1851!

Use the link below to contact the Constituent Services division of the Office of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. Contact Governor Jay Nixon

Below is House Bill No. 1851

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the state of Missouri, as follows:

Section A. Chapter 226, RSMo. is amended by adding thereto one new section, to be known as section 226.1150, to read as follows:

2261150. The counties located along the Missouri River that were greatly influenced by early German settlers including Chariton, Saline, Cooper, Howard, Boone, Moniteau, Cole, Callaway, Osage, Gasconade, Montgomery, Warren, Franklin, St. Charles, and St. Louis, and the city of St. Louis, shall be designated the “German Heritage Corridor of Missouri”. The department of transportation may place suitable markings and informational signs in the designated areas Costs for such designation shall be paid by private donations.

Introduced by Representative Alferman

Research the history of a place…

When one buys an old building, or home, they buy history! No matter if it is in a big city or a town, or out in the country, if its old – it has history! I’ve been working on a project writing the history of 150 buildings on Saint Charles Main Street and even though I’ve been writing and researching for over 30 years – every building’s story teaches me more! Research of a place, whether it be a building, a cemetery, a school, a church or where a historic event occurred, it has a story! Here’s a few of the things I’ve learned over the years on how to learn the history of your place!

Begin by building your timeline with Deed and list of Owners

You can start with the legal history of the property. Its like the skeleton, and I’m not talking about ghosts! Its’ the framework of who was the legal owner and when. But not all owners lived on a property, and not all owners are a single person, but sometimes a society or group of trustees, a school board, or even a “benevolent” association. To begin with you have to know the first owner, and each subsequent owner of the property and the dates that they owned it. Most begin as U.S. Land, but could be early Spanish land grants as well. Someone purchased it from either of those and then sold it. Those sales, are Deeds that are recorded at the County Recorder of Deeds. Now if you are lucky enough to have one of those good old fashioned abstracts around, that the deed company provided when the property changed hands, this is great. What you want to create is the same thing, the transfer each time the property changed hands, who it was sold to, what was on the property, and when exactly this happened. This creates a timeline of the property. When buying a property the title company is doing this research but its expensive, and well-worth it. This can take quite a bit of time in the County Recorder of Deeds office. In St. Charles County (MO) one can research the deeds online in St. Charles County at https://stcharles.landrecordsonline.com/index.html at almost any time of day! This is a great advancement through technology. You will want to read the actual deed and make a copy to refer to. These old deeds can tell you a lot whether it was Main Street or a cemetery!

Its’ the people who tell the “STORIES”!

Now its’ time to be part genealogist and part “history detective”! Once you have developed your timeline of who owned the property and those dates you will want to know more about the people!! That is the flesh and blood of the story. The lives of the people who lived or died on your property. The stories are not always limited to the “property owner” though! Innkeepers, churches, slave owners, schools, cemeteries are all examples to stories linked to a place and not the owner. Deeds, tax documents and estate probates can tell you more sometimes about the buildings. Plat maps share where schools and graveyards, mills and orchards, creeks and churches are. Sanborn Insurance maps were used by local insurance salesmen to document the buildings make up, roof, doors and windows for the big insurance brokers in the east. Circuit Court records are full of disputes over properties where the mortgages weren’t paid, or siblings fought over who should get what. Newspapers will share the stories of fires, murders, and lynchings! And the stories don’t stop there.

So many sources

There are so many sources for this information!!! You can spend forever developing the story of your property just researching the lives of all the people who lived there. You may even want to consider Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places if it qualifies, and it hasn’t already been done. Check first to see if its listed and if its eligible at https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/ where there is a great group of people ready to answer questions! Below is a list of a few online links that you many find helpful….

Further steps in developing your place’s history …

  • Death and Taxes are the two things you can’t escape. Those records in St. Charles County (MO) can be found at https://lookups.sccmo.org/assessor where all the public records for property can be found. If its in St. Charles County they’ve got it. You will find the Deeds literally in the Recorder of Deeds office in the new St. Charles County Administration building on Second Street in St. Charles. This date is not to be taken as absolute though.
  • Newspaper articles can be found at either https://www.newspapers.com/ for a cost or many can be found in the archives of the State Historical Society of Missouri where they have microfilmed thousands of newspapers. To find out what newspapers they have see http://shsmo.org/newspaper/ or check out some of the great collections of newspapers at the St. Charles City-County Public Library at the Kathryn Linnemann branch through http://www.youranswerplace.org/ which is also free. What are you looking for? If the owner died a tragic death you will find it in his obituary, or if the house suffered damage in the cyclone of 1876, or maybe he did something famous that put him in the newspaper.
  • If you proficient in genealogy and have an Ancestry.com account try searching the families that lived there in the Public Family Trees. If you find your people, contact the owners of that tree. They will love knowing and having pictures of their ancestors house! You will want to connect with earlier families that lived in your house because only they can give you pictures of the Christmas tree in front of the mantle or Grandpa on the front porch. They are a resource like no other! Also consider https://www.familysearch.org/ as a FREE website with the Church of Latter Day Saints behind it. This is a huge database that you can create a free tree and log into thousands of digitized records. There is more to Genealogy than just these sites though!

Suggested research sources…

  • Sanborn Insurance Maps that show what your house looked like in certain years. University of Missouri has been Missouri’s resource and has them available online…https://dl.mospace.umsystem.edu/mu/islandora/object/mu%3A138690
  • Tax books! Nothing tells a story better than when the value of a property. No one escapes the tax man! The Assessor decides how much the value should be. Just like today, financial crisis and wars do affect these things. The Collector tells you if the taxes. were being paid, by whom and by when!

Check back to this site and learn more research methods that I will be posting periodically….

https://stcharlescountyhistory.org/2017/09/04/how-do-i-learn-the-history-of-my-house/

Entry 12 – 7 September 1829

ArcherAlexander.blog

We started with our whole party to Missouri….

crossed the river in the horse boat. Our party now consists of fifty five persons, 20 horses, 10 dogs and 4 cows. One of our carriage horses had become very lame in Charleston and we had to leave it with Mr. Calhoun. We got another who did most wretchedly. We got another which performed very well. We encamped that night near the Kanawha River, fourteen miles below Charleston. Our tent was carelessly prepared and we suffered much from the cold.*

This is an important entry that shares so much, yet so much is not being said. William Campbell, the author of this journal is the son of Samuel and Sally (Alexander) Campbell and would later become editor for two pro-slavery newspapers in St. Charles, and in St. Louis, Missouri. For that reason, these accounts of the journey, are most likely…

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A Journey

As a writer, sometimes you just get so caught up with a story, you just can’t stop, and it begins to have to follow it wherever the journey takes you.

In an effort to trace Alexander’s early roots Keith Winstead and I will begin in Virginia. Join us as we take a journey along the same route, footstep by footstep laid out in Campbell’s diary that brought these people to Missouri. Winstead, who shares the DNA of his cousin Muhammad Ali, has been researching his family for thirty years. We invite you to share in this journey of Discovery.

Keith Winstead’s ancestor was the enslaved Archer Alexander, who is on the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.. That memorial to President Abraham Lincoln was entirely paid for by formerly enslaved individuals and dedicated in 1876, in the period of America’s history known as Reconstruction. Alexander’s likeness was used because of  the work of a Unitarian minister, William Greenleaf Eliot, who founded Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  

In 1885, following Alexander’s death, Eliot would also share an account of Alexander’s life in the book The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom, telling the story of his heroism in St. Charles County, Missouri. Alexander had risked his life, by bravely informing the Union Army of his owner’s efforts to destroy the local railroad bridge. Alexander would flee via the underground railroad to St. Louis, where he was taken in by Eliot’s wife, Abigail Adams Eliot, who was the great-niece of John and Abigail Adams, a President who never owned slaves. Alexander had been brought to Missouri in 1829 by William M. Campbell,  and by James H. Alexander and his wife Nancy McCluer, along with 28 other slaves, from Lexington in Rockbridge County Virginia. Their journey, took over six weeks, along the same pathway used by thousands of Americans and immigrants on their way west following the Revolution. In Missouri, Alexander and his wife Louisa would raise ten children.

Rabbit Holes

Sometimes I get so caught up in a story, I just can’t stop myself. Us genealogists have that problem a lot! One thing just seems to lead to another it seems. We just can’t stop ourselves from going down that rabbit hole. And the more that we share the more that we discover! Take for instance, William Greenleaf Eliot’s book The Story of Archer Alexander: from Slavery to Freedom. While the events you are about to read are true, the names have been changed to protect the “innocent”? Why you may ask? How do I know this? I’ll start at the beginning.

Summer of 2018, Joe Meier with the City of O’Fallon’s Media Department asked me for some help on a story on Archer Alexander. I love the work they do, and it was in conjunction with renaming the Tributary to Archer Alexander Creek. How neat is that to have a beautiful little stream named after you?! I had read Eliot’s book, written in 1885 and my first thought was –  somethings missing. You know, like its been redacted. The book tells the story of Archer’s life, as heard directly from him, as told to Eliot in the garden in the last days of his life. Then written from memory five years later, I thought. Eliot states that he had written the story down for his grandchildren. He also said that when submitted to a publisher, it was rejected. So he shared it with his close friend Jessie Benton Fremont, and then it was published. If you still don’t understand why a book written just twenty years after the end of the Civil War, about a slave, couldn’t get published… watch Louis Gates Jr in PBS’s new four hour documentary Reconstruction:  America after the Civil War and then tell me how you don’t get it.

How do I know that names have been changed? Because one of the most important names, the cemetery that Archer is supposedly buried in, was even changed. Eliot states that after preaching the sermon, Archer was laid to rest in Centenary Cemetery near the Clayton Courthouse. A descendant Keith Winstead came all of the way from Louisville looking for Centennary or what became of it, only to hit one of a genealogist’s biggest brick walls. Which is why, when the Washington Post’s Ben Strauss broke the story about how DNA evidence links Muhammed Ali to heroic slave Archer Alexander [https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2018/10/02/dna-evidence-links-muhammad-ali-heroic-slave-family-says/?utm_term=.d7973453b407] and I was sharing the news on Facebook, Winstead contacted me and said “Do you know where Archer Alexander is buried?” I answered “maybe“. Thinking, isn’t that in Eliot’s book?

645x344-legendary-boxer-muhammad-alis-ancestry-traced-back-to-heroic-slave-archer-alexander-1538597581062
L- Archer Alexander great great great grandfather of Muhammed Ali – R

We take everything at face value anymore. No questions. I had no reason not to take Eliot’s book the same way, not realizing it is historical fiction, based on real events.  So the first thing my fellow research friend Jim Gunzel and I did (after all Jim had put me on to the Washington Post story to begin with) was to go back to the drawing board – I mean  book. And check the Centenary Cemetery records again.  And again. Not there. In fact we were independently searching everything. All the St. Louis African American Cemeteries… and then all of the St. Louis Cemeteries. And then Guenzel got a hit on the St. Louis Genealogical Society’s website’s Cemetery Index. Only thing was… It wasn’t quite right. And what would he be doing in an early German Church  cemetery? Guenzel even checked with them. And then, not knowing he had, I did so as well. Well it turns out in the old looping handwriting, Olvchey can be mistaken for Archey by even the best of indexers.  It was definitely Archey. In the St. Peters United Church of Christ Cemetery on Lucas & Hunt Road. That discovery gave everyone pause, and reason to delve deep into Eliot’s book and fact check every bit of the story! Its a fantastic story of heroism. And yes, Archey really did

Emancipation_Memorial
Emancipation Memorial

warn the Union Army that his master had undermined the Peruque Creek Bridge by running five miles in the dark in February of 1863. If caught he could have been whipped or even worse – lynched. A real American hero. Rewarded years later, when Eliot would see that Archer would be the face to symbolize a brave strong man breaking his own chains that had bound him in slavery. What Archer desired most was freedom. He has represented that on the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, in Washington, D.C. til this day.

And so began, the incredible journey to discover the untold story of Archer Alexander. We have made progress, but researching African American roots of an enslaved person in 1806 is hard.  Research is needed at where the story begins, and a summer expedition is being planned. Every new DNA relative helps as well, and another family trip to St. Louis is being planned for them later this summer in August. A monument will be placed at St. Peters Cemetery with the help of family and friends. But just think! If Eliot had never written that story, we never would have known Archer Alexander or his heroic deeds. Its amazing the stories we find when we go down those rabbit holes. And sharing, what you put out there will come back to you tenfold. Share the stories!