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.


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..

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.

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?

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

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!

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


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

On Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 1:00 p.m. in the City of Portage des Sioux

Important historic event

Portage des Sioux

1815 – Just as residents of Saint Charles were the last to know of the beginning of the War of 1812, news of its end would come just as slow. Too slow to prevent the horrible incidents that would occur during the spring of 1815. By late that summer, the Nation’s history would converge and collide at a small settlement called Portage des Sioux. There the Peace and Friendship Treaties between the Kings, Chiefs, and Warriors, of the Tribes or Nations, in behalf of their said Tribes or Nations, on the one part; and the American representatives William Clark and Ninian Edwards of the other part; were signed. A turning point in American history. The beginning of westward expansion; and the end of the American Indians way of life. 


On the frontier in the St. Charles District of the Louisiana Territory, Daniel Boone’s grandson James Callaway, had taken command of Nathan Boone’s company of Rangers at…

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Louis Blanchette and his “les Petite Côtes”

The first in a series we will call STC250 on the Stcharlescountyhistory.org Blog which will feature stories about the fantastic City of St. Charles 250 years.

St. Charles County History

The earliest and most important settlement north of the Missouri River is Saint Charles, originally known as Les Petite Côtes or the Little Hills. Contemporaries of Louis Blanchette[1] stated that he and his wife Tuhomehenga, either an Osage or Pawnee who later took the name Angelique[2] had settled along a spring fed creek [which now bears his name] in 1769. At that time the district of St. Charles embraced all the territory with the limits of the Spanish boundaries north of the Missouri River.[3] The village was situated at the foot of a range of small hills, sufficiently high to protect it from the overflows of the Missouri.

The Census of 1787 of St. Charles… contains the following information about Blanchette “Juan Bapta Blanchet, aged 51; Maria Su Mujer; 48, Baptiste Blanchette 24; Maria Blanchette 21” In addition to these his household contained, one carpenter, one huntsman…

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