In March of 1863, a fugitive slave named Archer Alexander, perhaps the last fugitive slave in St. Louis, had fled a lynch mob in Saint Charles County after exposing his owner’s sabotage of the local railroad bridge. Local Confederates had sawn the timbers, and were waiting for the next train to pass on this vital link for the Union Army. Using the underground railroad, he fled to St. Louis and had been taken in by St. Louis’ Unitarian minister, William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington University. Eliot had attempted to purchase Alexander from his owner Richard Pitman, in order to emancipate him, using Judge Barton Bates as an intermediary. Pitman’s reply was to send two slave catchers to Eliot’s home, and in front of Eliot’s children and their nanny, viciously beat Alexander senseless and take him to the slave pen where he was to be sold. Eliot would let the local authorities know that the temporary Order of Protection that he had obtained for the enslaved man, had not been obeyed. The Provost Marshall would send officers to retrieve Alexander and return him to the care of Eliot.
Archer Alexander had been born in 1806, in Rockbridge County Virginia, had been taken west to Missouri in 1829, and became the slave that would join President Abraham Lincoln on the Emancipation Monument in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park. He is buried in St. Peters United Church of Christ Cemetery on Lucas & Hunt in an unmarked grave. In 2019, Muhammad Ali’s brother, and his cousin Keith Winstead would visit St. Louis to learn their family history from writer and historian Dorris Keeven-Franke. See https://news.stlpublicradio.org/arts/2019-03-19/a-louisville-family-learns-about-their-ties-to-a-st-louis-slave-who-saved-lives#stream/0
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, its’ German American immigrants and African Americans. Her forthcoming book is the biography of Archer Alexander (see https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/) being written with the Alexander family.
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