Isn’t it time we tell the whole story? There is so much more to this man’s life than we knew. In October of 2018, Keith Winstead, a descendant of Archer Alexander, contacted me for help in locating the grave of his ancestor. Having researched and written several books on Missouri’s history, I simply asked Winstead if he had read the book of the abolitionist William Greenleaf Eliot‘s book published in 1885. Winstead had been researching his family’s history for over thirty years replied that he had, but that Archer Alexander, was not buried in Centenary Cemetery as the book indicated. He shared that he had just discovered that his DNA, and that of his cousin Rahaman Ali, brother of the famous Muhammad Ali, had DNA connections to Archer Alexander. (See https://www.si.com/boxing/2018/10/02/muhammad-ali-ancestry-archer-alexander-civil-war-slave-dna-evidence). I was intrigued and began to look for Archer’s gravesite, and was stunned to learn that he was not buried where the book indicated at all, but in an early German church cemetery, today known as St. Peters United Church of Christ on Lucas & Hunt Road. I remember the day so distinctly as I visited the Cemetery office and rather insistently asked to see the actual records. Having been a professional Genealogist for over fifty years, and having taught Genealogy for years, I had to follow my own rule of documenting a fact, at least three times over. So began my journey of discovery into the untold part of Archer Alexander’s true story, and why and who had changed details of this hero’s life. The following February the family visited St. Louis (https://news.stlpublicradio.org/arts/2019-03-19/a-louisville-family-learns-about-their-ties-to-a-st-louis-slave-who-saved-lives).
Archer Alexander, or Archey as his own family called him, was born enslaved in Rockbridge County Virginia, near Lexington. He was buried in St. Peters after a funeral at an African Methodist Episcopal near his home on December 8, 1880. In 1829, he and his wife Louisa were taken by his enslaver James Alexander to Dardenne, in St. Charles County, Missouri. In January of 1863, he overheard his enslaver, Richard Hickman Pitman, with other area men, plotting to sabotage the nearby Peruque Creek Railroad Bridge, a vital link for the Union troops across the state. On that wintry February night, Archer risked his life and made his way to the Missouri Home Guards stationed at the bridge to alert them of the impending danger, saving hundreds of lives. The local Union troops were German-born immigrants under the command of Lt. Col. Arnold Krekel, who gave Archer protection. When it was discovered that Archer was the informant, he was forced to flee for his life, to avoid being lynched. He made his way by a network to freedom, to the home of William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian Minister, and founder of Washington University in St. Louis, where he was given protection. After a military trial, his enslaver Richard H. Pitman was found disloyal, and Archer was emancipated for his important services to the U.S. Military forces. He was freed by the Order of Brig. Gen. George C. Strong, which was announced on September 24, 1863.
In 1876, a monument was erected in Washington, D.C., which reads Emancipation. (https://www.nps.gov/places/000/emancipation-memorial.htm) This crusade to erect a memorial to President Abraham Lincoln started with the first $5 from Charlotte Scott, and funds totally raised by the U.S. Colored Troops, the formerly enslaved, and the freedmen of America. Dedicated by a committee of African Americans, on the 11th Anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, Archer Alexander is seen rising, as the last fugitive slave taken. He has broken his own chains, by his own bravery, and is seen rising on the monument, a testimony to all of those formerly enslaved that were free.
Archer and Louise Alexander would raise a family of ten children, Ralph or Willie who died serving in the U.S. Colored Troops, Nelly, James or Jim, who would also serve in the U.S. Colored Troops and died and is buried at Grant Chapel AME Cemetery in Wentzville, in St. Charles County, Archer, Aleck, Lucinda, Mary who is buried at Greenwood Cemetery, which is near St. Peters Cemetery, John, Eliza, and Wesley, who was left behind in Kentucky, and is buried in Louisville. Archer Alexander is the great-great-great grandfather of Keith Winstead.
On September 24, 2022, both St. Charles County, the City of St. Charles and the City of St. Louis will honor this enslaved man’s life with ceremonies. At 10 am that Saturday, Angela da Silva, from the Mary Meachum Network to Freedom Site, will be the Mistress of Ceremonies at a ceremony at 119 South Main Street. The OPO Startups is the former location of the St. Charles County Courthouse in the 1860s when Archer lived here. At 1 pm Jade Harrell, from St. Louis Public Radio, will be Mistress of Ceremonies for a Memorial Service at St Peters UCC Cemetery. The entire Alexander family has been invited and several members will be present at both events.
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