Archer Alexander had overheard the area men plotting to destroy the nearby railroad bridge over Peruque Creek, and knew he had to do something. The men had guns stored in Captain Campbell’s ice-house to attack the Union troops when it happened. He knew many of the men at the blockhouse; they were friends and allowed many of the runaways to stay there as well. He informed them of what he had heard, and they believed and trusted him. But somehow, someone figured it out and told his enslaver, Richard H. Pitman, what he’d done. Soon they were after him, and he knew if he was caught, he’d be shot. He had to make a run for it. Someone told him where to go, knowing he knew the way.
In the middle of the night, [Archer Alexander] got up quietly from his bed, and went out into the open air, cold and cheerless in the wintry wind, “to ask the good Lord”…He walked on for nearly a mile; I felt like I was stripped, to be shot or whipt to death like those fellers whipt … last week… He thought to himself “Go for your freedom, ef you dies for it!’” So he held on his way right southward,.. he fell in with a party of … negro men, who, like himself, were making for freedom; [on February 17, 1863] but … they were overtaken by a band of mounted pursuers, who compelled them to go back as runaways, to a tavern on the south bank of the Missouri…There the party concluded to stay overnight.
At a nearby tavern, the Slave Patrol was “in high glee, for there was “a big prize” offered for the runaways, whom they stowed safely in a room upstairs, gave them cornbread and bacon and some bad whiskey, and told them to take it easy and no harm would come to them.” As soon as it was all quiet down stairs.. he “thote they would never be done swarin’ and singin’,”– he softly got up and examined the windows. It was a bright moonlight night, clear and fresh, and he could see perfectly to do his work. Waiting a few minutes to be sure that all was quiet, he raised the window “soft and easy.”
“I puts my head fru de winder to see what kind of a chance I had… The moon had gone down behind the trees, and the shadders was black, but over to the east I seed the fust little show of daylight. I put my head out agin,…He “dropped himself down gently to the ground”… and, keeping the house between him and them, he ran… he peeped through the bushes and saw the “slave-ketchers and their gang” on their way from the tavern to the ferry-boat. They had failed … to trace him. Still he was afraid to start out on the open road, for some of the men might be around, watching for him; and, although he was “drefful hungry,” he “kept right thar until dark came.” “As soon as it was clear dark I got a-goin’, and walked steady all night along the road, till I come to whar the houses begin outside of St. Louis.”
He made his way to a shop run by a German, near Beaumont Street, and the corner of Jefferson and Market, where the butcher asked him “if I was a “runaway” …I tole him I ‘speck so. He larfed and said, ‘You wait thar “… In about an hour he call me and said thar was a lady who wanted me to take her basket home. I looked at the lady, and she seemed so kind and pleasant that I knowed she wouldn’t be hard on a poor feller like me; and then when she spoke up and said, “ if you will take this basket home for me, it isn’t far, I’ll give you a dime and a good breakfast,’ it seemed like a angel was a-callin’ of me.”
Archer Alexander’s “angel” was Boston-born Abigail Adams Eliot, the wife of a Unitarian Minister and founder of Washington University, William Greenleaf Eliot. Eliot was a member of the Western Sanitary Commission, a non-profit Agency, created under a wartime Order by General Fremont and signed by Lincoln. They were created to support the Union Army west of the Appalachians, creating hospitals, paying nurses, and working with all of the Regiments, including the U.S. Colored Troops. Eliot knew just what to do. Before he knew it, Archer Alexander was in the office of the Provost Marshall in St. Louis. Under Military Law, they were the only authority in the city, that could provide protection for him.
The temporary Order of Protection read:
The colored man named Archer Alexander, supposed to be the slave of a rebel master, is hereby permitted to remain in the service of W. G. Eliot until legal right to his services shall be established by such party, if any, as may claim them. Not to exceed thirty days unless extended.
F. A. DICK, Lt. Col., Prov. Mar. Gen.
FEB. 28, 1863.
In 1885, William Greenleaf Eliot would write the slave narrative “Archer Alexander, From Slavery to Freedom” which today would be considered historical fiction. When Eliot pursued publishing the story, publishers were reluctant due to the possibility of lawsuits. The quotes in the story above is from that book. Recent research does document the actual events, including Archer Alexander’s flight using the Underground Railroad.
To be continued see….https://archeralexander.blog/2023/03/26/march-1863/
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