Documentation of the life of Archer Alexander reveals that today William Greenleaf Eliot’s The Story of Archer Alexander From Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863 should be considered historical fiction.
It was written at the request of my children for the benefit of my grandchildren, that they may know something of what slavery was and of the negro character under its influence. “It is the record of a humble life, but one which was conformed, up to the full measure of ability, to the law of the gospel. I have felt as proud of the long-continued friendship and confidence of Archer Alexander as of anyone I have known. He was I believe, the last fugitive slave taken in Missouri under the old laws of slavery. His freedom came directly form the hands of President Lincoln, and his own hands had helped to break the chains that bound him.”William greenleaf eliot, 1885
In 1885, The Story of Archer Alexander, From Slavery to Freedom, 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, it is believed that at that point Eliot turned to his close friend, Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of Thomas Hart Benton. Her father served as Missouri’s State Senator from for its’ first 30 years. His wife Elizabeth Preston McDowell, was the daughter of James McDowell of Lexington, Virginia. Jessie had spent her youth at Cherry Grove, among her neighbors, the Alexanders, Campbells and McClures. Jessie had assisted her husband, the Great Pathfinder, Gen. John C. Fremont, with his memoirs as well. The family names may have struck a chord too close to home. Research has proven that Archer Alexander was never owned by a Delaney at Kalorama or lived in Botetourt County in Virginia.
Archer Alexander had lost his wife Julia in September of 1879. Eliot wrote “The infirmities of age were upon him, and an internal rupture prevented him from any work except what a child may have done. He gave me verbal directions for disposal among his kindred of his little property.” Archer Alexander passed away on December 8, 1880. William Greenleaf Eliot would say a few words before Archey was buried near Julia at St.Peters United Church of Christ (formerly Evangelical and Reformed) on Lucas and Hunt Road, in the city of Normandy, in St. Louis County. Archer Alexander’s last words were
A Prayer of Thanksgiving that he had died in freedom…William greenleaf eliot
When descendants of Archer Alexander went looking for the grave of Archer Alexander, they enlisted the help of professional genealogist, Dorris Keeven-Franke, Together they were able to discover the true resting place for “Archey”. This led to more research into Eliot’s book, providing further understanding of Eliot’s motivation. Written just 20 years after the events, with many of the figures prominent still, it wouldn’t be considered suitable in any publishing house at that time. However, Eliot, was determined to see this story heard. It seems that a few simple changes were made to 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 still need to be shared. This is the story of a true American hero that deserves to be heard.
“Gradually the mists of partial knowledge clear away; but it will be many years yet before the North and South will thoroughly understand each other, either as to the past history of or the present relations of the negro and white races. Meanwhile mutual forbearance may lead to increasing mutual affection and respect.”
The Story of Archer Alexander From Slavery to Freedom March 30, 1863 is available online at https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/eliot/eliot.html