Archer Alexander would make his way to a German Butcher shop at the corner of Washington and Jefferson Streets near the city limits of St.Louis. When asked “are you a fugitive?” he knew it was safe to answer “yes“. The butcher told him to wait. A short while later a woman arrived, and after assessing the situation asked ” if you will take this basket home for me, it isn’t far….I’ll give you a dime and a good breakfast“ Archer thought an angel was calling him. Abby Eliot would take Archer a short distance to her home, Beaumont Place, to meet her husband, William Greenleaf Eliot.
William Greenleaf Eliot, was born in New Bedford Massachusetts, the son of William Greenleaf Eliot, Sr. and Margaret Greenleaf Dawes Eliot. He attended Columbian College (now George Washington University) in Washington, D.C., and graduated in 1831. Eliot did graduate work at Harvard Divinity School and graduated in 1834. He was ordained a minister of the Unitarian church on August 17, 1834.. He moved to St. Louis in 1834. He founded the first Unitarian Church west of the Mississippi in 1837, the Church of the Messiah. Today it is called the First Unitarian Church of Saint Louis. In 1837, he also married and brought his young bride, Abigail Adams Cranch, a great niece of Abagail Adams, wife of President John Adams. They would have 14 children, but not all would reach adulthood. In 1853, he founded Washington University and in 1861, would help create the Western Sanitary Commission. On the 23rd of January, 1887 he would pass away and be buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum in St. Louis, Missouri.
When the Civil War began in St. Louis the Eliot family was living at Beaumont Place, the former home of Dr. William G. Beaumont, also the former property of Hamilton Rowan Gamble, Governor of Missouri. Eliot’s friends advised him not to move his family outside of the City Limits. However, the Eliots’ had just moved into their new home in May of 1861, when the Camp Jackson Affair would cause bullets to go flying past their windows. This was the home that would be a refuge for Archer Alexander.
Eliot was immediately faced with the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which mandated that he return Archer to Pitman or face serious consequences. Instead, Eliot, who had already announced one Sunday from his pulpit, that he could never do such a thing, went to the Provost Marshall instead. There he would share Archer’s story, with Provost Marshall Dick, and obtain a 30 day temporary Order of Protection until the matter could be sorted out. Eliot would immediately send a letter off to Richard Pitman, via Judge Barton Bates, the son of Edward G. Bates, Lincoln’s Attorney General. At this time, Louisa’s owner is James Naylor, founder of the Dardenne Presbyterian Church.
Within a few weeks though Eliot would have Pitmans answer. As Eliot left the house one spring morning in late March, reflecting on the site of Archer and the children working on the new garden, he noticed strangers nearby, but didn’t think anything of it at the time. Soon after, the strangers, slave catchers sent by Pitman, attacked and bludgeoned Archer, in front of the children, dragging him to a wagon waiting nearby. They fled, but had been observed by a neighbor. When Eliot learned what had happened, he immediately headed to the Provost Marshall office to inform him. Detective Eagan was called in to locate the attackers, who had taken Archer to the City Jail it was soon learned. Eagan, catching up with the men, took them into custody and returned Archer to Eliot at his office of the Western Sanitary Commission, where Eliot was worriedly waiting. Archer would exclaim “I’se just knew you would find me!”. The slave catcher’s would claim they had no knowledge of the Order of Protection afforded Archer, and be released from the Military Prison where they were being held. The Order of Protection would be made permanent.
Archer would be sent to live with a friend in Illinois for his own safety. There he was able to work and save money. When he had saved enough funds he returned to Eliot and asked if Louisa could come to Beaumont place as well. Archer told Eliot “You see sir, we’se been married most thirty years, and we’se had ten chilluns, and we want to get togedder mighty bad” Because of the laws, Eliot could not actively participate, but he acknowledged he would not turn Louisa away. He encouraged Archer to wait, saying that the war was about to change. Archer wrote Louisa, because he had heard from friends that she wasn’t safe. She replied “He flew at me and said I would never get free-only at the point of a. bayonet, and there was no. use in my ever speaking to him any more about it…” Archer paid a German friend $25 to smuggle Louisa to St. Louis.
In 1861, Eliot had seen with his friends James Yeatman and Jessie Benton Fremont’s help, the creation of the Western Sanitary Commission. The WSC was a privately funded, non-government arm of the Western District of the U.S. Army during the war that would give direct aid to the troops, bringing supplies and nurses, and creating hospitals where needed. They also would be instrumental in forming the Freedmans bureau, and provided supplies for the contraband camps.
In January of 1865, Missouri would convene a Constitutional Convention to deal with the issue of slavery. On January 6th they convened in St. Louis, and by January 11th were ready to read the Ordinance. President of the Convention was German born Arnold Krekel, who would later help Lincoln University and be appointed a Federal Judge by President Lincoln. Parliamentary rule was suspended after the first reading, where there were 4 nays. After the second reading, William G. Eliot was asked to lead a prayer for the group assembled and their work. The third reading was unanimous and Missouri’s Slaves were finally free! The Civil War would soon come to close.
Following the war, Louisa wanted to return to her former master’s home, James Naylor to retrieve some of her belongings. She would mysteriously die the second day, and her grave is yet to be located. A year later, Archer would remarry Julia, and they would set up home first in St. Louis, but later live in Jefferson County for a while.But they would keep in touch often, through Eliot’s son Christopher.
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