Archer Alexander

Archer Alexander, or Archey as he was known to his family, was born enslaved in Rockbridge County Virginia, near Lexington, in 1806. At that time, his mother’s enslaver was a Revolutionary War veteran named John Alexander (1764-1828). When John’s son James H. Alexander (1789-1835) married Nancy McCluer (1791-1833) Archer Alexander would become theirs, and they would inherit Louisa (1812-1865) when Nancy’s father John McCluer (1750-1822) passed away. Archer and his wife Louisa were taken from Virginia to Missouri in 1829, with two dozen other enslaved people, in a caravan led by William Campbell. Archer and Louisa would raise a family of ten children; Wesley, Ralph, and Nelly, and Eliza ($325), Mary ($300), Archer ($225), James ($200), Alexander ($175), Lucinda ($150), and John ($125) who are valued in the estate of James Alexander in 1843, when the family is split up.

In January of 1863, Archer Alexander overheard his enslaver, Richard Hickman Pitman, with other area men who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause, plotting to sabotage the nearby Peruque Creek Railroad Bridge. This was a vital link for the Union troops, carrying men and crucial supplies. On a wintry 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. When it was realized that he was the informant, the area Slave Patrol were out to capture and lynch him. The Union Home Guards under the command of German-born Lt. Col. Arnold Krekel provided Archer protection, but he was soon forced to flee via the Underground Railroad. Reaching St. Louis, he was given protection in the home of William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian Minister, and founder of Washington University in St. Louis. 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 Second Confiscation Act of July 1862 and the Order of Brig. Gen. Strong, which was announced in the St. Louis newspapers on September 24, 1863. Archer Alexander was the last Missouri enslaved man taken under the Fugitive Slave Law.

Immediately following the assassination of President Lincoln in April of 1865, a campaign was started with a donation of $5 from Charlotte Scott, to create a memorial to “their best friend”. With funds raised totally by the U.S. Colored Troops, the formerly enslaved, and the freedmen of America a monument was erected in Washington, D.C., which reads Emancipation. This memorial to President Abraham Lincoln was dedicated by a committee of African Americans, on the 11th Anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination before an audience of 25,000 black Americans. It was due to the efforts of William G. Eliot, that Archer Alexander is seen rising, having broken his own chains and through his own heroism on the monument. Four years later Archer Alexander died on December 8, 1880 and was buried at the German Evangelical cemetery called St. Peters, in what is called a Common Lot, where there are no markers. His funeral had been held at Washington Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal today known as Washington Metropolitan AME Zion, of which he was a member and lived across the street from.

“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.” William Greenleaf Eliot

Author Dorris Keeven-Franke‘s next book, The Untold Story of An American Hero sheds new light on the life of Archer Alexander.

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