This is a story set during the Civil War in Missouri, that shares the common history of the German Americans and the African Americans, that is seldom shared. It is the story of a slave brought to Missouri in 1829, when our state was still young. The impact of the German immigration to our state, and its impact on the enslaved that lived here, can be seen in the story of Archer Alexander.
Born in Rockbridge, Virginia, Archer Alexander, known as Archey, arrives in Missouri in 1829. Archey, and his wife Louisa are property of the Alexander family that lives in a strong slave holding enclave, many of which are members of the Dardenne Presbyterian Church in St. Charles County. Archer is said to have been sold first to a large slave owner named Yosti, then to Richard Hickman Pitman, son of David Pitman. Sold because he was considered “too uppity” as punishment. Archer’s wife is Louisa, who is later sold to James Naylor. Although they are married, they are forced to live as separate property.
In February of 1863, Archer becomes one of America’s heroes, when he overhears area men, plotting to undermine the railroad bridge over Peruque Creek and informs the Union Troops. Saving countless lives, and a vital link in the railroad, The troops often referred to as Krekel’s “Deutsch” these are Germans under the command of Lt. Colonel Arnold Krekel. Overhearing the conversation between William Campbell and his neighbors, plotting the intrigue and knowing the bridge will collapse as soon as the next train passes, Archer realizes he has to take bold action and under cover of darkness runs five miles to the Union blockhouse to warn those guarding the Peruque Creek bridge. Archer Alexander is the first to be suspected of having alerted the troops, he realizes that he has no choice but to run, without any word to Louisa. Using the help of local Germans, he manages to get away, only to be caught by the local slave patrol, south of the Missouri River. There miraculously he manages to escape again, making his way to the home of none other than William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian Minister and founder of Washington University.
“Under the best of circumstances, the best condition of slavery was worse than the worst condition of freedom—I doubt if a man or woman could be found who would exchange freedom, such as it is, for the old relation under the best master that ever lived” He thinks to himself, “Go for your freedom, ef [sic] you dies for it”. Archer Alexander. His desire for freedom allows him to reach St. Louis. Eliot hires Alexander to be his gardener and when he learns Alexander’s story, obtains an order of protection for the fugitive slave, and then attempts to purchase his freedom.
Soon, however, slave catchers make several attempts to abduct Alexander from the Eliot property- where he is under an order of protection. Three men, slave catchers threatened Alexander’s life with pistols and daggers, cruelly beat him with clubs, knocked him down, stamped upon and handcuffed him, dragged him to a wagon and carried him to jail. Eliot arranges to have Archer’s captors arrested on a military arrest warrant because what they had done was illegal, as Alexander was still under the Order of Protection. The slave-catchers, upon learning of their impending arrests, hastily flee St. Louis without Alexander. Eliot has negotiated for Alexander’s release and Alexander is freed once again when Captain Dwight issues orders for the Jail to do so.
Eliot is able then to obtain a full order of protection. But the political situation remains volatile. Though President Lincoln had issued the ¬Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, it did not apply to slave-holding border states. In Missouri, the “peculiar institution” of slavery would continue to apply until January 11,1865, when Missouri’s Constitutional Convention under the leadership of German born Arnold Krekel, signed Missouri’s Emancipation Proclamation. Archer’s son had also escaped and joined the U.S. Colored Troops, recruited under German immigrant George Denker, on Main Street in St. Charles. He would later die “in action” during the Civil War. Disease took a huge toll on soldiers, especially the Colored Troops because of the conditions that they lived under. Archer was grieved but proud saying “I couldn’t do it myself,” “but I thank the Lord my boy did it.”
Alexander is hidden in Alton, Illinois, a free state, where he works as a farmhand, saves his wages and six months later, returned to Eliot and deposited $120 in the ¬Provident Savings Bank. It was a large sum as over the same period, a Union private would only have earned $78 at best. He then sent word to Louisa, whose freedom he hopes to purchase. He wrote a letter to her owner. “My dear husband,” Louisa wrote back. “I received your letter yesterday, and lost no time in asking Mr. Jim if he would sell me, and what he would take for me. He flew at me, and said I would never get free only at the point of the [bayonet], and there was no use in my ever speaking to him any more about it. I don’t see how I can ever get away except you get soldiers to take me from the house, as he is watching me night and day.”
Eliot and Alexander worry that having now sought to leave, Louisa might be in even greater danger. “Her life wasn’t safe if they got mad at her.” But Alexander had a back-up plan: Wary of writing again, Alexander arranges for his wife and as many children as possible to escape. William Eliot, sensing slavery’s imminent demise, cautioned Archer that the few months of freedom might not be worth the risks of flight. On a moonlit night, Louisa and Nellie, the couple’s young daughter, climbed into an ¬ox-drawn cart and hid beneath the corn shucks. A horseman soon rode by. He grilled the farmer: “Have you seen Louisa and Nellie?” “Yes, I saw them at the crossing, as I came along, standing, and looking scared-like, as if they were waiting for somebody,” the farmer coolly replied. “But I have not seen them since.” Mother and daughter arrived at Eliot’s before dawn. Alexander paid the German farmer $20. Soon they were reunited with two more additional daughters.
After the war finally ended, Eliza began to yearn for her former belongings. She returned to the home of her former master to retrieve them, but suddenly took ill and died within two days. Her belongings were sent to St. Louis to Archer. Archer would eventually remarry, to a young woman named Julia, who also knew how to speak German.
After the war ended a woman in Virginia named Charlotte Scott, felt a memorial to President Lincoln who had done so much for the slaves, was needed. She donated the first $5 she earned as a free woman for a monument honoring Lincoln’s proclamation. That started a fundraising effort among newly freed people that raised $16,242 — enough to build a memorial. The statue, also known as the Freedman’s Memorial, sometimes referred to as the “Lincoln Memorial”, now sits in Washington‘s Lincoln Park and depicts Lincoln standing above a former slave holding broken chains. That former slave, rising to stand and on one knee, is Archer Alexander. William G. Eliot had worked with the sculptor to see that Archer would be the face to represent all slaves. The monument was dedicated April 14, 1876 with President Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass in attendance.
Archey’s second wife Julia would pass on September 13, 1879 and be buried at St. Peter’s U.C.C. Cemetery in an unmarked grave in the Common Grounds. Then one year later on December 8, 1880, Archey would also pass away and be buried in the same cemetery. The actual location had been unknown and searched for by his descendant Keith Winstead for years, when it was discovered by Dorris Keeven-Franke and other researchers in 2018. Though “his last words were a prayer of thanksgiving that he died in freedom” Archey would never see the beautiful monument that bears his image.