All posts by Dorris Keeven-Franke

Public Historian, Author, Archivist and Curator.

Archer Alexander

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.

Union Troops at the Block House on Peruque Creek

“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.

The Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.

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.


Face of Love

Missouri Germans Consortium is proud to present this program in collaboration with Gitana Productions! We invite you to join us for an afternoon you will never forget! This event at 2:00 pm on Saturday, February 23, 2019 in St. Louis’ German Cultural Society’s Hall at 3652 Jefferson is free, but we do ask that you please register.
To Register for this Free Program at Eventbrite CLICK HERE >> or call 314-721-6556

There is a rich and impressive history of German Abolitionists who fought for a color-blind democracy in Missouri. This history is largely unknown to many in the St. Louis region and is a good reason to celebrate the incredible intersection of shared American ideals between German immigrants and enslaved African Americans before and after the Civil War.

This symposium includes very knowledgeable scholars and historians that will tell us that history and they will be joined by community leaders from the German and African American communities. Special guests include U.S. Diplomat and German Consul General (Chicago) Herbert Quelle and Police Commissioner, John Hayden. Panelists will include Dr. Sydney Norton author of German Abolitionists of Missouri,Dorris Keeven-Franke, author and Director of the Missouri Germans Consortium, Dr. John Wright, historian and community leader and Rev. Starsky Wilson, social activist and philanthropist. There will be shared musical and artistic presentations from both cultural groups to celebrate our shared history and nurture continued dialogue. Ruth Ezell, Producer and Reporter with Living St. Louis, KETC will moderate the Symposium.

The panel will include Dr. Sydney Norton, Associate Professor of German at St. Louis University, Dorris Keeven-Franke, Director of the Missouri Germans Consortium, (Collaborating Partner), Dr. John Wright, highly regarded educator, historian, Honorary Consul to Senegal and community leader from the African American community. Rev. Starsky Wilson, President/CEO of the Deaconess Foundation will also join the panel. Rev. Wilson is a philanthropist and activist that was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Gov. Nixon in 2014 and was elected chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in 2017.

Dr. Norton and Dorris Keeven-Franke will focus on the actual history of German Abolitionists in Missouri and Dr. Wright and Rev. Starsky Wilson will connect that specific history to our community needs today. Rev. Wilson
will provide additional comments that celebrate the contributions of German Abolitionists from the African American community. Q/A will follow the symposium presentations.The cross-cultural engagement component will include music and arts presentations provided by representatives from the German and African American community and the inclusion of key leaders from both communities. John Hayden, Police Commissioner with the City of St. Louis and German Consul General Herbert Quelle have confirmed their participation and will provide the welcome and opening remarks. Consul General Quelle is a musician who plays harmonica and specializes in German folkloric music as well as
the Blues. Actors and singers from the African American and German community will join the Consul General in an exchange of music and performance

This program aims to bring together the two largest ethnic groups of the St. Louis region (Germans and African Americans) who are each represented by diverse social, cultural and political experiences and perspectives. As Americans we have the opportunity to hear about our incredible common history that moved the State of Missouri forward and resulted in the emancipation of slavery. This is an opportunity to learn about that shared history and for both communities to celebrate the contributions made by German abolitionists who were largely immigrants. Through the understanding of that history (largely unknown particularly in the African American community) and the celebration of the achievements of German Abolitionists and African Americans during the Civil War period we hope to open up pathways to dialogue that allow us to converse about the core ideals of Democracy that we share and to promote authentic relationship development.

In succinct terms our immediate goals are a) to impart information about German Abolitionists in Missouri and the shared history between African Americans and the German community, b) to engage both communities in
dialogue about that history and connections to the present, c) to engage African Americans and Germans in an artistic experience that highlights our common love for music and the arts and d) to intentionally “sow the seeds” of continued education and engagement.

Read more about this event in St. Louis Magazine

Register at Eventbrite

January Zeitung

Newsletter for January 2019

When a small book by a German named Gottfried Duden, A Report on a Journey” was published in 1829 it was an instant best seller. In the decade that followed, approximately over forty thousand Germans would immigrate to Missouri, many of which were inspired by Duden. Arnold Krekel, had come to Missouri in 1832, one of the first Germans to encounter a State where the “peculiar institution” of slavery was practiced. He had grown up in a country, ruled by monarchs where there was no room for “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” yet embraced his new homeland. He would spend the rest of his life working for the education, justice, and freedom for all in the land where his mentor Friedrich Muench said “the sun of freedom shines” known as the great State of Missouri.


Missouri Germans Consortium [], in collaboration with Gitana Productions’ will present the “The Face of Love” symposium which will explore and celebrate the remarkable shared history of African Americans and German immigrants in their quest for freedom, and the abolition of slavery in Missouri. With the Symposium on the Common History of German and African Americans, historians, community leaders and artists will come together to discuss the shared African American and Missouri German history on Saturday, February 23 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the German Cultural Society’s Jefferson Hall at 3652 S. Jefferson Avenue. This event is free to the public. Please register at

Germans came to America in the 1800s seeking freedom from oppression in Prussia. Remarkably, many German immigrants in Missouri also fought to free oppressed African Americans. Using the lens of history, the symposium will bring to life what it means to strive for social justice for “others” while also advocating for one’s own cultural group.
The rich and shared history between Germans and African Americans in St. Louis isn’t widely known and we want to change that,” said Cecilia Nadal, executive director of Gitana Productions. “Many German immigrants, who often spoke no English, recognized that the hope for a growing democracy in America could only be realized if slavery was abolished. Often threatened and even run out of town by Missouri slaveholders, these men and women even started newspapers to spread their ideals for a color-blind democracy.
The symposium also will explore the challenges created by contradictions in values and belief systems. While many German immigrants who settled in the Midwest before and after the Civil War staunchly defended freedom for slaves, some chose to set aside those values to survive. Those tensions, with roots in the past, continue today within many American cultural groups. KETC-TV “Living St. Louis” producer and reporter Ruth Ezell will moderate the symposium, with special guests Colonel John Hayden, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Police Commissioner, and Herbert Quelle, German Consul General.

Speakers include:
● Dr. Sydney Norton, assistant professor of German Studies at Saint Louis University and author of German Immigrant Abolitionists: Fighting for a Free Missouri
● Dorris Keeven-Franke, executive director of Missouri Germans Consortium and author of Missouri – Where the Sun of Freedom Shines in “Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America”
● Dr. John W. Wright, author of Discovering African American St. Louis – A Guide to Historic Sites
● Rev. Starsky Wilson, CEO and president of the Deaconess Foundation and social activist appointed in 2014 by Governor Jay Nixon to head the Ferguson Commission

Entertainment will be provided by the local German and African American communities. In June, Gitana Productions also will present a provocative original play inspired by the amazing stories of remarkable German immigrants who became leading abolitionists in Missouri. The performances will be held Thursday, June 20 through Sunday, June 23 at Kranzberg Art Center.

For more information, visit or contact or 314-721-6556. Partial funding and support for Gitana Productions are provided by the Missouri Humanities Council, Kranzberg Arts Foundation, Regional Arts Commission and Missouri Arts Council. Additional co-sponsors include Saint Louis University’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the African American Studies Program.

Gitana Productions, Inc. is a not-for-profit arts and education organization dedicated to increasing cross-cultural awareness and collaboration using music, dance and drama in the St. Louis region. Gitana events present a rarely seen diversity of international and local artists exhibiting an array of traditional and innovative artistic expressions. Gitana also developed Global Education through the Arts, a community project that uses the arts to promote intercultural competence between youth of diverse backgrounds. For more information, visit or contact Gitana Productions at (314) 721-6556.