Archer Alexander (1816 – December 8, 1880) was a formerly enslaved person who served as the model for the emancipated slave in the Emancipation Memorial1876 located in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. He was the subject of an 1885 biography, The Story of Archer Alexander, from Slavery to Freedom, March 30, 1863 written by William Greenleaf Eliot, published in 1885. Eliot's account of Alexander's life is partly historical fiction, as portions of the narrative were altered by his close friend Jesse Benton Fremont at the request of the publishers.
|Died||December 8, 1879 (aged 62–63)|
St. Louis, Missouri
Early years edit
Alexander was born enslaved by the Alexander family near Lexington, Virginia, about 1806. He and his wife Louisa were brought to Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, in St. Charles County by his enslaver, James H. Alexander, in 1829. Louisa, formerly enslaved by Dr. Robert McCluer, was inherited by his daughter, Nancy McCluer, wife of James H. Alexander. Both James and Nancy Alexander had died by 1835, and their property and their enslaved were managed by their executor, William M. Campbell, providing the funds to care for their four orphaned children who had returned to Virginia to live with relatives. Besides working for Campbell, Archer Alexander was leased out to work as a carpenter, stonemason and bricklayer. When James Alexander's children were grown, the property was dispersed; Archer, Louisa, and seven of their children were split up. Those seven were: Eliza (valued at $325), Mary Ann ($300), Archer ($225), James ($200), Alexander ($175), Lucinda ($150) and John ($125). Three of their children, Nellie, William, and Wesley, had already been sold by this time. Louisa became the enslaved property of James Naylor, a merchant, postmaster and former Presbyterian elder living in Missouri on the Boone's Lick Road, while Archer Alexander became the enslaved property of Richard H. Pitman, near Cottleville, Missouri.
American Civil War edit
During the American Civil War, Alexander overheard a meeting of local slave owners discussing a plot to sabotage a nearby railroad bridge using arms and ammunition they had stored in Captain James Campbell's icehouse. In February 1863, Alexander covertly notified a group of Union troops under the command of Lt. Col. Arnold Krekel that the Peruque Creek railroad bridge had been sabotaged by Confederate sympathizers. Archer was shortly thereafter suspected of being the source of this information and had to flee the Pitman farm. He was captured by the local slave catchers once, but broke free. He continued on the Network to Freedom and found refuge in the home of William Greenleaf Eliot in St. Louis. There he obtained employment in Eliot's home and was put under the protection of the Federal provost marshal. Pitman sent slave catchers to Eliot's home to recapture what he considered his property, and they put Archer Alexander in the City Jail to be sold. Eliot rescued Alexander and contacted Pitman wanting to purchase the man in order to emancipate him. However, on September 24, 1863, the St. Louis newspapers announced that Archer Alexander had been emancipated by the Second Confiscation Act of 1862, because of his service to the Federal military and Pitman's disloyalty to the Union. That fall Alexander paid a German farmer to help Louisa and his daughters escape from Naylor and join him in St. Louis, where she was granted emancipation as well. Eliot's biography of Alexander reports that in 1865, Louisa decided to return to Naylor's house for some things she had left there. Alexander later learned that Louisa had died two days after her arrival of an unidentified cause. The location of her grave is unknown.
Emancipation Memorial edit
In 1865, Eliot was working with the Western Sanitary Commission to build a statue of Lincoln. The funding for an Emancipation Memorial, featuring a statue of Lincoln, had begun with a $5 donation from a former slave, Charlotte Scott, from Virginia. All of the initial funds raised were donations from formerly enslaved people, U.S. Colored Troops (Union) and freedmen, and were held in trust for them by the Western Sanitary Commission, a St. Louis-based volunteer war-relief agency. Thomas Ball had made an acceptable model in 1865, but Eliot's group wanted to have a real freedman pose for it. In 1869, Eliot gave Ball a photo of Alexander, and he was chosen as the model.
In 1876, the statue was unveiled, with a number of notable people in attendance, including President Ulysses S. Grant, members of his cabinet, Supreme Court justices, other government figures, and Frederick Douglass, another former slave. However, neither Alexander nor Eliot was present.
Death and aftermath edit
Archer Alexander died in St. Louis, Missouri, on December 8, 1880. His funeral was held in his church, which was across from his home, Washington Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion on Morgan Street. Archer Alexander was buried in a common lot and unmarked grave at St. Peters U.C.C. Cemetery on Lucas and Hunt in Normandy, Missouri.
Further reading edit
- Archer Alexander - the Untold Story of an American Hero URL:https://archeralexander.blog/
- Encyclopedia Virginia- Virginia Humanities URL entry: https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/archer-alexander-d-december-8-1880/
- Alexander, Errol D. "Rattling of the Chains", a descendant and researcher-biographer of Archer Alexander.
- Christensen, Lawrence O. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8262-1222-0
- Eliot, William Greenleaf (1885). The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom, March 30, 1863. Boston, Mass.: Cupples, Upham and Company: Old Corner Bookstore. Retrieved November 15, 2020 – via Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
- Griffith, Susan J. (2011). "Alexander, Archer (ca. 1810–1879)". The Online Encyclopedia of Significant People and Places in African American History. Retrieved October 5, 2013 – via BlackPast.org.
- Strauss, Ben (October 2, 2018). "DNA evidence links Muhammad Ali to heroic slave, family says". Washington Post.
- Johnson, Rossiter, ed. (1906). "Alexander, Archer". The Biographical Dictionary of America. Vol. 1. Boston, Mass.: American Biographical Society. p. 74. Retrieved November 15, 2020 – via en.wikisource.org.