The Civil War in Missouri

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Cover of Trials and Confessions of Madison Henderson, Alias Blanchard, Alfred Amos Warrick, James W. Seward, and Charles Brown… Lithograph by J. C. Wild.

1841
MHM Library

As spring turned to summer in 1841, four black men—Madison Henderson, Alfred Warrick, James Seward, and Charles Brown—were put on trial; convicted of murder, arson, and burglary; and sentenced to death. They were hanged on July 9, 1841. Tickets to join a steamboat excursion to watch the executions on Duncan’s Island just south of the city sold for $1.50. About 20,000 people, or 75 percent of St. Louis’s population at the time, are believed to have witnessed the hangings. Articles about the crimes, biographies and confessions of the convicted, and an artist’s rendition of each man were printed in a pamphlet offered for sale by St. Louis publisher Adam B. Chambers.The stories that elicited the greatest response from readers were not about the crimes for which the men were convicted, but the accounts of Brown, who assisted slaves in their escape north as an agent of the Ohio Abolitionist Society, and of Henderson, the only enslaved man among the four, who engaged in slave-stealing operations with his master, often reselling them for a profit. This frightened slave owners a great deal, and resulted in more stringent slave regulations and expanded enforcement efforts. To conclude an event representative of the rising tension surrounding issues of race and slavery in Missouri, the severed heads of the four executed criminals were hung in the front window of Corse’s Drug Store to further deter African American resistance.