Archer Alexander was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation around 1813. He moved to St. Louis and was hired out to work in a brickyard from 1833 to 1836. Alexander married another slave named Louisa, and he was sold to her owner, James Hollman, who had a farm in St. Charles, Missouri. Alexander gained the trust of his new master and became an overseer on the plantation where he and his family were forced to work.
Path to Freedom
In this position, Alexander heard conversations about abolition and emancipation and outgrew "the spirit of bondage." Alexander also overheard his master, who "was not particularly what one would most likely call a loyal man," brag about sabotaging a bridge after the Jefferson Barracks affair in order to slow the movement of Union troops moving out of St. Louis. Alexander slipped out of his slave cabin and waited near the bridge in order to warn a detachment of Union forces that was scheduled to move across it, and quite possibly saved their lives. Hollman learned of Alexander's actions and confined him to an empty building until punishment could be decided upon. Afraid for his life, Alexander escaped that night and met up with a group of runaway slaves, only to be caught by a band of bounty hunters. However, Alexander was able to escape again through good fortune and the fact that the bounty hunters celebrated with excessive amounts of alcohol. Alexander fled to St. Louis and found himself in a market square confused, lost, and with no money or a place to go.
Luckily, Abigail Eliot, the wife of William Greenleaf Eliot, a local minister and chancellor of Washington University, hired Alexander to carry her bags home from the market. William Eliot, who had previously stated in a sermon that he would never return a runaway to the bonds of slavery, hired Alexander to tend the grounds and garden of his home on Beaumont Place. At this time, Missouri was under martial law, and slaves could not be returned to their masters unless the master signed a loyalty oath. The provost marshal (military police) commander, Lt. Col. Dick, gave Alexander a 30-day pass to work for Eliot and was placed under military protection. One day before the pass expired, Hollman sent three slave catchers to kidnap Alexander, who beat him mercilessly and took him to a small jail on the corner of Sixth and Chestnut streets. Eliot enlisted the help of Capt. Dwight, who was "no friend of slavery," of the provost marshal's office and two police officers, who went to the jail, freed Alexander, and placed the slave catchers under arrest.
The provost marshal gave Alexander another pass on March 27, 1863, and Eliot attempted to contact Hollman through third-party letters via Judge Bates in order purchase Alexander so he could be emancipated. However, these letters were never answered. Alexander temporarily moved to Alton, Illinois, where his freedom would be guaranteed, but soon moved back to Beaumont Place to work for Eliot. Eliot helped Alexander remain free, and before long his wife and child escaped and joined him. They were all ultimately freed when Missouri's state convention passed an immediate emancipation law on January 11, 1865.
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