The final resting place of Archer Alexander, who was famously immortalized in the Emancipation Memorial, in Washington, D.C. in 1876 has been found. The location was unknown, and searched for by his descendant Keith Winstead for years. The funding for that memorial began when a woman in Virginia named Charlotte Scott, 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 freed man is Archer “Archey” Alexander, who succumbed to asthma on December 7, 1880 and was buried on December 8th, in the Common Field burying ground at St. Peter’s U.C.C. Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, (2101 Lucas & Hunt Road) without any stone to mark his grave site. Though “his last words were a prayer of thanksgiving that he died in freedom” he would never see the beautiful monument that bears his image.
Born in Virginia, Archer Alexander is thought to be the son of Sally, a slave of David Farrell and Aleck Alecksander a slave of the Alexander family. In the early 1830s the Alexander family moves to St. Charles County Missouri, and Archer is sold first to Louis Yosti, then to Richard Pitman, son of David Pitman. Sold because he was considered “too uppity” as punishment. Archer meets Louisa, who is the nearby property of James Naylor. And although they marry, they remain separate property and have several children, all of which are property of Naylor, a German who manages a stagecoach stop further west on the Boone’s Lick Road.
In February of 1863, Archer becomes one of America’s heroes, when he informs the Union Troops in St. Charles County, known as Krekel’s “Deutsch” that the railroad bridge has been tampered with! After overhearing his owner in conversation plotting the intrigue with his neighbors the Campbells and McClure’s and knowing the bridge will collapse as soon as the next train passes, Archer takes bold action, and runs 5 miles north in the darkness, to warn those guarding the Peruque Creek bridge, just west of O’Fallon. Archer Alexander is the first to be suspected of having alerted and of somehow betraying this information when the bridge failed to collapse. Knowing that he was in mortal danger, Archer manages to flee to St. Louis.
“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. There Archer meets Abigail Adams Eliot, a niece of Abigail Adams, who is the wife of a Unitarian minister named William Greenleaf Eliot. He is a radical abolitionist who 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 Thomas had also escaped and joined the U.S. Colored Troops, recruited under German immigrant George Senden, 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 went to her former master to retrieve them, and suddenly took ill. She died within two days. Her belongings were sent to St. Louis to Archer. Archer eventually remarries, to Julia, who also knew how to speak German. She died September 13, 1879 and is also buried at St. Peter’s U.C.C. Cemetery in another unmarked grave in the Common Grounds.