Archer Alexander


Archer Alexander or “Archey as he was known by family, was born enslaved by John Alexander in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1806.[1]John Alexander was a respected Elder of the Presbyterian Church when he died in 1828, passing his property on to his son James Alexander. In 1829, James Alexander would make a journey to Missouri, with several other slave owning families, bringing at least four slaves of his own with him. James Alexander, would die from the cholera epidemic sweeping the state in 1834 and 35, leaving behind four orphans. The executor of the James Alexander estate, William Campbell, would make the journey back to Virginia with the orphans, leaving behind Archey, in charge of the other slaves.  At that time, there were at least ten slaves, who would work with two Irish stone masons, to erect Campbell’s large beautiful home on the Boone’s Lick road near the Dardenne Presbyterian Church. There, Archer and his wife Louisa (whose value was $200), raised at least seven children, all born enslaved and prior to 1846:  daughters Eliza ($325) and Mary Ann ($300), sons Archey ($225), Jim ($200), Alexander ($175),  and the youngest daughter Lucinda ($150).[2]Years later, Archey would tell his biographer, William Greenleaf Eliot, that a couple of his children had been sent away.[3]Oral family history leads us to believe that these children were Ralph and Wesley Alexander.[4]

William Campbell house built in 1836 still stands today on the Boone’s Lick Road. as it passes through St. Charles County.

Archey was considered uppity by many, because what he wanted more than anything was his freedom. In the 1840s, when the Alexander family slaves were sold off at an estate sale, Archey and his wife and his children would all be separated. Louisa, would become the property of James Naylor, a merchant, and Archey would become the property of Richard Pitman, both who also lived in Dardenne along the Boone’s Lick Road (today’s State Highway N in St. Charles County). There Archey was well acquainted with activities of his former and current masters. In February 1863, he would overhear how there were firearms stored in Campbell’s icehouse, and how the men had managed to saw some of the timbers of the Peruque Creek Railroad bridge. Archey would risk his life to make his way five miles to the north to where the Railroad Bridge was being guarded by the Union Troops, called Krekel’s Dutch. 

So, ended Archey’s life in St. Charles County. Suspicion fell immediately on him, forcing him to use the aid of local Germans who facilitated his escape to St. Louis.  Using what we call today, the “Underground Railroad” in St. Charles County, he made his way to the home of Eliot. The fugitive slave law enabled emancipation of the enslaved, of any owner found guilty of treasonous activities. Due process of the laws moved slowly, and eventually free he turned again to help from local Germans, to help Louisa also escape. After the war ended, Louisa would return to Naylor’s farm, and mysteriously die at Naylor’s farm just two days later. Her grave is supposedly in St. Charles County and has not been located yet.

Archey never returned to St. Charles County and is buried at St. Peters U.C.C. Church (on Lucas & Hunt Road in St. Louis). Before he died on December 8, 1880, Archer Alexander would be used as the representative of those enslaved breaking his chains and rising before President Abraham Lincoln, on the Emancipation Memorial, in Lincoln Park in Washington D.C. in 1876. That monument was paid for and erected by the formerly enslaved. The family of Archer Alexander is planning a family reunion in St. Louis and St. Charles in August 2019. They are looking for other descendants of Archer Alexander and can be contacted at stcharlescountyhistory@gmail.comby email.


[1]St. Louis Death Certificates, Recorder of Deeds, St. Louis, Missouri

[2]Estate of James Alexander, Partition of Slaves for the four orphans

[3]The Story of Archer Alexander from Slavery to Freedom, William Greenleaf Eliot, Cupples, Upham and Co. Boston, 1885. Eliot was a Unitarian Minister, founder of Washington University, and organizer of the Western Sanitary Commission.

[4]Keith Winstead . The Great Great Grandfather of Keith Winstead is Wesley Alexander, believed to have been born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1829. Family DNA proves that Archer Alexander is the ancestor not only of Keith Winstead, but also Louisville native, Muhammed Ali. 

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