Category Archives: history

Archer Alexander

This is the story of a St. Charles County slave that risked his life to “do the right thing” and has been famously immortalized in the Emancipation Memorial, also known as the Freedman’s Memorial and sometimes referred to as the “Lincoln Memorial”, a monument in Washington, D.C..

Born in Virginia, in 1816, Archer Alexander was a mulatto son of Salley, a slave on Reid’s farm. When he was six years old, he leaves the Reid farm and moves to the Smith farm Archer Alexanderith his mother. The next year, Mr. Smith died, and his widow marries David Farrell, and Salley becomes the property of Ferrell in Widow Smith’s dowry. Salley also gets married, as is slave custom, by jumping the broom, with Aleck Alexander. With that, Archer is indentured to the Alexander family. A few years later, in 1828 or 9, the Alexander family moves to Missouri, but soon returns to Virginia, and is sold to the Ferrell family. Buying and selling of property continues, and Archer first is sold to Louis Yosti, then to Richard Pitman, son of David Pitman, in St. Charles County.

He had been sold because when he was young, he was considered “too uppity” and was sold as punishment. This separates him from his own family forever. When asked at the end of his life if he still remembered his mother, Archer replied, “Yes, sir, I remembers her like yesterday. Seems like I never forgets her, nohow. ‘Specially when trouble comes, and I’ve had a heap of thatHere, at the Pitman farm  Archer meets Louisa, and they raise 10 children.

In February of 1863, Archer becomes one of America’s heroes, when he informs the Union Troops in St. Charles County that the Railroad bridge has been tampered with and undermined so that it will collapse as soon as a train passes. With this bold action, Alexander ran under the cover of darkness, five miles to inform the Union troops. Krekel’s “Dutch”- so called because they were German emigrants – oversaw guarding the Peruque Creek bridge, just west of O’Fallon. Archer Alexander is suspected of having alerted and of somehow betraying this information when the bridge did not collapse! Knowing that he was in mortal danger, Archer manages to escape and 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 you dies for it”. Archer Alexander.

Slave-catchers captured Archer and took him to a boarding house to spend the night before being taken to a new master in the South, as punishment for his actions. Instead of settling for a continued life of slavery, Alexander miraculously climbed out of a high eliottpwindow and avoids a ravenous dog long enough to slip away from his pursuers. His desire for freedom allows him to reach St. Louis and secure his freedom.

Archer’s son Thomas had 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 which 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.”

In St. Louis, Archer meets Abigail Adams Eliot in a butcher shop. She’s the wife of a Unitarian minister named William Greenleaf Eliot. Eliot hires Archer to be his gardener. When he discovers Alexander’s story, the minister obtained an order of protection for Archer and attempts to purchase his freedom. Eliot helps Archer write a letter so that Archer can buy his freedom, because in 1847, Missouri’s laws had made it illegal to teach a slave to read or write. Eliot goes to Judge Barton Bates and offers him $600 for Archer Alexander.

Soon, however, slave catchers again attempted to abduct Alexander from the Eliot property- where he is under an order of protection. Three men, slave catchers came to the property and 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. TheOld-City-Jail 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” stood until January 11,1865, when Missouri’s Constitutional Convention under the leadership of Arnold Krekel, signed it.

When he’d recuperated sufficiently to travel, Alexander went by steamboat to Alton, Illinois, a free state. There he worked as a farmhand, saved his wages and waited. Six months later, Alexander 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 hoped 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 read Alexander the letter.  He worried that Louisa, having sought to leave, might now be endangered. 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 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 remarried to a slave who also knew how to speak German.

President Abraham Lincoln and a freed African-American slave are depicted in a statue thcommemorating the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington D.C., with the photo of the slave based on Archer Alexander.  About 1870, Eliot arranged for Alexander to be photographed. Eliot mailed the images to Italy, where artist Thomas Ball was sculpting a monument to Lincoln and emancipation. The funding for the memorial started when a woman in Virginia, 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 now sits in Washington‘s Lincoln Park and depicts Lincoln standing above a kneeling freed man holding broken chains.

Originally the slave was to be wearing a Union Cap and thanking Lincoln. The statue has been criticized as paternalistic, reflecting views of its time. Still, it remains significant as one of the first monuments to Lincoln funded entirely by formerly enslaved people. The freed man has the face of Archer Alexander. Neither Eliot nor Alexander attended the monument’s dedication in April 1876, and Alexander never saw the memorial for himself. Alexander died in 1879 and, according to Eliot’s account, “his last words were a prayer of thanksgiving that he died in freedom.”
Watch O’Fallon Matters story on Archer Alexander https://youtu.be/4FfKhZRj7E0

The author used Crossroads by Steve Ehlmann, The Story of Archer Alexander by William G. Eliot, and The Rattling of the Chains by Errol D. Alexander for this article.

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Endings and Beginnings

As we end 2017, we are sharing this blog from Sage Chapel Cemetery…

Sage Chapel Cemetery is a very special place. More than just a cemetery, it is a place of peace and solace, and the final resting place for the African-American community of O’Fallon, Missouri. For so many it is the only place that they can speak of as “home” and “family” and “my ancestors”. Many of these family members lie in an unmarked grave, where the location is one only known to “Aunt Phyllis” or “Cousin Mary”. And to walk this ground and hear “this is my mother’s grave” and this is where my father is, and to see only the flowers on one, is so sad. To know that with this person, the memory of where his father is, goes with him, is hard to understand in today’s world. But of the one-hundred eleven known burials in Sage Chapel Cemetery, of which at least seventeen were born as slaves, there are only thirty-five graves marked. And some of those are only marked by flowers and a memory.

Back a few years ago though, that began to change. A small group of O’Fallon residents took notice of this place, where the grass was high, and some people did not even realize there was a cemetery. At first the group was small, but they worked to make a change. They involved the community whose ancestors were buried there.The City began to cut the grass and it looked better. Someone bought hundreds of flowers at Dollar General and asked their friends for help in spreading them across the cemetery. Another did research and dug into the family histories of those that were buried there. They talked to their friends at the V.F.W. Post 5077, the neighbors to the east. Word spread and the city featured the story on the local TV channel. An Eagle Scout project brought a bright new sign trying to ensure that everyone in O’Fallon recognized that this was Sage Chapel Cemetery and this is a very special place.

In the past year, there were many more great things that happened at Sage Chapel Cemetery. There was a wonderful new stone placed on a World War I veteran, obtained by Post 5077 to replace the former headstone which was cracked and broken. When trees were blown down, the City was quick to take care and mend fences. Volunteers donated fertilizer and grass seed, and worked to spread that love. Other volunteers helped clean and clear brush. Another spent time searching with a metal detector hoping to find remnants of the old metal funeral home signs. Other volunteers catalogued and photographed, did research in deeds, newspapers and death certificate files. Others surveyed the cemetery carefully recording the names. Volunteers came together to carefully prod in search of any headstones that may have fallen over the years, hoping to find more markers. Flowers were planted at grave sites and under the sign. And there was even more love given to this very special place. And a community began to come together, with a common bond.

Because our color does not matter when we are united under the common bond of our love for family. Our love for our ancestors crosses that boundary, and is shared, whether we are black or white. Love for our family – and a connection to our ancestors – transcends all of that. We can each understand each others need to have a place such as Sage Chapel Cemetery. A place filled with the love even though it may not look like a cemetery, because that is what makes it such a special place. A place where one can say “that’s my family” and share that love with their family and friends.

To the many friends – both old and new – of Sage Chapel Cemetery there is a very big Thank You for everything everyone has done this past year. You know who you are. Everyone is so grateful, and appreciates the community involvement. We are looking forward to 2018 and a wonderful new Chapter, and invite you to visit for yourself, this very special place. We are ending 2017 grateful for the many blessings that Sage has had this year, and looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful 2018.

 

 

Sage Chapel Cemetery

Sage Chapel Cemetery is a very special place. More than just a cemetery, it is a place of peace and solace, and the final resting place for the African-American community of O’Fallon, Missouri. For so many it is the only place that they can speak of as “home” and “family” and “my ancestors”. Many of these family members lie in an unmarked grave, where the location is one only known to “Aunt Phyllis” or “Cousin Mary”. And to walk this ground and hear “this is my mother’s grave” and this is where my father is, and to see only the flowers on one, is so sad. To know that with this person, the memory of where his father is, goes with him, is hard to understand in today’s world. But of the one-hundred eleven known burials in Sage Chapel Cemetery, of which at least seventeen were born as slaves, there…

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Clio

Bertha Krekel

Born in O’Fallon, on December 25, 1859, she was the second child of O’Fallon’s founder Nicholas Krekel who had founded the town on August 6, 1856. Her father had been born Berthain Germany on August 30, 1825 and had emigrated with his family at the age of seven. His father had brought his family to America in 1832. Nicholas purchased the land where he would build a home for his wife, and live together after their marriage on August 15, 1857. By the time Bertha was born, O’Fallon had its’ own Post Office and Train Depot, which her father managed.

Bertha spent her entire life in that same house on Main Street (today’s Cleo Bridal Shop) where she would be surrounded by her family and in the center of the community. She and her father were very close. Her sister Mary would marry William Westhoff on October 13, 1892 and after their father’s death on February 6, 1910 Bertha would continue to live in what became William and Mary’s home, the Westhoff place.  A real hub of the community, it was just across the street from the Westhoff Mercantile (today’s McGurks). There the young lady, who never married, took a liking to writing about the bustling town’s events, and wrote about the daily life and its’ eventual history. As the City had a newspaper, and her uncle Arnold Krekel was also involved with two of St. Charles’ newspapers, there was an easy outlet for the young muse’s talents. She wrote under a pen name, which was a custom at that time – of Clio – the muse of history, who inspired the development of liberal and fine arts in ancient Greece.

From the newspaper clippings of Bertha Krekel’s that bring the history of O’Fallon to life.

June 1912  History of O’Fallon

This was written by Miss Hortense Keithly and read at the graduating exercise of the O’Fallon High School.

When the railroad came through this portion of the country O’Fallon began its growth as a town. Previous to that event, Cottleville and Flint Hill, with the exception of St. Charles had been the most rapidly growing towns in this county.

The country surrounding the site of the present town was occupied by a a few very small trading places among which was Wellsburgen the Salt River Road, about 2 ½ mile south of the present site of St. Paul. It consisted of two buildings, one of which was occupied by a saloon, store, post office and a residence. The other contained a blacksmith shop. There was another store also on the Salt River Road, where Mrs. Anton F. Orf now lives, about ½ mile west of Audrain Bridge, where Dardenne is now situated, there stood a shop which contained what was know as Nailer’s Store.

While Cottleville and Flint Hill were increasing in size, the site of O’Fallon was covered with timber, excepting a small area where the convent now stands and a plot surrounding the only house in the near vicinity. This house stood on the south side of the railroad and east of Main Street, just back of where Talleur’s baker shop and Ahren’s saloon are at present. It was occupied and owned by Mr. Henry Ernst. One of the most interesting and peculiar facts known concerning the physical features of the area occupied by the town, is that at the time Mr. Ernst lived here there was a spring near his residence. The portion of the country on the north side of where the railroad now is and easrt [sic] of Main Street was owned by Mr. Joseph Boegel; that on the same side of the railroad track, west of Main Street, belonged to Mr. Arnold Krekel.

The part on the south side of the railroad track and est of Main Street was the property of Mr. Henry Ernst and the remaining portion was owned by Mr. Joseph Trevy.

The North Missouri Railroad now known as the Wasbash was located in 1855. It was completed as far as Peruque Bridge in 1858 and the first train was run over the road as far as the bridge in the summer of that year.

During the year 1855, Arnold Krekel, who was a prominent St. Charles County Attorney, who later became a United States Judge for the West Division of Missouri, laid out the original town of O’Fallon on the north side of the railroad and west of the north projection of Main Street.

The town was named for John J. O’Fallon, a prominent business man of the city of St. Louis at that time. In 1856 Nicholas Krekel, the brother of Arnold Krekel built the first house and did the first business as a merchant and Post-master in the town and was also the first agent for the railroad here. Also about this time, Mr. McIntosh built a one story house where Mr. Peter Saali’s hotel stands at present. A few years later this property was bought by Love and Callaway who built part of the house and saloon, where the residence of Henry Ahrens is at present.

In 1858 Ward & Ward [edited by crossing out] built a store just north of where the Werner Millinery Store stands. In 1854 Dr Woods built the residence owned by Mr Charley Himmelsbach. Later Dr. W.C. Williams bought the house built by Dr. Woods. He used it as his residence until he built the residence now owned by Mrs. Susie Johns. It was Dr. W.C. Williams and Dr. J. C. Edwards who bought the property previously owned by Mr. Henry Ernst and platted the part of the town of O’Fallon that lies east of Main Street and south of the Railroad.They presented the lot now now occupied by the Westhoff Grain & Mercantile Co. building to Mr. rufus Gamble on the condition tha eh build a brick house upon it. It was the first brick house in the town. The ground floor was used as a store; the second floor as a Masonic Lodge Room. The house is now a part of the Westhoff Grain & Mercantile Co.

Nicholas KrekelWhen O’Fallon was first settled there was no public road leading to or from the town. There were simply private or by-roads. For many years the road ran in front of Mr. Krekel’s business place which is now owned and occupied by Mr. Wm. Westhoff crossed the railroad west of where the present depot now stands, came into what is now Main Street in front of where Ward & Ward’s Store stood. It faced north, and ran south-westerly across what are now fields to the Mexico Road, where Woodlawn now stands. Main Street is now a part of the public road which is now a part of the public road which was afterwards located extending north to the Salt River Road and south to the Mexico Road.

 

This is from a book of newspaper clippings kept by the Krekel family. Bertha must have been quite the historian, as she took it upon herself to freely editorialize facts published by Miss Keithly, and are what are shared in this story. Otherwise, it is exactly the way it was published in June of 1912, and shares quite a bit of history by someone whose family played a prominent role. You will find more about the Krekel Family on this blog.

Note: The Wm Westhoff home is today’s Cleo Bridal Shop, and the Westhoff Grain & Mercantile is McGurks Restaurant. For more about the other locations you can visit the O’Fallon Historical Society’s new website or follow the O’Fallon Historical Preservation Commission on Facebook.