The Last Fugitive Slave

In the winter of 1863, Missouri was full of conflicts; not just between the Union and the Confederate sympathizers, but between those enslaved and their enslavers.  On a dark bitterly cold winter’s night, Richard Pitman’s enslaved man, Archer Alexander would find himself in the center of it all. He was visiting his wife Louisa, who lived at Naylor’s Store on the Boone’s Lick Road. Her enslaver James Naylor was holding a secret meeting in the back room with other area men; others that neighbors referred to as “secesh” and “haystacks”. He would overhear an alarming discussion about their plan to bring down the local railroad bridge over Peruque Creek, finishing off any unlucky survivors with the arms and ammunition they had stored in Captain Campbell’s icehouse.  But the story does not end there. Archer Alexander would risk everything; his life, and his family in order to stop them. That bridge was vital!  He took off at a run, headed to alert the men guarding the bridge about five miles away, at the blockhouse with Union troops under the command of Colonel Krekel. Archer Alexander would become a fugitive, joining others just like him who had established a contraband camp at the blockhouse. It wouldn’t be long though before the troops were under orders from above, and they had to leave.  One friend, known to be an abolitionist, who told them which direction to head and where they would find a ferry waiting; would help. Falling in with others seeking freedom, they all made their way south. But they would have to get past the Slave Patrol, who would be looking for them. In the middle of the night, while they made their way up from the ferry on the far side of the river, the slave catchers appeared out of nowhere. They were caught!

The Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress on September 15, of 1850 required that slaves be returned to their owners … by the federal government which was responsible for finding, returning, and trying escaped slaves. Section 6 reads…for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of the such claimant in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner, or by other satisfactory testimony, duly taken and certified by some court, magistrate, justice of the peace, or other legal officer authorized to administer an oath and take depositions under the laws of the State or Territory from which such person owing service or labor may have escaped…

“In 1998, legislation titled the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998 was passed, creating the Network to Freedom program. This program honors, preserves and promotes the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight, which continues to inspire people worldwide. Through its mission, the Network to Freedom helps to advance the idea that all human beings embrace the right to self-determination and freedom from oppression. The program is a catalyst for innovation, partnerships, and scholarship connecting the diverse legacy of the Underground Railroad across boundaries and generations. The program consists of sites, programs, and facilities with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad. There are currently over 700 Network to Freedom locations in 39 states, plus Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” In St. Louis the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing is the first site to be listed, and today it is joined by the Old Courthouse (National Park Service) where hundreds, like Dred and Harriet Scott sought their freedom through Freedom Suits. To learn  more of Archer Alexander’s story see his blog

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