Skip to Main Content

Archer Alexander

Primary and secondary sources about the life and legacy of Archer Alexander, who escaped enslavement in St. Louis in 1863.

About Archer Alexander

Photograph of Archer Alexander, circa 1870.  From the William Greenleaf Eliot Personal Papers, Series 7. Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections

Archer Alexander (1813 - 1879) escaped slavery and became a freedman in 1863.

Of African descent, he was born in the early 1800s in Virginia, and as a young man was relocated to Missouri when the family claiming ownership over him migrated to the St. Charles area.  There he married Louisa, and had at least two children.  During the Civil War, as Missouri remained a slave-owning state loyal to the Union,  Archer fled to the unionist stronghold of St. Louis where he met William Greenleaf Eliot, co-founder of Washington University.  Eliot helped Alexander secure legal protection from the Provost Marshal, and provided him employment working the grounds of the Eliot's home. 

After the Civil War, Eliot remained close friends with Alexander, and in the 1870s suggested he serve as the artistic inspiration for the Freedman's Memorial being planned for Washington D.C.

For decades, the only known information of Archer Alexander and his family was a brief biography published in the 1885, The Story of Archer Alexander, by William G. Eliot.   In the 21st century more historical work has emerged offering a clearer and more well rounded history of his life, including extensive genealogy work by Archer's decedents.  

In 2014, Washington University created a named professorship honoring Archer Alexander.  Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp is the inaugural faculty member to hold the Archer Alexander Distinguished Professor in the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.

(Photograph of Archer Alexander, circa 1870.  From the William Greenleaf Eliot Personal Papers, Series 7. Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections)

Primary sources online

The Story of Archer Alexander (book)

Written by William G. Eliot this slim book was published in 1885, after Archer Alexander's death.  Eliot relied mainly on his memory of events, and in multiple cases changed names and locations to offer a softened view of white citizens who held people in slavery, many of whom remained citizens of upright standing in the community when the book was published.  

Freedmen's Memorial

Aditional primary sources

Primary sources in original format. Contact each listed archive for more information regarding access:

Contemporary project and articles (popular and scholarly)

Further reading

Related guides