In the years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, well over two-hundred future field commanders in the war were stationed in Missouri. These soldiers included Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, James Longstreet, William T. Sherman, Braxton Bragg, and many others. They were trained and drilled on the parade ground of Jefferson Barracks Military Post located only a few miles south of St. Louis along the Mississippi River.
Slavery in Missouri, and the upper Mississippi River Valley, was quite different than the nature of slavery in the Deep South, but also had many similarities. Slavery was permitted in the Louisiana Territory under French control since the early 18th century, when trader Philippe Francois Renault brought 500 slaves to work in the lead mines. Just prior to 1800, one-third of St. Louis’ population were Native American or Black house servants. Once the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 from the French Empire, slave codes were immediately enacted in the Missouri region to suppress slaves’ abilities to revolt or assimilate with the white population. These slave codes prohibited and severely punished slaves for the use of weapons by slaves, protest and assembly, selling alcoholic beverages to fellow slaves, disobedience to masters, education, and sexual assault against a white female. These slave codes appeared in the Missouri State Constitution when the territory officially entered the Union.
When Missouri became the 24th state in the Union in 1821, migrants from the Upper South, such as Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina, poured into the new state to capitalize on the fertile land and invest in cheaper property. Slave owners brought their slaves west to Missouri, which uprooted their ties with surrounding African American communities in their former states. In the decades prior to the Civil War, Missouri was steadily growing in both population and its reliance upon the “peculiar institution.” In 1860, there were over 114,000 slaves in Missouri, equating to roughly 10% of the state’s population.  2,800 slaves were in western St. Louis County in 1860. Roughly 1,800 African Americans in St. Louis were free.  Continue reading “Slavery in Missouri at the Brink of War”