Enslaved People in Missouri
Slavery began in Missouri in 1720 when the region was still under Spanish control. When Missouri officially became a state as part of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 it joined as a slave state. By the time of the Civil War slaveholders made up less than 10 percent of the white families in the state. In addition, 9.7 percent of the state’s population was enslaved. Enslaved people were used in domestic service as well as agriculture and mining.
Historians have noted that “slavery in Missouri stood as an economic and social system.” Economically it was a way of making money, but it also determined the social status of the races. While often considered less harsh than slavery in the cotton states, slavery in Missouri was still very brutal. Betty Abernathy, enslaved in the 1860s, described how she lived, saying, “they was a number of poor little cabins fo’ us folks. Ours was one room, built of logs, an’ had a puncheon floor. ’Ole ‘Massa’ had a number of slaves but we didden’ have no school, ’ner church an’ mighty little merry-makin’. Mos’ly we went barefooted the year ’round.”
Brutal forms of punishment were employed against slaves. The most common was whipping, but slaves were also hanged and burned to death. Those who were enslaved in Missouri resisted their situation in a variety of ways. The most common was to run away. By 1860, it is estimated that 24,000 slaves escaped to freedom in Canada.
Enslaved People during the War
Slavery in Missouri during the Civil War was a complex matter. Most of the people in the state at the outset of the war were in favor of preserving slavery and keeping the country together. Because of this the Union army in Missouri tried to play a neutral role regarding slavery. The one exception to this was General John C. Frémont’s emancipation order, which did free the slaves of rebels in Missouri for a short time, but was quickly taken back.
As the war went on, views on slavery in Missouri evolved, much as they did in the rest of the country. In Missouri, like the other border states, the idea of emancipation was a hard fight. National laws like the First and Second Confiscation Acts allowed for the taking of enslaved people from those deemed disloyal. This policy was slowly implemented in Missouri. Eventually, Lincoln allowed for the recruiting of African American soldiers. It became clear that slavery would not survive the war.
In the election of 1862, politicians, such as Frank Blair, who argued for gradual emancipation and compensation for slave owners seemed most popular. Finally, by 1864, Radical Republicans like Charles Drake and B. Gratz Brown, who advocated uncompensated immediate emancipation, had taken control. This change can partially be explained by the test oath that banned most pro-slavery individuals from voting, but it can also be explained by Missourians tiring of war. Missourians had begun to feel that Radical Republicans were the best equipped to end the war. Despite the reason for their election, the Radicals pushed forward with their plans for emancipation.
On January 11, 1865, the delegates of the state convention led by Charles Drake passed the immediate emancipation of all enslaved persons in Missouri. The legal end of slavery, however, brought with it a host of new problems. Most white Missourians still feared equality for African Americans. Even the Radicals who emancipated the slaves in Missouri held anti-equality views.
Because of these feelings, the state convention did not give African Americans the right to vote. In addition, formerly enslaved people faced horrible conditions. Former slave owners sent slaves away with nothing, and a wave of refugees was created. Bushwhackers committed attacks on the newly freed slaves. So while African Americans had received freedom, the struggle for equality continued.
Radical Republicans - a wing of the Republican Party organized around an uncompromising opposition to slavery.
Slave state - Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Domestic service - tasks such as housecleaning, cooking, child care, gardening, and personal service.