History of slavery in Missouri

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The history of slavery in Missouri began in 1720, when a man named Philippe Francois Renault brought about 500 negro slaves from Saint-Domingue to work in lead mines in the River des Peres area, located in the present-day St. Louis and Jefferson counties.

The institution only became prominent in the area following two major events: the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney (1793). This led to a mass movement of slave-owning proprietors to the area of present-day Missouri and Arkansas, then known as Upper Louisiana. However, the major spread of cotton cultivation was limited to the more southerly area, near the border with present-day Arkansas. Slavery in the other areas of Missouri was concentrated in other major crops and agricultural industries, such as tobacco, hemp, grain, and livestock. A number of slaves were hired out as stevedores, cabin boys, or deck hands for the ferries of the Mississippi River.

The majority of slave owners in Missouri came from the worn-out agricultural lands of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. By 1860, only 36 counties in Missouri had 1,000 or more slaves, Top male slaves fetched a price of $1,300 ($34,123 as of 2015),[1] and top female slaves brought about $1,000 ($26,248 as of 2015).[1] The value of all the slaves in Missouri was estimated by the State Auditor's 1860 report at approximately US $44,181,912 ($1,159,693,372 as of 2015).[1]

Slave codes[edit]

The territorial slave code was enacted in 1804, a year after the Louisiana Purchase, under which slaves were banned from the use of firearms, participation in unlawful assemblies, or selling alcoholic beverages to other slaves. It also severely punished slaves for participating in riots, insurrections, or disobedience of their masters. It also provided for punishment by mutilation of a slave who sexually assaulted a white woman; a white man who sexually assaulted a female slave was charged with trespassing upon her owner's property.

The code was retained by the State Constitution of 1820.

At the end of 1824, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law providing a process for enslaved persons to sue for freedom and have some protections in the process.

An 1825 law passed by the General Assembly declared Blacks as incompetent as witnesses in legal cases which involved Whites, and testimonies by black witnesses were automatically invalidated.

In 1847, an ordinance banning the education of blacks and mulattoes was enacted. Anyone caught teaching a black or mulatto person, whether enslaved or free, was to be fined $500 and serve six months in jail.


Elijah Lovejoy edited a controversial abolitionist newspaper, the Observer, in St. Louis, before being driven out by a mob. He fled across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois.

As one of the border states, Missouri was exempt from President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation decreeing the freedom of slaves in all territory then held by Confederate forces.

Governor Thomas C. Fletcher ended slavery in Missouri on January 11, 1865, by executive proclamation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.

External links[edit]