History of slavery in Missouri

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The history of large-scale slavery in the State of Missouri began in 1720, when a man named Philippe François Renault brought about 500 negro slaves from Saint-Domingue to work in lead mines near the Rivière des Pères, a river located in the present-day St. Louis and Jefferson counties. Prior to that date, slavery in Missouri under French colonial rule had been practiced on a much smaller scale, as compared to elsewhere in the French colonies.

The institution of slavery 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 the westward migration of slave-owning settlers into the area of present-day Missouri and Arkansas, then known as Upper Louisiana. The majority of slave owners in Missouri had moved from worn-out agricultural lands of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. However, the 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.

By 1860, only 36 counties in Missouri had 1,000 or more slaves, male slaves fetched a price of up to $1,300.[1] In the State Auditor's 1860 report, the total value of all slaves in Missouri was estimated at approximately US $44,181,912.

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 the female slave of another 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 an abolitionist newspaper, the Observer, in St. Louis, before being driven out by a mob. He fled across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois where he was later killed in an exchange of gunfire with a pro-slavery mob.

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.

On January 11, 1865, a state convention approved an ordinance abolishing slavery in Missouri by a vote of 60-4,[2] and later the same day, Governor Thomas C. Fletcher followed up with his own "Proclamation of Freedom."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved November 10, 2015. 
  2. ^ Missouri (1865). Journal of the Missouri state convention, held at the city of St. Louis January 6-April 10, 1865. St. Louis: Missouri Democrat. pp. 25–26. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Fletcher, Thomas C. (1865). Missouri's Jubilee. Jefferson City, MO: W. A. Curry, Public Printer. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 

External links[edit]