Category Archives: Campbell

Slavery: A Complicated Story

A story central to the history of the Campbell House and the City of St. Louis, especially as we recognize the historical contributions of African Americans during Black History Month, is that of slavery. Enslaved people served a variety of purposes in St. Louis homes, ranging from caring for babies to cooking and cleaning to working in fields on the city’s outskirts. Research over the past several years has revealed that Robert Campbell owned at least five slaves over a period of 16 years in the 1840s and 50s. The story of slavery at the Campbell House is a tricky one—there are a lot of unanswered questions, unclear records, and gaps in documentation. Here’s what we know:

  • Lucy Kyle

    Virginia’s mother Lucy Kyle, an ardent abolitionist and, for a short time, slave owner.

    1833: Virginia Campbell’s father, Hazlett Kyle, who had been a merchant and slaveholder in Raleigh, North Carolina, died when Virginia was 11 years old. He left an estate (which included his enslaved property) to be held for her until her 21st birthday.

  • 1841: There is no evidence that Robert Campbell owned slaves before his marriage to 19 year old Virginia in 1841, at which point the entirety of her inherited property became vested to her new husband. Three enslaved people were transferred to Robert, three to Virginia’s mother Lucy and two to Walter Otey, the husband of Virginia’s sister Eleanor. Lucy Kyle, who had been raised a Quaker, emancipated her slaves. Walter Otey, a slave trader and plantation owner himself, worked one of the slaves his wife had inherited and sold the other. Robert and Virginia brought their three slaves, each a child under the age of 12, to St. Louis with them the following year.
  • African American woman with her charge

    Enslaved African American woman with her charge, identities unknown. Enslaved women like Caroline and Eliza were often assigned the task of caring for a family’s young children. Unfortunately, there are no known images of any of the five individuals owned by the Campbell family.

    1842-45: The names of these enslaved children pop up periodically in family correspondence:  Caroline, described once as being “just at an age now to be contaminated by hiring her out”, Simeon, who appears to have been the oldest of the three and was hired out to work elsewhere by the Campbells, and a young boy named Hazlett, no doubt after the Kyle family patriarch. “Hazy” as he is referred to, was hired out by Robert to help another family with a newborn baby, “just that he may be learning something”. By 1842 Caroline and Simeon (the two oldest) had been hired out to work on a farm in Sulphur Springs owned by Robert’s longtime business partner William Sublette. Young Hazy was kept with the Campbell family to lend a hand with newborn James Campbell, his primary job being “to keep off the flies” from the infant.

  • 1845-49: At this point, the trail becomes tough to follow. We lose track of Caroline around 1845, when there are no female slaves listed in city records for the Campbell family. Four years later in 1849, the same thing happens when Simeon and Hazlett disappear from the record.
  • 1854-57: When the Campbells move into their Lucas Place home (today the Campbell House Museum) in 1854, there was just one enslaved person in the household—a young woman named Eliza. It is believed that Eliza helped to care for the Campbell children and may have come into Robert’s possession as early as 1845 (though this is not entirely clear). In January 1857, Robert Campbell emancipated Eliza and her two young children. The document reads:

“Robert Campbell, who is personally known to the court, comes into open court and acknowledges the execution by him of Deed of Emancipation to his negro woman Eliza, aged about twenty five years, of copper or mulatto complexion, together with her two children, to wit: Aleck, a boy aged about two years and a half, and an infant son born in October last, name not known, both of which children of the same complexion with the said Eliza.” See image below.

Document emancipating Eliza and her two children, 1857. Click to view larger.

Document emancipating Eliza and her two children, 1857. (Click to view larger.)

Why, you might ask, did Robert emancipate Eliza a full seven years before Missouri would abolish slavery in 1864? That’s an excellent question and, to be honest, we don’t have an answer. We do have some ideas though.

  • Hazlett Campbell I

    Hazlett Campbell (died 1856 at age 3). Eliza was his primary caregiver and likely very close to the child.

    Eliza had two children by this point, for which Robert Campbell was financially responsible by default. This also would have been a significant draw on Eliza’s time, since she was now caring for the Campbell family’s brood as well as her own.

  • The first Hazlett Campbell had died in November 1856 and Eliza was emancipated just two months later. Our impression from family letters is that Eliza was the primary caregiver to the child. His death may have eliminated a pressing need to have her around the house. It also is likely that Eliza would have taken the death of a baby to whom she was so close particularly hard.
  • At some point around the time of Eliza’s emancipation, Virginia’s mother Lucy arrived in St. Louis and took up residence with her daughter and son-in-law. Like we mentioned above, Lucy was anti-slavery and may have pressured Robert toward emancipation. It’s also a possibility that Robert didn’t want to offend his mother-in-law by having an enslaved person in the house.
  • Perhaps the most interesting tidbit we’ve found comes from a diary written by a family friend after a visit to the Campbell House in 1858. Sarah Lindsey, visiting Lucy Kyle, writes that:

“At one time they held a few slaves but Virginia Campbell not liking the system, nor the care of the young Negroes, they were set free. Their servants at the present time are Swiss, German and Irish.”

ElizaFreedomBond

Freedom Bond signed by Robert Campbell in the amount of $500 to vouch for Eliza’s character after her emancipation. Should Eliza have been arrested or in a legal pinch as a freed African American in slave-holding Missouri, Robert would have been called upon to pay up. (Click to view larger.)

While we would like to say that the Campbells freed their slaves due to their strong abolitionist beliefs, this probably isn’t the case. Though we do have on reference that Mrs. Campbell didn’t like “the system” of slavery, we can’t discount the difficulties that must have been faced in caring for a young unmarried mother with two very young children, especially in a house that had already lost seven children of their own. However, we also can’t ignore the fact that the Campbells kept up a close personal relationship with Eliza after she was freed. After Virginia’s death in 1882, Eliza was left a gift of $100 (no small change in those days) and son Hugh Campbell lent her an additional $100 a year later when she and her family moved to Kansas City. We also have a letter dated 1918 from an elderly Eliza (she would’ve easily been 80+ years old at that point) to Hugh in which she says hello and thanks him for a Christmas gift he’d sent.

Needless to say, the story of slavery at the Campbell House is complex, with new information emerging every day as our team of volunteers and researchers continues to dig through the tens of thousands of pages of historic documents left behind by the Campbell family. It’s a complicated story, but it’s one that has to be told. To ignore the unseemly portions of our city’s history and and the lives of its most oppressed and unrecognized citizens would certainly make talking about history a whole lot easier, but it definitely wouldn’t be right.

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National Handwriting Day

We dove into the archives and pulled out James and Hugh Campbell’s childhood penmanship schoolbooks in honor of National Handwriting Day! These books are part of the large collection of historic family documents housed at the Campbell House Museum.

Click the images below to see some snazzy old school penmanship.

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Thanksgiving… on Christmas?

Harpers Thanksgiving cropped

“Who said anything about Thanksgiving Dinner?” Harper’s Weekly: November 26, 1881 (click to enlarge).

Last week we posted about the bizarre timing of early American Thanksgiving celebrations (i.e. sitting down to a turkey feast in June or July) and how, even into the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was no standard date to celebrate the holiday in the United States.

Until Lincoln issued his national proclamation in 1863, it was the responsibility of governors to determine the date of Thanksgiving in their respective states. We did some combing back through Missouri’s history and matched up MO’s Thanksgiving dates with significant dates in the lives of the Campbells. Here’s what we came up with – the date of that year’s Thanksgiving day is listed, followed by a note about what the Campbells had going on that week.

November 29, 1844 (Last Thursday in November): Robert Campbell Jr. died two days earlier on November 27 of the measles. He was two years and eight months old.

December 25, 1845 (yep. They had Thanksgiving on Christmas): The Campbells were living in their first St. Louis home by this point, an attached row house downtown. Today Ballpark Village sits in its place.

December 3, 1846 (First Thursday in December): Well, at least it wasn’t on Christmas day this year.

November 25, 1847 (Last Thursday in November): Virginia gave birth to Hugh Campbell, the third child to be given the name after the deaths of his two older brothers, ten days earlier on November 15. Hugh would be one of just three of the family’s children to see adulthood, managing the family estate after his parents’ deaths and dying at age 84 in 1931.

4c4261c8312dd.image

“The Great Fire of 1849″

1849 (Missouri records show no Thanksgiving proclamation issued this year, so either the Governor or the state archivists dropped the ball. Our best guess is that it was observed on the last Thursday of the month): The Campbells weren’t even in St. Louis that November. 1849 was a bad year to be in the city, there was a enormous fire that wiped out most of downtown (Robert and Virginia’s home escaped, but his office near the riverfront did not) as well as a terrible cholera epidemic (caused by unsanitary drinking water) that killed their eldest son James. The Campbells packed up and headed to Philadelphia for several months to escape, and Virginia gave birth to their daughter Mary in September of that year.

November 20, 1853 (Last Thursday in November): Hazlett Campbell was born three days later on November 23.

hazlett1

Hazlett Campbell (1853-1856). Another son named Hazlett would be born in 1858 and lived until 1938.

November 20, 1856 (Third Thursday in November): The same Hazlett Campbell dies on  his third birthday, three days after Thanksgiving on November 23.

December 31, 1857 (New Year’s Eve, Last Thursday in December): Grab your party hats and noisemakers, smooch that special someone, and shovel in a couple forkfulls of turkey and dressing to ring in the New Year.

November 26, 1863 (Last Thursday in November): Abraham Lincoln’s national Thanksgiving proclamation. Following his lead, Presidents would annually proclaim Thanksgiving dates until Congress passed a law in 1941. (read more about that in last week’s post)

As you can see, Thanksgivings were a mix of happy and sad times at the Campbell House (and often at wildly different times of the year). The family was rejoicing over births and concurrently celebrating other holidays like Christmas and the New Year. But they were also dealing with the deaths of their children, disease, and the dangerous conditions of city living in the 19th century. Count clean water, safe conditions and healthy children among your list of “things I’m thankful for” when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year!

thanksgiving

“Thanksgiving Dinner” Harper’s Weekly: December 5, 1857 (click to enlarge). Thanksgiving was on New Year’s Eve in Missouri this year.

 

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