Tag Archives: Intrepid Researcher Tom™

Guest Blog: Writing the Book on Campbell House

This week we’re handing the reins over to guest blogger Dylan McCartney, a Graduate Research Assistant working with us from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Take it away, Dylan!

When I arrived at the Campbell House in August, I knew very little about Robert Campbell, Virginia Campbell, or St. Louis. I didn’t even call St. Louis home. As a graduate student in the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Museum Studies program, the Campbell House is where I will complete a two-year assistantship. And so, since I knew nothing about the Campbells, I was naturally asked to write up the definitive document about them.

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Specifically, it is a new, updated Docent Guidebook. If a docent leads visitors through the house on tours and relates the story of the family and house, then the Docent Guidebook does the same for docents. It is not a script, because the thing that makes a tour of the Campbell House great is that every docent builds their own tour. Instead, the guidebook provides a massive amount of information, too much to possibly fit on a single tour. The thing our docents do best is to internalize the information, relate the most important points, the things they find interesting, and the things the guest finds interesting.

To write the Docent Guidebook, I have spent the better part of five or so months diving deep into the Campbell House archives. I’ve read letters by the Campbells, poured through their receipt books, hunted down newspapers, and worked with the Campbell House Museum’s researcher, Tom Gronski. I researched the objects, the rooms, and even the history of the Museum itself. And, of course, I chatted with the docents, to see what they wanted out of a new guidebook.

touring visitors

Campbell House Docent Tom Keay leads a tour in the Master Bedroom

A new guidebook was needed because a lot of things had changed since the old one. For instance, when the old one was written, the collections hadn’t even been returned to the house after our major restoration was finished! We’re also learning more and more about the Campbells every day. Before this past summer, we didn’t know about a special cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry hallway. We only recently discovered the names of the Campbell House’s architects. And, until a couple of years ago, we weren’t even sure if the Campbells were slaveowners.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: Dylan's pride and joy and the product of many many hours of hard work and research.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: the product of many hours of research and hard work by Dylan!

A new Docent Guidebook also allowed us to correct any myths that have arisen over the years. As with anything dependent upon oral discourse, a comment made twenty years ago by one person can slowly morph into accepted fact. For instance, many visitors have been informed that Virginia Campbell spent $40,000 on the furniture in 1855. In truth, it’s impossible to tell from our archives the exact amount spent, although it is in the tens of thousands. It is also clear that Robert was buying furniture right there with her. The irony of these myths is that it obscures a wonderful story: that Robert and Virginia purchased their furniture half a continent away and shipped it all via train and boat to St. Louis. Robert was even purchasing carpeting and draperies from St. Louis by sending his brother Hugh the dimensions of the rooms!

The result of all this work is 120 pages of thoroughly sourced information about the Campbells, St. Louis, the house, and nearly anything else that we could think of. This document will serve as the go-to source for new docents, interns, researchers, and anyone else looking for a broad yet detailed summary of the Campbell’s story. So if you thought our docents were already great, come take another tour to see how we’ve managed to get even better!

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New Campbell House Courier: Hot off the Press!

Dining, discoveries, mysterious donors and new directions! Click below to read more about what the Campbell House crew has been up to so far in 2014, friends to whom we’ve said farewell, and some of the exciting projects and programs we have coming up in the latest edition of CHM’s seasonal newsletter.

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New Campbell House Courier! Click to read/download the newest edition of CHM’s seasonal newsletter.

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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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