Tag Archives: Lucy Ann Kyle

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.”


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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This Week in History: August 10

In honor of the dwindling days of the lazy summer, this week we’ve posted a letter from Lucy to her son-in-law Robert where she chastens him to get out of the office and take a vacation with the family.  Lucy also expresses her hopes that Robert and Virginia will take in Virginia’s sister Eleanor over the winter because she’s had a rough go of it lately.  Poor thing is married to Walter Otey, a slave trader, and Lucy dislikes him so much she has in other letters called him a “Demon clothed in human flesh.”  Yikes.


Covington Aug 10th
My ever attentive & thoughtful son,
Was it not for you I should not yet know whether Via & the  children ever arrived in Pha or anything about their movements since, I am glad to hear they are so pleasantly  situated & truly sorry to hear you were compelled to leave them & return to St. Louis to be still confined to business, as soon as you get the Graders & boats off, can’t you return to them for  several weeks & take a little recreation to yourself, I am sure  you have not had much, to have gotten through your fall purchases so early, I judge one year by another, last year if I remember  right you went on somewhere about the first week in August, now  you return about this time having completed your business there  so by this way of reasoning, I think

[Pg. Break] after you get the Boats off, you might take a little  time for yourself & all to return together the 1st of Sept.  I  know you will say Mrs. Kyle is a poor judge about my business, &  like other ladies think they know a good deal when they know  nothing about it.  Well I concluded before I left Brighton that  you would not return until you brought all back with you, at  least I thought it very doubtful, so I concluded to come right  off to Covington, as I am much happier here every way, I am with  those who are very near & dear to me & who take pleasure in any  way in their power to promote my comfort & pleasure, if I could  have boarded in the same family with brother George & where  sister E. boarded  in the winter, I might have remained in  Brighton, but as I knew they did not wish to take boarders I did  not apply to them.  The house I was at had no blinds too.

[Pg. Break] They had only shades to any part of it, it was so  light is was very severe on my eyes & the room I had was so very  warm at night & a feather bed too, the straw bed was too hard, so I thought there was no use in my staying there any longer I  liked the family  very well & they kept a good table & I was as  polite & attentive to me as possible, if I had been certain of  your return I would have remained & met you in St. Louis & it  would have given me great pleasure to have it in my power to be  in the degree serviceable to you, I suppose now we  shall all meet sometime next month I am truly delighted poor Eleanor is with Via & all our other friends, she has had more  trials to bear since her marriage than anyone I ever knew.  I am  glad she is where she can enjoy some good society & see something of the world, besides that of seeing her sister & cousins,

[Pg. Break] I hope you & Vial will invite her to accompany you  home & do what you can to make her enjoy herself this winter, I  have thought perhaps she would place Bettie at Boarding school in Pha I think she and Via might write to me. The dear children how often I think of them particularly sweet little Hazlett I know  Eleanor is devoted to them all she is so fond of children in fact I suppose both he & the baby are so much [?]_______ I don’t see  how they stand it everybody must have a play with them.  I suppose Hazlett is the greatest favorite of all the children with your  Brother and all, Please give my love to cousin David I suppose  you find him good company in the evening say to him that brother  Thomas received the Box of things & says they were all  satisfactory which I was glad to hear he wrote to me from Niagara sister Amelia sends her love to you & cousin David with a great  deal of love I remain now
and ever your affectionate
Mother in law
LA Kyle

[Pg. Break, side of 1st page] Remember me kindly to the  Mackensies’ Woods’ Allens’ and Mr. Yeatman if enquired after by  them.

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This week in history: February 15-February 20

Over the past few months, we’ve posted letters from Robert and Virginia Campbell’s initial courtship:

January 1, 1837 – William Sublette tells Hugh Campbell what he thinks of the “coquette” Robert has fallen for

October 8, 1838 – Robert Campbell professes his undying love for Virginia Jane Kyle

January 14, 1838 – Lucy Ann Kyle refused Robert Campbell’s request to marry 16 year old Virginia

December 18, 1840 – Lucy Ann Kyle consents to have Robert marry Virginia

February 14, 1840 – Robert writes to his fiance of her soon being his “manager”

Today we post a letter from Virginia’s aunt and uncle Jim and Ann Winston to Lucy Ann Kyle, talking about their surprise at Virginia’s intent to marry.  They remind Lucy that Virginia promised (and they have proof in black and white) to come visit them before she married.  Seems these two were a little behind on the news of their niece!

Robert and Virginia were married February 25, 1841 – 169 years ago next Thursday.  Happy anniversary from Campbell House Museum!


[Front Cover]
Mrs. Lucy A Kyle

Richmond February 18, 1841

Dear Sister,
I received your very interesting letter and was very much  surprised to hear of Virginia’s sudden determination and all feel very much disappointed in not having more of her company and her Uncle says he can’t consent to her marriage until she fulfills  all her engagements, indeed I have kept up my spirits with the   anticipation of her spending some time with us and supplying the   place of Ann and know not how we shall be able to get over it   unless they will come by and pay us a bridal visit which I hope   they will certainly do.  Cornelia had a real cry about it last   night.

I hope you will excuse our not going on to the wedding as the   road is a long one and bad for traveling.  Give my love to cousin  Virginia and say to her I can’t consent for Cornelia to be   bridesmaid, that I was very much opposed to her being bridesmaid   for Ann but Ann would have her way, that she is not old enough,   that I can’t think of turning her out yet, that I Had as well   take her from school at once as to send her that far to a wedding and for her to be bridesmaid too.  Mother sends love to V. and   says she has shown her first love is the best and is very   anxious to go on and Jeanna also very anxious,

[Pg. Break] we are all anxious to see you all but that is not   practicable therefore I hope you will all come here to see us.   Give my respects to Mr. Camel [Campbell] and say we would be very much pleased to see him here, that he must certainly bring   Virginia through Richmond and come directly to our house and stay with us at least a week or longer if they can make it   convenient, and thee must come with them.

I can very easily imagine [spelled immagin] thy feelings at this  time  altho they may be willing and anxious yet I know thee is in the greatest distress at parting with a lovely Daughter and  companion in your lonely hours. Give my love to Amelia.,  I truly sympathize with her in her distresses. I hope she will bear with Christian fortitude the different changes of this changeable  world, it is truly unfortunate but I hope it will be for the best wing up and being a new, love to all
Ann R. Winston.

Dear Sister
I endorse the above.  Tell, cousin Virginia, she promised  us (& I have it in Black & White) to visit us before she got  married & I require the full performance of her “bond.”

We were thunderstruck, with astonishment, to find that she was in Raleigh – our disappointment

[Pg. Break, top of front cover] is uncomfortable.  We have been  for some time in daily anticipation of her in our house.

Please remember us most affectionately to Bro. Simpson and sister Amelia.  My heart bleeds for these & for their little ones.  My  relations

[Section Break, bottom front cover] may (after May 1820) and no  doubt often have thought us, cold, selfish, & unkind.  But not so sir, my wife (the best in the round world) knew for many years  the depths of my woe’s.

I had a work before us, that, did not allow me, to, loiter, in  this way & consequently, I had to look first &

[Pg. Break, top inside cover] exclusively, to the welfare of my  wife and children.  I determined to appropriate my undivided time & I knew I had not a moment to spare, first to them.  They had  no other define device, and now it is no better – my cares and  thee demand on my time, & exertions, and unable.  I have grown  children to aid instead of infants, added to little helpless

[Section Break, bottom inside cover] grandchildren.  But for this of course, my family would have fallen into irretrievable  disgrace.  Very few seen have had to contend, with, the odds I  have.  Look at Doct C’s situation under a course, differing  radically from mine.  I do not cannot  boast for I am not out of  the woods.

Affy my sister, Jim Winston

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