Tag Archives: St. Louis

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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211 Years of Robert Campbell #happybirthdaybob

guess who's turning 211

It’s birthday time! (and also an excuse to photoshop a hat on Robert. It never gets old.)

This Thursday, February 12 marks the 211th birthday of our main man Robert Campbell. Born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1804, Robert rose from obscurity as one of millions of Irish immigrants to this country in the early 19th century to become one of the major players in the history of the American West as a mountain man, fur trader and entrepreneur. The City of St. Louis would  look much different today without his influence (heck, he was also a founding landowner in Kansas City, MO and El Paso, TX. This guy was all over the place).

This weekend we’re celebrating Robert’s big day with a half-price birthday bonanza at the Campbell House Museum. Adults are just $4 each. Seriously, folks. Four dollars. Still looking for a cheap, unique experience for you and your special someone on Valentine’s Day weekend? We’ve got you covered. We’ll be here from 10am-4pm on Friday and Saturday and 12-4pm on Sunday, February 13-15.

We’re looking forward to a fun, historically-inclined weekend and we hope you’ll join us to celebrate the life and legacy of one of St. Louis’ most important figures. Click here to join our event on Facebook… it’s going to be a blast!

Did you know…

Robert shares a birthday with Abraham Lincoln (born five years later in 1809), Charles Darwin (also 1809) and Judy Blume (1939)?

110 years after Robert was born, on February 12, 1914, the first stone of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was put into place.

138 years and 359 days after Robert was born, on February 6, 1943, the Campbell House Museum officially opened to the public.

159 years after Robert was born, on February 12, 1963, construction began on the Gateway Arch.

 

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Country Folk and City Slickers

We tend to focus on history within the boundaries of St. Louis City here on the blog, but St. Louis County residents rejoice! This one’s for you. Last year the Campbell House started a collaborative lecture series with the Historic Hanley House in Clayton, Missouri and we’re continuing the series next Wednesday.

LucasPlaceCOLOR

Top: Lucas Place neighborhood at the western edge of St. Louis City in mid-19th century. Bottom: Hanley House in St. Louis County around the same time period.

What makes a CHM/HH collaboration so neat is that, even though both houses are located in the midst of bustling urban centers today, back in the mid-19th century St. Louis City and County could not have been more different. The Campbells’ 1851 townhouse sat in the Lucas Place neighborhood at the very western edge of mid-19th century St. Louis City (today, it’s smack dab in the middle of town). The Hanley’s country farmhouse was considerably farther out, a full day’s journey from the city center (if that’s not living in the boonies, we don’t know what is). But despite this major difference, there are actually some interesting parallels between the Campbell and Hanley families and their homes. Here are just a few:

  • Our main man Robert Campbell was born in 1804 and died in 1879. Martin Hanley, namesake of the Hanley House, was born ten years after Robert in 1814 and also died in 1879.
  • Hanley House was built in 1855 in the Greek Revival style, imitating the grand plantation houses of the South. Campbell House was built four years earlier in 1851. It’s also considered a Greek Revival (as well as Early Victorian) style house because of the columns framing its front door and its roof-line ornamentation.
  • Martin Hanley and his wife Cyrene had 11 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Robert and Virginia Campbell had 13 children, 10 of whom died in childhood.
  • The Hanley family sided with the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Robert Campbell sided with the North as a Conditional Unionist, believing that the Union should be preserved with slavery intact. Both men were slave owners, and the Hanley family could be somewhat vocal about their secessionist views since  they lived far away from the city center. Robert had to tread more lightly, in some ways straddling the fence between Northern and Southern sympathies, in order to stay in good graces with his neighbors and political friends in the city.
  • Martin Hanley helped establish Clayton as the St. Louis County seat after the city/county split in 1876, donating four acres of his own land. Robert Campbell, in addition to owning large tracts of land in St. Louis City and County, was one of the founding landowners of Kansas City, MO and El Paso, TX.
  • The Hanley House was continuously occupied by members of the Hanley family from the time of its construction through 1968, when it was purchased by the City of Clayton and turned into a museum. The Campbell House was continuously occupied by members of the Campbell family from the time they moved in in 1854 through 1938 when the last Campbell son passed away, opening as museum shortly thereafter.

Click the images to enlarge

Pretty interesting, right? Well now that we’ve got you hooked, here’s our shameless plug. Join us a week from today, Wednesday January 28 at 7:00 p.m. at the Church of St. Michael & St. George in Clayton for a more in-depth discussion of the parallels between the city slicker Campbells and country folk Hanleys. Campbell House Executive Director Andy Hahn will be joining Hanley House Curator to discuss medical practices in urban vs. rural 19th century St. Louis (and perhaps offering clues as to why the Hanley children survived and so many of the Campbell kids did not). For more information, see below or call the Clayton Century Foundation at (314) 290-8553. We hope to see you there!

Treating the Sick in St. Louis City & County
Wednesday, January 28 at 7:00 p.m.
Church of St. Michael & St. George
(Great Hall)
6345 Wydown Blvd in Clayton, MO

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Would Robert have been a Royals fan?

robertroyals

We couldn’t resist. #madphotoshopskills

Even though St. Louis fell short of the World Series this year, the fact that our friends in Kansas City are doing so well brings an interesting question to light… would Robert Campbell have been (gasp!) a Royals fan?

Even though Robert lived the majority of his adult life in the city of St. Louis, he has significant ties to the KC area. Mr. Campbell began investing in real estate shortly after he retired from the fur trade in the late 1830s. Most of his property was scattered throughout the St. Louis area, ranging from his family’s Lucas Place home at what is today 1508 Locust Street downtown all the way out to a plot of land that would eventually become Creve Coeur Park. But a lesser-known fact about our buddy Rob is that he also played a crucially important role in establishing what is today the bustling metropolis of Kansas City, Missouri.

Robert actually owned 1/7 of Kansas City’s original town site, buying the land as early as 1841 and making him one of the city’s founding landlords. He then went on to sell the land to his nephew John Campbell, who would build the city’s first three-story brick warehouse, serve as an alderman and found the KC Fire Department. Without Robert Campbell, Kansas City would look very different today.

Robert, of course, died long before the Royals were running the bases, but it’s fun to think: would Robert Campbell have been a Royals fan? Quite possibly. But probably only if the Cardinals were out of contention.

kansas city

Kansas City has grown a bit since Robert’s purchase of part of the original town site in the 1840s.

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There’s More to the Story: Halloween at CHM

The Campbell monument at Bellefontaine Cemetery here in St. Louis. All 15 members of the immediate Campbell family are buried here (legend has it that two of their dogs are buried with them as well).

The Campbell monument at Bellefontaine Cemetery here in STL. All 15 members of the immediate Campbell family are buried here (legend has it that two of their dogs are buried with them too).

October is an interesting time of year for us here at CHM.

On one hand, it’s a blast. We get to put up black bunting around the House, carve pumpkins, we’ve been on TV and in print a few times, and we even get to dress up for our Halloween Night twilight tours. On the other hand, a certain seriousness accompanies the season, especially when it comes to talking about some of the darker chapters of the Campbell family’s time in St. Louis. Though the Campbells certainly lived pretty well and had some beautiful things, this time of year brings into sharp focus the fact that having wealth didn’t necessarily make you immune to  tragedy. Ten of Robert and Virginia’s 13 children died before their eighth birthdays, eight boys and two girls. To put this in perspective,the mortality rate for white children in St. Louis in the 1850s was around 21%. The Campbells were pushing 76%.

Of the three sons to survive into adulthood, one died tragically at the age of 30 (James) and the other two lived increasingly reclusive and peculiar lives (Hugh and Hazlett). Hazlett suffered from debilitating mental illness as he grew older and by the time both sons died in the 1930s, neither had married or had children of their own – the Campbell family line ended with no heirs, despite Robert and Virginia’s best efforts.

These are all sad stories, no doubt. But they’re stories that need telling. There was more to the Campbells’ lives than fancy parties and beautiful furnishings (though there certainly were and still are a bunch of those things in this house). Join us the rest of this month here on the blog and then in person on Halloween night as we unpack the darker chapters of death, disease and despair that were a big part of 19th century life at the Campbell House.

psychic party graphic

Psychic Party at the Campbell House! Click to enlarge.

Upcoming October Events:

Halloween Twilight Tours
Friday, October 31 at 6:30 sold out!, 7:00 and 7:30 p.m.
Advance reservations required, click here to buy tickets online.

Campbell House Psychic Party
Hosted by Mr. Tim Rohan, Vice President of the CHM Board of Directors
Yep, this is EXACTLY as cool as it sounds. Join us for a gourmet selection of wine, beer, an open bar and gourmet hors-doeurves. One of three psychics will provide you with your own private reading. Click here for more information on purchasing tickets.

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