Tag Archives: Walter Otey

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: December 4

This week, Virginia receives a letter from her brother-in-law, Walter Otey.  Walter is married to Virginia’s sister Eleanor (referred to as “Ellen” in this letter), and he not a very popular member of the Campbell or Kyle families.  Virginia and Eleanor’s mother, Lucy, has referred to him in a letter as a “Demon clothed in human flesh,” as much for his personality as his occupation as a slave trader. Take a look at this letter — what do you think of Walter?


Raleigh N.C. Dec 7

Mrs. Robert Campbell

Saint Louis, Missouri

Raleigh N.C.

Sunday Dec. 4 1841

My dear Mrs. Campbell

My dear Sister Virginia,

Your letter dated the 18th Novr is to hand and find us all in the enjoyment of good health after offering you our congratulations on your reported health and prosperity and future prospects of consolations – I will pass on and endeavor to detail to you some of the passing events of your native region – However I must first inform you that I wrote to your good man Mr. C. some days ago and informed him the whys and wherefores I had not written sooner and thus he has read that letter; – In consequence of a press of business – I have curtailed the list of my correspondents and only write occasionally to a few of my most particular friends. Therefore when you receive an occasional scrawl from me it may be regarded as a compliment; – I am like your husband.  I have an expensive wife and must make something to support her on – and in a few more months shall have an expensive daughter if she should pattern after her mother; But I hope she will be half Otey – half Kyle – and the “balance Winston” – and I think she will pass inspection among the most fastidious.

Raleigh Capitol, built in 1840. Photo circa 1861.

I must give you a short sketch of her Biography – It is a fact she is a most remarkable Child – and this is quite observable to all who visit us or have seen her – she cries but seldom – never I think – unless hungry or in pain – she is very hearty and healthy – she will be 4 mo. old the 15th of this month – and she now takes so much notice; plays and laughs so loud as to be heard all over our house.  She can stand alone by the back of a chair – she has fair skin – my deep blue eyes – very regular and handsome features; and in general symmetry unsurpassed.  Thus you see it will be complimenting you very highly to say we think she will be more like you than her Mother – I wish very much you could see her – I am going to have her miniature taken by an artist now in our city – who is said to be admirable on such executions – Well I suppose you have heard enough of Francis Elizabeth or so Ellen calls her – and I must let you know something of our movements and arrangements – I expected to have been on my way West before this some weeks – but have been detained by business – I want to break up housekeeping – and leave Ellen in Va with my relatives – until I return in the Spring – then she could spend the summer in Va and we would go west in the fall if I should be pleased and make a location – I should be in the West Janry Feby and March – back Va in April spend the summer partly – been settling up small matters and we could take our time in traveling out in the fall – I should not be satisfied to leave Ellen here during my absence.

There is not a pleasant Boarding House in the place for Ladies as you are aware – and to remain and keep house alone, she could not.  This is a most distressing situation I am placed in at all times about leaving home – and this is one particular reason I have in being so desirous to change my place of residence and if I am not pleased with the West I shall purchase a place in Va.  I wish you could prevail on Mr. C to quit the Town life and let us purchase two farms near each other – so that you and Ellen could be together – We have a plenty for this life – and had we all we wanted – we can’t carry away any with us – when we pay the last debt here; – There is nothing that would conduce so much to my peace and happiness I believe – and that of us all I think.

Ellen says she intends writing to you soon – you know she does not write often to anyone – and I am unwilling to believe it occurs from the want of affection – because when we have been separated for some weeks – she did not write to me – who has the greater claim on her affections and attentions “entre vous”? – Indeed she talks so much about “Sister” that I have almost to scold her sometimes – and tell her Va does not think so much of her – But her reply is – Sister loves me better than any one in the world – But you must act satisfied that we both appreciate your peculiar kindness and alacrity as a correspondent – I should write to you oftener but for your well known punctilio in orthography -etymology – syntax and prosody – But I have well neigh filled this sheet of Foolscap without writing you any “foolery” – The reason it is called Foolscap I s’pose it suits best for fools to write on;

Well have you heard that Doctor McKee and Susan Battle are about to make a match of it such is the report?

The Doctor is doing well and is destined to stand at the head of the profession here – I believe I wrote same in Mr. C. letter that Mr. Collier and Miss Ann Hughes were to be married on next Wednesday night – His brother George was married last Wednesday night to a Miss Oliver in Newbern – they are to be here – and the Hughes are making grand preparations for the wedding – I understand Miss Mary Smith has discarded Doct. Smith – Miss Emma has no captive at this time – Miss Manly without a beau – Miss McWilliams is doing her prettiest to captivate all – she flies high and sights low.  I heard a Billiard Room talk about her the other day (entre vous) not so respectful – among the Young Men: – Allen Jones has been hanging around Susan Polk all to no purpose.  The other girls are on their own resting.  Beaus are as scarce as money in this place.  Mrs. Haylander is staying with us now and desires me to send her best love to you, and says she wishes she could be with you in your troubles; that Mr. Campbell must bring you and leave you in Raleigh; and I think so too!

I am sorry Mr. C. will be from home at the time I shall be in St. Louis – I will write you or him on my route.  Ellen joins me in love to you and Mr. C. and believe me your truly attached brother W. L. Otey

I would write more but you see my paper is exhausted.

Give our respects to Doct. McPheeters – I saw his Father in the streets 3 days ago – walking about.


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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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