A TimeLine (1720-1862) of African American History in Missouri

January 21, 2008

1720 Phillippe Francois Renault brought the first enslaved Africans to the lead mining districts of colonial Missouri.
1724 French King Louis XV issued an “Edict Concerning the Negro Slaves in Louisiana,” known as the “Black Code.” This code continued under the Spanish regime.
1769 Spanish Governor General Alejandro O’Reilly prohibited Indian slavery in Upper Louisiana; Africans continued to be enslaved. Legal issues arose as to the status of persons of mixed Indian and African ancestry.
1787 The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in territory north of the Ohio River. Many slaveowners in that area moved west of the Mississippi River into Spanish-controlled territory to avoid losing slaves
1789 Born a slave in Virginia (May 3), John Berry Meachum later became known for his work in St. Louis as an educator and abolitionist
1798 James P. Beckwourth, famous black fur trapper and mountain man, was born in Virginia. His family moved to the Louisiana Territory in 1809
1803 The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France (April 30), doubled the size of the United States. President Jefferson established a territorial government to govern the new lands
1804 The new territorial government enacted a series of laws known as the “Black Code” or “Slave Code.” These were largely based on Virginia’s slave code. The Missouri code made no distinction between slaves and other personal property
1807 The Louisiana Territory enacted legislation allowing persons wrongfully enslaved to sue for freedom (June 27)
1817 Free blacks living in the Missouri Territory were legislatively prohibited from traveling freely and from gathering in meetings due to white fear of rebellion.
1818 Missouri applied for admission to the union as a slave state.
1820 Missouri statehood became a national controversy as Congress debated the future status of slavery in the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. The “Missouri Compromise” allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, thus keeping the balance of slave and free states equal in Congress. Although Missouri was allowed to enter as a slave state, the remaining portion of the Louisiana Purchase area north of the 36° 30¢ line, Missouri’s southern border, was to be forever free of slavery.
1821 Missouri became the 24th state of the United States of America (August 10).
1821 The American Colonization Society founded the colony of Liberia in western Africa for freed slaves.
1823 The Missouri General Assembly authorized each county to establish slave patrols to guard against slave plots and insurrections.
1824 The Missouri General Assembly retained territorial legislation enabling persons held in slavery illegally to sue for their freedom (December 30).
1824 In the slave freedom suit Winny v. Whitesides, the Missouri Supreme Court established the judicial precedent of “once free, always free” to determine the outcome of such freedom suits.
1827 In Merry v. Tiffin & Menard, the Missouri Supreme Court held that a slave was emancipated by residence in any territory where slavery was prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
1829 In Trammel v. Adams, the Missouri Supreme Court determined that residence in Illinois entitled a slave to freedom even if s/he came to Missouri afterward.
1834 William Wells Brown escaped slavery in St. Louis, later becoming an abolitionist and America’s first African American novelist.
1835 All free blacks and mulattoes, aged seven to twenty-one, were legislatively ordered by Missouri’s General Assembly to be bound as apprentices or servants.
1835 To remain in Missouri, all free blacks were required to obtain a “free-license” from the county court.
1834 In the Missouri Supreme Court, the case of Margurite v. Pierre Chouteau, Sr., officially ended Indian slavery in Missouri.
1836 The descendants of Marie Jean Scypion, an Afro-Indian slave in colonial Missouri, were awarded freedom by the Jefferson County Circuit Court based on their Native American ancestry following legal battles that lasted over three decades. The Missouri Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1838.
1836 In Rachel v. Walker, the Missouri Supreme Court held that if an officer of the United States Army takes a slave to a territory where slavery is prohibited, he forfeits his property.
1836 After he fatally stabbed a deputy sheriff, Francis McIntosh was brutally lynched in St. Louis, earning the city a reputation for lawlessness and barbaric behavior (April 28).
1837 Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist clergyman and St. Louis newspaper editor, died defending his press from a mob siege in Alton, Illinois (November 7).
1837 The Missouri Supreme Court, in Jennings v. Kavanaugh, ruled that an owner was not liable for the criminal acts of his slave property.
1839 Tom Bass was born a slave in Boone County; later became nationally-known equestrian (January 5).
1839 James Milton Turner was born a slave in St. Louis County (August 22). He became Missouri’s most prominent African American leader after the Civil War, promoting black education. He also served as U.S. Minister to Liberia.
1846 The constitutionality of the “free-license” law was upheld.
1846 Dred and Harriet Scott initiated a suit for freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. Under Missouri statutes, the suit was allowed based on previous residence in a free territory (Wisconsin) before return to the slave state of Missouri (April 6).
1847 The Missouri legislature passed a law prohibiting the education of blacks, free or slave.
1847 Hiram Young purchased his freedom and settled in western Missouri. His Independence-based business, making yokes and wagons for westward expansion, was one of the largest in Jackson County by 1860.
1854 Augustus Tolton, born a slave in Ralls County, Missouri, became the first recognized African American Catholic priest in the United States (April 1).
1854 President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing “popular sovereignty” to determine whether a territory would be a slave or free state. This act set the stage for the violent Kansas-Missouri border wars where Missouri “Border Ruffians” and Kansas “Jayhawkers” transformed a frontier quarrel over slavery’s borders into a national issue (May 30)
1855 Elizabeth Keckley purchased her freedom in St. Louis; she was later employed by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (November 15).
1855 Celia, a Callaway County slave, was executed for the murder of her sexually abusive owner, Robert Newsom (December 23).
1857 U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney handed down the Dred Scott decision (March 6). The case, which originated in St. Louis, intensified the sectional controversy regarding the expansion of slavery. Taney concluded that Scott lacked standing in court because he lacked U.S. citizenship. In Taney’s opinion, slaves as well as free blacks, would never be able to become U.S. citizens; hence, Scott had no standing to sue in a court of law. Taney also took the opportunity to argue that each state had the right to determine the status of slaves, and that Congress had exceeded its powers in forbidding slavery in certain areas of the Louisiana Purchase; therefore, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.
1858 The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis, published by Cyprian Clamorgan, profiled St. Louis free African American society.
1861 John C. Fremont issued a proclamation immediately emancipating the slaves of pro-Southern Missourians (August 30). The order was revoked by President Abraham Lincoln (September 11).


The First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, including Missouri black soldiers, defeated a guerrilla force at Mound Island in Bates County, Missouri (October 29).
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