The African-American Heritage of St. Louis: A Guide

Downtown:
Laclede's Landing, Central Riverfront

Persons of African descent were members of the party that accompanied Pierre de Laclede Liguest when in 1764 he founded the trading post and village that became St. Louis. Free blacks and slaves resided along with other early settlers in the French village. According to the 1799 census, the St. Louis population included 56 free and 268 slave blacks and 601 whites. One of the free blacks was a mulatto women, known as Ester, who petitioned Spain and received a grant of taxable land to cultivate in 1793. Laclede's Landing is a much revamped but surviving portion of early St. Louis bordering the Mississippi River. Two reminders of St. Louis' African American influence can be found here.


1.      Clamorgan Alley

The north-south alley running between Washington on the south and Lucas on the north, parallel to First and Second Streets on Laclede's Landing.

Clamorgan Alley is named after Jacques Clamorgan and the prominent Clamorgan family, part of the 19th-century "colored aristocracy" of St. Louis. Jacques Clamorgan, a West Indian native, arrived in St. Louis in 1780. The furtrader sired four children by mulatto slave women. The French community accepted the declared offspring of such unions and rights of inheritance were protected.

By the mid-19th century the expansion of the city of St. Louis enriched the descendants of Clamorgan and other free blacks who owned and operated boarding houses, ran produce stores and practiced various trades. many of them were descendants of mulattoes freed during the Spanish period whose fortunes came from inherited real estate. The Clamorgans owned large businesses and tenements. The family held property in what is now Laclede's Landing and businesses and residences in other parts of the city. They also inherited 38,000 acres in the Kansas territory.

Cyprian Clamorgan in his 1858 pamphlet, "The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis," indicated that members of this black elite also resided around Seventh and Rutger and Fourth and Pine. Mrs. Pelagie Nash owned nearly all the whole block on which she lived; Mrs. Sarah Hazlett possessed a fortune of $75,000; Mr. Albert White was a barber; Mr. William Johnson had a fortune of $125,000; and Mr. Samuel Mordecai had $100,000.

Mrs. Pelagie Clamorgan Rutgers who had first married St. Eutrope Clamorgan, Jacques' son, and later Louis Rutgers, the mulatto son of a wealthy Dutch landowner, had substantial holdings of real estate in the St. Louis area. Her home, which faced Seventh Street in the block bounded by Park, Rutgers, and Carondelet streets, was known as the "Rutgers Mansion."

At the same period, areas such as "Happy Hollow," bounded by Gratiot, Sixth, Papin, and Seventh streets, were filled with shacks housing both poor blacks and whites.

2.      Site of land grant to Ester
         721-723 North Second Street, Laclede's Landing
These two buildings have been identified as the site of a Spanish land grant to Ester, a free mulatto, in 1793. The extracts of the grant are in the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.
3.      Shrine of St. Joseph
        1220 North Eleventh Street at Biddle street

The Shrine of St. Joseph is the site of one of the "authenticated miracles" that led to the canonization of Peter Claver by the Roman Catholic Church. Peter Claver (1581-1654), the son of a Spanish farmer, went to Cartagena in Central America as a Jesuit priest in 1610. There he dedicated his life to the service of slaves taken from Africa. Claver was canonized in 1888 and in 1896 declared the patron saint of all the Catholic missions among black people.

A relic of the body of Peter Claver is kept beneath the church altar. In 1861 Ignatius Strecker, a soap factory worker, was struck in the chest by a piece of iron. He developed tuberculosis. After being blessed with the relic, Strecker began to recover and was restored to full health. This miracle was one of the two required by Rome for canonization.

The miracle led to the enlargement of the church, originally built in 1844. Today in many predominantly African American Catholic parishes, the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver societies perform charitable works.

4.      Cochran Gardens
        Cochran Tenant Management, 1112 North Ninth Street

When President George Bush visited this public housing development in May 1991, he called it a model of tenant-managed public housing. Cochran Gardens on St. Louis' near northside is one of the nation's oldest experiments in tenant management and one of 25 of the nation's public housing developments currently run, at least in part, by tenants. The twelve-building 761-apartment complex was completed in 1953. It was delivered to tenant management by the St. Louis Housing Authority after the rent strike of 1969. The tenant corporation runs virtually every aspect of life at Cochran, from elevator maintenance to meals for the elderly.

5.      The Old Courthouse
         11 North Fourth Street at Market

Before the Civil War, slaves were sold at public auction on the courthouse steps of the Fourth Street east entrance. Slaves were also held in the old jail in the basement while awaiting auction. In 1861, a slave auction was called off because two thousand St. Louisans demonstrated against the selling of slaves. The catcalls and yelling drowned out the bidding forcing the sale to end. It was the last slave auction held in St. Louis.

The Old Courthouse also was the site, in 1847, of the first of Dred Scott's trials (It was also the only decision which came down in Scott's favor). Later decisions in the Missouri and United States supreme courts went against Scott, and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Scott had been born a slave in Virginia and moved, first to Alabama and then in 1830 to St. Louis with the Peter Blow family. When Blow died, Scott was willed to Blow's daughter who sold him to Dr. John Emerson. He later accompanied Emerson to Illinois and Wisconsin, both free states. After returning to St. Louis following the death of Emerson, Scott and his wife Harriet sued Emerson's widow in 1846 for their freedom on the grounds that they had been taken into free territory in Illinois and thus had become free. Although the cases went against Scott, he and his wife were freed by their owner, Taylor Blow, in 1857. Scott, who died in 1858, lived along the alley between Tenth and Eleventh streets.

Scott was buried in the old Wesleyan cemetery at Grand and Laclede avenues. When the site was abandoned in 1867, Scott's former owner, Taylor Blow, had the body buried in an unmarked grave in Calvary cemetery. In 1957 on the 100th anniversary of the court decision, the grave was marked, "Dred Scott, Born about 1799, Died September 17, 1858, Freed from slavery by his friend Taylor Blow," on one side; on the other, "Dred Scott, subject of the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1857 which denied citizenship to the Negro and voided the Missouri Compromise, became one of the events that resulted in the Civil War."


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