In his landmark 1911 History of Saint Louis County – Missouri, WLT devoted Chapter IX to The Civil War Period in St. Louis County. On page 105 in a section titled, “Slavery in the County”, he wrote, “Many families owned slaves; a great many did not. So far as our personal knowledge extends we never knew or heard of ill-treatment of slaves in the part of the county that was outside the city. The white boys played with the black ones, went a fishing with them in numerous instances, pulled weeds, hoed potatoes and shared in their tasks. Both men and women were treated with kindness and accorded many privileges. In most cases they were careless and happy, although, of course, the desire for freedom began to become more manifest the nearer we approached to the Civil war. The pathetic feature of slavery, one that had an appealing influence upon all properly constructed minds and hearts, was the tearing apart of the negro man and his wife, the separations (that we read about) of the mother and the child. The writer never had personal knowledge of cases of this nature among the slave holding families of St. Louis county.
The attachments that began in slavery days between the two races were not severed by the war. Numerous instances can be cited of the return, after a few month’s absence, of the freed negro man and woman to the old home; of continued residence therein after the war; of death and burial surrounded and attended with love and respect.”
WLT then gives four examples that illustrate the points he was making. He then writes, “We are indebted for this information to Ben Hughes, a colored resident of Maplewood, whose father and mother both belonged to the Bompart family on the Manchester Road.
In 1861, the Home Guards made a raid upon the Southern sympathizers of the county, took their slaves with them back to the city, incidentally depopulating, as men will, under such circumstances, the chicken houses, and creating excited indignation.” Like the removal of the slaves did not? The removal of the slaves so early in the war is a detail I had not heard before. The city was still part of the county when this incident occurred.
“As stated above the pathetic features of slavery were not brought home to us in the strong lights that illuminated its misery in other ways and places. To be sure when one picked up the old Missouri Republican, almost any time before the war, one would see a diminutive vignette of a run-away slave, or of another whom the sheriff wanted to see on urgent business, or, possibly, a group whose condition was a subject for discussion, if you cared to call at Lynch’s mart. This was later called the Myrtle Street Prison, and was located on the northeast corner of Fifth (now Broadway) and Myrtle streets. An illustration of the pathos is afforded in its slave-bills, a fac-simile of a real one of which is subjoined.”
I don’t doubt that Thomas was being sincere and honest when he wrote his report on slavery in St. Louis county. Still his report contains many of the features of the “ happy slave narratives” or “plantation legends” that were written by proslavery advocates before and after the Civil war. Born in 1846, Thomas was fourteen when the war broke out and eighteen when it ended. He wrote in 1911 that he had no personal knowledge of the ill-treatment of slaves in the county. I believe that he may not have been aware of it. I don’t believe it wasn’t there. I also believe that today we have a deeper understanding of the wretchedness of life as a slave than Thomas had in 1911. We also know now that millions of former slaves voted with their feet and began the “great migration” northward. Additionally DNA testing is now revealing how many of us are connected by common grandfathers. It is hard to read but the rape of the black women by their white owners is being uncovered. Many of the culprits are being identified.
In a section titled, “The Chasm Bridged”, Thomas quotes from an article published in the Globe Democrat on April 16, 1911. “The promptness and the completeness with which the passions of 1861 disappeared after 1865 brought a reunited country has no parallels in any other great conflict which the world has seen. Civil wars are the fiercest of all conflicts, and their traces last longest, but for many years past the scars which our big struggle left have been obliterated.”
The scars were deeper than Thomas and the writer of the article thought. One hundred and eight years later the chasm remains unbridged.
Once again I would like to say how much I appreciate the descendants of the Sutton and Thomas families allowing me to copy these incredibly important pieces of our history and to share them with you. Doug Houser