A small creek near Cottleville that most St. Charles County residents hardly notice when they cross over it on Route 364 may receive some new notoriety – if Washington officials approve.
The creek, now known as Tributary B, could be renamed to honor a former local slave whose likeness was used in creating the Emancipation Memorial statue, which has stood in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park since 1876.The St. Charles County Council voted 6-0 at its Feb.12 meeting to approve a resolution calling on the United States Department of the Interior to officially rename the creek “Archer Alexander Creek.” Council Chair Dave Hammond [District 4] was absent.
“I think the resolution itself is pretty self-explanatory,” said County Executive Steve Ehlmann. It stems from an article Ehlmann wrote for his blog on the county government website last October.
Responding to the dismantling of a statue in St. Louis honoring the Confederacy and another in Charlottesville, Virginia, honoring one of that state’s generals, Ehlmann wrote: “A former resident of St. Charles County played a role in the sculpting of a Civil War statue in St. Louis, and when you read his story I think you will agree with me that no one will be protesting it.”
Ehlmann, who has a keen interest in local history, is the author of “Crossroads: A History of St. Charles County, Missouri,” which was published in 2004.
His blog recounts much of the same history as the resolution, saying that Alexander was a slave from Virginia, who was brought to St. Charles County in 1830 and eventually married another slave named Louisa. In 1863, during the Civil War, Alexander learned that men had sabotaged a railroad bridge by sawing its timber. He informed a Union man and Union authorities, who made repairs before any train crossed.
Alexander also told Union officials that arms were hidden in an ice-box on the Campbell farm near the Pitman farm in St. Charles County. Rebel sympathizers suspected Alexander was the informant and he fled from the county to the city of St. Louis where he was given refuge by William Eliot, a prominent Unionist, abolitionist and a founder of Washington University.
Alexander argued that he should be freed from his master, Richard Pitman.
Slave catchers apprehended Alexander but federal officials recovered him upon Eliot’s request and authorities allowed him to remain in Eliot’s service. Pitman tried, through the circuit courts, to establish his right to Alexander. Eventually, Eliot sent Alexander to safety in Alton, Illinois, where he worked as a farm hand.
Alexander’s son, Tom, was among the first recruits when the provost marshal began enlisting black troops in St. Charles County in 1864. He was killed in action during the Civil War.
In 1869, pictures of Alexander were used by sculptor Thomas Ball on a monument to Abraham Lincoln. Ball reportedly said that Alexander’s likeness “both face and figure, is as correct as that of Mr. Lincoln himself.” It was decided that a representative form of an African-American man should be included in the statue, helping to break the chain that had bound him.
Ehlmann said, after the war, Eliot served on a committee involved with the memorial and met Ball in Italy. Ball said he had likenesses of Lincoln but he had never seen an African-American. Eliot gave Ball a photograph of Alexander, which Ball used in working on the statue.
The resolution notes that the “rich history of the story of Archer Alexander in St. Charles County warrants an official naming of ‘Tributary B’ as ‘Archer Alexander Creek.'”
Tributary B flows into Dardenne Creek where the Campbell Farm once stood.
The resolution adds that the council calls upon the United States Department of the Interior to “officially assign the Domestic Geographic Name of ‘Archer Alexander Creek’ in the United States Geological Survey for the drainage stream beginning at East Branch of Tributary B and flowing south to Dardenne Creek.”
“I think it’s an appropriate gesture and unless someone can come up with a better name I like Alexander Archer Creek,” Ehlmann told the council at its meeting. He said Cottleville and O’Fallon may pass similar resolutions. “We’ll see what the federal government will do.”
Other councilmembers lauded the resolution.
“It’s a nice way of honoring him and it’s about time,” said Councilmember John White [District 7], who presided over the meeting as council vice chairman in Hammond’s absence.
“It may help to get the story out and it’s an interesting story,” Ehlmann said.