Slave homes tell story of county's Civil War legacy

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
This building was built for slave families in Lafayette County before the Civil War and was divided into five sections -- one section for one slave family

As far back as most of us can remember, Lafayette County has been a peaceful place to live. It has not always been that way, however. As a result of the Missouri Compromise passed by Congress in 1820, Missouri entered the Union as a "slave state."

This act was destined to provide for a very unsafe environment as hostilities began to break out throughout Missouri on slavery issues, and Lafayette County was no exception.

On April 23, Joseph McGill, Civil War historian and Gary Fuenfhausen, Civil War preservationist, gave a presentation titled "Slave Cabins" in the state historical society building near the battlefield site known as the "Battle of Lexington."

The event was sponsored by the Little Dixie Slave Cabin Preservation Group. The term "Little Dixie" was used to identify the 17 counties in Missouri between Kansas City and St. Louis, adjacent to the Missouri River, where 52 percent of the slaves in Missouri lived. Lafayette County was the number one county in Missouri in slave population with 6,374 or 11 percent of the total slaves living in Missouri.

Missouri was a border state with its citizens holding sympathies for both the Union and Confederate causes. Missouri sent 110,000 men to the Union army and 40,000 to the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

Citizens of few states suffered as severely as those in Missouri during the Civil War. The conflict was fought in the streets of towns, in pastures and hills of the farms and in the swamps of the bootheel. More than 400 battles, skirmishes and engagements occurred in Missouri from 1860-1865.

Missouri was definitely not a safe place to live during the Civil War and Lafayette County, being a part of Missouri, was just a dangerous place to live.

Neighbor often struggled with neighbor over the issue of slavery and families sent sons to opposing sides to fight against each other.

Confederate "Bushwhackers" sent parties to raid the area of Concordia and Emma populations, who were of pro-union and anti-slavery beliefs.

A number of the homeguard volunteers were killed by the Confederate Bushwhackers during that hostile period.

Lafayette County possessed rich fertile land which needed clearing of trees and brush. This required slaves to perform the immensely hard labor. Hemp, tobacco and corn were the principal crops. Raising mules and cattle required many slaves.

As soon as the Missouri Compromise was passed by Congress, state statutes were enacted by the Missouri Legislature that governed slavery.

Among the more prominent laws passed determined that:

-- owners could not sell a slave until the slave reached the age of 14;

-- having three grandparents white and one grandparent black constituted the individual being considered a "negro;"

-- whippings or lashes were authorized to be given to slaves who disobeyed orders of the owner; and

-- slaves could not carry weapons.

The act of being sold at a slave auction brought terror throughout the black community as it was considered a fate of uncertainty, not knowing what one's future would be. Records seem to indicate some slaves were sold at auction in Lexington.

Slaves enjoyed very few luxuries. Their lives were vested in hard work from early morning until late at night. Wooden floors were an unknown luxury.

Slave Josiah Henson said, "In a single room, we were huddled like cattle, 10 or a dozen persons -- men, women and children. We had neither bedsteads nor furniture. Our beds were a collection of straw and old rags, thrown down in a corner and boxed in with boards. A single blanket was our only covering. The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks in the wall."

The issue of slavery is something we may not want to talk about, but it is a fact of history and shouldn't be ignored. Slaves were often treated inhumanly, yet some slave owners were known to be kind and gentle with their slaves.

The editor of The Little Dixie Weekland said in a recent issue, "Some parts of our history just aren't pretty. They aren't honorable, and sometimes they are morally wrong. We hope to learn from these experiences that shaped who we are and what we have became.

"Slavery is one of those things, It's not fun to talk about, and our modern day knowledge can do little to change the wrongs. Discussing it and preserving the legacy left by the people who came to our region as enslaved servants is the least we can do to foster an understanding and appreciation for what these men and women meant to our culture."

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