In the days of slavery, it was considered unwise and unsafe to let Negroes, male or female, go about the country in the nighttime, without a written permit from their owners or masters. County courts usually named patrols for each neighborhood in the country, and when they failed to name the patrols, the citizens of the neighborhood would name them. It was the duty of the patrol to watch the roads, byways, and places where Negroes were likely to be or congregate, and when found after nine o'clock without a written pass or permit, the Negro or Negroes were punished there and then, the patrols administering a sound thrashing. Ghosts and hobgoblins were no greater terror to the average Negro than the patrols (Negroes called them paterrollers). When old Uncle Rastus prayed, he said, "O Lord, we thank thee for the New Jerusalem, with its pearly gates and its golden streets, but above all we thank thee for that high wall around the great big city, so high that a paterroller can't get over it."1
There lived in Independence a large slave population. . . . One of the first ordinances passed by the first city council was a brief one specifying the number of lashes to be laid upon a Negro.2
On 1808 in Missouri there were about eleven thousand slaves, constantly increasing in number. There can be no doubt that there was a considerable slave population in the territory in the days when Missouri's statehood was before the country. "Perhaps Taylor of New York was inclined to exaggerate when he said, 'A negro man is bought in Africa for a few gewgaws or a bottle of whisky, and sold in New Orleans for twelve to fifteen hundred dollars,'3 but nevertheless the slaveholders of Missouri who contended for statehood in 1820 were fighting not for a mere political principle actually but for property, and a considerable amount of it. If Missouri in 1820 was simply a battleground for selfish, southern purposes, there would be some evidence of loose economic conditions or at least stray hints that the system was ill-adapted to so northern a country. But business seems to have been sound, and the tone of all the papers gives the impression that these were 'booming' times for Missouri."4
On December 12, 1820, the General Assembly enacted a law that a tax be levied "on all lands . . . dwelling houses . . . and improvements at the rate of twenty-five cents on every one hundred dollars of value thereof, on all slaves above the age of three years and livestock at the same rate."5
The continual fear of insurrection, in Missouri as elsewhere, caused somewhat drastic laws to be passed restricting the slaves' right to bear arms or to go hunting. The Law of 1724 provided that no slave should carry a weapon or even a heavy stick unless sent to hunt game by his master who must supply him with a written permission. The laws of O'Reilley condemned a slave to thirty lashes for bearing firearms, and he could be shot when found armed if he could not otherwise be captured. These provisions were included in the Laws of 1804. For a slave or a mulatto to carry "a club or other weapon whatsoever," any number of lashes not exceeding thirty could be given "on his or her bare back well laid on." But as Missouri was in the territorial period a frontier community, and as Indian incursions were often feared, a slave in the outlying districts might bear weapons if so licensed by a justice of the peace.6
The overshadowing fear of insurrection and of property loss caused the enactment of stringent provisions against the slave who was found off his master's plantation. The Code of 1724 forbade slaves assembling in crowds for any purpose; the first offense being punished by whipping, the second by branding, while capital punishment could be exercised under "aggravating circumstances." . . . According to the Laws of 1804, no slave was to leave his master's "tenements" without a pass or other token of authority. A justice was to punish such slave "with stripes," and it was "lawful for the owner or overseer of such ,plantation [on which the slave had trespassed] to give or order such slave ten lashes on his or her bare back for every such offense." Riots, unlawful assemblies, and seditious speeches by slaves were to be punished with stripes at the discretion of a justice of the peace. Any slave "conspiring to rebel or murder" was to be executed after conviction without benefit of clergy. Any master or mistress of slaves knowingly permitting slaves or others to remain upon their property for more than four hours without the consent of the owners was to be fined three dollars and costs, and for permitting more than five slaves to assemble "at any other time" was fined one dollar per slave so assembled. Negroes with passes could meet for worship or on "any other lawful occasion." Any white, free Negro, or mulatto meeting with a seditious slave or aiding such was fined three dollars if such seditious slave was not exposed, and on failure to pay this should "receive on his or her bare back twenty lashes well laid on." Any justice failing to act within ten days when informed of an unlawful meeting of slaves was to be fined eight dollars and costs, and a sheriff four dollars and costs for the same offense.7
The Law of 1724 condemned a slave to branding and loss of ears for the first offense in being away from the plantation for more than a month; the second and third offenses being punished by hamstringing and death, respectively.8
At Cahokia in 1779, a Negro was sentenced to twenty lashes, "since he used very bad language and threatened to revenge himself on those who should undertake to seize him."
From the criminal legislation against the blacks, we can decide that there was more fear of the slave selling his master's goods or of running away than any of his committing private crimes.9
That the master might not abuse his slaves, legislation was also passed to guarantee what was then considered humane treatment.
Every slave was to "receive the barrel of corn provided by the usage of the colony; and was also to be given the use of waste lands." "The slave who has not a portion of waste land shall receive punctually from his master a shirt and trousers of linen in summer, and a great coat and trousers of wool for the winter." It was also provided that "every slave, should be allowed one-half hour for breakfast, two hours for dinner; their labor shall commence at break of day, and shall cease at the approach of night."10 Sundays off except in time of harvest.
As to the treatment of the Missouri slave . . . a correspondent of Niles Register thus pictures the state of the institution in the St. Louis country: The condition of their slaves, when compared with most countries, where slavery is tolerated, is not hard or severe. Their labor is not great, or painful, they are allowed many privileges, and are well clothed and fed." But the editor, however, seems suspicious of the veracity of this statement, for he adds in parentheses, "Better information satisfies me that this encomium is unmerited."11
Naturally the great majority of slaveholders were kind to their slaves according to their own estimate of kindness and humanity, and the story is told of one slaveholder near Independence who was so tenderhearted he could not bear to sell a slave, consequently they "ate him out of house and home." He was regarded with good-natured tolerance as one might a tenderhearted spinster who could not bear to dispose of any of a household of cats.
We may conclude that slavery as it existed in Missouri in 1820 was a fairly well organized system. It is true there were but a few thousand Negro slaves in the Territory, but were chiefly massed along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the only portions of the Territory then well settled. We have seen that special slave codes were enacted, and special slave taxes were levied, and the ratio between the races was about five to one.12
Slave property was the most valuable possession of the Missouri pioneer. The first instrument of writing recorded in Platte County was a bill of sale for a slave, from Felix B. Mullikan to Zadoc Martin, the money consideration being $200 and the slave a Negro man, Willis, aged about thirty-three years. It was dated May 11, 1839, and recorded two days later. The first deed for real estate had been executed March 2 of the same year, one eighth of lots number 383 and 382 for $12.50.13
This is even more forcibly shown by the appraisement of Archibald Holtzclaw's estate in 1829 in Clay County, which reads :14
Jincy, a crippled slave girl, 30 years old........$100.00
Anthony, a child, 1 year old..........................$100.00
Susan, a slave, 14 years old.........................$300.00
Henry, a slave, 13 years old..........................$336.00
Isaac, a slave, 25 years old...........................$460.00
George, a slave, 13 years old........................$316.00
Horse and side saddle...................................$40.00
Cow and calf.................................................$7.50
Sow and five pigs..........................................$1.50
Flag bottomed chairs, each............................$.50
Bible and hymnbook......................................$1.50
A good horse................................................$25.00
As was natural when so much of their property was tied up in slaves, the slaveowners used every means in their power to see that no menace to that property was allowed to exist in the community.
There was but one Yankee in Clay County. His name was Humphrey Smith, but so unusual was a northerner in that section that he was never called anything but "Yankee." Why he elected to live for the most part of his life where he knew he was not wanted is hard to understand. Perhaps it was merely Yankee perversity. He was born in New Jersey in 1774, and came to Howard County, Missouri, where he resided for three and a half years. He was all his life an avowed abolitionist. He declared frankly that human slavery was a sin at all times and under all circumstances. Driven by a mob out of Howard County to Carroll, and from Carroll to Clay, he still persisted in making his home among slaveowners, where he knew he was not only unwelcome but profoundly hated. Clay County was, fortunately, although very proslavery in feeling, dominated by men of education, tolerance, and wisdom, who used their influence against mob violence, therefore Yankee Smith was permitted to found in comparative peace the town of Smithville, by building his log cabin, and his mill (at first nothing but a corncracker) where he thought he could catch the trade from not only the settlers, but the government agencies in Platte County. No sort of threatening, denunciation, or raillery ever deterred him from speaking his mind.
Often some rough character, wishing to have a little fun, would approach him and say, "Smith, are you an abolitionist?"
"I am," was the invariable reply.
The next moment he would be knocked down. Smith would calmly arise, brush the dust off his clothes, and remark dryly, "Oh, that's no argument."
He died in June, 1857. His neighbors believed that he got smallpox from an abolitionist paper. As he died he made one request: "Never let the men stealers know where I am buried until my State is free, then write my epitaph, 'Here ties Humphrey Smith, who was in favor of human rights, universal liberty, equal and exact justice, no union with slaveholders, free states, free people, union of states, and one and universal republic.'" Perhaps in no other county in the State would he have been permitted to live and die as peacefully as he did.
George S. Park, editor of the Eastern Luminary in Parkville and W. S. Patterson who was associated with him were less fortunate. "Their editorials became so outspoken in favor of free soil, and in aiding eastern abolition societies ... that they attracted the attention of the Platte County Self Defense Association. This was an association composed of citizens of that section of the State who favored slave-soil. About two hundred members of this association met at Parkville, on April 14, 1855, and proceeded to the Luminary office. The editors heard them coming and hid a large amount of type in the garret. This type was afterwards taken to Kansas and used in publishing a free-soil paper. The mob secured the press and remaining type. A procession was formed, a banner carried aloft and, with songs and shouts, the procession started for the Missouri River--the grave of more than one Missouri press whose owner gave too free expression to views not held by a majority of his readers. Sentence of banishment was pronounced upon the editors, and a resolution passed 'if they go to Kansas to reside we will follow and hang them wherever we can take them.'"
"George S. Park went to Illinois, invested what remained of his property in land. He prospered, and, returning to Parkville at the close of the [Civil] War, founded Park College. He was buried at the place where the sentence of banishment had been pronounced upon him, and a magnificent monument to his memory overlooks the very spot where the Missouri River received his press and type."15
To our so-called enlightened age, the economic system under which these people lived savored of barbarism, but conscientious and religious people held these opinions and made these laws. It is not at all improbable that one hundred years from now, our economic system will seem as antiquated and our political treatises as quaint as that of Governor Reynolds of Illinois as late as 1860. This man, who was possessed of enough culture, education, and popularity to become governor of the State of Illinois, wrote "a rather remarkable pamphlet entitled Balm of Gilead, which he termed 'An Inquiry Into the Right of Human Slavery.' . . . He compares the cohesion of the abolitionists to the religious organization of the Mormons, and the followers of John Brown are declared to be the same class as those in the French Revolution who 'fraternized on pikes, and feasted on blood.' His conclusion was that 'we, of the United States at this day, with slavery, enjoy the most perfect and the most free government on earth, and I pray that it may be continued forever!'"16
1 History of Clay County, by W. H Woodson, Historical Publishing House,
Topeka and Indianapolis (1920), pages 85, 86.
2 Centennial History of Independence, Missouri, by W. L. Webb, published by author 1926, pages 187, 188.
3 Annals of Congress, Volume 33, page 1175.
4 "Slavery in Missouri Territory," Missouri Historical Review, Volume 3, Page 182, by Harrison A. Trexler.
5 Ibid., pages 184, 185.
6 Ibid., page 187; Territorial Laws, Volume 1, sections 4 and 5.
7 "Slavery in Missouri," by Harrison A. Trexler, from Missouri Historical Review, Volume 3, pages 187-189.
8 Ibid., 189.
9 Ibid., 191, 192.
10 Ibid., 194.
11 Slavery in Missouri, by Trexler, pages 194, 195.
12 Ibid., pages 197, 198. 13 History of Clay and Platte Counties, National Historical Company, 1885, p. 581.
14 History of Clay and Platte Counties, National Historical Company, 1829, page 115.
15 See Annals of Platte County, by W. M. Paxton, page 171, seq. "History of County Press of Missouri," by Minnie Organ, in Missouri Historical Review, Vol. 4 pages 258, 259.
16 "Literature and Literary People of Early Illinois," by Isabel Jamison, in Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society, 1908.