This panel reviews the status of slaves in Missouri from 1820-1865.
Slavery in Missouri dates back to the 1720s. The first slaves in Missouri were brought to the state by French settlers and primarily worked in the lead mines south of St. Louis. Most slaves came to Missouri after the Louisiana Purchase and became an important part of the tobacco economy of the early 19th century. Initially both African Americans and American Indians were enslaved, until the state outlawed the enslavement of Indian people in 1834. Slavery in Missouri became a particularly heated issue when Missouri requested statehood in 1820. The US Congress was concerned that the admission of Missouri to the Union would unbalance the number of slave and free states in the Union. Speaker Henry Clay helped craft a compromise in which Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine was admitted as a free state. With the passage of this “Missouri Compromise” slavery was prohibited north of Missouri’s southern border.
- In Missouri, there was a fierce debate over whether Congress had the right to decide the issue of slavery for the states. In 1819 the citizens of St. Charles petitioned the members of Missouri’s territorial delegation to Congress, arguing that Congress did not have that right.
- The 1863 bill of sale featured on this panel advertises slaves ranging in age from 7 months to 45 years. Many families were split up in this manner. Age and infirmity did not prevent slaves from being sold at auction.
As this panel demonstrates, the issue of slavery was foremost in the minds of many Missourians on the eve of the Civil War. Proceed to the next panel to learn more.