January 11, 1865: The End of Slavery in Missouri

We know that January 1865 was an important month in the history of the destruction of slavery in the United States. After all, it was in that month that the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing the Thirteenth Amendment, which aimed to complete the eradication of chattel slavery in the nation.

In Missouri, however, representatives of the Show Me state had beaten Congress to the punch. On January 11, 1865, Missourians led by Charles Drake terminated the peculiar institution. Among those slaves now recognized as formally free, by the way, were the slaves of Colonel Frederick Dent, Ulysses S. Grant’s father in law. As the colonel apparently never transferred official title of any of his slaves to his daughter Julia, the correct date for the end of slavery in the Dent family is January 1865 (not the misguided claims that Grant had slaves after the war or that they were freed by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment).

Learn more here.

Historians of emancipation often overlook state action (and inaction) during the war when it came to slavery and its end. In so doing those historians overlook the full story of emancipation, and tend to reinforce a Lincoln-Washington centered narrative (and overlook Lincoln’s role in supporting state-initiated emancipation).  Others know better.

It’s one of the shortcomings of the Civil War sesquicentennial that in focusing on battles, leaders, and soldiers, we miss so much else that tells us about Americans at war with each other. That bears on the current debate over American Civil War military history. It is well to remember that the history of a war is more than a study of battlefield events.

19 thoughts on “January 11, 1865: The End of Slavery in Missouri

  1. Donald R. Shaffer January 11, 2015 / 2:39 pm

    Reblogged this on Civil War Emancipation and commented:
    Thanks to Brooks Simpson for reminding me today is sesquicentennial of emancipation in Missouri. Missouri was the second of two loyal slave states that ended slavery by state action during the Civil War (Maryland ended slavery on Nov. 1, 1864). Kentucky and Delaware refused and slavery didn’t end in those places until the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

  2. n8vz January 11, 2015 / 4:54 pm

    Great points and great information. Our bordering state of West Virginia had agreed to “gradual emancipation” as a condition for joining the Union. This was an interesting provision: Every person born to slave parents after the state was admitted to the Union would be free upon birth; all existing slaves would be free within 20 years. This provision, of course, which seems very hard to administer, was only in place until the 13th Amendment was passed and ratified. West Virginia, of course, was not subject to the provisions of the EP, as it was not “in rebellion.” One other point that needs to be made is that with a few exceptions — like the Hilton Head-Beaufort-Port Royal corridor — only areas in the seceded states that were not occupied by Union forces were subject to the EP. This has led to the charge that the EP actually freed no one. Those who assert this fail to note that a few occupied areas like that mentioned in South Carolina were not exempted. In the case of that area in South Carolina not exempting it from the EP, though it had been in Union control since November of 1861, was simply acknowledging what had already taken place. Slaves in that area had been operating as freemen ever since the Union occupation. That occupation in 1861, according to some sources, was the largest amphibious military action in history until Normandy.

    • Bob Huddleston January 11, 2015 / 9:09 pm

      You wrote: “One other point that needs to be made is that with a few exceptions only areas in the seceded states that were not occupied by Union forces were subject to the EP. This has led to the charge that the EP actually freed no one. ” This is incorrect.

      But It was argued then and continues to be argued that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free more than a handful of slaves and was therefore irrelevant.

      The Declaration of Independence did not make the US a “free and independent nation.” That took seven more years to accomplish. And, had the British prevailed, the Declaration would be of interest only to students of failed revolutions. On the contrary, during the American Civil War, all of the slaves in the areas delineated were free de facto with thirty months of the Emancipation Proclamation and a large number were freed immediately. The Emancipation Proclamation was prospective, i.e., it would free slaves as the United States Army marched south, and the Yankees were on the advance.

      The Emancipation Proclamation also freed slaves in areas considered to be in rebellion, many of which were controlled by the United States on January 1, 1863.

      Reading the Emancipation Proclamation, and comparing the areas included and excluded, shows that the immediate effect of the Emancipation Proclamation was to free a large number of slaves, in areas under United States’ control, but still considered to be in rebellion. The Emancipation Proclamation preserved slavery only those areas *not in rebellion,* not those areas under United States’ control on January 1, 1863. And that is a huge difference.

      Note that in Louisiana the excluded areas are New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta and the area immediately west of the Delta (county lines were a little different in 1863 than now, but close enough to use Rand-McNally). However, the US Army had occupied more of the state to the North, heading, as they were, towards Port Hudson. So all of those slaves were freed.

      The excluded areas of Virginia included West Virginia (small slave population anyway), and Berkeley County, which is the start of the strip of West Virginia which today takes in both Berkeley and Jefferson (Harpers Ferry) counties. But Jefferson County was not excluded. (Trivia point: obviously the boundaries of the new state of West Virginia were still in a bit of a state of flux. I believe [which means I do not know enough West Virginia history to say one way or another] the inclusion of the lower Shenandoah Valley into West Virginia was a political stroke to make certain that if there was a peace treaty between the US and the CS, the B&O Railroad would all be in the United States).

      The only other parts of Virginia excluded were the Eastern Shore (the peninsula that stretches South from Eastern Maryland towards Cape Charles), and the area around Norfolk-Hampton-Fortress Monroe.

      However, the United States controlled *all* of Virginia north of the Rappahannock, including, obviously, Alexandria County, which then consisted of Arlington and Alexandria. They also had a presence in the Shenandoah. Now “control” is a relative word: John Mosby would have disputed the above paragraph! But, nevertheless, the Confederacy did not control most of Northern Virginia. So there are two big areas, and, in the case of Virginia, important areas, where the slaves *were* freed on January 1, 1863.

      In addition, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Arkansas, Georgia and the Carolinas. On Emancipation Day, the United States controlled much of tidewater and the barrier islands of Georgia and North and South Carolina. The Union controlled the Ozarks of Arkansas (not many slaves) but also the heavily slave areas of the extreme northeastern counties of Arkansas. The blue coats were in possession of major portions of North Mississippi and Alabama, and they would, within a few months, liberate the densely slave occupied areas of the Mississippi black belt between the Mississippi and the Yazoo.

      Quite a large number – probably hundreds of thousands, maybe even a million or more, of the slaves *were* freed – and freed immediately – by the Emancipation Proclamation.

      And the balance of the four million would be de facto free within thirty months.

      • n8vz January 14, 2015 / 8:59 am

        Actually, I said that that charge that the EP freed no one was false, and gave the example of the Beaufort-Hilton Head corridor as an area where the EP freed slaves. You’ve expanded on that and indicated that there were many other similar areas. Your statements sound plausible, but I have not personally researched them as I have the situation in area of South Carolina mentioned. I do need to correct one point in my previous post which seemed to imply that West Virginia was a state at the time of the EP, but, of course, it did not enter the Union until several months later. In terms of the size of West Virginia there were actually three different plans — the large state plan would have included one more sets of counties to the east and Roanoke would have been in West Virginia. The small state plane would have not included the current eastern most counties or the eastern panhandle. What was settled for was a compromise between the two. The railroad situation you mention could certainly have been part of the calculus but I’ve never read anything specifically on that issue. It is interesting if you look at the votes on the four referendums that were taken in the the counties that were to become part of the new state that the farther east you went the closer the margins of victory for those referendums, particularly on the final one agreeing to gradual emancipation.

    • OhioGuy January 11, 2015 / 10:53 pm

      So as not to confuse anyone other than myself let me point out that this was my post that was posted inadvertently under another alias — my amateur radio callsign that I sometimes use on ham radio blogs. — Carl Jón Denbow, aka OhioGuy, n8vz, and webmaster of http://www.78ohio.org.

    • Bob Arrington January 17, 2015 / 10:33 am

      The West Virginia gradual emancipation amendment did not free any of the slaves in the new state, only newborns. Over one third of the slaves would never be freed, as there is no provision for freedom for any slave over 21 years of age. No slaves were actually freed by the amendment during the war, that only happened when the state legislature ended slavery on Feb.3, 1863.

      • Bob Arrington January 17, 2015 / 10:34 am

        Sorry, I meant Feb. 3, 1865.

      • OhioGuy January 17, 2015 / 2:39 pm

        Bob, I don’t think you are correct about the no slave over 21 would be freed. I believe it was as I stated it, free after 20 years. I’ll check my source material when I get home. It’s been a long time since I read the referendum and so it’s possible that my memory could be blurred. However, the 13th Amendment and the legislative action you site make this a moot point.

      • n8vz January 17, 2015 / 3:30 pm

        OK, I’ve checked a few of my sources on this and the confusion is, in part, that I was talking about a referendum that was conducted in some counties. This was not binding. The actual binding document was the Constitution of the new state that was in the area of emancipation dictated directly by Congress. Here’s the way Edwin Steers described that process: “A stalemate [between the positions of the two senators from the Restored Government of Virginia] seemed inevitable until [Senator Waitman] Willey, on behalf of the antislavery faction of the senate, introduced an amendment specifying that those slaves under the age of ten on July 4, 1863 would become free at twenty-one, while slaves between the ages of ten and twenty-one would become free at age twenty-five. It was this ‘gradual emancipation’ amendment that was finally adopted by the senate with the proviso that the already approved constitution be amended accordingly. Carlile had lost his fight to leave the question to ‘home rule?.'” [“Montani Semper Liberi: The Making of West Virginia,” Edwin Steers Jr., North and South magazine, January 2000 (Vol 3., No. 2)] This bill was then enacted “as is” by the House several months later, and then signed by Lincoln. The constitution of the West Virginia was adjusted to comply with this mandate. [please approve this version in which single quote marks were properly inserted]

        • OhioGuy January 17, 2015 / 3:43 pm

          Sorry, I used my wrong alias again above. I’ll get my act together eventually.

        • OhioGuy January 17, 2015 / 9:46 pm

          For the record, here is the actual wording from the West Virginia Constitution of 1863:
          Article XI, Section 7:
          The children of slaves born within the limits of this State after the fourth day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, shall be free ; and all slaves within the said State who shall, at the time aforesaid, be under the age often years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-one years ; and all slaves over ten and under twenty-one years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-five years ; and no slave shall be permitted to come into the State for permanent residence therein.”

          • OhioGuy January 17, 2015 / 9:56 pm

            Bob, after all of this I would have to conclude that your initial statement was essentially correct.

  3. Andrew Raker January 11, 2015 / 6:17 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I remember looking at some timeline at the museum underneath the Gateway Arch many years ago that talked about the 13th Amendment, but not about when slavery was abolished in Missouri itself, and the closest ranger I could find had no idea if it was abolished then or earlier.

    Did other border states abolish slavery before the 13th Amendment? West Virginia is an interesting case, as noted earlier, and I know Kentucky did not, but maybe the limited number of states where this took place could explain the limited scholarship on this important topic.

    • Brooks D. Simpson January 11, 2015 / 7:37 pm

      Maryland abolished slavery in 1864. Other ststes operating under Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan also did so, but that is another topic.

      • Greg Eatroff February 25, 2015 / 11:18 pm

        In 1864 the unionist Pierpont government of Virginia abolished slavery in the parts of the state exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation. The unionist government in Louisiana also abolished slavery during the war, though I don’t recall the precise date for that action.

  4. Al Mackey January 11, 2015 / 7:14 pm

    Reblogged this on Student of the American Civil War and commented:
    Here’s another outstanding post by Brooks Simpson. He simultaneously shows that neoconfederates are historically ignorant, that knowing the political history of the war is important, and that states also played a key role in ending slavery. It wasn’t just Lincoln, the Union Army, and the Slaves who ended slavery.

  5. Bob Huddleston January 11, 2015 / 9:02 pm

    On March 16, 1864, Arkansas voters ratified a new state constitution that abolished slavery. Louisiana did the same on 5 September, in addition to Maryland on 1 November. See http://www.freedmen.umd.edu/chronol.htm

    • Brooks D. Simpson January 12, 2015 / 12:25 am

      It is fair to say that the Arkansas and Louisiana votes (as well as the Tennessee abolition of slavery) constitute a different case under Lincoln’s plan of Reconstruction.

  6. Bob Huddleston January 11, 2015 / 9:16 pm

    In addition, I see 7 June 1864, Enlistment in Kentucky opened to slave men irrespective of their owners’ consent, with compensation to loyal owners and 3 March 1865 Congress approves a joint resolution liberating the wives and children of black soldiers.

    I also see 22 February 1865 Amendment to Tennessee state constitution abolishes slavery.

    All of these freed significant # of slaves without compensation.

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