• Looking up at the Gateway Arch

    Jefferson

    National Expansion Memorial Missouri

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  • Pedestrian Access to the Gateway Arch From Downtown

    Pedestrian traffic on the Chestnut, Market St. and Pine St. bridges are closed. This leaves Walnut St. as the only point of entry to the Arch grounds from the city. If you park in the Arch garage there is access from the north end of the park. See maps. More »

African American Community

In addition to slaves, St. Louis also had a fairly large free black community. African Americans in St. Louis were able to live within the strict "black codes", which were harsh laws that applied to all African Americans, both free and slave. Many free blacks owned businesses that carted goods from place to place after they were off-loaded from riverboats. Real estate was also a business known to free blacks. Others owned large barber emporiums, some with real gold faucets, marble countertops and crystal chandeliers, which were used by all the important white men of the town. These barbers were able to gather information that their white customers discussed and pass it along to the black community. Many became so rich that they became known as the "Colored Aristocracy" of St. Louis.

By 1835 an African American church had started in St. Louis; Sundays were also days of rest for the slaves, when gossip and news could be passed from one African American to another, in or out of church. African Americans who were literate would read newspapers aloud to others at night or on Sunday. These circumstances made urban slavery unusual. An African American could acquire accurate information about nearly any subject, including how to sue for one's freedom.

Because slavery in St. Louis became less and less profitable as years went by, masters hired out their slaves, usually for periods of a year at a time. This meant that slaves encountered a certain amount of uncertainty regarding whom they would be working for from year to year. Often, slaves were able to save a cut of their wages for themselves. This meant that after years of saving, they might be able to purchase their own freedom. Several St. Louis slaves did just that, although it was expensive, an average healthy male slave sold for about $500 in 1850, roughly $14,000 in today's money. In several cases, a father would purchase his freedom, set up a business, and save enough money to purchase his wife and children from their masters; he could then set them free legally.

Missouri slaveholders were worried about the rise in the population of free blacks. Many whites provoked incidents meant to strike fear into the hearts of free blacks, or to get them to leave Missouri. It was generally believed by slaveholders that free blacks stirred up discontent among the slaves, and caused them to run away, slow down their work, or sue for their freedom if they were eligible.

Did You Know?

Cast iron fence outside the Old Courthouse, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

During the 19th Century St. Louis was the premier ironwork city. After the great fire, many of its buildings were made using iron framework topped off by beautiful iron ornamentation. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial showcases St. Louis architecture in the Old Courthouse. More...