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Reading 2: Slavery at White Haven
Missouri became a slave state around the time Frederick Dent purchased the property he named White Haven in 1820. Before it was a state, Missouri was a territory with a mixture of cultures influenced by the free states in the North and slave states to the South. In Missouri, Southern sympathizers met Northern beliefs. When Missouri drafted its Constitution, anti-slavery and slavery supporters were at odds with each other about the acceptance of the institution in the state. Ultimately, Missouri was admitted as a slave state after the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
Missourians in different parts of the state varied in their use of slavery. Many slave owners lived near the center of the state along the Missouri River and this region came to be known as “Little Dixie,” a term used to show its ties to the South. The south-eastern part of Missouri, called the “bootheel” because of its shape, also became a hub of slavery. This “bootheel” region produced a lot of cotton and other crops that made forced labor a perceived necessity in the region. Other parts of the state did not have the same concentration of slaves as these two regions. St. Louis had a relatively small slave population that grew smaller during the years before the Civil War.
Though not located in the state’s slave-heavy regions, White Haven was a large farm by Missouri standards and had a large population of enslaved African Americans. In the 1850s, there were up to 30 people living and working on the farm’s 850 acres. Many of the enslaved residents grew up alongside Julia Grant at White Haven. As children, the young Dents and enslaved children played together. As adults, the enslaved people worked for the Dents on the estate. White Haven had fields, orchards, and livestock where slaves farmed every day for Frederick Dent. Frederick Dent and his sons were “gentlemen,” who oversaw the labor of the enslaved workers and the business of running a large farm. Slaves also worked at the Main House. Ellen Dent, Julia’s mother, was the mistress of White Haven and managed the domestic labor. She oversaw enslaved women who cooked the Dents’ meals, cared for the young children, and kept the house tidy. Most, if not all, of the slaves at White Haven slept in small, rough cabins away from the main house where the Dent family lived.
By the end of the 1850s, for many St. Louisans and Missourians Northern beliefs began to trump the politics of those sympathetic to the South. Soon, the debate over slavery raged on in the most serious of all forms: a Civil War that divided the nation and its families, and destroyed the lives of so many Americans in the name of slavery. Missouri did not secede, or join the Confederate States of America. It was a border state. It remained with the United States despite being a slave state. Relatives of the Dent family fought on both sides during the war.
Questions for Reading 2
1) In what part of the state did most enslaved Missourians live? What states did this part border? (Refer to Map 1)
2) Was White Haven in the bootheel? How many enslaved people lived and worked at White Haven? Was this common for the St. Louis region?
3) How was the life of a Dent at White Haven different from the life of an enslaved person at White Haven?4) Why do you think Missouri did not secede?