My name is Matilda, and I have a story to tell. I was a slave belonging to Thomas Howell, the man who owned the house that once stood just through those trees there. I was born in 1847, and by the time I was five years old, my master owned twenty-three slaves, from little ones like me to big, strong field hands who did most of our master's farming. All of us lived in two buildings, one made of bricks and one made of logs. There is no record of when I died in 1863, because I was just a slave. I am buried here, outside the boundaries of the cemetery, because slaves were never buried within the family cemetery's borders. When my master died, a carved stone marked his burial spot; a plain creek stone probably marked mine.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, there were about 2,000 slaves in St. Charles County. Many were owned by farmers who owned bottom land on the Missouri River. In the three southernmost townships in the county, Femme Osage, Callaway,and this township, Dardenne, there were nearly thirty people who owned at least ten slaves. Some of these were David Pitman, William Coshow, Peter Fulkerson, Samuel Keithly, and John Talley. Over 165 families in these three townships owned slaves, the average number being five. Lots of the Howells around here owned slaves. My master was one of the leaders of the secessionists in the area. He was even arrested once by Arnold Krekel's Home Guard soldiers.
But we had plenty of neighbors who owned no slaves and who thought the idea of one man owning another an abomination in the eyes of God. There were many hard words said back in those days, and some blood was spilled around here. Missouri was a divided state, and St. Charles County was a divided county. Because Missouri was a border state, when Mr. Lincoln made his Emancipation Proclamation in early 1863, I was still a slave when I woke up the next day, and I died a slave later that year. Missouri didn't free its slaves until January of 1865.
By the time I was born in 1847, Missouri had several long-established slave laws. Slaves were legally considered to be personal property and nothing more. Slaves couldn't use a firearm. If a slave sexually assaulted a white woman, he could legally be mutilated, yet a white man who raped the female slave of another white man was usually just charged with trespassing. Slaves were declared to be incompetent as witnesses in a trial. In the year I was born, 1847, a new law prohibited the education of slaves and free blacks. If a man were caught teaching a slave to read, he could be jailed up to six months. Of course, slaves could be bought and sold at the whim of the owner. Slave marriages were not recognized by the law; the law called them “moral agreements with no legal force.” In fact, slaves who had been married before emancipation had to remarry after they were free in order to be legal. Even at church, slaves were reminded of their low standing. We could attend the same churches as whites, but we had to sit in the balcony or at the back. When it came time to receive the Sacraments, slaves were served only after all the whites had been served.
A couple of decades after I died, a former slave wrote these words: “Think what it is to be a slave! To be treated not as a person but as property, a thing that may be bought and sold, to have no right to the fruit of your own labor, no right to your own husband and children, liable at any moment to be seperated at the arbittrary will of the master of all that is dearest to you on earth. Deprived by the law of learning to read the Bible, compelled to know that my purity and that of my daughters is exposed without protection of the law to the assault of a brutal white man. Think of this, and all the nameless horrors that are concentrated in that one word, SLAVERY.”