Ties that Bind
Missouri was admitted to the Union in 1820 as a slave-holding state. However, during the Civil War, Missouri became what is known as a border state, a state that sent troops to both the Union and Confederate forces, that had its star on both flags and truly represented the archetype of brother fighting against brother, neighbor against neighbor. Missouri had a complex political history, largely dealing with issues of slavery and slave rights, including most famously the Bleeding Kansas border skirmishes and the Dred Scott decision.
The nature of a border state was a strange one, though geography and economy led to fairly low slave holdings throughout Missouri. Despite that fact, from the time of admittance to the Union to the years just before the Civil War, the number of slaves listed in census records increased more than ten-fold, from 10,222 in 1820 to 114,931 in 1860. Emigrants from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia came to Missouri with agrarian dreams that could only be fulfilled through the use of slave labor.
The Ozarks was not home to many of the archetypal expansive slave plantations, and most slave owners in the Ozarks had less than ten slaves. Ten slaves or a thousand, slavery was a continued attempt to dehumanize African Americans and chain their freedom.
Court records and slave narratives provide primary source perspectives on the perceptions and treatment of African American slaves in the Ozarks. Cases like 1843's Mary et al. vs. Buffard, William T, paint a painful picture. In that case, a woman and her children who had been freed in their master's will were sold by his adminstrators to a dealer, Buffard, who later sold them to an Ozarks slave owner. Mary petitioned the courts for her freedom and also petitioned for damages against Buffard. Buffard simply motioned for dismissal, on the basis that Mary had no legal right to recompense, regardless of her treatment.
The chains in the OAAHM-Online's collection are primary source documents of a different kind. These physical reminders of the true nature of chattle slavery are some of the museum's most precious objects.