African-Americans have played an important part in the culture, political, and spiritual history of St. Louis since 1764. They were members of the party that accompanied Pierre de Laclede Liguest when he founded the trading post and French village that became St. Louis. According to the 1799 census, the total population of St. Louis was 925 of which 46% were people of African descent.

African-American communities were established in St. Louis County as early as the 1860s, e.g., Webster Groves and Rock Hill. The black community of Kinloch was not developed until the 1890s.

St. Louis City Hall has “Certificate of Character” documents dating from 1804 to 1860. This includes filings for free born or emancipated persons of African ancestry. These records are unindexed.

Many Missouri slaves joined the Union Army between 1863 and 1865 and at the time of enlistment, a “descriptive recruitment list” was made for each recruit. For slaves, enlistment meant freedom. If the former slave owner was loyal, he or she could later file a slave compensation claim for the lost services of the slave. Three hundred dollars could be claimed for slaves who enlisted; $100 could be claimed if slaves were drafted. Because of the possibility of fraud, some of the recruitment officers wrote detailed personal notes in the remarks section of the descriptive recruitment list.

Julius K. Hunter & Friends African-American Research Collection

Most of Missouri’s descriptive recruitment lists have been preserved at the National Archives. The Julius K. Hunter & Friends African-American Research Collection and the National Archives sponsored the microfilming of those records and now they are available to the public in National Archives microfilm publication M1894, Descriptive Recruitment Lists of Volunteers for the United States Colored Troops for the State of Missouri, 1863-1865. Besides providing a physical description of the recruit, it tells the county and state of birth of the slave and the name and county of residence of the former slave owner.

The St. Louis County Library History and Genealogy Department offers a special finding aid outlining the African-American microforms, CD-ROMs, and electronic databases available at the library. Click on St. Louis County Library Finding Aids for further information.

This source and other holdings in the St. Louis County Library, Julius K. Hunter Collection may open many doors for African-American researchers and anyone whose family lived in the South. The record set is available at St. Louis County Library.


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Last modified: 20-Mar-2017 17:01