W. Oliver Anderson

Slave Population in Missouri 1850

Oliver Anderson of Lafayette County was one of a largest slave owners in the Missouri River counties of Boon's Lick.
[Callaway County Missouri Journal]

William Oliver Anderson (1794-1873) was born in Jessamine county, Kentucky. His prosperous family were farmers and traders, selling produce down the river to New Orleans. Anderson fought in the 1812 War, serving in the Kentucky volunteers and rising to Captain by war's end. He remained in the militia, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1820. Anderson began raising hemp and making rope and bagging for cotton bales in 1830. His fortunes rose with the increase in cotton shipments to Europe in the following years. The 1848 uprisings in Europe caused demand for hemp to drop but Anderson remained in the hemp business. In 1850 he decided to move to Missouri where hemp was increasingly an important commercial crop. [www.mostateparks.com/lexington]

Anderson and his partner and son-in-law Howard Gratz grew hemp on Anderson's Missouri River bottom land and purchased hemp from other Boon's Lick farmers. In February 1854, the company was the largest hemp manufacturer in Lexington, purchasing 900 tons of hemp and shipping 14,000 coils of rope, weighing 115 pounds each, down the river when the ice broke up. [Hurt, Agriculture and Slavery, 107]

Hemp growing was hard, dirty work requiring year-round hand labor. Only in the Upper South, where slaves were available to do the work, did hemp cultivation thrive. The crop was planted in April and cultivated by hand through the summer. When the plants reached six inches, slaves thinned them to four plants per hill and after frost, gathered seed for the next year. Stalks were harvested in August with scythes and left to dry on the ground. Stocks were then collected, shocked in bundles and hauled to a stack. The stack was spread on the ground again and about a month later, when the stalks had rotted enough to separate fibers from woody stems, the crop was ready for hauling to the hemp break for separating. Hemp breaking went on all winter as slaves tied the fiber in bundles and moved it to the warehouse where it was dressed before being pressed into bales. [Hurt, Agriculture and Slavery, 109ff]

Hemp Crop in the Field

[Institut Für Landtechnik, University of Bonn]

Anderson believed slavery was not only necessary for his business, but was also a "God-given right." He wrote to his wife:

"...Slavery is a scriptural institution, and...Abolitionists, as they exist here, are infidels. They are unwilling that God shall be a judge of what is proper and right, and desire themselves to determine what is proper, and that too, in direct opposition to God's revealed law as given to the Hebrews. Hence they say they want an Antislavery Bible and an Antislavery God." [www.mostateparks.com/lexington]

As one of the largest slave owners in Missouri, Anderson was active in the pro-slavery movement following the opening of Kansas Territory. He organized Lafayette county committees to send men and money for the Kansas crusade and signed an August 26, 1856 manifesto calling for Missourians and others to come to the aid of pro-slavery forces in Kansas to "enable (them) to expel the (Northern) invaders." [Cutler, History, Part 40]

Anderson's son, Joseph, a Lexington lawyer, served in the Kansas Bogus Legislature and Oliver Anderson was clearly an important figure in Lafayette county. But his fortunes declined, and in 1859, he auctioned his business, his real estate and his home to satisfy creditors. His home, now a Missouri State Park property, was one of the few brick structures in the Boon's Lick. [Philips, Missouri's Confederate, 29] Late in 1859, he ran for Lafayette county sheriff, "for the living that there is in it," but lost badly. When the Civil War began in 1861, Anderson was in poor financial condition. [www.mostateparks.com/lexington]

In the summer of 1861, martial law in Missouri was declared by the Union Army. In 1862 Anderson and his sons William and Joseph were arrested for refusing to sign an "oath of allegiance" to the Union. It was rumored that they were members of a secret militant group, the "Southern League," thought to be smuggling arms to the Confederacy. Their property was confiscated and they were jailed, first in Lexington and later at the Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis. [Frazier, Mendenhall Diary, 67]

Oliver Anderson spent less than a year in the St. Louis Union Army Prison. He was paroled to live in Northern states for the duration of the war, but after several months of moving from place to place, Anderson was allowed to return to Kentucky. He died in 1873 at his daughter's home in Lexington, Kentucky. [www.mostateparks.com/lexington]

Charles Clark