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Southeast Missouri had a key role in the road to Missouri statehood in 1817-1821. The events leading to statehood, and some of the events, people, and lifeways in the area may be unfamiliar to many modern-day Missourians. Currently, Missouri is celebrating its Bicentennial, and this program aims to summarize the events leading to statehood, some of the factors affecting Missouri’s entry into the Union, and how people lived and worked during that time 200 years ago.Every Friday morning at 6:42 and 8:42 a.m. and Saturday morning at 8:18 a.m., Bill Eddleman highlights the people, places, ways of life, and local events in Southeast Missouri in 1821.The theme music for the show ("The Missouri Waltz") is provided by Old-Time Missouri Fiddler Charlie Walden, host of the podcast "Possum’s Big Fiddle Show."

MO Bicentennial Minutes: The Lives of Missouri’s Enslaved People in 1821

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November 23, 1822, page 4, column 4
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Enslaved People often resisted rules imposed by law upon them despite the punishments, as indicated by this notice from the Independent Patriot.

Statements by various writers about treatment of the enslaved in Missouri vary from “…being considered almost as one of the…family….” to descriptions of deplorable punishments. One attitude amongst enslavers was that even though they wanted to treat the enslaved humanely, maintaining discipline was foremost. Otherwise, they asserted, the enslaved would escape or even organize and rebel. Even the rosiest statements are questionable through the lens of enslavement. As one historian stated, “…mild or not. It was still slavery.”

The amount of labor expected varied. One extreme owner expected slaves in the fields by 4:30 a.m., or they received 10 lashes. Some enslavers allowed the enslaved to have Saturday afternoon and Sunday off. Some allowed the enslaved a ration of whiskey during harvest time.

State law prohibited or restricted many actions to the enslaved, including selling items without their enslaver’s consent, leaving their enslaver’s property without leave or entering another’s property; assembling in groups larger than five; seditious speech; and carrying a gun, powder, shot or club. Punishment ranged from whipping to execution.

Enslavers encouraged religious instruction directed by white ministers. While churches might perform marriages, the law considered these non-binding, and enslavers readily sold couples to different owners. Interment of enslaved people was often in separate sections of cemeteries.

Slave diets varied substantially. One woman reported that while in Madison County, she had a noon meal of meat, bread, with greens or other vegetables in summer, bread and milk for supper. When sold, however, she never had enough to eat.

Few of the enslaved were literate. Some enslavers allowed teaching the enslaved, or were indifferent. Later, teaching enslaved people became illegal through state law.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.
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