When White Men Were Sold As Slaves in Missouri
A recent death, that of an old gentlemen, suggests the writing of this article, and it may turn on the light to many readers of one of, the surprising customs, or shall I not say laws, for the custom was but the enforcement of legal acts for Pike county and the entire state of Missouri. The death really had nothing whatever to do with the events herein related, for it was merely an incident, one of the stepping stones of memory in its backward flight, and but for the death mentioned, so far as the writer is concerned, might have been forgotten, if we ever really forget anything. Of course, I do not mention names, but there are doubtless persons in this community who remember it, and probably others like it. I distinctly remember one other for I was present at the sale of the white man. I use the word sale here with limitations. It was on the stile blocks leading out and in to the courthouse yard on the east side, more than 60 years ago. At this same spot I had seen colored slaves publicly auctioned off to go to the Southern market. I have an inkling that at these stiles all other sales, such as land, slave and personal property took place instead of at the east door of the court house. I was not present at the sale suggested by this death, but it took place at these stiles. I did however, well know the man who was sold in accordance with the law here given. He was bid in by his wife for the munificent sum of two bits. She knit a pair of socks and got the money that way to buy him. I suppose of course, they lived happy ever afterward. During most of the concurrent years of this law many husbands were sent to the jail in the northwest corner of the yard for the nonpayment of debt, no matter how small or how large the debt, while the wives toiled, spun, knit, sewed or washed to get money to get their husbands out of jail. I am glad I did not live then, for it would have required many wives to have kept me out.
As far back as March 1815 when Missouri was only a territory and there was no Pike county, there was a law like this: Every able bodied person who shall be found loitering about with no visible means of support and maintenance, and who does not apply himself to labor, or some other honest calling to procure a livelihood, and all able bodied persons who are found begging or who quit their houses and leave their wives and children without means of subsistence, shall be deemed and treated as vagrants. All keepers or exhibitors of any gaming table, or gambling device, and all persons who travel, or remain in steamboats, or go from place to place for the purpose of gaming shall be treated as vagrants.
When any such person is found any justice of peace of the county shall on information or from his own knowledge, issue his warrant to the sheriff, or constable to bring such person before him. If upon examining it shall appear he is a vagrant, the fact of vagrance having been established by a jury summoned and sworn to inquire…. The justice shall make out a warrant directing the sheriff to keep such person in his custody until three days’ notice can be given in public places, of the hiring out of such vagrant at the courthouse door in said county for a term of six months to the highest bidder for cash in hand…
In 1825 after Missouri became a state, the law in practically the same language was reenacted. In 1835 the wording of the law was slightly changed, but in substance the same, and this continued to be the law till March 1897 when it was repealed….
La Press Journal 1920..