The activities of the Underground Railroad were by nature, shrouded in secrecy. The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing is the location of one of the few documented Underground Railroad events in the United States. This is because on May 21, 1855, Mary Meachum was caught helping slaves cross the Mississippi River to Illinois and freedom. Details of the event have been pieced together from newspapers clippings that covered the story. The story was big news at the time because some of the slaves who had attempted to escape where owned by Henry Shaw and other important St Louisans.
Mary Meachum was the widow of Reverand John Berry Meachum, a well known St. Louisan and pastor of St. Louis' First African Baptist Church. John Meachum came to St Louis in 1815 after having purchased his freedom out of slavery because his wife, Mary, and their children had been brought to St. Louis by her owner. Once in St. Louis, Meachum was able to purchase their freedom as well. Meachum was involved in many activities that were centered around educating and bettering the lives of the African American community in St. Louis and across the nation. At one time he held educational classes for African Americans in his church but was told to stop because of a 1847 Missouri law that made it illegal to educate persons of color. Instead, he circumvented the law and held the classes on a riverboat in the middle of the Mississippi River.
On November 1, 2001 The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing was dedicated and accepted as Missouri's first site into the National Park Service's newly formed "National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom" Division. The site can be accessed from the trailhead of the St. Louis Riverfront Trail that is located at Prairie Avenue, just north of the Merchants Bridge.
Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing
St. Louis Riverfront Trail at Prairie Avenue, north of the Merchants Bridge
St. Louis, MO 63147