Even before Nat Turner’s 1831 uprising, whites in slave states expressed a growing fear of the free African Americans in their midst. Space became a means of control. In St. Louis, whites sought to expel free blacks by legal, extra-legal, and terroristic means. They also restricted the movements of enslaved blacks, banning separate worship and requiring every slave to reside with her or his master–not with free family members, for example. Some free blacks fled, settling on the east (“free”) bank of the Mississippi River, opposite St. Louis, on property purchased by Baltimore, a steamboat chambermaid, lying-in nurse, and truck farmer.
Priscilla’s property became a locus of resistance. Her businesses raised money for black institutions, especially the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her home sheltered traveling preachers expelled from St. Louis, and church leaders organized the first AME church in the American West in her “upper room” in 1841. The settlement around her property sustained a reputation as a refuge for fugitives from slavery. In short, Priscilla’s property sustained the clandestine public sphere of anti-slavery activity, even as women’s roles in resistance remained veiled by the gender conventions of the African American public sphere.
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