Matilda Tyler (sometimes spelled Tylor or Taylor, born Matilda Hawkins or possibly Queen) was one of the many people whose forced labor helped ensure the success of the Missouri Mission. She was a woman of courage, strength, and perseverance. Matilda Tyler managed to buy not only her own freedom, but that of her five sons.
Census records offer conflicting information about the year and place of Matilda’s birth, but the 1880 census indicates she was born in 1815 in Washington, D.C., most likely the daughter of Proteus and Anny Queen, a couple held in slavery by Jesuits. Researchers believe she arrived in St. Louis as part of a large group of enslaved people brought from the Jesuits’ White Marsh Plantation in Maryland in 1829 by Jesuit Charles Van Quickenborne. These two families were initially forced to work at the Jesuits’ farm in Florissant, but eventually several, including Matilda Tyler, were sent to work at Saint Louis College (now Saint Louis University).
With the maiden name of Hawkins (alternatively, Queen), Matilda Tyler was probably related to some of the more than 272 enslaved people who were sold by the Jesuits’ Maryland Province in 1838 to help pay the debts of Georgetown University. There were also Queens and Hawkinses who sued for their freedom in Maryland and the District of Columbia in the 18th century. It is possible she came from a family versed in finding means to attain their freedom.
Matilda was married to George Tyler. He was born in Virginia around 1803. We do not yet know how George Tyler came to be in Missouri, but he was probably forcibly relocated or sold there by an owner. There, he met and married Matilda Hawkins. He achieved his emancipation in 1847 from Anthony Miltenberger, a St. Louis merchant.
Together, Matilda and George had five sons and two daughters: Edward (born 1832), George Jr. (c. 1834), Thomas (c. 1836), Samuel (c. 1841 – 1903), Anna (who we believe died within a few days of her birth in 1842), Charles H. (1844 – 1899) and Joanna or Georgia (1850-53). There is some discrepancy in the records about the birth years for four of the boys.
Matilda Tyler and her children labored in slavery at Saint Louis College (University). According to Missouri law at the time, enslaved people were allowed to purchase their freedom, and so Matilda Tyler began making arrangements with the Jesuits to purchase her own freedom, and later, that of her sons. An 1847 entry in the Province Treasury ledgers, under the heading “Matilda, colored servant” reads, “She is to have her freedom, if she pay $300 to be appropriated to St. Fr. Xavier Church.” The records indicate that she had indeed successfully purchased her freedom and that of her youngest son, Charles, by August 1, 1848 through four deposits totaling $300 (about $9,000 in 2018 dollars). The money went to St. Francis Xavier Church, where one year later, she would receive the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation along with her son, Thomas.
The Tylers subsequently purchased the freedom of their four remaining sons. George Tyler acquired his freedom in 1847 and Matilda the following year. She washed clothes for a living, and he drove a wagon. We do not know how they managed to earn and save such a large sum of money, although their sons probably contributed. We do know that Matilda Tyler continued to maintain an account with Saint Louis University as she made payments for the freedom of her sons.
On Jan. 24, 1859, the Saint Louis University Board of Trustees resolved to release from slavery “Edmond (Edward), aged 27, George, aged 25, Thomas, aged 23, and Samuel Tyler, aged 18 years, Sons of George and Matilda Tyler.” On Jan. 29, 1859, Saint Louis University signed legal deeds of emancipation for Edmond, George, Thomas and Samuel.
Matilda Tyler and her sons obtained their freedom licenses in 1861, an additional expense. Her $500 bond included Sam and Charles, her youngest sons; George Jr., Thomas, and Edward each paid $500 for their bonds. In the 1861 freedom bonds, both Edward and Thomas are listed as draymen (wagon-drivers who transported goods); George Jr. was a cleaner.
In the 1860 St. Louis City Directory, Matilda Tyler is listed as a widow. Her husband George’s date of death is unclear (c. 1850-54), and his burial site is unknown. As a widow, Matilda Tyler lived with sons Charles and Thomas Tyler at a residence in the alley behind 9th and 10th Streets between Morgan (now Delmar) and Franklin, not far from the original downtown campus of Saint Louis University. In 1871, she lived with her son Charles H. Tyler on Wash Avenue at the corner of Boston in the Ville neighborhood of St. Louis. In 1883, Charles purchased property at 4148 Lucky (now Aldine) Street in the Ville and the Tyler family resided there by 1885.
Charles H. Tyler moved his family into the Ville’s emerging middle-class Black neighborhood as his career in local business and politics grew more successful. In 1871, Charles had worked as a porter for Sigemund Archenhold, owner of S. Archenhold & Co. By the following year, he became a partner with Archenhold, selling wine and liquor. They worked together until 1879. By 1880, Charles had established his own saloon with his colleague and friend Henry Bridgewater. As business partners Tyler and Bridgewater ran saloons at different locations across St. Louis through the 1880s, and together managed the St. Louis Black Stockings baseball team, one of the country’s first Black baseball teams. Sylvester Chauvin, Charles’s first cousin once removed, was a star player on the team.
Charles H. Tyler was part of an elite group of Black members of the Republican Party in St. Louis known as the “Colored Silk Stockings.” Art historian James E. Brunson III says that these men “created civic projects, hosted gala events, and plotted elections.” Alongside a select group of Black St. Louisans, Charles helped prepare for the funeral procession of President Ulysses Grant. He was an aide to the Grand Marshall in the division of Black men who laid a wreath on President Grant’s tomb. With another group of African American leaders, Charles Tyler founded the “Colored Immigration Aid Society,” an organization dedicated to raising funds for Black Americans to emigrate from the Southern United States to different parts of the country where it would be safer for people of color.
In 1885, Charles ran for St. Louis City Marshal. One group of African American political leaders described him as “a brave, honest, and competent candidate” with an “unsullied character for integrity and capacity and in private and social life a character of unquestioned purity.” Charles’ run for office was unsuccessful, but he continued his involvement in local politics, including hosting political meetings of African American St. Louisans at his saloon. In July 1890, Black St. Louis residents attended a debate there on the role of the federal government. At another meeting in August 1890, attendees discussed Internal-Revenue Collector Charles F. Wenneker. Charles may have moderated the discussion, which centered around the claim that Wenneker had ignored the demands of people of color within his district and the Republican Party. Charles H. Tyler died on October 21, 1899 from progressive paralysis. He was 53 years old.
Researchers have successfully traced three succeeding generations of the Tyler family through Charles. He married Margaret Howard, and together they had two daughters and one son: Cecelia (often called Celia, born 1872), John George (1873) and Estelle (sometimes Estella, born c. 1875).
Celia Tyler married James Franklin (born 1868) in 1892 and had one son, James Tyler Franklin, born in 1894. James Tyler Franklin married Ivy C. Booker (1894-1959) in 1920. He died April 12, 1965, apparently childless, and was buried in Washington Park Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri.
Matilda Tyler was filled with grief after her youngest son Charles passed away. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “grief over the death of her son has unbalanced her mind” and she was placed in the City Asylum. Matilda Tyler died there on January 20, 1901. Her funeral was held in her family home at 4148 Lucky Street, and processed to St. Matthew’s Parish. She was buried in the family plot Charles had purchased in Calvary Cemetery. Her grave is unmarked.
Genealogical research on the Tyler family continues, using archival materials such as city directories and church, census, property and death records. We know that many of Matilda’s descendants lived in the Ville neighborhood of St. Louis, on Lucky (now Aldine) Street, Cote Brilliant and West Belle Place. Many are buried at Calvary Cemetery, indicating the family remained Catholic, but their graves are unmarked.
We honor Matilda Tyler and others like her as we continue to learn about the lives of the men, women and children who were enslaved.
This research was compiled by Kelly L. Schmidt, Jasmine Molock, and Jeff Harrison, SJ.
Recommended citation: Kelly L. Schmidt, Jasmine Molock and Jeff Harrison, “Matilda Tyler and Her Family,” Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project, 2020.
Updated: June 2020