Black History Month 2020 – Robert Campbell and Slavery

This Black History Month, we are recognising and highlighting some of the experiences of enslaved people. These experiences are a shocking and unavoidable part of the story of emigration from Ulster to North America over the 18th and 19th centuries. They are important stories to be told. As a museum, we acknowledge the exploitative and harmful impacts of life in the New World for enslaved people. We commit to tell more of those stories and do them justice.

Image: The Campbell House at the Ulster American Folk Park
The Campbell House at the Ulster American Folk Park

Robert Campbell spent his childhood in this house, which is now at the Folk Park. He made money as a trapper and trader of furs with Native American People in the Rocky Mountains.

He married Virginia Kyle in 1841 in the slave state of North Carolina. They set up home in Saint Louis, Missouri, also a state where slavery was legal. Part of Virginia’s dowry was three enslaved children - Caroline, Simeon, and Hazlett. Robert sent the two oldest to work on a business partner’s farm, the youngest remained for a while in his household. Sadly we do not know what happened to them next.

Robert also had an enslaved housekeeper, Eliza Rone, at his mansion in St. Louis. In 1857 he freed Eliza and her children, who were all under his ownership. His mother-in-law Lucy Kyle may have influenced him, as she was very much against slavery and came to live at his house around this time. It seems that Eliza stayed on as a paid house keeper.

Robert does not appear to have kept any enslaved people after 1857. He added to his fortune by trading in the Southern States in an economy based on slavery. Eventually all enslaved people in the USA were freed in 1865.