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History stands on a hill in Jefferson City

History stands on a hill in Jefferson City

Missouri Conference on History held in Capital City this year

March 16th, 2018 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Charles Machon, background, listens as Regina Meyer, the Cultural Resource Manager for the Missouri National Guard talks about the landscape and topography of Camp Clark in southwestern Missouri. Machon is executive director of the Museum of Missouri Military History and Meyer was one of several presenters Thursday at the 60th annual Missouri Conference on History held this year at Capitol Plaza Hotel.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Researchers call it that "Eureka" moment — that instant when they realize they've found that piece of information they needed to spark the idea for a thesis or the information that backs it up.

James Cramer knows it.

Cramer, a Lincoln University student finishing a bachelor's degree, was one of three LU students who presented research papers Thursday at the Missouri Conference on History.

The 60th annual conference, held in different parts of the state every year, is staged at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City this week. It is intended to bring together history educators and professional historians for presentations of research papers, according to the conference program.

Cramer presented his paper, "A Brief Life of Hercules Mulligan," at a break-out session. He said the musical "Hamilton" inspired him to learn about the Revolutionary War-era man from New York City who apparently was a spy for the rebelling colonists.

Out-of-print books helped Cramer learn what Mulligan stood for — he was a member of Sons of Liberty, a secret society formed to protect colonists' rights and fight taxation — before he met Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, 18, visited with Mulligan and others in Mulligan's house one night to discuss issues.

No one knows what they said that convinced Hamilton to join the revolution, Cramer said. But historians know some of the people who were there and how they felt.

"There's a lot of assumptions," Cramer said. "There's no solid evidence, which stinks."

Afterward, Cramer said, Hamilton went to George Washington and told him, "I have a guy. Trust him."

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Another Lincoln student, Michelle Brooks, who is editor of the California Democrat newspaper, presented her research on soldiers who were members of the 62nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, the Union's African-American infantry regiment formed in St. Louis in 1863. In her paper, "Finding the Founders: A Search for Soldiers of the 62nd USCT," Brooks looked at several of the soldiers' lives during the Civil War and following the war, including some who helped establish Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University).

Nearing the end of the Civil War, when the regiment was established, white officers for the newly freed black soldiers of the 62nd USCT made their literacy a priority.

"At the end of their service," Brooks said, "these soldiers gave generously to the idea of a school where other black Missourians would be able to gain the same skills."

Lincoln University is the soldiers' legacy, she said.

About half of the regiment was born in Missouri. Nearly all of the Missouri soldiers came from counties along the Missouri river known as Little Dixie, she said. They ranged in age from 15-62, with most 18-20. Many who enlisted were refused. The Union discharged others shortly after they enlisted.

They were farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, engineers, coopers and bricklayers.

"Like their white officers, the soldiers left family, friends and familiarity for a chance to become something more," Brooks said. "For the former slaves, it was freedom and opportunity. For several of the white officers who had previously served as enlisted for regiments in Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas, it was a chance for commissions as officers."

Brooks detailed some of the soldiers' wartime experience and how their lives passed after the war.

Enlisted men took advantage of the creation of Lincoln Institute. One of its first students, 1st Sgt. Henry Brown, in 1868 lived under the alias Henry Green to teach and preach in Marshall and later in Lexington.

Sgt. Maj. John Jeffries became a teacher at the institute and later at a school in Rolla.

Long after the war, some of the soldiers and officers met untimely ends, Brooks said.

One was lynched in Boonville for being "too intimate with a white woman." Scott Charleston, of Cooper County, moved to Kentucky after the war, but was committed by 1880 to the Eastern State Hospital, in Lexington, for insanity.

A white officer, Capt. Harrison Dubois had been part of the organizing committee for Lincoln Institute and returned to Kansas after the war. Dubois was a township trustee and justice of the peace there. In 1880, a horse kicked him in the back of the head, leaving him blind and deaf on one side. He died in 1903, only after a train struck him.

Asked how she dug up so much data on the soldiers, Brooks said she started with enlistment records. Those were relatively easy to find. But there were about 1,300 members of the unit, and each enlistment record contained about five pages.

"It took me more than a year to go through all of those documents," Brooks explained. "I actually created a spreadsheet that's at the Lincoln archive now."

The spreadsheet shows each soldier's age at enlistment, his owner at the time, where he lived and where he was born. Documents also sometimes included the owners' applications for compensation for the loss of their slaves.

"Those are great documents," she said. "I didn't share them here, but I hope to use them in the future."

They sometimes included family members.

Sean Rost, an LU graduate doing graduate studies at the University of Missouri, served as commentator for the Lincoln panel. Rost said it shouldn't be surprising that students find so many unique ways to look at parts of history that might seem picked over.

Historians continue to present new views on slavery, economics, war and other topics, he said.

"There are constantly things to focus on in new ways," Rost said. "In a lot of ways, these topics are looked at earlier. But somebody comes along and says, 'I have a new interpretation of this.'"

Keynote speaker Bob Priddy joked that state officials were trying to complete remodeling the Capitol before the conference, but didn't quite get it done.

Priddy, former news director for Missourinet, is the author of five books based on the state's history and told the historians the state Capitol is "one of the great structures of America."

"Our Capitol involves a lot of decades of uncertainty — populated by dreamers, schemers, statesmen and grafters, and a series of real estate frauds," Priddy said.

Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 destroyed land and farms in southeastern Missouri. Afterward, land speculators began buying up the land for pennies. About the same time, Congress allowed the Territory of Missouri to write a constitution. The first draft "required the permanent seat of government to be in the central part of the state, on the Missouri River, within 40 miles of the mouth of the Osage." Some attribute that description to Montgomery County resident Josiah Ramsey, who wanted a village where he lived to be the capital.

Even after the site that is now Jefferson City was chosen to be the capital, people in Sedalia tried multiple times to move the capital there, Priddy said.

The Capital City avoided Confederate attack only because Union soldiers made it appear there were more soldiers in the city than there actually were, he said.

By 1875, the state Supreme Court was moved into the building. It was cramped and moldy. Conditions were suspected as factors in the deaths of two lawmakers in the building.

Things seemed quiet in 1895.

"Sedalia was plotting," Priddy said.

That year, supporters presented a bill in the General Assembly that would move the seat of government west to Sedalia.

They "listed aches and pains" Jefferson City offered.

"Lack of hotel facilities. Lack of railroad facilities. Lack of enterprise," Priddy listed. "A surplus of hills, valleys, bad beer, bad whiskey, bad water and unsightly streets."

In a statewide vote, 65 percent of voters chose to keep the capital where it was.

But Mother Nature cast another vote Feb. 5, 1911, when lightning struck the copper dome of the Capitol. The building burned down. At a cost of $4 million, it was rebuilt in 1917.

About 200 people listened as Priddy gave the oral history — professionals, instructors and students. They sat quietly, possibly thinking of new ways of looking at the Capitol's own history.

Maybe of beginning new paths to research.

Cramer said he has been helping with research for an author's book.

"If I'm doing research and I have a task and I'm finding stuff," Cramer said after his presentation, "I'm in heaven."