Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing – St. Louis, Missouri - Atlas Obscura

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Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing

This unassuming riverbank is Missouri’s first designated site in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. 


The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing marks a spot just north of St. Louis where escaped enslaved people staged a daring passage across the Mississippi River from Missouri to the free state of Illinois. On the night of May 21, 1855, abolitionist Mary Meachum and nine individuals boarded a skiff to cross under cover of darkness. Ambushed by those hunting enslaved people on the other side, most of the party members were either killed as they scattered or captured and resold. Meachum was sent to jail.

Meachum spent most of her life contributing to the Underground Railroad along the river. She and her husband established the Floating Freedom School after Missouri banned the education of Black Americans in 1847. They purchased a steamboat as an ingenious workaround that allowed them to teach formerly enslaved populations how to read and write, along with an education in the state laws.

The Reverend John Berry Meachum bought his own freedom, his wife’s, and many others with the profits from his carpentry business. After his passing, she maintained their home on Fourth Street as a safe house until her death in 1869. 

Non-profit organizations like Great Rivers Greenway have taken steps to honor the crossing site. Today, a pavilion provides a place for visitors to gather while a mural by St. Louis ArtWorks rich with symbolism illustrates themes of bondage, strife, fleeing, and freedom with Meachum at its center. 

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July 5, 2021

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