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Amos Yancy: A Slave, A Soldier, A Free Man.

Amos Yancy learned of the formation of colored regiments in Missouri (perhaps from an advertisement like the one above) and must have realized that this would be his opportunity to escape the bonds of slavery. On May 30, 1864, at the age of 18 years, Amos enlisted in the 18th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops as noted on the Enlisted card, right; thus guaranteeing his freedom at the end of his service.

By Timothy McCall, Guest columnist

From its inception, the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery has been a non-denominational, racially integrated cemetery. A racially integrated cemetery in the early 1860’s, was not a common occurrence. While we don’t have a precise count on the number of African-Americans buried here (an ongoing project), undoubtedly, there are more than a few that were ex-slaves. One such person recently re-discovered is Amos Yancy.

Amos was born into slavery, escaped to fight in the Civil War, came to Minnesota in search of a better life for his small family and died here, a free man.

From the moment of Amos’ birth in Monroe County, Missouri in 1846, he was considered someone’s property. We may never know the names of his parents, but we do know the names of the two families who once owned him, the Scobys and the Heizers.

The 1850 U.S. Federal Census-Slave Schedule, lists seven slaves belonging to John Scoby living in Monroe County, Missouri. Three were female, four were male and their ages ranged from one to twenty-two years. The Slave Schedules generally didn’t list the individual slave’s name, but grouped them under the name of the owner. The census did, however, list other important details, including: the slave’s age, sex and color (Black or Mulatto).

The person we’re interested in is a three-year old, mulatto boy. John Scoby died in 1851 and his wife Elizabeth followed him two years later. After Elizabeth’s death, an auction was held on August 1, 1853 by Sheriff Marion Biggs to liquidate the Scobys estate. It was at this auction that Amos, now seven years old, was purchased by Joseph Heizer.

Joseph Heizer was born in Virginia and had taken up farming in Kentucky before moving to Missouri. By 1860, Joseph and his son John, were farming 540 acres in Monroe County, where they owned 5 slaves, including Amos, now 14 years old.

At the outbreak of the Civil war, Missouri was a state divided. It was an important border state, partly due to its access to the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi rivers and so was claimed by both the Union and the Confederate governments. Slavery was legal in Missouri and many of its people had strong ties to the Southern States, however, the state had experienced a large influx of European immigration, especially from Germany. Many of the new arrivals had strong anti-slavery views and even stronger feelings toward the north and the Union. Amos, having learned of the formation of colored regiments in the state, must have realized that this would be his opportunity to escape the bonds of slavery, and so on May 30, 1864, at the age of 18 years, Amos enlisted in the 18th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, thus guaranteeing his freedom at the end of his service.

Slaves were usually given only a first name by their owner. After they were emancipated or in Amos’ case, when he enlisted, they would need to choose a last or surname. Often, they would use the surname of a former master. How Amos chose the name “Yancy” may never be known, but interestingly, on the 1850 census, there were two young brothers, Marshall and William Yancy living with a family named Canterbury, who happened to be neighbors of the Scoby’s. Could it be possible that Marshall and Williams parents (deceased?) may have been the original owners of Amos?

Most of the 18th Regiment USCT service was in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, including participating in the Battle of Nashville in December 1864. Amos was discharged on February 21, 1866 in Huntsville, Alabama. There are two interesting notes in his military records. He was charged $0.44 for a lost canteen and $0.17 for a lost screw driver, both “lost through neglect.” Losing two small items during a time of war must have been a common occurrence. One has to wonder if Amos was being held to a different standard than that of other soldiers.

In 1866, his former owner’s son, John Heizer, filed a Claim for Compensation for Enlisted Slave[s]. A law had been passed in which; “Any loyal slave owner, having signed an Oath of Allegiance, were entitled to compensation from the U.S. Government for slaves who enlisted in the military service.” The amount of compensation ranged from $100 to $300. Fortunately for us, this document provided a number of important pieces of information needed to tell Amos’ story.

Amos next appeared in St. Louis, Missouri in 1869. According to records of The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, Amos received two pension payments; $18.00 on June 14 and another payment of $188.50 on July 14. His first and only son Samuel, was born in St. Louis about 1869. He and Samuel’s mother, Mary Ellen Johnson, apparently waited until they arrived in Minnesota to be legally married, which they were on June 4, 1873 in Ramsey County. That same year they were living in Minneapolis at 3rd Ave North near the corner of 1st Street and Amos was working as a laborer at the J.B. Basset & Company planing mill. A planing mill is a facility that takes the rough cut timber from the saw mills and turns them into finished dimensional lumber. Amos must have excelled at his new-found vocation, because by 1880 he was listed as foreman at the mill. Records also indicate that he worked at the Basset Mill from the time of his arrival in Minnesota until the time of his death or about 9 years.

Amos died on August 1, 1882. The cause of death was heart disease. He was only 36 years old. Tragedy struck the family again four months later when their son Samuel contracted diphtheria and died on December 1, 1882 at the age of 13 years.

Mary continued to live in Minneapolis and married Benjamin Brown on February 12, 1896. She died on May 4, 1903 from inanition and was buried next to her first husband and only son in Block 48, Lot N, South East ¼. All three graves are unmarked.

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