|Emancipation record for George Tyler, Jr., whose parents succeeded in purchasing his freedom from Saint Louis University. Image courtesy of Jesuit Archives & Research Center.|
Matilda Tyler (sometimes spelled Tylor or Taylor, born Matilda Hawkins or possibly Queen) was one woman whose story the Jesuits today hope to tell through the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project. She is just one of the more than 170 people whose forced labor helped ensure the success of the Missouri and New Orleans Missions and whose memories have long been neglected and deserve to be honored.
Mrs. Tyler is remarkable in that she managed to buy not only her own freedom, but that of her five sons. Parts of her life remain a mystery, and some sources present conflicting data, so there is little we can say about her life definitively. But the information pieced together so far depicts a woman of courage, strength, perseverance and hope.
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 Protus 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 Fr. Charles Van Quickenborne. These enslaved people were initially forced to work at the Jesuits’ farm in Florissant, but eventually several, including Mrs. Tyler, were sent to work at Saint Louis College (now Saint Louis University).
With the maiden name of Hawkins (alternatively, Queen), Mrs. 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. We know just a few facts about Mr. Tyler. He was born in Virginia around 1803, married Matilda and fathered her children. We do not yet know how Mr. Tyler came to be in Missouri, but he was emancipated in 1847 by 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. (1845 – 1899) and Joanna or Georgia (1850-53). There is some discrepancy in the records about the birth years for four of the boys.
Mrs. Tyler labored at Saint Louis College (University) as an enslaved person. According to Missouri law at the time, enslaved people were allowed to purchase their freedom, and Mrs. Tyler made 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, by Aug. 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.
This page from the Missouri Mission treasury ledger shows payments
Matilda Tyler made to purchase her freedom from Saint Louis University. Image courtesy of Jesuit Archives & Research Center.
The Tylers subsequently purchased the freedom of their four remaining sons. This simple statement of fact cannot convey the heroism behind their actions. Mr. Tyler was freed in 1847 and Mrs. Tyler 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 Mrs. 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.
Mrs. 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 Records, both Edward and Thomas are listed as draymen; George Jr. was a cleaner.
Emancipation certificate for Samuel Tyler, 18, which includes a cursory physical description. Image courtesy of Jesuit Archives & Research Center.
In the 1861 St. Louis City Directory, Mrs. Tyler is listed as a widow. Her husband’s date of death is unclear (c. 1850-54), and his burial site is unknown. As a widow, Mrs. Tyler lived with sons Charles H. and Thomas Tyler with an address in the alley behind 9th and 10th Streets between Morgan (now Delmar) and Franklin. In 1871, she lived with Charles H. Tyler on Wash Avenue at the corner of Boston. By 1890, she and Charles H. had moved to 4148 Lucky (now Aldine) Street.
She died at 4148 Lucky Street on Jan. 20, 1901 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery. Her grave is unmarked.
Researchers have successfully traced three succeeding generations of Matilda and George’s youngest son, Charles. He married Margaret (whose maiden name is as yet unknown), and together they had two daughters and one son: Celia (sometimes Cecelia, 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.
The genealogical research on the Tyler family is continuing, 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.
Matilda Tyler’s story, still incomplete, is beginning to take shape. Much like a painter adding brushstrokes to a portrait, each new discovery adds to the image. As with any moment in history, the full story will never be known. But we pledge to honor Matilda and others like her by following her example of perseverance while we continue to explore the lives of the men, women and children who were enslaved, and whose descendants may well be our neighbors.
This research was compiled by Kelly Schmidt and Jeff Harrison, SJ. Recommended citation: Kelly Schmidt and Jeff Harrison, “Matilda Tyler and Her Family,” Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project, 2018.
Updated: July 2019
The Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver offers Ignatian group retreats, individual spiritual direction, the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, and trains spiritual directors and guides of the Spiritual Exercises.