Hunting Freedom: The Many Paths to Emancipation in Civil War Missouri
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“Hunting Freedom: The Many Paths to Emancipation in Civil War Missouri” is a museum exhibition exploring the end of slavery in western Missouri. The Kansas-Missouri border provides a unique view into the process of emancipation. Violent conflict erupted early in the region during the crisis over Kansas statehood. Soon after the start of the Civil War, in response the occupation of the state by the Union military, a guerrilla insurgency erupted in Missouri. As the war progressed, white Missourians became increasingly divided and the resulting chaos created avenues to freedom for the enslaved population. The presence of the Union army, the proximity of free states, the division of white society, and the mobility and knowledge of enslaved people living in small-scale slavery allowed enslaved Missourians to gain freedom earlier and in greater numbers than many other slave states. Missouri was excluded from the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, but by the time slavery officially ended in the state, in January 1865, slavery in the region was all but gone. To understand how slavery ended in Missouri, we must recognize that various agents played key roles in freedom and there were many factors which led to slavery’s demise. There is, however, one similarity. All of these opportunities would come to nothing without the actions of enslaved people themselves. “Hunting Freedom” utilizes Civil War pension records, military and personal correspondence, and WPA slave narratives to tell the story of the exceptional individuals who took advantage of the opportunities on the Kansas-Missouri border to hunt for freedom.