Bill of Sale for an Enslaved Boy

Below is a transcription of the bill of sale that John A. Beauchamp (1817-1901) received on May 5, 1851, when he purchased a slave in Liberty, Missouri. The original is pictured above.

“Liberty Clay Co MO May 5, 1851. For and in consideration of the sum of six hundred dollars to me in hand paid I have this day bargained sold and delivered unto John A. Beauchamp my negro boy Isaiah a slave for life and sound & healthy in body & mind & free from the claims of any other persons and is about thirteen years old.”

This is the oldest item in the J.A. Beauchamp Collection. Most of the items in the collection relate to John Arthur Beauchamp (1895-1953) who served in the U.S. Army during World War 1. (His grandfather, to whom Isaiah was sold, was also named John Arthur Beauchamp – to avoid confusion I will use the first and middle name in reference to the older Beauchamp) We don’t know why John Beauchamp saved this particular document from his grandfather’s life. He was born in 1895, long after the Emancipation Proclamation freed Isaiah. Whatever his reasons for preserving it, this document was a direct connection between him and his family’s ties to slavery. From it, we can learn some things about the economic status of his grandfather’s family.

In Missouri, most slaveholdings were family farms that exploited the labor of only a few slaves, usually fewer than ten. Their small size and diversified agricultural practices distinguish Missouri slaveholdings from their plantation counterparts in states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Owning even one slave was a sign of relatively high wealth and status. The price Beauchamp paid for Isaiah reflects this. No census figures for John Arthur Beauchamp are available prior to 1870. However, according to the 1870 census, he was a wealthy man, with a combined personal and real estate valued at $12,000. The “Economic Status” measurement from MeasuringWorth “measures the relative “prestige value” of an amount of income or wealth measured using per capita GDP. When compared to other incomes or wealth, it shows the relative prestige the owners of this income or wealth because of their rank in the income distribution.” Using that measurement, John Arthur Beauchamp’s wealth in 1870 was the equivalent of just over $3.4 million in 2015. Using the same measurement, the $600 selling price of Isaiah was equivalent to $298,000 in 2015. The “Labor Value” measurement uses either skilled or unskilled wage rates to calculate value. If we think of his $600 sale price as an unskilled labor value (as recommended by MeasuringWorth), it was the 2015 equivalent of $137,000. MeasuringWorth does also feature a more in depth analysis of other ways to evaluate slave prices.

The economic history of slavery is only one facet of a tremendously complex and painful subject. It does demonstrate that slaveholders who betrayed the Union may have done so to protect what they saw as crucial and valuable financial assets. That said, there is no evidence that John Arthur Beauchamp served in the Civil War. Age may have been a factor, as he was between 44 and 46 years old in 1861. There are three letters from the older John A. Beauchamp in the collection, but none addresses slavery directly. In other words, we don’t know why family members preserved it, or how they viewed their ties to slavery. It is theoretically possible that John Beauchamp’s father, Lee Beauchamp (born in 1864) knew Isaiah. Lee undoubtedly knew the black servants listed in John Arthur Beauchamp’s household in the 1870 census. But for now we have no way of knowing what, if anything, Lee Beauchamp told his son about his grandfather’s slaves or what it was like growing up in a former slave owning family in Missouri in the 1860s. Ultimately what makes this document significant is that it raises all these questions. It forces us to confront what our own ties to slavery and the Civil War era might be. Remembering is not always easy, but forgetting or ignoring the past carries far greater consequences.



J.A. Beauchamp Collection, MS216, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missour-Kansas City.

Affectionately, Daddy: The Letters of L.E. Phillips to Martha Jane Starr

“You are just my idea of what a daughter and young woman should be.”
— L.E. Phillips to Martha Jane Starr

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest highlights of the Martha Jane Starr Collection is her correspondence with her father, L.E. Phillips (1876-1944), whom Martha Jane affectionately called “Daddy Lee.”

A co-founder of Phillips Petroleum, L.E. built wealth and opportunity for his family in business, but in his letters to Martha Jane, he exposed a sweetness, wit, and deep love for his daughter.

A letter from Daddy Lee to Martha Jane concerning his jealousy over the new family dog.

A letter from Daddy Lee to Martha Jane concerning his jealousy over the new family dog.

L.E. wrote the majority of the letters while Martha Jane attended boarding school in Boston. His letters are full of wisdom and advice for his daughter, and included frequent updates on the happenings around the house while Martha Jane is away. Daddy Lee’s sense of humor sings through in almost every letter, as well as his very deliberate encouragement and praise of his daughter.

One of the most moving letters of the collection is his letter to Martha Jane on the eve of her wedding. In his lengthy letter, L.E. offers his daughter his own philosophy of marriage: “The foundation is to be built and as individuals you should practice patience, forbearance, tolerance, charity and unselfishness, recognizing each other’s rights at all times. Doing this, you will gradually grow into each other’s ways so that a real partnership may be maintained.” It is perhaps from Daddy Lee’s philosophy of marriage that Martha Jane developed the idea to call her own husband her “life’s partner.”

Martha Jane Starr's parents, L.E. and Lenora Phillips, whom she affectionately called Daddy Lee and Miss Nonie.

Martha Jane Starr’s parents, L.E. and Lenora Phillips, whom she affectionately called Daddy Lee and Miss Nonie.

L.E. Phillips’ letters to his daughter offer a window into the past and into a truly loving father-daughter relationship. His encouragement of Martha Jane to develop her mind, her integrity, and her sense of culture clearly acted as a great influence on Martha Jane’s future successes.

The collected correspondence of L.E. Phillips and Martha Jane Starr is available for viewing at LaBudde Special Collections, and is recommended as highly entertaining reading.





Portrait of a Lady (On the Smallest Canvas You’ve Ever Seen)

While you may already know of Martha Jane Starr as a local philanthropist, advocate for women and families, and significant contributor to the development of UMKC from the 1950s-2000s (for more on that, see this), you may not have known that she and her husband, John W. Starr, were avid collectors of portrait miniatures.

Richard Cosway's "Portrait of a Lady," from the mid-18th- early 19th century. Part of The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures, and currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Richard Cosway’s “Portrait of a Lady,” from the mid-18th- early 19th century. Part of The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures, and currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The portrait miniature, developed in the 16th century, gained popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the days before photography, the portrait miniature served a similar function to the snapshot. Lovers carried portrait miniatures of their beloved; fathers sent portrait miniatures of their daughters to potential suitors; and mothers kept portrait miniatures of their children. Portrait miniatures were often affixed to jewelry, such as rings and lockets, or were used to decorate the tops of snuff boxes.

During their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Starr amassed The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures, a collection of over 250 portrait miniatures, which they donated to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through an initial gift in 1958, and subsequent donation in 1965. The collection represents portrait miniatures from the 16th through through the 19th centuries, and remains on rotating permanent display in gallery P27 at the museum.

Although easy to overlook, the portrait miniatures in the Starr Collection merit closer attention. (As in, you may want to bring your magnifying glass with you.) It’s easy to take the portraits for granted, until you begin to notice the tiny details within each one: a miniature pearl necklace, the ruffles on the front of a gentleman’s shirt, or the folds in a blue satin sash looped over a lady’s shoulder. (And, keep in mind that most of these miniatures are little more than 2”x2”.) Each individual face in the collection has a story and a history of its own. The collection even includes a series of “eye miniatures,” close-up miniature paintings of a beloved’s eye, which were popular tokens of affection in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


A letter to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from a Nelson-Atkins curator, written on behalf of Mrs. Starr.

To enrich a historical understanding of the Starrs’ collection of portrait miniatures, LaBudde Special Collections possesses a series of correspondence between the Starrs and the Nelson-Atkins (along with several other museums). The letters document the debut of the collection at the Nelson, as well as the Starrs’ correspondence, with the aid of the Nelson-Atkins’ curators, to organize donations and collections with other museums around the world. Correspondences include letters to and from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Huntington Gallery, and the Saint Louis Art Museum. The letters document not only the relationships that the Starrs built with museums and collectors around the world, but also serve as a testament to their desire to curate a life and legacy together.


A letter from a fan of the newly donated collection at the Nelson-Atkins, addressed to Mr. Starr.

Pre-Civil War Rebus

Rebus letter from 1859.

Rebus letter from 1859.

This charming letter is an example of a rebus, writing that uses pictures as words or parts of words.  We have no documentation as to how it ended up in LaBudde Special Collections, but it’s so unusual and so well done we’re certainly glad to give it a home.  Try your luck at deciphering it!  If you get frustrated or simply don’t like puzzles, here’s our solution.