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Former slave tells of her heritage during court testimony in Hannibal, Mo., in 1894

1854, City of Hannibal map, adapted from the original map by Dave Thomson 2004.


Mary Cook was but nine years old when she left her birthplace in Richmond, Kentucky, and moved with her owner, Judge Alfred Warner, to Lexington, Ky. In a court transcript long since tucked away, there exists Mary Cook 's own recollections regarding her life as a slave, her migration to Missouri, her ultimate release from slavery, and her role as a business woman and land owner in Hannibal, Mo.

Mary Cook 's story intersects with the pre-and post-civil war movement of a white Kentucky farm family, headed by John A. Hampton. It is her own story, in her own words.

In 1894, she testified, under oath, in the Hannibal Court of Common Pleas in the case of Dorcas Hampton vs. the Estate of John A. Hampton.

She told the court that she didn't know how old she was. "I only know from what Judge Warner said."

In 1846, she was a house-girl for banker David K. Sayers on Hill Street in Lexington, Ky., who had a brother in Lewis County, Missouri.

Not long after that, she journeyed to Missouri with Judge Warner.

Q. What is your name?

A. Mary Cook.

Q. You lived in the family of Judge Warner?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did Judge Warner bring you to Missouri?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. How did you get to Missouri?

A. On a boat.

Q. Where did you get on the boat?

A. At Frankfort, Ky., went from Lexington to Frankfort and then got on a boat.

Q. Who was with you when you came to Judge Warner's?

A. His wife and a dozen blacks.

Q. You came with Judge Warner?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did he have any children?

A. No, sir.

Q. Where did you go to live, on what place?

A. At West Ely (Mo.)

Q. Judge Alfred Warner afterwards became a citizen of Missouri?

A. Yes, sir; he lived at West Ely.

Q. Where did he die?

A. About a quarter of a mile from Monroe City, Mo., where his son lives on a farm now (in 1894).

Q. How long have you lived in Hannibal?

A. I have lived in Missouri 40 years.

Q. How long have you lived in Hannibal?

A. I have lived here about twenty-five years.

Q. Have you ever been under arrest?

A. No, sir; I never was on the stand in the Courthouse before in my life.

Q. What has been your business?

A. Working like a slave at anything I could get to do.

Q. Here in Hannibal?

A. Yes, sir; wash, iron and clean house.

Q. You were born a slave?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Your father was a white man?

A. Yes, sir. Like all the others, he run me off to keep down scandal in the family.

Q. Don't you remember your mother?

A. No, sir; I never saw her.

Q. You are a colored person?

A. You must know that I am.

Q. I don't know whether you were a slave or not?

A. You heard me tell that I belonged to Judge Warner. If you want to know my character, there are lots of good people knows me in Palmyra and Monroe City. I kept the first butcher shop that was ever kept in Monroe City, and the first Restaurant that was ever kept there.

Q. Where was this Restaurant you kept in Hannibal?

A. On Front St., the house just between Mart Hemstraugh's and O'Brien's.

Q. What time was that?

A. Last year sometime.

Q. You belong to what is called the Cook family here in this town?

A. I belong to my own family.

Descendants of Mary Cook are invited - and encouraged to continue this conversation. Click here to email Mary Lou Montgomery.

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