Cyprian Clamorgan’s The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis. [Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, MHS Library, Lib197-00001]

The grandson of Jacques Clamorgan, Cyprian Clamorgan wrote The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis (1858), one of the most important pieces of literature on free African Americans living in a community of the enslaved. In this slim volume, readers are allowed to perceive free blacks as men and women with diverse personalities, aspirations, learning, and attitudes. In Clamorgan’s pages, they become individuals rather than an undifferentiated mass. His Black elite achieved various levels of wealth, pursued a number of different occupations, came from free as well as slave states, and responded differently to the problems of being nominally free within a slave society. Clamorgan wrote about more than forty free African Americans living in St. Louis during the 1850s.

Cyprian Clamorgan was the fourth child of Appoline Clamorgan, who died eight days after his birth in 1830. The youngest child of Jacques Clamorgan, Appoline never married, but according to a Black barber named Gabriel Helms she lived with a white man named Langham, and St. Louisans called her Mrs. Langham. Born in 1803, Appoline was Jacques’s second child. Jacques fathered a son named St. Eutrope in 1799 by a free woman named Helen or Heleine; Appoline by an enslaved woman named Anna and sometimes called Susanne; a son named Cyprian Martial in 1803 by another enslaved woman named Judith; and another son by Judith named Maximin in 1807. Jacques wanted to ensure that his children by enslaved women received their freedom, so he wrote three affidavits to establish their status in 1809. None of Jacques’s children lived long: St. Eutrope died in 1822, Maximin in “about 1825,” Cyprian Martial in 1827, and Appoline three years later.

Appoline’s children included Louis, Henry, Louisa, and Cyprian. Little is known about their childhood, but two of them attended school in Illinois during 1832. Louisa died in 1833. Cyprian’s book indicated that he received a good deal of formal education. Written with clarity, style, wit, and frequent literary allusions, his book suggests learning and uncommon talent. He revealed familiarity with the writings of Lord Byron, Miguel Cervantes, William Shakespeare, Alexandre Dumas, and even Count D’Orsay.

By the 1840s, all Appoline’s sons had become St. Louis barbers. A newspaper announced in 1845 that the “Splendid Hair Cutting and Shaving Saloon” of Iredell and Clamorgan had installed baths, with tubs of “the finest Italian marble, the rooms large, airy and elegantly furnished.” Louis Clamorgan was Iredell’s partner. The St. Louis City Directory for 1848 listed Louis at the “Italian Baths,” Henry as a barber without a specific place of employment, and Cyprian at the “American House.”

During the 1850s, Cyprian Clamorgan’s name disappeared from the St. Louis city directories; he eventually surfaced in New Orleans. Louis died in 1851. Henry remained a barber and in 1859 owned the “Clamorgan Baths.” According to the manuscript census of 1860 for St. Louis, Henry owned real estate valued at $10,000 and personal property worth $3,000. Besides his barbershop, he owned and rented houses.

After leaving New Orleans to return to Illinois and Missouri, Cyprian Clamorgan appeared in the historical record as a participant in a series of court cases during the 1870s and in 1880. In ill health, suffering from senility and estranged from his family, Cyprian was admitted to the St. Louis Poor House in the summer of 1902. His dreams of wealth went unfulfilled. He died on November 13, 1902, and is buried in an unmarked plot in St. Matthew’s UCC Cemetery in St. Louis.

Further Reading

Christensen, Lawrence O., ed. “Cyprian Clamorgan: The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis (1858).” Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society 31 (October 1974): 3–31.

Cyprian Clamorgan v. Fanny Deaver and John Burke and “Affidavits of Jacques Clamorgan, September 16, 1809.” St. Louis County Circuit Court, Series O, no. 29647, June 1874. 

Henry Clamorgan, Cyprian Clamorgan, Leon A. Clamorgan and Julius Clamorgan v. The Baden and St. Louis Railway Company (1880). Supreme Court of the State of Missouri. 72 Mo. 139.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 24, 1879.

St. Louis Missouri-Republican, June 10, 1845. 

Winch, Julie. The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.

Winch, Julie, ed. The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis, by Cyprian Clamorgan. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.

Published April 8, 2024

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