The first mention we have of William Blair in Bates county is a bill of sale between Mrs. Sarah Griffith of Cass county and William Gilbreath of Bates county. In it William is mentioned as” a Negro boy about 16 years old named Bill, which sale is affected in and for the consideration of the sum of six hundred and sixty dollars to in hand paid”. The sale bill is dated 11 October 1849.
William’s story actually begins in Augusta county, Virginia with the Alexander Blair family. Between 1830 and 1840 the family made their way to Cass county, Missouri where Alexander dies ca. 1840. Sarah Griffith, his daughter, purchases William from her father’s estate for the sum of $408.00.
By all accounts, William was enslaved on the Gilbreath farm near Pleasant Gap, Missouri until August of 1864 for this is when we find the next record of William being enlisted in the Colored Volunteers of the Union Army. We know from his enlistment papers the William was born in Virginia. The document also tells us a bit about Williams appearance. He was 5 feet and 5 3/4 inches tall with black hair and black eyes. He enlisted in the Company H, 18th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry. His enlistment period was for 3 years. William Gilbreath, although a slave holder, was a staunch Unionist. It is unknown if William enlisted by his own accord or if he was forced to enlist by Gilbreath.
The 18th Regiment took William to Kentucky and Tennessee. The unit saw action in Bridgeport, Alabama at Eldrod’s Tan Yard. The unit mustered out in February of 1866.
After the war, William came back to Missouri and settled down in nearby Henry county. In 1870 he is living at at the home of Jordan Wall in White Oak township of Henry county. He was most likely staying at a boarding house as there are several people listed within the household-all of them being African American. In 1900 Blair is living in Davis township in Henry county with his wife, Mary. His occupation is listed as a farmer.
In 1910, William is living in Clinton, Missouri and owns a home with his wife Mary. This is where the trail of William Blair ends. It is likely that he died after April of 1910 although no obituary or burial place can be found.
Bill of sale between Sarah Griffiths of Cass county and William Gilbreath of Bates county
The William Gilbreath farm in Hudson township as seen in 1875
A bill submitted on the Alexander Blair estate for treatment for Bill. Photo courtesy of the Cass County Historical Society.