Compiled and Written by David R. Schleper
Joseph Godfrey was living in the Oliver Faribault home in Shakopee, Minnesota. In fact, he was one of the people who actually built the tamarack home in 1844. He was there when the trading post was open for business for the Dakota in Ŝakpe’s village of Tiŋta-otoŋwe.
Joseph Godfrey was African American. And he was a slave.
Joseph Godfrey was born in 1830 in Mendota. In 1830, Mendota was a collection of log huts scattered along the southern bank of St. Peter’s (Minnesota) River. Voyageurs, Indian traders, and tradesmen lived there near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota River. Leading fur traders, including Alexis Bailly and his father-in-law Jean Baptiste Faribault, dealt with the beaver, muskrat, otter, and bear pelts as the trappers stopped there on the way to Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin.
Below is a picture of Jean Baptiste Faribault:
Below is a picture of Alexis Bailly:
The Mendota community was not a white community, as most of the inhabitants, including all of the Baillys and all of the Faribaults except Jean Baptiste, were Métis, a mixed of white and Indian heritage. Jean Baptiste Faribault had married Pelagie Ainse, a mixed-blood Dakota woman. Alexis Bailly, like most Canadian-born fur traders, had Indian blood. He was ¼ Ottawa. Alexis Bailly had a slave, Courtney. Jean Baptiste Faribault also had a slave, possibly the same Courtney. So it is clear that both the Bailly and Faribault family had slaves.
Mendota also had a few black residents, both free and slaves. Courtney, the slave of Bailly, had a relationship with Joseph Godfrey, Sr., who was a Canadian Frenchman who worked as a trader with Bailly. When Courtney had a child by Godfrey Sr., the child, Joseph Godfrey, was also a slave. And this Joseph Godfrey was the slave who ended up in Shakopee.
In 1836, when Godfrey was just five years old, his master decided to keep him in bondage but to sell Courtney in St. Louis, the closest slave market. Remarkably, Courtney then made her way to one of the Missouri lawyers who later represented Dred Scott. She managed to procure her freedom via the courts of a slave state…even as her son remained in slavery for another decade in supposedly “free” Minnesota.
And so Joseph Godfrey was a slave, born and raised in Minnesota in bondage.
What was Joseph’s life as a young slave? One example found in research was when Philander Prescott and his wife, Nahanamenah (Spirit of the Moon), who was also called Mary, was asked to have their child live in the Bailly house. Lucy, the child, was just six years old in 1833-1834, but Lucy Faribault Bailly wanted to have her help take care of her very young children.
Below is a picture of Lucy Faribault Bailly:
Below is a picture of Philander Prescott:
Lucy Prescott lived with Bailly for a short time, but was removed after her parents noticed that Lucy Faribault Bailly whipped their children.
According to Philander Prescott, Lucy Faribault Bailly’s mistreatment of his daughter was not an isolated occurrence. In fact, she was quite fond of whipping other children. “And whilst I am speaking about the whipping business—Mrs. Bailly had a little black child raised in the family and a young Sioux girl. Those two children, I actually believe, would get from 25 to 50 lashes a day and sometimes more, every day almost. I frequently would leave the house to get away from the miserable crying of those children when she was cowhiding them,” according to research by Walt Bachman in the book Northern Slave, Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey. Both the black boy (Joseph) and the “Sioux girl” (Angelique Skaya) were between three or four years old when they got whipped.
In the 1840s, Joseph Godfrey left the Alexis Bailly household and was kept as a slave of Oliver Faribault. Oliver was the brother-in-law of Alexis. It was clear that there was a close family, business, and slave-trading ties between the Baillys and the Faribaults.
Below is the Faribault Trading Post, now in The Landing in Shakopee:
Oliver and Wakanyankewin (also known as Henriette Menegre) established the trading post on the St. Peter’s River at Ŝakpe’s village of Tiŋta-otoŋwe, the current site of Shakopee, in 1844. The tamarack-log cabin and an adjacent warehouse were built, probably with the help of Joseph Godfrey, for Oliver and Henriette Faribault to trade with the large Dakota band that lived there. Joseph was Oliver and Henriette’s slave.
Suffering ill treatment from his owner, Joseph ran away and took refuge among the Dakota as a fugitive slave around 1847. He walked about 40 miles southwest along the Minnesota River to Traverse des Sioux. There, he met with Alexander Huggins, a militant abolitionist Presbyterian missionary who had met Joseph when visiting the Pond and Faribault families. Shortly after, Joseph joined the Indian bands led by Chief Wabasha.
Joseph married Takanheca who died in 1873. Takanheca was the daughter of Wahpaduta, or Red Leaf.
Below is a picture of Wahpaduta:
In August 1862, while helping local Dakota load hay onto a wagon, Godfrey was approached by a Dakota man who announced that all the white people had been killed at the agency. On the spot, Godfrey was asked what side he would take. Afraid for his life and family, Godfrey felt compelled to join the war.
Later that fall, Godfrey was accused by Sibley of joining the Dakota between August 18 and September 26, 1862, and actively participating in attacks. Dakota warriors awarded him the name “Atokte,” meaning “slayer of many” in Dakota. Godfrey denied he had killed anyone. However, there were conflicting reports about his role in the conflict and how active he really was.
Below is the book about Joseph Godfrey:
Walt Bachman (one of the Bachmans of the florist company in Minnesota) researched and wrote the book, which is very interesting, and worth reading. (I wish they had students here in Shakopee read it, it is very worthwhile!)
Godfrey’s second wife was Icazontewin, also known as Emma. They married in 1866. She died in 1895. The third wife was Jennie Goodteacher. They got married in 1898.
Joseph spent the rest of his life on the Santee Reservation, where he passed away of natural causes in July 1909. Godfrey’s body was buried at the Episcopalian Cemetery on the reservation.
Below is the tombstone of Joseph Godfrey:
According to Walt Bachman, “In Minnesota, there were never large gangs of farm workers, or auction blocks. There weren’t those trappings of the worst forms of slavery,” he said. “But there is ample evidence of brutality towards slaves in Minnesota, including a slave who was whipped to death by her Army officer master. Slavery, wherever it was practiced, was a pernicious institution, and Minnesota was no exception.” And some of it happened in Shakopee, Minnesota!
And so now you know a little bit about the first black man in Shakopee, in 1844, at the Faribault Trading Post (which he probably helped build), in Shakopee, MN.
(Information from Walt Bachman, Northern Slave, Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey © 2013, Bloomington, Minnesota: Pond Dakota Press.)