Alexander Majors & his Business
Alexander Majors was born into a farming family but make his wealth in the freighting business. Majors and his first wife, Catherine had 9 children, mostly girls. Without boys to work a farm, he believed he could not support his family as a farmer. Instead he began running freight and found he had a knack for business.
Russell, Majors & Waddell
In the 1840s, Majors began running freight for private merchants on the overland trails. He was then hired by the government to ship supplies to western military forts, along with his business partners William Russell and William Waddell. Their firm Russell, Majors and Waddell grew to include 3,500 wagons and 4,000 oxen. By 1856, the year he built this house, Majors claimed his business was worth $300,000.
Alexander Majors, as well as his business partners, were slaveholders. In 1860, 13 slaves resided on this property. In Missouri, slavery was a fluid system and slaveholders frequently hired out their slaves. Russell, Majors, and Waddell relied heavily on slave labor, likely from both owned and hired slaves. In Missouri, enslaved men could be skilled craftsmen: blacksmiths or woodworkers. It is likely these men would have worked on the wagons. Enslaved men and women would have cared for his oxen and tend to the crops.
Majors had a hands-on role in the freighting company, managing the employees and the wagon trains. He was a very religious man and this informed the way he ran his business. He even made his employees take an oath, promising not to drink, swear, treat animals cruelly or do anything that was not gentlemanly. He also gave all his employees a bible. Majors may have been interested in the morality of his men, but he also realized that sober, well-manner men would make for more productive workers.
Other Business Ventures
In the late 1850s, the firm bought out a stage coach company started by William Russell, which became the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Company. In 1860, Russell, Majors, and Waddell received the government contract to run the Pony Express. The mail route ran from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. The cost of sending mail by horse and the expansion of the telegraph ended the Pony Express after only 18 months. Russell, Majors, and Waddell went bankrupt shortly thereafter.