African Americans in Monroe County  


Ace Donell

Much of the early black history of Monroe City can be located only through stories that have been handed down by word of mouth from one person to another.

Ace Donell

Such a story is one concerning the early life of Ace Donell, the late father of Marie Donell, both of Monroe City. Marie recalled the story that was told to her by her mother.

Willis Donell, at the age of 45, was one of the slaves belonging to a Kentucky family named Judy during the Civil War. Most of the Judys were extremely good to their slaves, but Willis’ son, Ace, had the misfortune at the age of eight to be farmed out to Mrs. Clementine Judy, who did not share the kindness of the rest of the family.

The small boy suffered many indig­nities at the hands of Mrs. Judy, including being fed on the floor with dogs and cats. Among his many hard tasks was carrying buckets of water to fill all the barrels on the farm.

One day, while Ace was at that job, two Yankee soldiers rode up. The Union soldiers were called Redcoats in that area because of the uniforms they wore.

The Redcoats asked the small boy his name and what he was doing. He told them of the mistreatment he had received, and they offered to take him back to camp to be their water boy.

The soldiers promised Ace that under no circumstances would they turn him back to his mistress. Although she went to camp and tried to force him back, the Yankees protected him and kept him there until the war was over.

When the battles ceased and the slaves were freed, Willis went after his son. Both of them as free men returned to the Judy family who had been kind to them. Along with the Judys, the Negro family then moved to Missouri by wagon train.

Ace grew up near Florida, Missouri and eventually purchased his own 80 acre farm. He also bought the land where the Head Start Center now stands, and other property west of the Center.

Ace married and had five children by his first wife. After she died, he married again, and his second wife, Carrie Mitchell, was the mother of Miss Donell and Ace Jr., who is deceased. There were also three other children.

Ace Sr. loved to play the violin, Miss Donell said, and often played while she and her younger brother, Eddie, tap-danced in front of Hawkins Grocery when they were small. “People would throw money at us,” Miss Donell recalled,” and sometimes we would make a whole fistful of money in one night.”

Marie was eight when her father died. The step-children encouraged her mother to divide the young children among them, but Carrie Donell was determined to keep the children and took in wash to support the family.

   “He never talked to me about the times when he was a slave,” Miss Donell said. But his wife, Miss Donell’s mother, handed down and kept alive his story of life as a slave child.