Dred Scott

Dred Scott was a famous slave renowned for fighting for the freedom of himself and his family via numerous court battles spanning over a decade. He argued that as they lived in free states, they themselves should be free. Though unsuccessful, the effect of such a decision caused ripples throughout the North and the South and is considered to be a contributing factor toward the Civil War.

See below for quick facts on Dred Scott or view the Dred Scott Timeline.

Date of Birth and Parents:
Dred Scott was born c.1800, Virginia. Little is known of his childhood, but it is believed that his birth name may have been Sam. His initial master was a planter named Peter Blow, who died in June 1832. Dred Scott then became property of Emerson, an army surgeon stationed in Missouri.

Date of Death:
Dred Scott died on 17 December 1858 from tuberculosis; the year after he was finally emancipated.

Dred Scott followed Emerson to Illinois in 1833, before moving to Fort Snelling, Wisconsin in May 1836. Both were free states. It was here that Dred Scott met Harriet Robinson, a slave owned by Major Taliaferro. He conducted the marriage himself and transferred ownership of Harriet to Emerson.

The couple had Lizzie in 1838, and Eliza in 1840 who was born on a steamer in free waters and named for Emerson's new wife. They also had two sons that died in infancy.

Before the Court Battle:
Dred Scott did not try to obtain his freedom whilst living in the slave free states; perhaps because he was unfamiliar with the law and not aware of the precedents in similar cases. On Emerson's death on 29 December 1843, Mrs Emerson leased out the Scotts in Louisiana and would not allow the family to purchase their freedom.

The First Lawsuits and Freedom:
In 1846 Dred Scott and Harriet filed separate cases for their freedom on the basis that under Missouri law, their stay on free soil emancipated them. Two suits were filed against Eliza Irene Emerson for trespass and false imprisonment, to which she pleaded not guilty.

Precedent was set by previous cases in the favour of the slaves, the deciding factor was whether the slave had been in the free state enough time to be considered a resident. However, the case was dismissed as adequate evidence that Mrs Emerson was currently their mistress was not supplied.

A new suit was filed, and Dred Scott was again in court on 12 Janaury 1850. The court ruled in the family's favour and they were freed.

Appeal and Enslavement:
Mrs Emerson's lawyers appealed, which took another two years until Dred Scott arrived in court. During this time, Mrs Emerson had remarried an antislavery activist named Dr Calvin Chaffee, and her brother, John Sanford acted on her behalf in the case as she was living in Springfield, Massachusetts. A spelling error resulted in the case being known as Dred Scott v. Sandford. In 1852 the ruling was reversed, stating the political excuse: "times now are not as they were when the previous decision on this subject were made."

United States Supreme Court:
Dred Scott filed another suit in St Louis federal court in 1854 against Mrs Emerson's brother, John Sanford; executor of the Emerson estate. Sanford won the case, but Dred Scott appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

It was announced in March 1857 that Dred Scott and family should remain enslaved, and that on this basis, they were not citizens of the United States. With this in mind, Dred Scott could not file a suit in the federal court, and as property he was never free. Chief Justice Roger B Taney also announced that federal government had no right to prohibit slavery in the new territories and therefore, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. This caused outcry amongst the northern states; in effect the court seemed to be agreeing with slavery, removing the scope to which it could be restricted. This is given to be one of the contributing factors toward the Civil War.

Freedom and Death:
Following the court decision, Dr Chaffee, Mrs Emerson's new husband and therefore master of the Scotts, sold Dred Scott and family back to the Blows. Taylor Blow, third son of Peter Blow, Dred Scott's former master, emancipated the family in May 1857.

Sadly in September the following year, Dred Scott died from Tuberculosis.

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