Dred Scott (Liberator)

“Dred Scott Gone to Final Judgment,” Boston (MA) Liberator, October 1, 1858.


The old negro whose name has attained such historical prominence in this country, in connection with the Missouri compromise, the Supreme Court, and the general question of African slavery, is now done with the things of time; and, though he had no status before the Supreme Court of the United States, there is no reason to suppose that his color or condition excluded him from the presence of the great Judge of the universe. In ages yet to come, when the names of the minor actors in the politics of the day will have been forgotten, Dred Scott and the decision which bears his name will be familiar words in the mouth of the ranting demagogue in rostrum and pulpit, and of the student of political history. The telegraph informs us that Dred died on Friday, the 17th inst., in the city of St. Louis; and, although the Supreme Court of the United States overruled his claims to freedom, he died a free man, and with the consciousness that his wife Harriett and his two young daughters, Eliza and Lizzie, were also loosed from their bonds.

Although Dred’s name has made such a stir in the world, his life was by no means an eventful one. He was born on the plantation of the Blow family, in Virginia, and up to about his tenth year he enjoyed his share of the fun, frolic and sports that usually fall to the lot of such fortunate ebon youngsters. He was subsequently carried by his master to St. Louis, and it was during his abode in that city, we believe, that he changed masters, Blow having sold him to Dr. Emerson, then a surgeon in the United States army. In the course of his new master’s military career, Dred found himself, from 1834 to 1836, located at the military post at Rock Island, in Illinois, and subsequently at the since famous Fort Snelling, in Minnesota. Dr. Emerson died, and his widow became, and now is, the wife of the Hon. Calvin C. Chaffee, member of Congress from the State of Massachusetts.


For some ten years before the death of Dr. Emerson – which event occurred about twelve years since – he had resided in St. Louis, Dred Scott being one of the household. But while at Fort Snelling, Dred had taken unto himself as wife the girl Harriet, then also a slave of Major Taliaferro, of the United States army. This was his second wife. His first died childless. Harriet bore him four children, two only of whom are living. Their names are Eliza and Lizzie, and their ages are respectively about ten and fifteen. After the death of Doctor Emerson, Dred Scott became the body servant of Capt. Brainbridge, and was at Corpus Christi on the breaking out of the Mexican war. On his return to St. Louis, he made application to his late mistress on the subject of purchasing the freedom of himself and family. She, however, was adverse to the proposition, and refused to entertain it. Then it was that the ‘Dred Scott case’ commenced. Dred was informed that having been voluntarily taken by his master into free territory (Illinois and Minnesota), he by that act became free. He, therefore, about ten years ago, brought a suit for his freedom against the executor of Dr. Emerson’s will – Mr. John F. A. Sanford – and the Circuit Court of St. Louis decided in his favor. That decision, however, was overruled by the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri; and thence it came before the Supreme Court of the United States, which refused to entertain it on the ground that the descendants of Africans who had been sold here as slaves, were not, under the constitution, citizens of the United States, and therefore not entitled to sue in the Supreme Court. This decision was made the text for vituperative assaults from the press, pulpit and rostrum against the Supreme Court of the United States; and as well for the principles it settles as for the dicta it lays down, will continue to be, as it has been, the fruitful theme of politicians of both sections for perhaps centuries to come.

But, although the decision was not such as Dred Scott had been led to believe or hope, and although under it he and his family were in the condition of chattel property, still he, in reality, lost nothing by it. His real owner had been Mr. Chaffee, although the suit was brought against Sanford, the executor of Emerson’s will. A representative of the commonwealth of Massachusetts could not, with any sort of grace, be the proprietor of human chattels. But, as he was a non-resident of the State, he could not, under the laws of Missouri, emancipate his slaves. These laws, however, are easily circumvented, where the disposition to do so exists, as it did in this case. The Scotts – parents and children – were conveyed back to the representative of their original propriety, Mr. Taylor Blow, of St Louis – ‘one of them boys he was raised with’ – as Dred used to express it, and this Mr. Blow formally entered up their emancipation in the proper court.

Dred was probably not over fifty years of age at his death, although the general impression was that he was quite an old darkey. His widow is considerably his junior. She follows the business of a laundress in St. Louis, and Dred used to aid her in the business by carrying the clothes back and forward. The girls disappeared as soon as they learned the effect of the Dred Scott decision, but they subsequently returned to the parental roof. – N. Y. Herald.

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