Scott, Dred

Life Span
    Full name
    Dred Scott
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Slave State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Harriet Robinson Scott (wife),  Eliza Scott (daughter), Lizzie Scott (daughter)
    Relation to Slavery
    Slave or Former Slave

    Dred Scott (American National Biography)

    On 6 April 1846 Dred and Harriet Scott sued Irene Emerson for freedom. Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson was filed in a Missouri state court under Missouri state law. (Two separate litigations were pursued. Since both entailed the same law and evidence, only Dred's advanced to conclusion; Harriet's suit was held in abeyance, under agreement that the determination in her husband's case would apply to hers.) Contrary to later widespread rumor, no political motivation attached to the institution of this suit; only when it reached the Missouri Supreme Court did it acquire the political overtones that made it so famous later. The suit was brought for one reason only: to secure freedom for Dred Scott and his family…

    Unanticipated developments converted an open-and-shut freedom suit into a cause célèbre. In the trial on 30 June 1847, the court rejected one piece of vital evidence on a legal technicality--that it was hearsay evidence and therefore not admissible--and the slave's freedom had to await a second trial when that evidence could be properly introduced. It took almost three years, until 12 January 1850, before that trial took place, a delay caused by events over which none of the litigants had any control. With the earlier legal technicality corrected, the court unhesitatingly declared Dred Scott to be free.
    Walter Ehrlich, "Scott, Dred," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Dred Scott (Bailey, 1998)

    Dred Scott, an illiterate Missouri slave, was taken by his master for several years (1834-1838) to the free state of Illinois and then to a portion of Wisconsin Territory now located in the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota area was then free territory, since it lay north of the line of 36 30’ established by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (subsequently repealed in 1854). Scott, taken in hand by interested abolitionists, sued for his freedom on the grounds of residence on free soil. The case was appealed from the circuit court to the Supreme Court, which grappled with several basic questions: Was a slave a citizen under the Constitution? (If not, he was not entitled to sue in federal courts.) Was Dred Scott rendered free by residence in Wisconsin Territory, under the terms of the Missouri Compromise? The Court, headed by the pro-Southern Chief Justice Roger Taney of the slaveholding state of Maryland, ruled as follows.
    Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, eds., The American Spirit, 9th ed., vol.1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), 421-22.

    Dred Scott (Roark, 2002)

    Dred Scott was a slave born in Virginia at the turn of the century and in 1818 had moved with his master, Peter Blow, to a cotton plantation in Alabama. Twelve years later, the Blow family and their six slaves moved to St. Louis. In 1833, Scott was sold to Dr. John Emerson, an army doctor who took Scott with him as his personal servant to Fort Armstrong, Illinois. Two years later, Scott accompanied Emerson when he was transferred to Fort Snelling on the Minnesota River in Wisconsin Territory. Other moves followed, but in a few years Emerson returned Scott to St. Louis. On April 6, 1846, Dred Scott sued to prove that he, his wife Harriet, and their two daughters, Eliza and Lizzie, were legally entitled to their freedom. Dred Scott’s claim was based on his travels and residences. He argued that living in Illinois, a free state, and in Wisconsin Territory, a free territory according to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, had made him and his family free; and once free, they remained free, even after returning to Missouri, a slave state.

    Eleven years after the Scotts first sued for freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case. The justices could have simply settled the immediate issue of Scott’s status as a free man or slave, but they saw the case as an opportunity to settle once and for all the vexing question of slavery in the territories. On the morning of March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney read the majority decision of the Court. Taney hated Republicans and detested racial equality, and the Court’s decision reflected those prejudices. First, the Court ruled that Dred Scott could not legally claim violation of his constitutional rights because he was not a citizen of the United States. At the time of the Constitution, Taney said, blacks “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order…so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Second, the laws of Dred Scott’s home state, Missouri, determined his status, and thus his travels in free areas did not make him free. Third, Congress’s power to make “all needful rules and regulations” for the territories did not include the right to prohibit slavery. The Court then explicitly declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, even though it had already been voided by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

    Republicans exploded in outrage. Taney’s extreme proslavery decision ranged far beyond a determination of Dred Scott’s freedom. By declaring unconstitutional the Republican program of federal exclusion of slavery in the territories, the Court had cut the ground from beneath the party.
    James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 474.

    Dred Scott (New York Times)


    Dred Scott.

    It is not well to let the great pass away without note and worthy honor. DRED SCOTT is dead. Yesterday, from St. Louis, that illustrious personage carried his case to the Supreme Court above, not doubting, we may believe, that the adverse decision he encountered here will there meet with reversal, and that he will be at once admitted to a better freedom and more equal citizenship. It is only now and then we are called to regret the loss of the truly eminent. Once or twice, perhaps, in a generation. DRED is of these. His name will live when those of CLAY, and CALHOUN, and BENTON will be feebly remembered or wholly forgotten. Posterity will make inquiry about the subject of that great leading case, decisive of human right, upon which the fate of the Union was in his day presumed to depend, and will gather up what particulars lie scattered up and down contemporary chronicles regarding him. So, by all means, let the noted negro have his obituary and monument with the rest.

    DRED SCOTT died at a very advanced age. Longer ago than anybody can remember, he was born, down in Virginia, on the property of the BLOW family, which, from the name, we may judge to be extensively connected with the first families. Captain PETER BLOW, while yet our hero was of tender years, moved away from the home of his race to Missouri, carrying DRED with him; and there, as was to be anticipated even for the BLOWS, succumbed to the common fate. After other changes, and after accepting the claims of several reputable gentlemen in succession to the ownership of his soul, the Negro, in 1834, came into the hands of Dr. EMERSON, a surgeon in the Army, who carried him along to Rock Island, in Illinois, and subsequently to Fort Snelling, in the Northwest Territory of that day. At the latter point, in 1836, he married HARRIET, another chattel of the migratory surgeon, by whom he had the two children who figured in the suit, ELIZA and LIZZIE, and who still live. Dr. EMERSON, in 1838, gave over his roaming, settling down quietly in Missouri, where some dozen years ago he died, leaving the slaves in trust to Mr. JOHN F. A. SANDFORD, the executor of his will, and the defendant in the famous suit. It is ten years ago since DRED brought suit for his freedom, and that of his wife and family, in the Circuit Court of St. Louis, asserting it on the ground of their owner having voluntarily taken them, in the first instance, to soil declared free by the ordinance of 1787; in the second place, to soil acquired by treaty with Louisiana, north of 36° 30’, and therefore free by the terms of the Missouri Compromise. His claim was held valid by the local Court; but, upon appeal, it was denied by the Supreme Court of the State, which sent the case back to the lower tribunal. It passed thence into the Circuit and Supreme Courts of the United States, where, at the December Term of 1856, it was finally decided against DRED and his pretensions. The majority of the Court were of opinion that
    “A negro held in Slavery in one State, under the laws thereof, and taken by his master, for a temporary residence, into a State where Slavery is prohibited by law, and thence into a Territory acquired by treaty, where Slavery is prohibited by act of Congress, and afterwards returning with his master into the same Slave State, and resuming his residence there, is not such a citizen of that State as may sue there in the Circuit Court of the United States, if by the law of that State a negro under such circumstances is a Slave.”

    Of course this decision, with the general results of which we have now nothing to do, extinguished the hopes of the hapless DRED. The freedom he sighed for was not, however, so remote as he supposed. Shortly after the judgment his owner determined, indeed had long previously determined, but then proceeded, to consummate the emancipation of the veteran negro and his family. The owner was the Hon. CALVIN C. CHAFFEE, of Massachusetts. But, as under the laws of Missouri the act of emancipation can only be performed by a citizen of that State, the four items of personal property were made over to Mr. TAYLOR BLOW, a son of Capt. PETER above referred to, who, on the 26th of May, 1857, gave liberty to the happy captives. The transaction was probably as gratifying as it was becoming to Mr. BLOW, who a half century before had been a play-mate of the colored hero. We have been informed that charitable hands have smoothed the later path of DRED and his HARRIET, so that a freedom so tardily come by, has not been attended by its usual awkwardness, abuse and suffering.

    Of a truth, few men who have achieved greatness have won it so effectually as this black champion. There is little it may be of merit in his personal service. Others doubtless, for uses of their own, have prompted and paid for the fight. But he belongs to a class whose names are accidentally but ineffacebly associated with critical or memorable facts in history; and who are therefore surer of immortality than the authors themselves of the events. The “Clay Compromise,” the “Wilmot Proviso,” the “Dred Scott Decision,” the “English Bill,” of contemporary annals, are to be classed with the “Lex Julia,” the “Methuen Treaty,” the “Code Napoleon,” of the past; facts and results, to which chance rather than merit has attached names, which they shall perpetuate indefinitely. It shall always be remembered that in the person of the old negro who died yesterday the highest tribunal of America decided that an African was not a man, and could not therefore be a citizen of the United States.

    “Dred Scott,” New York Times, September 21, 1858, p. 4.

    Dred Scott (Liberator)



    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.

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

    Dread Scott (Christian Inquirer)

    Death of Dred Scott. – The name of Dred Scott is imperishable, for it is the title of a great step taken in behalf of American slavery, which will be followed by others, or else will have to be reversed by the slow but sure progress of free principles. But Dred Scott, the individual, the negro of African descent, and therefore not a citizen, is no more. He died at St. Louis on Friday last, at a very advanced age. Nearly all of his years were passed in obscurity, and his greatness was thrust upon him as the sands of life were fast running out. Ten years ago he brought the suite for his freedom, which was finally determined by the Supreme Court at Washington, at the December term of 1856. What the majority of the Judges decided, beyond that they had not jurisdiction of the case, in consequence of the decision of the Supreme Court of Missouri, has been variously and inconsistently interpreted. But the decision has gone into politics, and is destined to exert a powerful influence on the country, even if it is not made the basis, as it probably will be, of further judicial decisions. Thus the name of Dred Scott will be kept before the American people, and will doubtless figure on the pages of history to the end of time. – Boston Journal.
    “Death of Dred Scott,” Christian Inquirer, October 16, 1858, p. 3: 2.
    Date Title
    Washington (DC) National Intelligencer, “Decision in a Slave Case,” April 8, 1852
    Boston (MA) Investigator, “A Slavery Decision Reversed,” May 12, 1852
    Louisville (KY) Journal, "The Case of Dred Scott," December 27, 1856
    New York Times, "The Dred Scott Case," January 5, 1857
    Boston (MA) Herald, “The Dred Scott Decision,” March 7, 1857
    New York Times, "From Washington," March 9, 1857
    New York Herald, "The Decision in the Dred Scott," March 9, 1857
    Boston (MA) Herald, “The Dred Scott Case,” March 9, 1857
    Boston (MA) Herald, “Dred Scott,” March 14, 1857
    Charleston (SC) Mercury, "The Agitation of the Slavery Question," March 17, 1857
    New York Times, “Emancipation of Dred Scott and Family,” May 27, 1857
    New York Times, “The Emancipation of Dred Scott,” June 3, 1857
    New York Times, "What the Dred Scott Case Decided," July 16, 1857
    Washington (DC) National Era, “James Buchanan a Mystery to Himself,” October 29, 1857
    Abraham Lincoln, Fragment of a Speech, circa December 28, 1857
    (St. Louis) Missouri Republican, “Our Work Is Done,” August 1, 1858
    Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Campaign Press and Tribune,” August 10, 1858
    New York Herald, “The Illinois Campaign,” August 16, 1858
    Recollection by Horace White, Freeport Debate, August 27, 1858
    Recollection by Horace White, Jonesboro Debate, September 15, 1858
    New York Times, “The Charleston Convention,” May 1, 1860
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Associated Press. "Breyer: Even History's Bad Decisions Can Teach." The Capital, June 16, 2007. view record
    Blue, Rose, and Corinne J. Naden. Dred Scott: Person or Property?. Tarrytown, NY: Benchmark Books, 2005. view record
    Boman, Dennis K. "The Dred Scott Case Reconsidered: The Legal and Political Context in Missouri." American Journal of Legal History 44, no. 4 (2000): 405-428. view record
    Carey, Patrick W. "Political Atheism: Dred Scott, Roger Brooke Taney, and Orestes A Brownson." Catholic Historical Review 88, no. 2 (2002): 207-229. view record
    Catterall, Helen Tunnicliff. "Some Antecedents of the Dred Scott Case." American Historical Review 30, no. 1 (1942): 56-71. view record
    Catton, Bruce. "Black Pawn on a Field of Peril." American Heritage 15, no. 1 (1963): 66-71. view record
    Cohen, Joel E. "The Dred Scott Decision: Background and Implications." Negro History Bulletin 26 (1963): 145-147, 155. view record
    Dykstra, Robert R. "Dr. Emerson's Sam: Black Iowans before the Civil War." Iowa Heritage Illustrated 85, no. 2-3 (2004): 50-63. view record
    Ehrlich, Walter. They Have No Rights: Dred Scott's Struggle for Freedom. Contributions in Legal Studies. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979. view record
    Fehrenbacher, Don Edward. Slavery, Law, and Politics: The Dred Scott Case in Historical Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. view record
    Finkelman, Paul. "What Did The Dred Scott Case Really Decide?" Reviews in American History 7, no. 3 (1979): 369-374. view record
    Finkelman, Paul. Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents . Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. view record
    Fleischner, Jennifer. The Dred Scott Case: Testing the Right to Live Free. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1997. view record
    Frazier, Thomas and Tom Carney. "A Man Named Sam." Adventist Heritage 17, no. 1 (1996): 53-55. view record
    Kaufman, Kenneth C. "Dred Scott's Advocate: A Biography of Roswell M. Field." Journal of Southern History 64, no. 1 (1998): 133-134. view record
    Kleber, Louis C. "Dred Scott Decision, 1857." History Today 22, no. 12 (1972): 873-878. view record
    McGinty, Brian. "A Heap O' Trouble." American History Illustrated 16, no. 2 (1981): 34-39. view record
    Moore, Robert, Jr. "A Ray of Hope, Extinguished: St. Louis Slave Suits for Freedom." Gateway Heritage 14, no. 3 (1993-1994): 4-15. view record
    VanderVelde, Lea. Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. view record
    Whittington, Keith E. "The Road Not Taken: Dred Scott, Judicial Authority, and Political Questions." Journal of Politics 63, no. 2 (2001): 365-391. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Scott, Dred," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,