Born: c. 1799
Birthplace: Southampton County, VA
Location of death: St. Louis, MO
Cause of death: Tuberculosis
Remains: Buried, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Victim, Activist
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Slave denied freedom by US Supreme Court
Dred Scott, namesake of an infamous court case, was born into slavery and raised as property of a man named Peter Blow. When he was about thirty years of age, Scott was sold to Dr John Emerson, a military doctor stationed in Missouri, a slave state. Emerson was eventually transferred to Illinois and later to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin territory, where Scott was married to Harriet Robinson, a female slave also owned by Emerson. After returning with his slaves to Missouri, Emerson died in 1843, and his widow began renting Scott's services. He probably met Francis B. Murdoch, an attorney and anti-slavery activist, on one of these rental assignments, and it was Murdoch who drew up the papers for Scott's first lawsuit, which Scott, being illiterate, signed with an X. The case was argued by lawyer Roswell Field, claiming false imprisonment, on the grounds that Scott was free by law, due to having spent two years north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Scott's argument was valid by the terms of the Missouri Compromise and by legal precedent, and the case was initially decided in his favor. The verdict, however, was found invalid by the Missouri Supreme Court, which noted in its ruling that "we will not go to [the North] to learn law, morality or religion on the subject." On subsequent appeal to the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney ruled in 1856 that whether free or slave, Negroes could not be deemed citizens of the United States, and that Scott, not being a citizen, had no standing in US courts. The verdict, still reviled as one of the most monumental mistakes of American jurisprudence, abrogated the Missouri Compromise, drew great public attention and debate to the concept of slavery, and helped enflame the tensions that led to the Civil War.
Scott did not live to see that war, but he did taste freedom. Emerson's widow was remarried to Calvin Chaffee, a two-term Congressman from Massachusetts and an ardent and outspoken opponent of slavery. Chaffee sought to emancipate Scott and his family, but under the laws of Missouri only a state resident could free a Missouri slave. He thus arranged to have ownership of his four pieces of property transferred to a Missouri resident, Taylor Blow -- the son of Scott's original owner, and a childhood playmate of Scott's -- who promptly signed the paperwork emancipating Scott and his family on 26 May 1857. Scott soon found employment as a porter at a St Louis hotel, where guests generally regarded him as a celebrity. He died of tuberculosis, not quite sixteen months after achieving freedom.
Wife: Harriet Robinson Scott (laundry worker, b. circa 1815, m. 1838, d. 1876, four children)
Son: (two sons, both died in infancy)
Daughter: Eliza Scott
Daughter: Lizzie Scott Madison
Born into Slavery
St. Louis Walk of Fame
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