Dred Scott 

Famous Slave

The Famous Slave Dred Scott: A Brief Synopsis

Dred Scott was a famous slave renowned for fighting for the freedom of himself and his family via numerous court battles for over a decade on the basis that they lived in free states, and therefore 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.

The Famous Slave Dred Scott: Childhood and Master

Dred Scott was born in Southampton Country, Virginia, in approximately 1800. Little is known about Dred Scott's parentage or childhood, but it is believed that his given name was Sam and his first smaster was a planter named Peter Blow. On Blow's death in June 1832, Dred Scott became the property of Emerson, an army surgeon stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.
former slave Dred Scott
Dred Scott, the famous slave (public domain)

The Famos Slave Dred Scott: Slave Free States and Marriage

In 1833, Emerson was transferred to the slave free state of Illinois; Dred Scott accompanied him, following his master again when he was transferred to Fort Snelling in May 1836. Now part of Minnesota, at the time Fort Snelling was part of Wisconsin; a slave free state as per the Missouri Compromise. This admitted Missouri as a slave state, prohibiting slavery in Louisiana north of 36 30 latitude line; Missouri's southern border. Dred Scott met Harriet Robinson in this year, a slave owned by Major Lawrence Taliaferro, local Justice of the Peace, from Virginia. Taliaferro conducted the marriage ceremony and transferred ownership of Harriet to Emerson so that the couple could live together and have a family. Though Dred Scott could have sought his freedom from the courts whilst living in Wisconsin, he failed to do so. As he was illiterate, he may not have been aware that this was even a possibility. Dred Scott and his new wife were leased out at Fort Snelling whilst Emerson transferred to St Louis in October 1837. On Emerson's death on 29 December 1843, Mrs Emerson leased out Dred Scott and family in Louisiana and would not allow them to purchase their freedom.


Name: Dred Scott
AKA: Sam
Born: C.1800, Virginia
Died: 17 December 1858
Cause: Tuberculosis
Famed for: Filing a lawsuit for freedom, the outcome of which was said to have partially contributed toward the Civil War
Spouse: Harriet B. c1815 D 17/6/1876
Children: Eliza Scott B. 1838, Lizzie Scott B. 1840, two sons that died in infancy

The Slave Dred Scott: The Initial Lawsuits Against Mrs Emerson and Freedom

Three years later, Harriet and Dred Scott filed cases at the Missouri State Court 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.

The Slave Dred Scott: Mrs Emerson's Appeal and Enslavement

Mrs Emerson's lawyers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, 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. By this point, America was divided over the topic of slavery. 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."

The Slave Dred Scott: The Lawsuit Against Mrs Emerson's Brother and Appeal to the 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. From 1848 to 1857, the Sheriff was given custody of the family, taking over Mrs Emerson's responsibility in hiring them out for work, and keeping their wages aside until it could be decided whether they were Mrs Emerson's property.

The Slave Dred Scott: The Final Outcome and Affect on the Missouri Compromise

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. With this, Chief Justice Roger B Taney 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 and removed the scope to which it could be restricted. This is given to be one of the contributing factors toward the Civil War.

the Slave Dred Scott: Change of Master, 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.

Click here for a breakdown of the dates and events relating to Dred Scott.


  1. Walter Ehrlich - They Have No Rights

  2. Ethan Greenberg - Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court

  3. Amy Van Zee - Dred Scott V Sandford: Slavery and Freedom before the American Civil War

  4. Corinne J. Naden and Rose Blue - Dred Scott: Person or Property?

  5. The National Park Service

  6. History.com

  7. Washington University

  8. The State Historical Society of Missouri

  9. Missouri Digital Heritage

The Biography of Famous Slave/ Abolitionist Dred Scott

  • The Biography of Dred Scott, for Education and Learning
  • Dred Scott and His Fight for Freedom
  • The Lawsuits made by Dred Scott Against Emerson and Sanford and the Contribution toward the Civil War


  • Quick Facts About Slave Dred Scott
  • A Timeline of Events About Dred Scott V Sandford
  • The Life of Dred Scott and Family

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