Little Bits of History

From Property to Human

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 26, 2014
Dred Scott

Dred Scott

May 26, 1857: Dred Scott becomes a free man. Dred (Sam) Scott was born into slavery around 1799 in Southampton County, Virginia. He belonged to the Peter Blow family. He had an older brother named Dred, and when he died, Sam assumed the name in his honor. The Blow family moved to Huntsville, Alabama and were unsuccessful in farming endeavors there. In 1830, they moved to St. Louis, Missouri and sold Dred to John Emerson, a doctor serving with the US Army. In 1836, Dred met Harriet Robison, a teenaged slave belonging to Major Lawrence Taliaferro who was from Virginia. They were permitted to marry and Taliaferro transferred ownership of Harriet to Emerson. Emerson himself married and both new families moved frequently and returned to Missouri where in 1842 Emerson left the army.

They moved to the Iowa Territory in 1843 and Emerson died, leaving his estate to his wife, Irene. She now owned the Scotts and she leased them out as hired slaves for the next three years. In 1846, Scott attempted to purchase his family from Irene but she refused to sell. Since he couldn’t buy his freedom, he filed suit in St. Louis Circuit Court. Scott v Emerson was heard in the federal-state courthouse in St. Louis in 1847 and the judgment went to Emerson but the evidence was deemed hearsay and so the judge called for a retrial. In 1850, a Missouri jury found that Scott and his family should be freed as they were illegally held as slaves during their extended residence in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was illegal.

Because women weren’t of much better standing that slaves, it was found that when Emerson died, his property should have been transferred to his wife’s brother, John Sanford, a resident of New York. So Scott’s lawyers brought a case in New York claiming diverse citizenship and the case was filed in federal court. Scott again lost and so the case was brought to the US Supreme Court in Dred Scott v Sandford (typo by a clerk) and the high court found that any one of African descent, whether slave or free, was not a citizen of the US, according to the Constitution. It also found the Ordinance of 1787 did not apply to non-whites. The Act of 1820 (the Missouri Compromise) was also not valid. In short, African-Americans had no claim to freedom or citizenship.

Scott was returned to Irene whose brother had been committed to an insane asylum in the interim. In 1850, Irene had remarried Calvin Chaffee, an abolitionist and member of the US Congress. He was unaware until shortly before the marriage, that his wife owned the most famous slave in the country. He persuaded his wife to return the Scott family to the Blow family, the original owners but they were now living in Missouri and had becomes opponents of slavery. So only three months after the Supreme Court ruling, Henry Blow freed Scott, his wife, and their two daughters. Only 17 months later, Scott died of tuberculosis in St. Louis where he had supported his family working as a porter.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. – Abraham Lincoln

Elimination of illiteracy is as serious an issue to our history as the abolition of slavery. – Maya Angelou

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery. – George Washington

Racism, xenophobia and unfair discrimination have spawned slavery, when human beings have bought and sold and owned and branded fellow human beings as if they were so many beasts of burden. – Desmond Tutu

Also on this day: Who Was That? – In 1828 a strange teenager is found on the streets.
Complex Napoleon – In 1805, Napoleon was crowned King of Italy.
Sailing to Oblivion – In 1854, Khufu or Cheops’ ship was discovered.
Alse Young – In 1647, Alse was hung as a witch.

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