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Dred Scott

Dred ScottThe story of Dred Scott is a study in "the power of one," and the yearning of the human spirit to be free. Dred Scott was born into slavery in 1799, in the state of Virginia, to his owners, the slave-holding Peter Blow family. His birth coincided with the period of the Louisiana Purchase from France, the ensuing battles for and against expanding slavery into the territory, the admission of Missouri as a slave state, and the anti-slavery provision of the Missouri Compromise.

In 1820, Congress admitted Missouri to the Union as a slave state, opening it to a large migration of white people and their slaves westward from the southern slave states, expanding and widening the slave trade as they went. Joining the migration, the Blow family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, taking Dred Scott with them. There, they sold him to Dr. John Emerson, a military surgeon, who was stationed at Jefferson Barracks. Dred Scott served Dr. Emerson for the next twelve years, traveling with him to other assigned posts in Illinois, the Wisconsin Territory, and at Fort Snelling in what became Minnesota — all places where slavery was prohibited.

At Fort Snelling, Minnesota, Dred Scott met and married Harriet Robinson, also a slave, and they had two children. In 1840, Dr. Emerson and his wife moved back to St. Louis, taking the Scott family along. The following year, 1843, Dr. Emerson died. Now the property of the widow Emerson, Dred, Harriet, and their two children found themselves hired out by her for service to other families.

In 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott turned to the courts to gain their freedom, citing their years of residence in free states. For the next ten years, the case moved from court to court. Finally, on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, in an infamous majority decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the court held that as a slave, Dred was not a U.S. citizen, was therefore not entitled to sue for freedom in federal court, had never been free, and had to remain a slave. Going further, the court ruled the anti-slavery provision of the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional.

The Scotts were returned as slaves to Mrs. Emerson. A year later, in 1857, upon her remarriage, this time to a man who opposed slavery, she returned the Scott family to their original owners, the Blow family, who, in turn, granted them their freedom. Dred Scott died one year later, in 1858.


  • Dred and Harriet Scott: A Family's Struggle for Freedom, by Gwenyth Swain.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Borealis Books, 2004.
    MHS call number: Reading Room E444.S38S93 2004
    Buy Online
  • African Americans in Minnesota, by David Vassar Taylor
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Minnesota Historical Society Press.
    Buy Online
  • Dred Scott: From Fort Snelling to Freedom, by Jeffrey A. Hess.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1975.
    MHS call number: F612.H58 S65 no. 2 (no. 2 of Fort Snelling Chronicles).
  • "The Dred Scott Case: Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 Howard 393," by Don E. Fehrenbacher.
    In Quarrels That Have Shaped the Constitution, pp. 86-99.
    New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
    MHS call number: KF8742.A5 Q37 1987.
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents, by Paul Finkelman.
    Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.
    MHS call number: KF4545.F45 1997.
  • "Mrs. Dred Scott," by Lea VanderVelde and Sandhya Subramanian.
    In Yale Law Journal, vol. 106, no. 4 (Jan. 1997): pp. 1033-1122.
    MHS call number: KF4545.S5 V36 1997.
  • Old Fort Snelling 1819-1858, by Marcus L. Hansen.
    Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, 1958.
    MHS call number: F612.H58S6.H2 1958.


  • The Case of Dred Scott in the United States Supreme Court: The Full Opinions of Chief Justice Taney and Justice Curtis, and Abstracts of the Opinions of the Other Judges; with an Analysis of the Points Ruled, and Some Concluding Observations.
    New York: Tribune Association, 1860.
    MHS call number: E450.S42 U53.
  • Report of the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Opinions of the Judges Thereof, in the Case of Dred Scott versus John F. A. Sandford, December Term, 1856, by Benjamin C. Howard.
    Washington, D.C.: C. Wendell, Printer, 1857.
    MHS call number: E450.S42 H8 1857.
  • Lawrence Taliaferro Papers.
    This archival collection (1813-1868) includes correspondence, journals, etc., of the man who was the U.S. Indian Agent at St. Peter's Agency near Ft. Snelling, from 1820-1839.
    MHS call number: P1203 (9 boxes) and M35 and M35A (5 reels of microfilm); see the green Manuscripts Notebooks — filed under P1203 for the boxes and under M35and M35A for the microfilm — for a detailed list of box contents and reel contents. An electronic version of Guide to a Microfilm Edition of the Lawrence Taliaferro Papers is also available.
    Note: Microfilm may be borrowed on Interlibrary Loan. The collection contains is a document dealing with the slaves Taliaferro brought to the agency in the mid-1820s, which supplements the brief, contemporary journal entries concerning them. The document lists those whom he freed between 1839 and 1843, among them Harriet Robinson, the wife of Dred Scott.
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.