Dred Scott Chronology

  • 1800 Dred Scott was born into slavery in southeast Virginia about this year.
  • 1830 Peter Blow, who legally owned Dred Scott brought him to St. Louis. Within the next few years Peter Blow died and left Dred Scott to his daughter.
  • 1833 Dred Scott was sold to Dr. Emerson, a surgeon in the United States Army stationed at Jefferson Barracks.
  • 1834 When Dr. Emerson moved with his unit to Fort Armstrong at Rock Island, Illinois, Scott was taken along. Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the State constitution of 1818, slavery was prohibited in Illinois. However, Army and Navy officers did not consider themselves to be citizens of a State merely because they happened to be stationed there.
  • 1836 The troops with whom Dr. Emerson served were moved to Fort Snelling on the west side of the Mississippi in what is now Minnesota. Dr. Emerson took his Scott along, although Fort Snelling was in territory from which slavery was barred by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Not long after arriving at the Fort, Dr. Emerson bought an enslaved women named Harriet from Major Taliaferro, an officer from Virginia. Dred and Harriet were married with their Emerson's consent.
  • 1837 Dr. Emerson was transferred, probably to Fort Gibson. He left the Scotts hired out to another officer at Fort Snelling.
  • 1838 Dred and Harriet were sent down to Dr. Emerson at Jefferson Barracks. On board the steamboat en route their first daughter, Eliza, was born.
  • 1843 Dr. Emerson died. He had been sent to Florida during the Seminole war, leaving the Scotts hired out at Jefferson Barracks. He returned from the war, but died shortly after. The Scotts were left to his widow, Irene, for the benefit of their minor daughter.
  • 1846 On April 6, Dred and Harriet Scott file separate petitions for their freedom in the unfinished St. Louis Courthouse (now called the "Old Courthouse" and maintained by the National Park Service).
  • 1847 In a trial held in the Old Courthouse, the Scotts lose their case on a technicality. They are given permission for a second trial by the Missouri Supreme Court.
  • 1850 On January 12, in a room on the first floor, west wing of the Old Courthouse, the Circuit Court of St. Louis County awards Dred Scott and his family their freedom. Mrs. Irene Emerson appeals to the Missouri Supreme Court.
  • 1852 The Missouri Supreme Court, convening in St. Louis, overturns the Circuit Court decision. Missouri breaks with past court decisions and no longer enforces the laws of free states and territories, declaring that "times now are not as they once were." The court defends slavery itself, saying that it places "that unhappy race within the pale of civilized nations."
  • 1854 The Scotts file a new suit in Federal Court. John F.A. Sanford of New York, Irene Emerson's brother and agent, is named as defendant. The defense maintains that Dred Scott is not a citizen, and thus has no right to sue in court. The court upholds the right of Scott to sue, but the jury finds that he and his family are still enslaved. The Scotts' lawyer, Roswell B. Field (father of the poet Eugene Field) appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • 1856 In an atmosphere of increasing distrust between North and 1857 South, the Dred Scott case is considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Montgomery Blair and George T. Curtis argue on behalf of the Scotts, Reverdy Jonson and Henry S. Geyer for Sanford. On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney reads the official opinion of the court. Taney feels that Dred Scott's suit for freedom should be dismissed for the following reasons:

1. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, African-Americans were not considered to be citizens, thus Dred Scott had no right to sue in court.

2. Residence in Wisconsin Territory had no effect on Dred Scott's status because the Missouri Compromise was invalid. Congress had no power to pass laws that limited slavery, because the right of property in a slave was guaranteed by the Constitution.

Last updated: June 5, 2020

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