An Enslaved American is Emancipated by his original owners (May 26, 1857) - History Key

An Enslaved American is Emancipated by his original owners (May 26, 1857)

Dred Scott was an enslaved African American who fought for his freedom through the legal system. In 1857 the decision by the United States Supreme Court (known as the Dred Scott Decision) was against his desires. It contained that no black person was or could be a citizen. However, the was a major influence for the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860.

A photograph of Dred Scott, taken around the time of his court case in 1857
A photograph of Dred Scott, taken around the time of his court case in 1857 © Image Source: Wikipedia

First attempt for Freedom

The enslaved American was born in Virginia around 1799. By 1818, Scott was Peter Blow’s “propriety” until 1830 when Scott was sold to another family. More exactly he belonged to Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon who served in the US Army. When Scott noticed that he will belong to another family, he tried to run away. His attempt was temporarily successful until he was captured in the Lucas Swamps, Missouri and taken back.

Because of his job, Emerson had to move frequently, but he always took Scott with him. Therefore, in 1837 Emerson was located in Fort Snelling (today Minnesota). In there, Scott met Harriet Robinson, another enslaved woman owned by Lawrence Taliaferro. Somehow, they married to each other (as a free couple) by a formalized civil ceremony presided by Taliaferro. Nevertheless, Taliaferro transferred Harriet to Emerson because he was a “justice of the peace”. However, Emerson treaded the married couple as slaves.

When Emerson passed away, his wife Irene inherited his estate, including Scott and Harriet. Irene continued to buy slaves and exploit them just like his husband. Because of his strong desire to be free, Scott tried to purchase his and Harriet’s freedom offering $300 (today about $8,000) to Irene. With no surprises, she refused him.

Legal attempt

Newspaper notice for a pamphlet on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision
Newspaper notice for a pamphlet on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision © Image Source: britannica.com

Scott couldn’t take no for an answer so easily. He and his wife took the matter to court separately. One of the arguments was based on the 1824 Missouri Supreme Court decision which established: “once free, always free.” He claimed that he was once free by the time when we married Harriet. Ironically, his first trial was tossed out on a technically reason: Scott couldn’t prove that he and Harriet were owned by Mrs. Emerson.

However, the judge called for a retrial which was held in 1850. This time, the ownership of Mrs. Emerson was proved and the jury granted Scott’s freedom. Irene Emerson couldn’t take no for an answer as well. Therefore she appealed in 1852 and the Missouri Supreme Court took away their freedom.

Struggling for his freedom, Scott appealed to the United States Circuit Court in Missouri, but it was in vain. Therefore, Scott and his lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court. His odds were minimal because five of the nine justices were from slave-owners families. As expected, in March 1857 the Supreme Court stated that because of Scott’s race he wasn’t a citizen and had no rights to sue.

A dream come true

Luckily, the case was heard by Abraham Lincoln. He publicly spoke about the case and he was against the decision. For sure it was a turning point for several persons. Still, Scott’s legal fees had been paid by the sons of his original owner, Peter Blow. Therefore, they arranged to purchase the Scotts from Irene Emerson for $750 and set them free on May 26, 1857.

Unfortunately Dred Scott didn’t get to enjoy his freedom for very long, but at least he saw his dream come true. He died on September 17, 1858 and let Harriet a widow with two daughters, Eliza and Lizzie.

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