This is the "Overview" page of the "Dred Scott: Slave in a Free Territory" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

Dred Scott: Slave in a Free Territory   Tags: 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, african americans, law, minnesota territory  

Last Updated: Aug 16, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Overview Print Page

Research Options

  • Visit the MNHS Library
    Original materials, records, and newspapers on microfilm are available on site and reference staff can help with research.
  • MNHS Research Services
    Order copies of records, articles, or other specific materials from the MNHS collections.
  • Interlibrary Loan
    MNHS loans out most microfilm materials. Contact your local library for more information and assistance with this service.
  • Online Research
    Some items such as newspapers, articles, photos and objects are available online. Look for links within this guide.
  • Other Libraries
    Many books listed in the Secondary Sources page can be borrowed from other libraries.

Related Research Guides & Webpages



Dred Scott, 1857

The 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 early life 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, 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. Later, in 1843, Dr. Emerson died. Now the property of the widow Emerson, she hired out Dred, Harriet and the children 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.  The Scotts were then granted their freedom.  Dred Scott died one year later, in 1858.


MNHS Reference Staff

reading room bookshelves

Gale Family Library
MN Historical Society Library
345 West Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Contact Us:
By Phone (651-259-3300)
By Email

Library Hours
Tuesday: 9am to 8pm
Wed. to Sat.: 9am to 4pm
Sunday: Closed
Monday: Closed
Holiday Hours


Guide Author

Reference Staff

Minnesota Historical Society Library • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300

Loading  Loading...