Harriet Robinson Scott

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Harriet Robinson Scott was an African American slave woman who, despite adversity, fought for her freedom alongside her husband Dred Scott in the popular court case Scott v Sanford.

Early life[edit]

Harriet Robinson Scott was born around 1820 into slavery on a Virginia plantation. She was owned by Lawrence Taliaferro who was a federal Indian agent. In the 1830s, Taliaferro was assigned to Fort Snelling which was a military base and a fur trading outpost and he required Harriet to come with him. Harriet was ordered to do housework for Taliaferro even though slavery was technically prohibited in this new territory due to the Missouri Compromise. Many of those who were in the army disregarded the Missouri Compromise as they would move between territories that allowed slave owning and those that didn't.[1]

Time at Fort Snelling[edit]

Harriet lived among and worked alongside other slaves during her time at Fort Snelling along with interacting with Native Americans from various tribes. While at Fort Snelling, she met her future husband, Dred Scott. Dred Scott was a personal slave to Dr. John Emerson who was a military surgeon.[1]


Harriet married Dred Scott in 1836 when she was at the age of 21 and he was 36. They were married by Lawrence Taliaferro and Harriet became the property of Emerson in result. Two years after the two were married, Harriet became pregnant with their first child. Despite her pregnancy, she and her husband moved to Fort Jesup, Louisiana on behalf of Emerson and his wife who wanted the couple to make the trip and continue to work for them. Harriet gave birth on a steamer in St. Louis to a daughter, who she named Eliza. Two years following, she gave birth to another child named Lizzie.[1]

The Case[edit]

A 2012 monument to Dred and Harriet Scott at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis where the Scotts first brought their case.

Dr. Emerson passed away in 1843 and Harriet and Dred and their children were left to Irene Emerson, John Emerson's widow. They continued to work in St. Louis while Irene collected their pay until 1846 when they began the attempt to gain their freedom from Irene in court. Both Harriet and Dred filed their own petitions as they relied on their lawyer, Francis Murdock, and the minister of the African Baptist church they attended, John R. Anderson, due to illiteracy. Due to Harriet's time at Fort Snelling, a free state, she was aware that she had a good chance at having her freedom granted, like many others, after taking her petition to court. Irene found a way to keep the Scott family under custody of the St. Louis country sheriff for seven years while she continued to collect their working pay. The Scott family was granted their freedom on January 12, 1850 until Irene appealed their case and the court combined Harriet's and Dred's petitions into one, creating the case Dred Scott vs. Irene Emerson which included Harriet and her children with Dred. Five years later on March 6, 1857, after the Dred Scott v. Sandford case was moved through to the US Supreme Court, the court had decided the Scott family should remain slaves. This only lasted two months before the Scotts became property of Taylor Blow who then freed them immediately.[1]

Life after freedom[edit]

Shortly after gaining freedom, Harriet's husband died of Tuberculosis. Harriet continued to live free, working as a laundress, and owning her own home until she died on June 17, 1876 when she was 61 years old.[1]