Timeline of Samuel "Dred" Scott

Painting of Dred Scott.
Public Domain

In 1857, just a few years before the Emancipation Proclamation, an enslaved man named Samuel Dred Scott lost a fight for his freedom. 

For almost ten years, Scott had struggled to regain his freedom--arguing that since he lived with his enslaver—John Emerson—in a free state, he should be free.

However, after a long battle, the United States Supreme Court ruled that since Scott was not a citizen, he could not sue in a federal court. Also, as an enslaved person, as property, he and his family had no rights to sue in a court of law either.


Samuel "Dred" Scott is born in Southhampton, Va.


Scott is sold to John Emerson, a United States army physician.


Scott and Emerson move to the free state of Illinois.


Scott marries Harriet Robinson, an enslaved man of another army doctor.

1836 to 1842

Harriet gives birth to the couple's two daughters, Eliza and Lizzie.


The Scotts move to Missouri with the Emerson family.


Emerson dies. Scott attempts to purchase his freedom from Emerson's widow, Irene. However, Irene Emerson refuses.

April 6, 1846

Dred and Harriet Scott allege that their home in a free state granted them freedom. This petition is filed in the St. Louis County Circuit Court.

June 30, 1847

In the case, Scott v. Emerson, the defendant, Irene Emerson wins. The presiding judge, Alexander Hamilton provides Scott with a retrial.

January 12, 1850

At the second trial, the verdict is in Scott's favor. As a result, Emerson files an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court.

March 22, 1852

The Missouri Supreme Court reverses the lower court's decision.

The early 1850's

Arba Crane becomes employed by the law office of Roswell Field. Scott is working as a janitor at the office and meets Crane. Crane and Scott decide to take the case to the Supreme Court.

June 29, 1852

Hamilton, who is not only a judge but a North American 19-century Black activist, denies the petition by the Emerson family attorney to return the Scotts to their enslaver. At this time, Irene Emerson is living in Massachusetts, a free state.

November 2, 1853

Scott's lawsuit is filed in the United States Circuit Court for Missouri. Scott believes that the federal court is responsible for this case because Scott is suing John Sanford, the new enslasver of the Scott family.

May 15, 1854

Scott's case is fought in court. The court rules for John Sanford and is appealed to the Supreme Court.

February 11, 1856

The first argument is presented to the United States Supreme Court.

May 1856

Lawrence, Kan. is attacked by proponents of enslavement. John Brown kills five men. Senator Charles Sumner, who argued Supreme Court cases with Robert Morris Sr, is beaten by a Southern congressman over Sumner's anti-enslavement statements.

December 15, 1856

The second argument of the case is presented before the Supreme Court.

March 6, 1857

The United States Supreme Court decides that freed African Americans are not citizens. As a result, they cannot sue in federal court. Also, enslaved African Americans are property and as a result, have no rights. Also, the ruling found that Congress cannot prohibit enslavement from spreading into the western territories.

May 1857

Following the controversial trial, Irene Emerson remarried and gave the Scott family to another family of enslavers, the Blows. Peter Blow granted the Scotts their freedom.

June 1857

North American 19th-century Black activist and formerly enslaved person acknowledged the importance of the Dred Scott decision at the anniversary of the American Abolition Society through a speech.


Scott dies of tuberculosis.


Lincoln-Douglas debates begin. Much of the debates focus on the Dred Scott case and its impact on enslavement.

April 1860

Democratic Party splits. Southern delegations leave the convention after their petition to include a national enslavement code based on Dred Scott is rejected.

November 6, 1860

Lincoln wins the election.

March 4, 1861

Lincoln is sworn as president of the United States by Chief Justice Roger Taney. Taney wrote the Dred Scott opinion. Soon after, the Civil War begins.


Dred Scott and Harriet Robinson are inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

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Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "Timeline of Samuel "Dred" Scott." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/dred-scott-timeline-45419. Lewis, Femi. (2020, August 26). Timeline of Samuel "Dred" Scott. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dred-scott-timeline-45419 Lewis, Femi. "Timeline of Samuel "Dred" Scott." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dred-scott-timeline-45419 (accessed June 5, 2023).