Dr. John Emerson

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Dr. John Emerson

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Husband of Irene Emerson

Managed by: Private User
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About Dr. John Emerson


Dr. John Emerson (died 1843), was an owner of the slave Dred Scott.

Scott often traveled with his master Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon in the U.S. Army, who was regularly transferred under Army command. Scott's stay with his master in Illinois, a free state, gave him the legal leverage to make a claim for freedom, as did his extended stay at Fort Snelling in the Wisconsin Territory (now Minnesota), where slavery was also prohibited. Scott did not file a petition for freedom while living in the free lands—perhaps because he was unaware of his rights at the time, or because he was afraid of the possible repercussions.

After two years, the army transferred Emerson to territory where slavery was legal: first to St. Louis, Missouri, then to Louisiana. In February 1838, after getting married in Louisiana to Eliza Irene Sanford (known as Irene), Emerson commanded the Scotts to return to him. They could have refused the order by staying in the free territory of Wisconsin (now Minnesota), or by going to the free state of Illinois, but instead they went down the Mississippi River to Louisiana; a voyage of more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km).

In 1842, Emerson left the Army. After he died in the Iowa Territory in 1843, his widow (Eliza) Irene Emerson inherited his estate, including the Scotts. She directed Scott to work for another officer. At this change Scott sought freedom for his family and himself. He offered US$300, about $8,000 in current value, to Emerson's widow, but she refused to release him. Scott then went to the St. Louis Circuit Court to obtain his freedom.

After losing the case in Missouri, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since Irene Emerson had transferred ownership to her brother, John F. A. Sanford, he was the defendant in that case.


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