Dr John Emerson

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John Emerson, M.D.

Death: December 29, 1843 (36-44)
Davenport, Scott County, Iowa Territory (late stages of syphilis)
Place of Burial: Davenport, Scott County, Iowa, United States
Immediate Family:

Husband of Eliza Irene Chaffee
Father of Henrietta Sanford King
Brother of Edward P. Emerson

Occupation: US Army surgeon
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Dr John Emerson

Owner of Dred Scott. Left Scott and his family as well as the rest of his estate to his wife, Irene. Had a daughter.


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

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.


From Dr. John Emerson, Fort Armstrong Medical Officer, and His Slave, Dred Scott

In his will Dr. Emerson left his medical books to his brother and all the rest of his property, including his slaves, to his wife and daughter, in a trust administered by his wife’s brother John Sanford. Dr. Emerson’s daughter, Henrietta, was only one month old when her father died. He passed away sometime during the night in December 1843, at the age of 40. “There is a difference in the dates of his death . . . [since] he died in [sometime in] the night of December 29-30” (Snyder 453). Dr. Emerson died of tuberculosis before his home was completed, at The LeClaire House.

owner of the famous Negro slave Dred Scott WPA records indicate he is buried in Glendale Cemetery at Le Claire. He was a surgeon in the U.S. army; Davenport Gazette of 1-4-1944

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Dr John Emerson's Timeline

November 27, 1843
Age 40
Davenport, Scott County, Iowa, United States
December 29, 1843
Age 40
Davenport, Scott County, Iowa Territory
Davenport, Scott County, Iowa, United States