John Francis Alexander Sanford

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John Francis Alexander Sanford

Birthdate: (51)
Birthplace: Virginia, United States
Death: 1857 (51)
New York, New York County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Francis Alexander Sanford and Mary Sanford
Husband of Emilie Sanford and Isabel Davis
Father of Benjamin Chouteau Sanford and Emily SANFORD, Comtesse SALA
Brother of Henrietta Clark; Charlotte Adams Barnes; Eliza Irene Chaffee and Mary Bainbridge

Occupation: Fur Company Agent, St Louis MO
Managed by: Marc Antonius Joseph Schreurs
Last Updated:

About John Francis Alexander Sanford

Sanford, John F. A., frontiersman (1806-May 5, 1857). 

From: Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, Vol. III; P-Z Index by Dan L. Thrapp; pub. The Arthur H. Clark Co., Glendale, CA 1988; p. 1264

Sanford, John F. A., frontiersman (1806-May 5, 1857).  Born in Virginia, he reached St. Louis in 1825 and became clerk for William Clark, as such witnessing a treaty with the Kansas Indians at St. Louis June 3.   In 1826 he was appointed sub agent for the upper Missouri, remaining two years among the Mandans and contacting other upper country tribes.  He returned to St. Louis briefly in 1828 and again in 1830.  He went back upriver and in 1831 brought down a deputation of four Indians from as many tribes, visited Washington, and returned up the river in 1832, accompanied by Catlin.

Sanford returned to St. Louis and married the daughter of Pierre Chouteau, Jr., Emilie, returning up the river, this time accompanied by Prince Maximilian, and went back to St. Louis.  His wife died in 1836, having mothered a son.   Sanford resigned in late 1834, went to work for his father-in-law, remaining in Chouteau's employ the rest of his life.  He became a partner in the firm in 1838, accumulated a fortune, lived at New York City late in life, and married once more.   In 1853, owning briefly the slave, Dred Scott, famous slave, he was defendant in the famous lawsuit.  In December 1856, Sanford had a mental breakdown, became insane, and died in a New York asylum.

[Janet 1.compete article, MM, Vol. IX]

  • The Scott vs. Sanford case was an antecedent to the Civil War.  Here is a site that discusses this case and the impact on the Civil War.  Essays: A Hard Shove for a "Nation on the Brink": The Impact of Dred Scott.  In this essay, by Lisa Cozzens, it states that Dred Scott, the slave, was left to her brother, John F. A. Sanford by his sister, Mrs. John Emerson. A must read!

From MISSOURI STATE ARCHIVES: Missouri's Dred Scott Case, 1846-1857

At this juncture in the case, Irene Emerson's brother, John Sanford, claimed ownership of the Scott family. This claim, like many Dred Scott ownership mysteries, has never been solved. There are no papers transferring ownership to Sanford from Chaffee. The Scott family had always been a sort of communal property to the Sanford family, so perhaps John Sanford, as an executor of his brother-in-law's estate, felt he was responsible for the slaves and, in a sense, their owner. Sanford was a West Point graduate and wealthy businessman. Although he had previously resided in St. Louis, by 1853, he was living in New York City. He maintained family ties in St. Louis because of his 1832 marriage to Emilie Chouteau, daughter of Pierre Chouteau, one of St. Louis' largest slave-holding families. Though she died in 1836, Sanford was already an active partner in most of the Chouteau family's business interests. After his wife's death, Sanford moved to New York as the eastern representative of the American Fur Company, acquired from John Jacob Astor. This tie to Chouteau explains in part Sanford's desire to continue fighting against Dred Scott's pursuit of freedom. The Chouteau family were unyielding in their defense of the institution of slavery and had been involved in numerous freedom suits. It is probable the family, especially Pierre Chouteau, encouraged Sanford to continue defending his property rights (or at least those of his sister).

John F. A. Sanford (1806-1857) was a frontiersman of the American west who worked with Native American tribes as an Indian agent. He later joined Pierre Chouteau, Jr. in a fur trapping and trading business. He extended his interests into other areas of commerce and became very wealthy. In the final years of his life he was involved with the landmark court case of Dred Scott v John F A Sandford. He suffered mental illness and died in an asylum.


Sanford's parents were Alexander Sanford (c1782-1848) and Mary Adams. His step mother, from his father's later marriage, was also named Mary. Before about 1810 they lived in Westmoreland County, Virginia and after this date up to 1829 their home was in Winchester, Virginia. John F. A. Sanford, the eldest child of seven, attended the academy at West Point, and in 1825 became a clerk and interpreter in the St Louis office of Indian Affairs under William Clark. In 1826 he was appointed as a sub-agent in the remote Mandan villages of the upper Missouri. He replaced the former agent, 29-year-old Peter Wilson, who had died earlier that year after being taken ill in a Mandan settlement.

For a period of about seven years Sanford worked with several tribes including Minitarees, Crows, Arikaras, Assiniboines, Knisteneaux and Yanctonais Sioux, estimating that the population in his area was in the order of 75,000. Sanford tried to resolve underfunding issues and made requests for better pay and for an improvement in his situation. These were ignored and to further add to his frustration, he was criticised in the House of Representatives for the expenses incurred when he took a delegation of tribesmen to Washington. This both damaged his career prospects, and came as a personal blow.

In 1832 Sanford struck up a friendship with Pierre Chouteau Jr., a member of the wealthy St Louis fur trading family, and was offered a position in Chouteau's business. He joined in 1833, later becoming a partner and then the company’s representative in Washington and New York. Sanford also married Chouteau’s daughter, Emilie, although she died in 1836. Their only child, Benjamin, was raised by the Chouteau family. At this time Sanford purchased a farm in St Louis for his father, who lived there until his death in 1848.

Sanford became wealthy; his business interests included mining, railroads and mercantile. In 1851 he became one of the founder members of a company that was formed to build the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1850 he married Isabel Davis, daughter of Thomas E. Davis, New York real estate developer. Sanford with his father-in-law Davis, and brother-in-law, Frederick C. Gebhard, invested in various joint ventures including the St Anthony Falls Water Power Company, Allentown Railroad Company and the Dauphin and Susquehanna Coal Company.

In 1853 Sanford became involved with a landmark court case: Dred Scott, a slave working for Sanford’s brother-in-law, had been seeking his freedom through the courts since 1846. In 1853 Scott’s case went to the Supreme Court with Sanford named as the defendant. A detailed account of the case is available in the Wikipedia article Dred Scott v. Sandford.

Sanford suffered mental illness during 1857 and was admitted to an asylum. At one point he was thought to be recovering, but had a relapse and died on 6 May 1857 in Manhattan.


In about 1829 Sanford's father moved his family to Fort McHenry, Maryland, to take up the post of an army sutler. As a consequence, 4 of Sanford's sisters met and married military men: Charlotte married General James Barnes, Henrietta married Major John B. Clark, Mary married Colonel Henry Bainbridge and Irene married army surgeon Dr John Emerson. The 5th sister, Virginia, who was the youngest, married stove manufacturer Samuel H. Ransom of Albany. Sanford’s brother, naval captain Joseph P. Sanford, married Ransom's sister Lydia, and between tours of service, worked for stove manufacturer Rathbone in Albany.

Sanford's second wife, Isabel, moved to Paris, France in the 1860s with the 2 children from their marriage - Emilie and John Francis. Emilie, married French diplomat Count Maurice Sala. Their son, Count Antoine Sala, married Laura Bache Kayser, daughter of Julius Kayser, silk glove and hosiery manufacturer.

By coincidence, Isabel's uncle, Rev. John Power, Vicar General of New York, had baptized Sanford's son, Benjamin Chouteau Sanford, many years previously in New York, on 12 February 1837. The sponsors were Robert Anderson, Charles Chouteau, Julia Chouteau and Mary Bainbridge.

From "The Autobiography of John Sanford Barnes" Chapter 1

My grandfather, the father of my mother, Francis Alexander Sanford - was born and lived in Virginia, Westmoreland County, where he owned a plantation and numerous slaves. Here my mother, Charlotte Adams Sanford was born, the second of a numerous family of children - all born upon the Virginia plantation. She was named for her mother, whose maiden name was Charlotte Adams, a descendant of an Adams who was related to the Adams family of New England.

The eldest of these children was John Francis Adams Sanford for whom I was named, and who was the nominal defendant in the famous Dred Scott case - of him I shall speak hereafter - as he was perhaps the only one of my forebears who ever reached a place of distinction in the history of the country.

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John Francis Alexander Sanford's Timeline

Virginia, United States
May 16, 1835
Age 29
Saint Louis, Missouri
Age 46
Age 51
New York, New York County, New York, United States