Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 28
1849: Trial by Pestilence, Trial
by Fire

ON NEW YEAR’S DAY, 1849, the city engaged in the usual holiday entertainments, and a traveling circus company, driven from New Orleans by a cholera panic, came to town to add to the festivities.1 The circus was in town, but the cholera was trailing not far behind.

It was not until early 1849 that a buyer was found for Sanford’s farm.2 The farm, together with three slaves, was sold to one of the city’s richest former Virginians.3 On the first of March, the livestock, carriages, and household furniture from the Sanford estate were auctioned off.4 With his primary residence at the company’s New York office, Sanford liquidated almost all his Missouri assets with B. S. Garland’s help, giving Garland one of his father’s carriages as partial payment for his services.5

Mrs. Emerson also sold her small acreage on Manchester Road, marking her permanent departure from Missouri.6 Irene, by now widowed for five years, had not remarried, but she had a child to raise and no independent means of support. She lived on the charity of relatives. In a letter to John Darby, the lawyer closing out his father’s estate, John Sanford added a postscript.7 He had seen some mention of a proceeding of some slaves against his sister. Did Darby think it could be reopened? In the context of liquidating his holdings, the question posed was strictly a financial one: was there any money for his sister in the lawsuit? If there was money to be had, Sanford knew the man to collect it. After all, he now had two widowed sisters and a widowed stepmother, and five or six fatherless nieces and nephews who depended upon him. The word around town was that he had done little to provide for poor Irene.8 This note, occurring two years after the Scotts filed suit, marks Sanford’s first direct involvement in the case that would bear his name for posterity.9 Half a century later, Mrs. Emerson remembered that her brother had paid all the costs for the lawsuit and that she had lost track of and interest in it.10 Her father’s death seems to be the point at which John F. A. Sanford took over.

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