Traveling the Length
of the River
JUST WEEKS AFTER arriving in Louisiana, Dr. Emerson was already complaining and again seeking reassignment. His letters suggest that he made considerable effort to avoid being assigned to the swampy Sabine River, with its insects, snakes and malaria.1 Although his rheumatism had subsided in the warm climate, he now reported difficulty breathing, along with his usual chronic complaints of syphilis and liver disorder.2 “No other medical officer in the army would attempt to do duty if suffering as much as I have for more than twelve months. My distracted state of body and mind has entirely unfitted me for duty.”3
Much more to his liking, he was assigned to accompany a detached party destined for Natchitoches, an old French town in Louisiana, where he soon found a bride, despite his many ailments. The doctor was introduced to a sister-in-law of one of the officers, Miss Irene Sanford from St. Louis, who was visiting her sister, Captain Bainbridge’s wife. Irene Sanford and the Bainbridges would play major roles in the Scotts’ lives.
The doctor lost no time in courting the young lady, who it seems was there in search of a husband. Within the month, her brother, John F. A. Sanford in St. Louis was apprised of the impending marriage, remarking, “Irene had lost little time finding herself a husband.”4 On February 6, 1838, Dr. John Emerson and Elizabeth Irene Sanford were married in Natchitoches.5
With a wife to provide for, the doctor must have thought more seriously about sending for Dred and Harriet to come to Louisiana. Slaves were necessary to uphold a suitable standard of living, especially in the South.6 As a lady, his new bride couldn’t be expected to do all the housework herself. Emerson had little reason to believe that word would get through to the frozen fort so far upriver. Still, it seems he made some effort to communicate with the Scotts, telling them to come to Louisiana, and his message seems to have reached them because they did leave Fort Snelling—but they could not have done so until the spring thaw.