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

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
While the Doctor Was Away:
St. Louis, 1840–1843

AND SO, HARRIET and her family returned to a slave state with the Emersons. No one needed to kidnap them or force them aboard the ship. All of the civilian housing in the immediate vicinity had been burned to the ground. There was nowhere else for them to go. The only settlements on the upper Mississippi were forts, like Fort Snelling, where Dred, at least, would have been regarded as the servant of another military officer. Chicago was little more than a settlement, and the other tiny river towns were hardly places for an African American family without money or farming experience.1 Reassigned to the Seminole War,2 Dr. Emerson traveled south along the river highway with the redeployment of almost the entire military contingent of the upper Mississippi Valley. He left the Scotts in St. Louis with his wife. By the end of June, he’d reached the fort at Tampa Bay.3 It is unlikely that either of the Scotts went to Florida during the three years the doctor served there. At first, Emerson listed Etheldred on his Florida pay slips, but he later named a different slave man. Dred’s name did not appear on the doctor’s pay slip again.4 Most likely, Emerson listed him in order to claim his allowance until he lined up another servant. After all, there were plenty of slaves available in Florida.5

Instead, the Scotts probably remained in the St. Louis area for the next four years, where the events of their day-to-day lives drop into obscurity. There was no conscientious diarist in Harriet’s new household, so it’s not clear how long the Scotts remained with Mistress Irene at her father’s farm. Yet their experiences were bounded initially by Mistress Irene’s direction and the Sanford farm—and later by the constraints that the regional community imposed upon all bound servants.

The St. Louis the Scotts entered in 1840 had changed little from the river town they had visited two summers earlier. Rows of moored steamboats and the boatyards lining the shore were the first thing one saw when approaching the town by water. Behind the boatyards, low, wooden warehouses laden with goods stretched

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