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

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 23
1843 Interlude: Jefferson
Barracks between Wars
of National Expansion

THAT SPRING, A third Sanford sister, Mary, and her officer husband, Capt. Bainbridge, arrived in St. Louis from Florida under circumstances much more favorable than the doctor’s. The Bainbridges had introduced Dr. Emerson to his wife, when Irene visited them in Louisiana in search of a husband. Since then Capt. Bainbridge had enjoyed a plum assignment recruiting in New York but he had reached Florida just in time to see some action and the end of the war.1 Soon after he rejoined his unit, the third infantry, it was feted in Tallahassee as the war’s heroes.2 What fortunate timing! Now Capt. Bainbridge’s unit returned from the war in high spirits,3 and it was assigned to Jefferson Barracks, south of St. Louis— exactly where Dr. Emerson had long desired to be.

The Bainbridges needed servants at the barracks, and they took on Dred and his family. Thus, the Scotts left the city and went to live again at an army post—this time the largest and best maintained facility in the west. Jefferson Barracks was located on the Mississippi River, 11 miles south of the city.4 Dred would stay in the captain’s service for the next three years.

In their work lives, servants like Harriet and Dred had to accommodate the new personalities, preferences, agendas, and needs of their succession of masters and mistresses.5 At Jefferson Barracks, the couple’s primary tasks were keeping house for a master and mistress who were a very popular couple in the military social set and entertained often.

Capt. Henry Bainbridge was 40, and his pretty wife, Mary, was just 25. Bainbridge was a military blueblood, though his family was mostly navy. (He also carried a famous name. Commodore Bainbridge, a relative of his, was credited with winning the American war against the Barbary pirates.) The middle-aged captain, educated at West Point, had acquired a taste for the finer things that his education and birth had offered him. Although he was considered a fine officer, he was settled in his comforts, as Dred would later learn.6 He had a liberal turn of mind and read widely, particularly esoteric new works. He enjoyed socializing with

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