Mrs. Dred Scott

Mrs. Dred Scott

A Life on Slavery's Frontier

Book - 2009
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Among the most infamous U.S. Supreme Court decisions is Dred Scott v. Sandford. Despite the case's signal importance as a turning point in America's history, the lives of the slave litigants have receded to the margins of the record, as conventional accounts have focused on the case's judgesand lawyers. In telling the life of Harriet, Dred's wife and co-litigant in the case, this book provides a compensatory history to the generations of work that missed key sources only recently brought to light. Moreover, it gives insight into the reasons and ways that slaves used the courts toestablish their freedom. A remarkable piece of historical detective work, Mrs. Dred Scott chronicles Harriet's life from her adolescence on the 1830s Minnesota-Wisconsin frontier, to slavery-era St. Louis, through the eleven years of legal wrangling that ended with the high court's notorious decision. The book not onlyrecovers her story, but also reveals that Harriet may well have been the lynchpin in this pivotal episode in American legal history. Reconstructing Harriet Scott's life through innovative readings of journals, military records, court dockets, and even frontier store ledgers, VanderVelde offers a stunningly detailed account that is at once a rich portrait of slave life, an engrossing legal drama, and a provocative reassessmentof a central event in U.S. constitutional history. More than a biography, the book is a deep social history that freshly illuminates some of the major issues confronting antebellum America, including the status of women, slaves, Free Blacks, and Native Americans.
Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009.
ISBN: 9780195366563
Branch Call Number: BIO SCOTT H. VanderVe 02/2009
Characteristics: viii, 480 p., [6] p. of plates :,ill., map, ports. ;,25 cm.
Alternative Title: Misses Dred Scott


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Dec 24, 2010

Although I appreciate the author’s research on the history behind the famous Dred Scott Decision, I was disappointed by the book in some ways. I frequently found it hard to keep reading because many portions were quite dry and there was a preponderance of writing about the white people rather than the black.

Because Mrs. and Mr. Scott were both illiterate, and because there was no written record of their lives by white people, there are no documents that specifically express their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Despite the book’s title, readers never really get to know Mrs. Scott as an individual. The book is built around extensive research about where Mr. and Mrs. Scott lived at various times and therefore what the author supposed their life to be like at that time. The history was interesting to me because a great deal of it centered around my home state of Minnesota. I learned alot about the Native American history there when it was still a territory but I’m not sure non-Minnesotans would be quite as captivated.

The historically important Dred Scott Decision isn’t adequately discussed, in my opinion. Out of 324 pages, the lawsuit the Scotts filed to gain their freedom from servitude isn’t discussed until page 233. It remains unclear how active the Scotts were with their attorneys in terms of planning strategies or testimony over the eleven year history of the lawsuit. And lastly, there was an insufficient discussion of the Supreme Court proceedings. I was expecting to hear the arguments made on both sides and maybe some information on the justices’ discussions. Instead readers are simply given a chapter devoted to Justice Taney’s majority opinion mandating that the Scotts remain enslaved. I was hoping for more.


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