Dred Scott and Harper's Ferry

by Teri

Dred Scott

Dred Scott was the name of an African-American slave. He was taken by his master, an officer in the U.S. Army, from the slave state of Missouri to the free state of Illinois and then to the free territory of Wisconsin. He lived on free soil for a long period of time.

When the Army ordered his master to go back to Missouri, he took Scott with him back to that slave state, where his master died. In 1846, Scott was helped by Abolitionist (anti-slavery) lawyers to sue for his freedom in court, claiming he should be free since he had lived on free soil for a long time. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, was a former slave owner from Maryland.

In March of 1857, Scott lost the decision as seven out of nine Justices on the Supreme Court declared no slave or descendant of a slave could be a U.S. citizen, or ever had been a U.S. citizen. As a non-citizen, the court stated, Scott had no rights and could not sue in a Federal Court and must remain a slave.

Harper's Ferry



On October 16, Brown set out for Harpers Ferry with 21 men -- 5 blacks, including Dangerfield Newby, who hoped to rescue his wife who was still a slave, and 16 whites, two of whom were Brown's sons. Leaving after sundown, the men crossed the Potomac, then walked all night in heavy rain, reaching the town at 4am. They cut telegraph wires, then made their assault. First they captured the federal armory and arsernal. They then captured Hall's Rifle Works, a supplier of weapons to the government. Brown and his men rounded up 60 prominent citizens of the town and held them as hostages, hoping that their slaves would join the fight. No slaves came forth.

The local militia pinned Brown and his men down. Under a white flag, one of Brown's sons was sent out to negotiate with the citizens. He was shot and killed. News of the insurrection, relayed by the conductor of an express train heading to Baltimore, reached President Buchanan. Marines and soldiers went dispatched, under the leadership of then Colonel Robert E. Lee. By the time they arrived, eight of Brown's 22-man army had already been killed. Lee's men moved in and quickly ended the insurrection. In the end, ten of Brown's men were killed (including two blacks and both of his sons), seven were captured (two of these later), and five had escaped.