Mrs. Dred Scott

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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 judges and 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 to establish 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 only recovers 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 reassessment of 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Martha A. Sandweiss
In a remarkable act of historical recovery, VanderVelde resurrects the life of Harriet Scott. As a woman, a slave, an illiterate person and a resident of a frontier community, Harriet left few traces in the historical records. But drawing largely on the diary of Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent and slave owner who brought the teenaged Harriet with him from Pennsylvania to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin (later Minnesota) Territory in 1835, VanderVelde recreates the world in which Harriet lived before her marriage to Dred in 1837. And what a remarkable world it was.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Although a co-litigant with her husband in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford, Harriet Robinson Scott has been largely ignored in the historical literature. VanderVelde (law, Univ. of Iowa) addresses this oversight by reconstructing the illiterate slave woman's life and milieu using anthropological research methods, legal documents, military records, and the diaries of Lawrence Talliaferro, who owned Harriett and Dred Scott. Through Harriet Scott's life, the author is able to create a valuable portrait of the development of slavery on the U.S. frontier during an era in which that scourge was leading the country toward civil war. Despite the wealth of historical knowledge presented, the heart of this well-researched work is the tragic tale of how a loving family's effort to gain their freedom was brutally rejected by Supreme Court justices bent on maintaining the institution of slavery at all costs. Essential for academic libraries and highly recommended for public libraries.
—John Burch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195366563
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/18/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Lea VanderVelde is Josephine Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa's College of Law. She is also the 2010 Guggenheim Fellow in Constitutional Studies.

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Table of Contents

1. Wife of a Celebrity
2. 1835: Arriving on the Frontier
3. Settling In
4. Entertaining Guests at the Indian Agency
5. Late Summer Harvest
6. Wintering Over at St. Peter's Agency
7. Winters Deep
8. The Change of the Guard
9. Celestial Explorers
10. The Call of the Wood as a Prelude to Treaty
11. A Treaty Made before Her Eyes
12. The Master Departs, Together Alone
13. Traveling the Length of the River
14. New Baby in a New Land
15. The Deteriorating Community
16. Battles and Baptisms
17. Taliaferro's Last Stand
18. Leaving Minnesota Trying Courts: The Justice of Frontier Trials
19. While the Doctor was Away: St. Louis, 1840-43
20. The House of Chouteau
21. Black Social Life of St. Louis
22. The Doctor Returns
23. 1843 Interlude: Jeff Barracks between Wars of National Expansion
24. Harriet and Her Children in St. Louis
25. The Courthouse and the Jail
26. Other Matters at the Courthouse
27. Filing Suit Again
28. Trial by Pestilence, Trial by Fire
29. Declared Free
30. Missouri Changes its Course
31. Before the High Court

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Customer Reviews

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( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 3, 2009

    Erase What You Think You Know

    Erase what you think you know about slavery, the Western frontier, the politics and the people who lived our history during the forty years prior to the Civil War, and do yourself a favor. Read this book. Ten years in the making, author Lea VanderVelde may well have written what is beyond any doubt the most important and thorough work on the personal lives of Harriet and Dred Scott (or, for that matter, most any personage who did not leave a personal written record) that exists today. Ms. VanderVelde goes where few authors of historic works dare to go - she lifts her subjects from the text and revives them into the context of the events going on around them, balancing her meticulous research with insight and logic to draw some of the most realistic, moving, uncomfortable, and absorbing portraits of Harriet, Dred, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, John Emerson and others that I have ever had the pleasure to read. Her writing style is fluid, involving, and conveys her passion and commitment to telling Dred and Harriet's story the way it should be told. I had to put it down every few pages and step away to digest the implications of what I was reading. A surprising work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 28, 2009

    Fascinating--as good as reading gets. I did not want to put it down.

    Educational and entertaining. A favorite book for all time. Liked it as well as Team of Rivals

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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