ST. LOUIS – A decade-long fight for freedom led to Dred Scott, an enslaved Black man, being freed on this date 166 years ago in St. Louis.

On May 26, 1857, Scott and his wife Harriet appeared in the St. Louis Circuit Court and were formally freed by Henry Taylor Blow. Judge Alexander Hamilton, who presided over trials in Missouri, approved documents to free Scott and his family.

The emancipation came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford, a landmark pre-Civil War court case, that Scott was not entitled to freedom or protected by the Constitution, despite living in a free state of Missouri. It also followed a series of legal battles in St. Louis dating back to 1846.

That year, Dred and Harriet filed separate lawsuits for freedom in St. Louis based on two Missouri statutes. According to, “one statute allowed any person of any color to sue for wrongful enslavement. The other stated that any person taken to a free territory automatically became free and could not be re-enslaved upon returning to a slave state.”

The court ruled against both cases in 1847, though a judge granted a retrial. In 1850, Dred and Harriet won their case for freedom. However, an appeal led the lower court to reverse that decision in 1852, making Scott and his family enslaved again.

Scott followed that with a federal lawsuit in 1853, which was also tried in St. Louis. The federal court ruled against Scott one year later, leading to an appeal in the hands of the Supreme Court. Despite support from abolitionists and high-profile attorneys, Scott lost his fight for freedom again on March 6, 1857.

According to the Missouri State Archives, the Supreme Court’s decision “upheld slavery in United States territories, denied the legality of black citizenship in America, and declared the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional.”

Nearly three months later, Scott won his battle for freedom, but not through a court case. Scott was reacquired by the Blow family, who sold him to the Emerson family in 1832. states that Calvin Chaffee, a U.S. congressman and abolitionist, married Irene Emerson after the Supreme Court case, though “upset upon learning his wife still owned the most infamous slave of the time, he sold Scott and his family to Taylor Blow, the son of Peter Blow, Scott’s original owner.”

On May 26, 1857, Scott and his wife were officially freed by a court document reading “Taylor Blow acknowledges the execution by him of a Deed of Emancipation to his slaves,” per the Missouri State Archives. Scott worked at a St. Louis hotel after he was freed, though died from tuberculosis on Sept. 17, 1858.

In 2021, the Missouri House formally condemned the Supreme Court’s 1857 ruling against Dred Scott. President Joe Biden also signed a bill to remove a marble bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney, who authored the court’s Dred Scott decision.

The Old Missouri Courthouse, expected to reopen in 2025 after renovations, will dedicate a new exhibit to Dred and Harriet Scott, highlighting the family’s fight for freedom and St. Louis’ role in the historic court proceedings.