Why are Dred and Harriet Scott buried in different cemeteries? Curious Louis finds out
Why aren’t Dred Scott and his wife buried in the same cemetery?
“I wondered, ‘Is she not buried with him — and why not?’ I had been to Calvary many times. I had seen his place of rest, but her name was not on the tombstone,’’ said Richardson, who has family members buried at the cemetery.
She also noted that his tombstone seemed too new to have been placed at his grave when he died in 1858.
We took Richardson’s questions to Lynne Jackson, who is the great-great-granddaughter of Dred and Harriet Scott. She’s also the president of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, which she founded 10 years ago to plan a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that denied the Scotts’ attempts to be freed from slavery.
Jackson explained that for decades no one seemed to know where Harriet Scott’s grave was, but it was assumed that she was buried at Calvary with her husband. In 1999, the Elijah Lovejoy Society placed a memorial marker in her honor next to Dred Scott’s grave.
But in 2006, Jackson learned from local historians that Harriet Scott was, in fact, buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Hillsdale, about 5 miles from Calvary.
And just a few months ago, Etta Daniels of the Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association discovered the actual site of Harriet Scott’s unmarked grave.
Jackson is confident that her grandmother knew where the Scotts were buried, but the information wasn’t passed down.
“I know she knew and probably some aunts, but they never talked about it. So it was news to us, and we were thrilled,’’ she said.
Dred Scott’s grave at Calvary is one of the most frequently visited at the 470-acre cemetery, which is the final resting place for many prominent St. Louisans. City founder Auguste Chouteau is buried here. So is author and playwright Tennessee Williams and Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. The Roman Catholic cemetery was founded in 1854 by the Archdiocese of St. Louis and has more than 300,000 graves scattered about its park-like grounds, shaded by tall, aged trees.
Harriet Scott is the most well-known person buried at the 32-acre Greenwood Cemetery, which is also historic: It was the first commercial nonsectarian cemetery for African-Americans in St. Louis. Cemetery officials estimate that 50,000 people are buried at Greenwood, although there are only about 6,000 headstones. The cemetery, which opened in 1874, was neglected for years and is slowly being brought back into shape by volunteers. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jackson’s foundation organized the drive to build a memorial pavilion to honor Harriet Scott at Greenwood and is now working with the cemetery association to place a marker at her grave. In 2012, the group erected a statue of the Scotts at the Old Courthouse.
Jackson believes her great-great-grandmother's role in history has been underappreciated, and recognition is overdue. Because the court combined Harriet’s lawsuit with her husband’s, the case came to be known as the Dred Scott decision.
“The fact that she and Dred both went to the Old Courthouse in St. Louis and filed separate and independent petitions for their freedom is something a lot of people don’t know,’’ Jackson said. “She did that because, as a woman and as the mother, if for any reason Dred did not win his case but she did, then their daughters would be free. There was a little strategy there. And it was courageous.”
The Scotts risked everything, Jackson said.
“They could have been sold down river, been separated, beaten, killed — who knows? It was something they felt they had the right to do,’’ she said.
Calvary Cemetery is Dred Scott’s second resting place
Dred Scott was in his late 40s in 1846 when he and Harriet sued for their freedom under Missouri law — a fight that would last 11 years and earn them a remarkable place in American history.
Their legal struggle began at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, but their quest for freedom would eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision, in effect, invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and became a rallying point for abolitionists who feared the spread of slavery. Historians say the ruling contributed to Abraham Lincoln’s election as president — and to the start of the Civil War.
But in a twist of history, the woman who owned the Scotts remarried during all of those years of legal battling, and her new husband was a congressman who opposed slavery. After the Supreme Court verdict in 1857, she transferred ownership of the Scotts to Taylor Blow. He was a son of the Virginia family that had originally owned Dred Scott and supported the Scotts financially in their legal battles. Blow then emancipated the Scotts.
Dred Scott lived just 16 months as a free man. On Sept. 17, 1858, he died of tuberculosis, leaving his widow to care for their two daughters.
The Blow family paid for Dred Scott’s burial at Wesleyan Cemetery, which was owned by the Centenary Methodist Church. Wesleyan was located near Grand and Laclede avenues, now the site of St. Louis University. According to cemetery records, burials included more than 2,400 African-Americans. Graves at Wesleyan were relocated by 1874 when the cemetery was closed and a new one was opened at Olive Street Road and Hanley Avenue.
In 1867, Taylor Blow paid to move Scott’s grave to Calvary Cemetery, where his grave site remained unmarked for decades. It wasn’t until 1957 — the centennial of the Dred Scott decision — that his grave was rediscovered by the Rev. Edward Dowling, who was researching genealogy for the Baden Historical Society. That’s also when a granite tombstone, donated by Blow's granddaughter, was placed at the grave. In 1992, a plaque was added by the African Historical and Genealogical Research Society that is inscribed, “In memory of a simple man who wanted to be free — Dred Scott.”
Jackson notes that Dred Scott’s grave was located in time for the 100th anniversary, while Harriet Scott’s grave was found in time for the 150th celebration.
“That blows my mind,’’ she said. “It’s like they both said, ‘Here we are. We’re right here.’ And so we won’t lose them again.’’
Harriet Scott lived to witness the emancipation of slaves
Harriet Robinson Scott was in her mid-20s when she and her husband sued for their freedom. The Scotts had two daughters, Eliza and Lizzie; their two sons died as infants.
According to a family history compiled by the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, the Scotts attended the Second African Church in St. Louis, led by the Rev. John Anderson, a free man and an abolitionist. After her husband’s death, Harriet Scott continued to work as a laundress.
Many believed that Harriet Scott died during the Civil War, until historians determined that she died on June 20, 1876. She had lived to see the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.
Her burial at Greenwood seemed lost to history — until 2006, when Ruth Ann Hager, a genealogist with the St. Louis County Library, traced her death and burial to the cemetery. The original burial record notes that she was the 112th burial in the cemetery, which had opened just two years before she died.
Hager’s book “Dred and Harriet Scott: Their Family Story,” was published in 2010, and details her findings. She credits Lynne Jackson for providing the key that helped her find the documentation: the name of the man Eliza Scott had married, Wilson Madison.
The news that Harriet Scott is buried at Greenwood came as no surprise to Etta Daniels, the head of the Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association, who confirmed Hager’s findings. The information had been discovered in 2002 by researchers working on the cemetery’s application to the National Register of Historic Places.
“Nobody asked, and we didn’t know that anybody was looking,’’ Daniels explained. “As I told Lynne at one point when she asked, ‘Well, why didn’t you say?’ And I said, ‘Lynne, honestly, I’m looking for 50,000 people, and you were looking for one.' ’’
So, why aren’t the Scotts buried in the same cemetery?
Getting back to Richardson's question to Curious Louis: No one knows for certain why Dred and Harriet Scott aren’t buried in the same cemetery.
Jackson believes one factor might have been the length of time that passed between her great-great-grandparents' deaths. Harriet Scott lived another 18 years after her husband died.
Taylor Blow, who paid for Dred Scott's reburial at Calvary, died two years later. Calvary is a Catholic cemetery and according to archdiocesan rules, people buried there are required to be Catholic or to have a "Catholic affiliation." Dred Scott was not Catholic, but Blow had converted to Catholicism and was the legal owner of the plot.
When Harriet Scott died, there may have been no one to sponsor her burial at Calvary, Jackson said.
Hager also thinks that it might have something to do with the ownership of the cemetery plot.
“All we can do is make some guesses, but you have to have permission to be buried in a family plot, and he [Blow] was deceased. It could be a case that there was no person who could give permission for her to be buried there,’’ Hager said.
She also wonders if Harriet Scott's family chose Greenwood because other family members and friends were being buried there.
Hager said that family history can be lost as generations pass on. Eliza Scott Madison and her husband died at a young age, leaving their two teenage sons to be raised by her sister Lizzie.
“So, you really have that break with the passing of the information from one generation to the next,’’ she said. “Oral tradition has to get passed along in the family.’’
And people who knew the Scotts — their friends and acquaintances — might have been secretive about the family to protect them, Hager said.
In a 2008 article, historian Adam Arenson discussed how Dred and Harriet Scott had become symbols of anti-slavery and were disparaged by opponents of the movement. The Scotts avoided the limelight and lived out their lives in obscurity. Arenson, who has studied St. Louis during the Civil War, suggested that race played a part in how Dred Scott was reburied at Calvary. He noted that Scott was placed near the center of a two-grave section and suggested that it was in keeping with a growing segregationist sentiment “so no white St. Louisans need spend eternity shoulder to shoulder with any African American, no matter how famous.''
Matt DeWitt, a counselor for Calvary who has studied the cemetery's history, disagrees with that explanation. He cited examples of white and African-American people who are buried next to one another at Calvary. He said that according to burial records, Blow bought a plot large enough to hold three graves. Dred Scott was buried in the center grave, but that's common practice in cemeteries: The head of a family is often placed in the center of a family plot. And it's possible that Taylor Blow intended for Harriet Scott and the Scotts' unmarried daughter to be buried there.
Jackson says that people ask her all of the time whether the family has considered moving Harriet or Dred Scott to the same cemetery. She says the answer to that is no. But she’s glad that Harriet Scott's presence in Greenwood has brought attention to the cemetery and the volunteers who are working so hard to preserve it.
Daniels said she welcomes the attention for Greenwood, which, like many old and abandoned cemeteries, has no perpetual care fund. She started the preservation effort after trying to locate the graves of her own family members.
“There was no one to talk to,’’ she said. “If anybody was involved, it was going to be me.’’
About the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation:
The foundation is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Dec. 3, with its annual reconciliation conference.
This year’s event includes descendants of Dred and Harriet Scott, the Blow family, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney who wrote the Dred Scott Decision and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The conference is open to the public. Details are on the foundation’s website.
Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard
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