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St. Louis gives restored historical papers to descendant of Dred and Harriet Scott

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Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Lynne Jackson, founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation and a descendant of the formerly enslaved couple, said the document copies will be a valuable addition to the foundation's archives.

The City of St. Louis presented copies of key documents about the lives of Dred and Harriet Scott to a descendant of the enslaved couple who famously sued for their freedom in the 1840s and ‘50s.

Their cases led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 decision holding that Black people cannot be considered U.S. citizens and have no rights under the Constitution. A statue of the pair stands in front of the Old Courthouse, where they filed their initial suit in 1846 and finally achieved their freedom 11 years later.

The documents include a recently uncovered deed of transfer from when their previous enslavers sold them to St. Louisan Taylor Blow, as well as certificates of death that archivists working for the Missouri Secretary of State's Office recently restored and digitized.

Jeremy D. Goodwin
Archives Researcher Chris Naffziger said the documents shed new light on the lives of Dred and Harriet Scott.

“The lives of Dred and Harriet Scott were spent during a dark period in American history. But their stories are real, and they need to be told,” Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler said Wednesday at a City Hall ceremony.

Butler initiated the search for materials related to Dred and Harriet Scott in city archives. He presented copies of the newly unearthed documents to Lynne Jackson, a direct descendant of the Scotts and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation.

“These documents are very important,” Jackson said. “To be given a copy is a great privilege and an honor and a custodial responsibility that I take very seriously.”

Members of the public may view the copies by appointment at the foundation’s office in Chesterfield.

The deed of transfer helps clarify the final steps in the Scotts’ quest for freedom. It includes comments from enslaver Irene Emerson Chafee indicating that she knew the Blow family planned to free them. Butler also presented a copy of an insurance map indicating the location of Harriet Scott’s final home.

There may yet be more important historical documents somewhere in city archives.

“This is barely even scratching the surface. There's probably even more,” archives researcher Chris Naffziger said.

Naffziger said he’d next like to search for documents relating to the Blow family.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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