Harriet Robinson Scott was born around 1820 in Virginia, or perhaps Pennsylvania, it is unclear as yet. As a young girl, she was taught by her mother, who worked at an inn owned by the Dillon family, to do laundry. Harriet’s owner, Indian agent Major Lawrence Taliaferro, moved her to Ft. Snelling, a frontier army outpost in area of the Wisconsin Territory that would become Minnesota. There she met Dred Scott, and fell in love with this man who was a widower and nearly twice her age. In those days, it was customary for slaves to be joined as a couple by jumping the broom. Harriet, however, insisted on a wedding and persuaded Major Taliaferro, who was also a justice of the peace, to perform the ceremony. Harriet believed deeply in the strength of the family bond, and wanted this official ceremony to mark the start of her own family. Many historians believe this marriage gave additional credence to the Scotts’ claim to freedom.
Harriet was just 19 years old when she was brought to St. Louis with Dred by his owner, Dr. John Emerson in 1840. During their marriage, Dred and Harriet had four children two boys who died as infants and two girls. Eliza was born in 1838 on the steamboat Gypsy in free territory. However, her status was that of her mother’s, a slave. Lizzie born in 1846 and was an additional motivation for them to seek their freedom . The family attended the Second African Church in St. Louis whose pastor was Rev. John Anderson, a freeman and an abolitionist.
Soon after Dr. Emerson’s death in 1843, the Scotts sought to buy their freedom from his widow, Mrs. Irene Sanford Emerson, a member of the respected Sanford family in St. Louis. She denied their request, and Rev. Anderson is believed to have influenced the Scotts’ decision to sue for their freedom. Harriet and Dred fought for their freedom for 11 years through 5 trials that culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court decision that denied them full rights as citizens.
As a mother, Harriet was devoted to her daughters’ freedom and safety. Harriet’s partnership with her husband Dred played a critical role in their persistence for freedom and family unity. Harriet was determined to win freedom, if not for herself, then certainly for her children. The girls were taught laundering, and Dred and Harriet saw to it that they were hidden away for safety when the case got heated. She was well aware of the slave-era principal of matrilinearity, which meant that the status of a child, free or slave, depended on the status of the mother.
A few months after the verdict, Taylor Blow, the son of Dred’s original owner, freed Dred and Harriet and their daughters on May 26, 1857. They remained in what is now downtown St. Louis where Dred lived until his death in 1858. Harriet lived through the Civil War and saw the end of slavery. How she must have longed for Dred to see that day! She lived another 18 years after the notorious US Supreme Court Decision, in St. Louis, MO where she continued to do laundry and enjoyed her daughters and grandchildren. She listed herself in the City Street Directory and afforded herself of the same dignity any person had.
Harriet died in St. Louis on June 20, 1876. For many years, it was unknown where her body lay. It was thought by many that she may have been buried next to Dred. In 1999, the Elijah P, Lovejoy Society of St, Louis placed a cenotaph next to Dred’s headstone in Calvary Cemetery because it was unknown where she was. In 2006, Mrs. Ruth Ann Hagar discovered records that located her resting place in Greenwood Cemetery, where as many as 50,000 African-Americans are interred. The original burial record notes that she was the 112th burial in the cemetery in 1876.
Greenwood Cemetery was opened in 1874. It has a rich history and many famous and notable individuals are buried there along with Harriet Scott. This cemetery had also been abandoned in 1994. Due to the determined will of those volunteers who refused to let it go, and the recent support of organizations and individuals who have seen the need, Greenwood Cemetery has come back to life.
The memories of Harriet Scott, buffalo soldiers, prominent musicians, an aide to Abraham Lincoln and members of many many families like yours and ours will have a more deserved resting place as this vision goes forward. (See photos of the before and after scenes – coming soon.)
Through the efforts of Mrs. Etta Daniels, who is truly the lifeline of Greenwood, Mr. Willie Daniels, Mr. Charlie Jordan, Mrs. Dot Soldavini and most recently Mr. Charlie Kennedy, all from Friends of Greenwood Cemetery Association along with Lynne Jackson, David Uhler, Brian Krueger of The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, Greenwood has come back to life.
Most historic cemeteries lack their own funds to keep from falling into disrepair and rely on the local community to help keep them clean and make minor repairs. We would like to encourage everyone to get involved in keeping Greenwood Cemetery and other historic cemeteries clean by volunteering their time to keep these historic places from becoming lost and in disrepair. You can visit Greenwood Cemetery’s website by clicking the link below to find out how to get involved.