Missouri State Archives
Before Dred Scott:
Freedom Suits in Antebellum Missouri
African American History Initiative: Freedom Suits (2002-2003)
NOTE: This is a bibliography of scholarly studies about the institution of slavery in Missouri and the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War. The works included are advanced for elementary school-age readers. The bibliography, therefore, is intended as a resource for teachers interested in gaining a deeper understanding of these topics.
Bellamy, Donnie D. Slavery, Emancipation, and Racism in Missouri, 1850-1865. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri Press, 1971.
Bellamy refutes the claim that slavery was a dying institution in Missouri during the years immediately prior to the Civil War. He cites a number of statistics, including crop cultivation and slave population, to support his theory that slavery was still a viable economic and social institution in Missouri up to 1860.
Ehrlich, Walter. They Have No Rights: Dred Scott's Struggle for Freedom. Westport [Ct.]: Greenwood Press, 1979.
The case of Winny v. Whitesides (1824) marked the beginning of the "once free, always free" era in determining the outcome of slave freedom suits. The Missouri Supreme Court set the precedent that if a slave had been taken into an area that prohibited slavery, that slave was free – even if returned to a slave state, such as Missouri. This was the prevailing precedent until 1852, when the volatile sectional tension in antebellum Missouri led a pro-slavery state Supreme Court to deny Dred Scott his freedom in Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson. That decision marked the de facto end of "once free, always free."
This book is a highly readable legal history of Dred Scott's eleven-year pursuit of freedom in both state and federal courts. It focuses heavily on the events leading to Dred Scott's petition for freedom and identifies all the persons involved in his case.
Foley, William E. "Slave Freedom Suits Before Dred Scott: The Case of Marie Jean Scypion's Descendants." Missouri Historical Review. 79, no. 1 (October 1984): 1-23.
In 1769, the Spanish governor of the Louisiana Territory outlawed Indian slavery. Some Native American slaves of mixed racial ancestry continued to be enslaved, however. This article discusses the life of Marie Jean Scypion, an Afro-Indian slave. Her descendants initiated St. Louis' first freedom suit in 1806, claiming freedom due to their Native American ancestry. For over three decades, they petitioned Missouri courts for freedom, which was finally awarded by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1838. The article details the difficulties inherent in pursuing a freedom suit, particularly against a prominent St. Louis family.
Greene, Lorenzo, et al. Missouri's Black Heritage. Revised edition. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri Press, 1993.
This book is a good resource for anyone beginning to study Missouri's black history. It traces the African American experience in the state from the territorial period through the mid-1990s. The struggles and contributions of both slaves and free black persons are portrayed in this work.
Hunter, Lloyd A. "Slavery in St. Louis: 1804-1860." Missouri Historical Society Bulletin. 30, no. 4 (July 1974): 233-265.
This article gives a detailed account of the slavery institution in antebellum Missouri's largest urban center – St. Louis. Hunter discusses the political, social, and economic ramifications of slavery in the city. He includes first-hand accounts of the treatment of slaves, sometimes cruel, at the hands of their owners.
Hurt, R. Douglas. Agriculture and Slavery in Missouri's Little Dixie. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri Press, 1992.
This book is an agricultural history of Missouri. Hurt traces the economic development of antebellum agriculture and slavery between 1815 and 1860 in several mid-Missouri counties located along the Missouri River. These counties were primarily settled by Southern planters and had the heaviest slave populations in the state.
Moore, Jr., Robert. "A Ray of Hope Extinguished: Slave Suits for Freedom." Gateway Heritage. 14, no. 3 (1993-1994): 4-15.
This article is a history of freedom suits pursued in St. Louis. Territorial statutes allowed anyone wrongfully enslaved to sue for his or her freedom. This statute was codified into Missouri law in 1824. Between 1806 and 1865, well over two hundred slaves initiated suits for freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. Moore traces the difficulties inherent in gaining freedom through the court system. He looks at the historical precedent of "once free, always free" set by the Missouri Supreme Court's decision in Winny v. Whitesides (1824). He also discusses the decision in the Dred Scott case (1852), the de facto end of the 1824 precedent. Throughout, Moore includes contemporary accounts of slavery in St. Louis through court records and correspondence.
Parrish, William E. A History of Missouri: Volume III, 1860-1875. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri Press, 1973.
This book is an overview of Missouri's history during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Parrish discusses the institution of slavery in Missouri during this period, addressing the sectional causes of the war in Missouri, the battles fought in the state, and the African American experience both during the war and in the reconstruction period that followed.
Phillips, Christopher. Missouri's Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri Press, 2000.
This biographical treatment of Claiborne Fox Jackson, who briefly served as Missouri's governor in 1861 in the early months of the Civil War, looks at his private, public, and political life. Jackson was a member of a group of mid-Missouri landowners known collectively as the "Central Clique." The Clique strongly advocated continued governmental support of slavery. This issue pitted Jackson against longtime United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton. The Clique wanted political protection of slavery, and promoted its extension into the territories. By 1844, Benton opposed the extension of slavery, even though this was against the wishes of most Missourians, and especially those in the Little Dixie/Boon's Lick area. Democratic leaders, especially Jackson, attempted to force Benton to support the extension of slavery.
Trexler, Harrison A. Slavery in Missouri: 1804-1865. Baltimore [Md.]: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1914.
In the early twentieth century, Trexler compiled a comprehensive overview of the slavery institution in Missouri. Reflective of the time it was written, the text is today seen as racist and opinionated. It still stands, however, as the only work of its kind regarding Missouri slavery. Trexler discussed the slave industry in Missouri, free black persons in the state, the Underground Railroad, and the sectional tensions leading to the Civil War.