The Chronology of an Era:
1619 Africans arrive as indentured servants at Jamestown
1641 Slavery given legitimacy in the “Body of Liberties” issued by Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies
1776 The Second Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence and holds as self-evident that all men are created equal.
1781 Articles of Confederation of the United States is ratified
1786 George Washington writes of his desire to see a plan “by which slavery may be abolished by slow, sure & imperceptible degrees.”
1787 July The Northwest Ordinance, barring slavery there, is unanimously passed by the Congress of the Confederation of the United States (under the Articles of Confederation) and subsequently affirmed in August 1789 as one of the first acts of Congress under the newly ratified Constitution.
1787 September 17 The delegates to the Constitutional Convention sign the new Constitution. Article I, Section 2, paragraph 3 provides representation of white citizens and “three fifths of all other persons.” Article I, Section 9, paragraph 1 provides that the slave trade “shall not be prohibited” before 1808. Article IV, Section 2, paragraph 3 provides for the recapture of fugitive slaves.
1791 December 15 The Bill of Rights, First 10 amendments to the Constitution, is ratified.
1793 February Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, making it a federal crime to assist an escaping slave and establishing a legal mechanism to have them seized and returned. The Underground Railroad and the principle “once free always free” developed in response to it.
1803 United States purchases the Louisiana Territory, which includes what is now Missouri.
1807 Chapter 35 entitled “Freedom” of the Code of the Louisiana Territory provides, “It shall be lawful for any person held in slavery to petition the general court … praying that … be permitted to sue as a poor person, and stating the grounds on which the claim for freedom is founded.”
1799-1810?? Dred Scott is born a slave in Virginia and owned by the Peter Blow family. (Reference the entry of the circuit clerk at manumission 1858 for 1810 date.)
1818 Illinois constitution Article IV provides that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall hereafter be introduced into this state.”
1820 After fierce debate over the expansion of slavery, resulting in the Missouri Compromise, Congress agrees to the Missouri Compromise, which admits Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. The compromise also forbids slavery in the territories above the 36o 30’ latitude. Maine admitted as a free state and the 23d state March 1820
1821 Missouri is admitted as a slave state and the 24th state.
1824 Missouri statutes enact an act, very similar to the previous Code of Louisiana, to enable persons held in slavery to sue for their freedom as a poor person.
1827 Mary weds John Berry Meachum and moves to St. Louis, where he is pastor of the African Baptist Church.
1827 Elijah Lovejoy moves to St. Louis and works as an editor of a newspaper and taught school for 5 years, until leaving in 1832 to attend the Princeton Theological Seminary.
1830 The Blow family moves to St. Louis and by 1833 sells Dred Scott to Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon in the military, who takes Scott with him on assignment to the free state of Illinois.
1831 In response to pro-slavery forces preventing any discussion of slavery in Congress, anti-slavery forces began submitting petitions, pursuant to the 1st Amendment right to petition the government, for the abolition of slavery.
1833 Pastor John and Mary Meachum begin purchasing slaves, so they may apprentice them to a trade allow them to earn money to repay their costs of purchase and then emancipate them.
1833-34 Elijah Lovejoy returns to St. Louis to pastor a Presbyterian church and become editor of the St. Louis Observer newspaper.
1835 Missouri law requires all free persons of color to acquire a license.
1836 May Through his paper, Elijah Lovejoy makes the nation aware of the mob lynching and burning alive of Francis McIntosh, a free black and steamboat steward jailed on suspicion of murdering a white man.
1836 May Sponsored by Congressman Pinckney, of South Carolina, the House of Representatives passes, by a vote of 117 to 68, its first “gag rule” stating that Congress had no constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the states and ought not do so in the District of Columbia. Despite the vigorous dissent of Ex-President John Quincy Adams, congressman from Massachusetts, the rule is renewed and strengthened until antislavery opposition defeated it in 1844.
1836 May Dr. Emerson and Dred Scott are reassigned to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin Territory, where slavery is prohibited by the Missouri Compromise, until October 1837.
1836 May to September 1837 Dred Scott marries Harriet Robinson, and her ownership is transferred to Dr. Emerson.
1837 October Dr. Emerson is reassigned to Jefferson Barracks outside St. Louis. He leaves Dred and Harriet at Fort Snelling, to be hired out to others until he could send for them.
1841 20,000 St. Louisans attend the execution on Duncan Island of 4 black boatmen convicted of robbery and murder.
1842 The Scott family returns to St. Louis with Dr. Emerson and his wife, Irene.
1842 In Prigg v. Pennsylvania, Justice Joseph Story held that the Fugitive Slave Act was constitutional, and that the right to recapture slaves was “an absolute and positive right … pervading the whole union … uncontrolled and uncontrollable by State sovereignty or State legislation.”
1843 Dr. Emerson dies and Mrs. Emerson starts to hire out the Scott family.
1845 Missouri amends the freedom statute, which still allows one to sue as a poor person, but restricts the petitioner’s suit for freedom by requiring security for all costs.
1846 April In the St. Louis Old Courthouse, Dred and Harriet Scott file individual petitions against Mrs. Emerson for their freedom, which are allowed. Dred and Harriet Scott lose their cases, which had been combined into a single suit, on a technicality. They request and are granted a new trial, despite Mrs. Emerson’s effort to have the Missouri Supreme Court reject their request.
1848 Ulysses S. Grant marries Julia Dent at the Dent townhouse on 4th and Cerre in St. Louis.
1849 Harriet Tubman leaves a Maryland plantation to seek freedom in Philadelphia.
1849 or 1850 Mrs. Emerson moves to Springfield, Massachusetts to live with her sister, Mrs. James Barnes (Mrs. Emerson dies 1903)
1850 January At the second Scott trial, delayed by an epidemic and disastrous fire, a jury returns a verdict in favor of the Scotts. Mrs. Emerson’s attorneys immediately file a motion for a new trial, which is denied.
1850 January Senator Henry Clay introduces a series of resolutions referred to as the Compromise of 1850, including a more stringent Fugitive Slave Act,
1850 February Mrs. Emerson’s attorneys file a bill of exceptions and appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.
1850 September Congress passes the Compromise of 1850 (five laws dealing with slavery, including a more stringent Fugitive Slave Act) brokered by Senators Henry Clay of Kentucky and Stephen Douglas of Illinois. This new Fugitive Slave Act required all citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves regardless of the legality of slavery in specific states. Those refusing were fined, and any federal marshal or other official who did not arrest a runaway was liable to a fine of $1000.
1850 November Mrs. Emerson marries Dr. Calvin Clifford Chaffee
1851 November The Missouri Supreme Court meets in St. Louis and takes the case under consideration. Briefs are resubmitted.
1851 Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, begins appearing in serial form.
1852 March The Missouri Supreme Court reconvenes in St. Louis and delivers its opinion in favor of Mrs. Emerson, overturning precedent since 1824 by stating, “Times now are not what they were when former decisions on this subject were made.”
1853 November Attorney Roswell Field files suit in federal court for the Scotts against Irene Emerson’s brother, John F. A. Sanford, a citizen of New York, and administrator of Dr. Emerson’s estate.
1854 April The U.S. District Court convenes in St. Louis, attorneys for Sanford file a plea in abatement, asking the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that Dred and Harriet Scott, as slaves, were not citizens of the United States to which the attorneys for the Scotts demurrer.
The trial of Scott v. Sanford is held in the Papin Building at 38 Main Street in St. Louis. The judge allows the Scotts to sue, but rules that the law denied them their freedom. Their lawyers, led by Roswell Field, appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
1854 May Two weeks after the verdict in Scott v. Sanford, President Franklin Pierce signs into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repeals the antislavery provisions of the Missouri Compromise and allows the “popular sovereignty” of settlers to decide on the slavery issue in their territories.
1854 John Berry Meachum dies at his pulpit.
1854 Wisconsin Supreme Court declares the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.
1855 May Nine slaves, including Esther and her two children, attempt to escape from Missouri to Venice, Illinois, but are captured. Esther is sold separately from her children, down river to a plantation in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The seller was Henry Shaw, St. Louis merchant and renowned botanist, who created and then donated the Missouri Botanical Garden.
1855-6 “Bleeding Kansas,” the armed struggle between pro- and antislavery settlers and the Pottawatomie massacre.
1856 February The case of Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford (the clerk misspelling Sanford’s name) is argued before the Supreme Court of the United States.
1856 May 12 The Supreme Court orders that the case be reargued.
1856 May 21 Proslavery “border ruffians” virtually destroy the antislavery city of Lawrence, Kansas. Three days later John Brown and a group of abolitionists kill five pro-slavery settlers near Pottawatomie Creek.
1856 May 22 Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina assaults abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner at his seat in the United States Senate.
1856 November In a narrow victory, Democrat James Buchanan wins the presidential election on a platform which includes “popular sovereignty.”
1856 December 2 Outgoing President Franklin Peirce in his last annual State of the Union address to Congress states, “… that congress does not possess the constitutional power to impose restrictions of this character (slavery) upon future or present State(s) ….”
1856 December 15-18 Additional briefs are filed and oral arguments are presented for a second time in the Dred Scott case.
1857 February 3 President-elect Buchanan writes to his friend, Supreme Court Justice John Catron, asking whether the Court would reach a decision before his inauguration.
1857 February 19 Justice Catron informs President-elect Buchanan that in his inaugural address he may “safely” say that the constitutionality of congressional control over slavery in the territories soon would be determined by the Supreme Court.
1857 March 4 James Buchanan is inaugurated as President and in his address states that the question of slavery in the territories “… is a judicial question, which legitimately belongs to the Supreme Court of the United States, before whom it is now pending ….”
1857 March 6 Chief Justice Taney takes two and one half hours to read the “Opinion of the Court” in the Dred Scott case, holding that all persons of African descent, whether free or slave, cannot be citizens of the United States or enjoy the rights of American citizenship. The opinion also holds that because slaves are property and Congress cannot restrict where a person may take his property, the Missouri Compromise is unconstitutional; people of African descent, slave or free, are not citizens of the United States and have no rights.
1857 May 26 After Dr. Chaffee deeds the Scott family to Taylor Blow (a son of the original owner, Peter Blow), he emancipates the Scott family by manumission at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis.
1858 The debates between Senator Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln during the campaign for Douglas’s Illinois senatorial seat focus on the Dred Scott decision. Although Douglas defeated Lincoln, newspapers following the debates give Lincoln a national voice, which launches his campaign for the Republican Party nomination for president in 1860.
1858 September 17 Dred Scott dies.
1860 November Abraham Lincoln is elected President.
1860 December 20 The South Carolina legislature votes to secede.
1861 February By February, all the states of the Lower South have seceded.
1861 March Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as President.
1861 April 12 The Confederates open fire on Fort Sumter.
1863 January 1 President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.
1864 November Abraham Lincoln is re-elected President.
1865 January Missouri abolishes slavery.
1865 January 31 The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, is approved by Congress and proposed to the States for ratification.
1865 March 4 Abraham Lincoln is again inaugurated as President.
1865 April 9 General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant.
1865 April 14 President Lincoln is assassinated.
1865 June 19 Freedom is proclaimed to those assembled in Galveston, Texas, two years and six months after the Emancipation Proclamation, and originates the celebration of “Junteenth”
1865 December 18 The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified.
1866 April 9 The Civil Rights Act is passed over the veto of President Andrew Johnson.
1866 June 13 The Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees citizenship with the same privileges and immunities as any citizen and due process and equal protection under the law, is approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
1868 July 28 The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified.
1869 Feb. 21 The Fifteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote regardless of race, color, or prior servitude, is approved and sent to the States for ratification.
1870 March 30 The Fifteenth Amendment is ratified.
1870 and 1871 Congress passes additional acts (The Enforcement Act) to enforce civil rights.
1875 Congress passes a civil rights act which provides that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations of public conveyances and public places.
1883 The Supreme Court of the United States declares the 1875 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional, because it violates states’ rights and a citizen’s right to property through the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, ushering in the era of Jim Crow.