Researchers gain new insights into the life of Dred Scott's wife

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ST. LOUIS - Little is known about Dred Scott's wife, Harriet, other than she was likely the force behind the St. Louis slave couple's unsuccessful legal quest for freedom, which helped trigger the Civil War.

Now, new insights about Harriet Scott uncovered here recently are helping to fill in the gaps of her story. Historians also hope the findings will ignite more research into the couple's life.

"It's not about what I have done here," said Ruth Ann Abels Hager, a genealogy expert at St. Louis County Library who uncovered details of Harriet's Scott's death and burial. "It's about Harriet. It's Harriet's story. This woman has her place in history."

Harriet was a generation younger than poor, old and tubercular Dred, and would have had reason to pursue freedom through the courts, her biographer, University of Iowa law professor Lea VanderVelde said. Slave status followed the mother and she had two daughters.

Most of more than 200 slave lawsuits for freedom filed here between 1812 and 1865 were brought by women, said Bob Moore, a National Park Service historian in St. Louis. Both Dred and Harriet Scott filed separate freedom lawsuits on the same day but a judge folded her suit into her husband's.

"Harriet may well have been the motivating force behind the case," Moore said.

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