Oakwood College Historical Marker and Dred Scott
This historical marker shares the history of Oakwood College which was established in 1896. The college was located at the site of a former plantation that included Dred Scott, the enslaved laborer who sued for his freedom in the influential 1857 Supreme Court case that divided the nation in the years prior to the Civil War. Scott came to Huntsville in 1818 and lived on the plantation of Peter and Elizabeth Taylor Blow before the family moved to Florence. The property later served as the plantation of slave cabins on the property served as housing for the first Oakwood students while Blow's mansion served as the home of the first female students. Dred Scott lived in Alabama for twelve years. Later in his life, Dred Scott was sold and accompanied his owner to states where slavery was illegal. Scott's time in a free state became the basis of one of the most influential Supreme Court decisions in American history.
Backstory and Context
Dred Scott was born in Southampton, Virginia and was known as “Sam” as a youngster. He later changed his name to Dred Scott. Peter Blow purchased Scott who lived here on Blow's plantation as well as Florence, Alabama. In 1832, the Blow family sold Scott to John Emerson, a surgeon in the U.S. Army and moved to Illinois and later Wisconsin. When Emerson died, his widow, Irene Emerson, refused to give Scott his freedom. With the help of his wife Harriet and abolitionists, Scott sued for his freedom. While Peter and Elizabeth Blow had passsed away, the Scotts were assisted by Taylor and Henry Blow, the sons of Dred Scott's former owners. He was also assisted by black clergy and other influential black leaders.
After working its way up through the court system and appeal process, new attorneys helped Scott get to the Supreme Court filing against Irene Emerson’s brother, who was the executor of the estate. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against Scott and this helped set the stage for the Civil War.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott and said that no people of African descent, free or slave, could sue in the courts of the United States. The decision galvanized public opinion and demonstrated the connection between slavery and race as it denied the rights of citizenship to people of color in the United States regardless of their legal status. Scott was emancipated in 1857 thanks in part to the actions of Taylor Blow. Scott died on September 17, 1858, and Taylor Blow purchased a cemetery lot in St. Louis where his body was laid to rest.
Oakwood College includes several small plaques denoting the location of slave cabins and a cemetery where enslaved persons were buried decades prior to the establishment of the university in 1896. This historical marker which offers a history of the college also mentions the significance of the history of this land as a former plantation where Dred Scott lived as an enslaved laborer for a family that later helped secure his freedom.