Born into slavery, Ralph Montgomery gained his freedom when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 1839 that the several years he lived in the free territory of Iowa town of Dubuque nullified his slave status. He came to Dubuque from Missouri after convincing his owner that he could earn enough money working in the lead mines to purchase his freedom. After several unsuccessful years in raising this money, slave catchers captured Ralph to return him to Missouri. A local businessman and judge interceded on his behalf and brought his case to the newly formed Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. Unfortunately, In re Ralph and other court rulings of the period that granted former slaves freedom after residing in non-slave states did not establish the precedent the U.S. Supreme Court followed when it later denied blacks legal rights through its infamous Dred Scott decision. Although Ralph acquired some wealth mining, he lost it and died in a Muscatine poorhouse. His remains were returned to Dubuque and eventually moved to Linwood Cemetery.


Robert R. Dykstra, Bright Radical Star: Black Freedom and White Supremacy on the Hawkeye Frontier (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1997).