Born a slave

The man who became famous in court as Dred Scott was born in Virginia around 1795. He was originally called Sam, but he changed his name sometime before he filed his historic lawsuit. Scott never knew the exact date of his birth because he was born a slave.

Black people were taken from Africa and brought to North America to serve as slaves for white people beginning in the 1600s. The basic belief behind slavery was that black people were inferior to whites. Under slavery, white slaveholders treated black people as property, forced them to perform hard labor, and controlled every aspect of their lives. States in the Northern half of the United States began outlawing slavery in the late 1700s. But slavery continued to exist in the Southern half of the country because it played an important role in the South's economy and culture.

Most slave owners tried to prevent their slaves from learning much about themselves or the world around them. They believed that educated slaves would be more likely to become dissatisfied with their lives. For this reason, Scott received no information about his birth. He also never learned to read and write. Years later, he used a symbol to represent his name whenever he was required to sign legal documents.

As a young man, Scott belonged to Peter Blow, who owned a farm in Virginia. Blow eventually decided that the land was not fertile enough to farm successfully. In 1819, he moved west along with his family and their six slaves, including Scott. They settled in the busy frontier town of St. Louis, Missouri, where Blow opened a boarding house called the Jefferson Hotel. Since he did not need Scott's help in the boarding house, Blow hired his slave out as a deckhand on river-boats that went up and down the Mississippi River. Slave owners often rented their extra slaves to other people and received payment for the work they did.

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