Slave Freedom Suits Before Dred Scott:
The Case of
Marie Jean Scypion's Descendants
BY WILLIAM E. FOLEY*
When Harriet and Dred Scott first sued for their freedom in
the Missouri Circuit Court at St. Louis in 1846, ample legal precedent existed for their action. Several hundred similar suits already
had been tried in state courts throughout the nation. In a surprising 57 percent of the 575 freedom cases known to have been
decided in state appellate courts, the slave petitioners won their
suits, often with the aid of special statutes authorizing slaves to
sue for their freedom.1 While most slaves admittedly never had
*William E. Foley is professor of History at Central Missouri State University, Warrensburg, and recipient of the CMSU 1984 Byler Distinguished
Faculty Award. He has the B.S. and M.A. degrees from CMSU and the Ph.D.
in American History from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Research for
this study was supported by a CMSU summer study leave.
i Marion J. Russell, "American Slave Discontent in the Records of the
High Court," Journal of Negro History, XXXI (October, 1946) , 418-419; Harrison Anthony Trexler, Slavery in Missouri, 1804-1865 (Baltimore, Md., 1914),
211-212; Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics (New York, 1978), 61.