Tombstone of Dred Scott lawyer found

Monday, October 28, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- A marble tombstone found at a construction site here once marked the grave of an attorney who represented Dred Scott, a Missouri-born slave whose case for freedom helped push the nation toward the Civil War.

David C. Hall and his partner, Alexander P. Field, represented Dred and Harriet Scott in earlier phases of the case at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, according to Kristin Zapalac, a historian with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources who did the research on the grave marker found three weeks ago.

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Scott was not a U.S. citizen and had no right to file suit.

Zapalac works in the Department of Natural Resources' historic preservation office, which must be notified about possible unmarked human burials. This case involved only a tombstone -- a four-sided column about three feet tall that once marked the graves of Hall and his wife, Sarah C. Smith Hall. Zapalac was asked to do further research to determine if Hall could possibly have been buried there.

She determined there had never been a graveyard at the site where the stone was found, and that the Halls once had been buried in a nearby cemetery.

That cemetery was closed in the 1850s, and Zapalac believes the Halls' bodies were probably moved to another cemetery. Why the headstone did not accompany them is part of the mystery.

Found in pile of stones

One of the first to spy the stone was David Cameron, superintendent at the construction site where it was found.

"Why this showed up on my job site, I don't know," he said.

It was found in a pile of other stones, including blocks of marble that look as if they were to be made into grave markers, Cameron said. He thinks the stones were all recently dumped at the construction site.

From her research, Zapalac has learned that Hall and his partner were the attorneys of record in another freedom suit, this one filed in 1842 by Pierre, "a man of color," against Gabriel Chouteau, a member of one of the city's founding families. Knowing that Hall was in St. Louis for 10 years, this recent find means he was involved in freedom suits since shortly after his arrival in the city, Zapalac said.

Zapalac also learned the Halls were from Sutton, Mass. In St. Louis, they lived near what is now downtown and died young. She was 26 when she died in 1849. He died two years later, at 33. They had been married two years and had no children. "Consumption" was listed as the cause of death for both.

Apparently Hall was sentimental, said Zapalac, because he kept all his wife's clothes. In his will, written just two days before he died, he gave them to his sister in Massachusetts.

The will also ordered that a headstone be carved.

The Missouri Historical Society now has the stone, though it has no immediate plans to display it, said senior curator Andrew Walker.

"It's rare that you find such a substantive artifact from which you can build larger historical narratives: for David Hall, for Dred Scott and for African-Americans in St. Louis," he said.


On the Net

Missouri Department of Natural Resources:

Missouri Historical Society:

Washington University site with Dred Scott documents:

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: