SCOTT, JOSEPH, soldier, businessman, and office-holder; m. 4 Jan. 1763 Margaret Ramsey Cottnam in Halifax, Nova Scotia; d. 29 Sept. 1800 in Sackville, Nova Scotia.
Joseph Scott was a member of the interesting breed of men who combined public service with private gain so successfully in 18th-century Nova Scotia. Never an outstanding leader, he nonetheless was typical of the merchant-politician élite which dominated Halifax in the pre-loyalist era.
Although the details of his birth and early life are unknown, there is little doubt that he was a young man when he disembarked from the ship London as one of the original settlers of Halifax in July 1749 [see Edward Cornwallis]. He was described at that time as having been a quartermaster in Shirley’s American Provincials (67th Foot). By the early 1750s he had established himself as a general merchant “at his Store near Mr. Fairbanks’s Wharfe,” with the announced intention of selling a wide assortment of goods “Cheap for ready Money.” A number of partnerships ensued. With John Day he established the firm of Day and Scott, a partnership which apparently began in the late 1760s and which continued until Day’s death in 1775. Scott also constructed a lumber mill in nearby Sackville, where he owned a tract of timber land.
His public career began in 1752, when he was appointed a justice of the peace and a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for Halifax. In 1754 he became a surveyor of lumber, undoubtedly an important post for one who was interested in the timber trade. He aligned himself with a group of influential merchants who were pressing for the establishment of an assembly and to whose demands Governor Charles Lawrence* finally acquiesced in 1758. The following year Scott was elected to the second House of Assembly as one of the first two members from Kings County. Although he sat in the assembly for only one session, he was able to use his influence to secure an additional perquisite, paymaster of the Halifax garrison for the period 1761–63.
Along with the vast majority of merchants and placemen, Scott remained loyal to the crown during the American revolution. His loyalty, however, did not extend to support for Governor Francis Legge. He was one of “the Principal inhabitants of Nova Scotia” who signed a petition to the Board of Trade early in 1776 praying for that hapless governor’s recall. After the revolution many of the old élite were submerged by the incoming tide of loyalists. What effect this influx had on Scott personally is not known. It is certain, however, that after it he played no major role in provincial affairs, although he was commissioned custos rotulorum in 1784.
Little is known of Scott’s family life, but it is possible that he was a brother of Colonel George Scott*. George’s will leaves all of his Nova Scotian properties to a brother in Halifax named Joseph, and the fact that the Joseph of this biography acquired his Sackville property in 1767, the year of George’s death, may confirm the relationship.
PAC, MG 23, A1, ser.1, 14, no.2516. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal, 4 Dec. 1759. Halifax Gazette, 1752–76. Directory of N.S. MLAs.