SCOTT, THOMAS, merchant, office holder, militia officer, and landowner; b. c. 1741, probably in England; d. 24 April 1810 near Quebec, Lower Canada.
Thomas Scott had established himself as a merchant at Quebec by August 1762. A Quaker and a pacifist, he found himself embroiled the following July in a vigorous disagreement with a Scottish sergeant that led to the soldier’s armed assault upon him. The outburst was probably occasioned in part by the strained relations between the military and the small community of merchants in post-conquest Quebec, and possibly by a degree of antagonism between Scots and English. Scott complained to Governor Murray*, himself a Scot, only to be castigated for his “‘damned English Arrogance.’”
The nature of Scott’s business operations is uncertain. In 1767 he was an attorney, along with two prominent merchants, Thomas Dunn and Richard Dobie, for another merchant, Edward Harrison*. Scott evidently left business two years later, and on 1 Sept. 1769 he began service in the salaried position of controller of customs, with responsibility for auditing the accounts of the collector, Thomas Ainslie, and, in his own view, “to be a Compleat checque on the Collector in every part of his conduct.” Scott and Thomas Mellish, the deputy collector, immediately became caught up in the lengthy dispute between Ainslie and Governor Guy Carleton over the collector’s jurisdiction and fee schedules, Ainslie maintaining that, as an imperial officer, he was not obliged to submit to audit by provincial authorities. The practical consequences of Scott’s refusal to support Ainslie in this dispute are not clear. Although Scott had earned Carleton’s praise as a “diligent officer,” Ainslie accused him in June 1770 of not performing “official business”; however, the two men subsequently shelved their differences for a time, aided perhaps by common experiences and mutual friends. Scott entered the British militia at Quebec on 13 Sept. 1775, and as a lieutenant in Ainslie’s company he served during the American invasion and occupation of the colony in 1775–76 [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*]. On 14 Aug. 1776 he received a commission, subsequently renewed several times, as justice of the peace at Quebec. Some time after 1769 he had married Jane Phillips, a sister of Mary, wife of postmaster Hugh Finlay. They had at least two sons baptized in the Anglican church in the 1770s, and their selection of godparents reveals cordial relations with the legislative councillors John Drummond and Adam Mabane* and Ainslie’s wife, Elizabeth. Scott’s social and financial position are reflected in his residence by 1779 in a two-storey stone house on Rue des Pauvres (Côte du Palais), which had become a street of the wealthy.
The 1780s witnessed the revival of the conflict between Scott and Ainslie. Scott complained to the British Treasury in 1783 and 1787 of Ainslie’s steadfast resistance to provincial control and its effect upon his own office. In 1788, during an inquiry into the accounts of Deputy Receiver General William Grant (1744–1805), Scott pointedly charged Ainslie with having blocked, since 1770, his legitimate access as controller to the records of duties collected and to the collector’s official instructions from London. In numerous statements on customs policies, however, Scott and Ainslie stood together in upholding imperial interests; in 1790, for example, they opposed a petition by the merchants of the colony that would have effectively reduced revenues.
Scott’s activities as controller were largely confined to the short but feverish navigation season at Quebec, and thus he had ample time to pursue personal business and social interests. He was named curator in 1789 of the estate of Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Carleton, the governor’s nephew and brother-in-law, a further reflection on Scott’s good standing in the British community. In 1792, as a leader under the system of township leaders and associates [see James Caldwell], he received a large grant of land in Durham Township on the Rivière Saint-François; he eventually secured personally more than 21,000 acres in Durham. That same year he bought from John Drummond a farm near Quebec on the Rivière Saint-Charles; the purchase included an “elegant villa,” later called Sans Souci. He subsequently acquired long-term leases on adjoining properties from Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis* and Henry Caldwell. The Scotts apparently spent the spring, summer, and fall on the farm but probably wintered on Rue des Pauvres.
Scott was active publicly as well. In 1787 he was appointed a member of a commission, under the direction of Kenelm Chandler, to report on the Jesuit estates. He was a founding subscriber two years later of the Quebec branch of the Agriculture Society and one of its directors in 1791 and 1793. On 31 Dec. 1798 he was a steward at an anniversary dinner at which veterans of the Quebec garrison celebrated their stand during the American siege of the city in 1775–76.
In February 1800 he succeeded Ainslie as collector of customs. Scott’s service was apparently unmarked by controversy, and any burden caused by customs problems in the distant, new province of Upper Canada was removed when a separate customs establishment was set up there in 1801. In addition to his salary and fees Scott drew income in the 1800s from property rentals and interest on loans, including one of £800 to Thomas Dunn and another to the amount of £2,500 to the firm of Lester and Morrogh [see Robert Lester]. As a result of his relationship with Hugh Finlay, who died in 1801, Scott was responsible along with Robert Morrogh, a merchant and Jane Scott’s nephew, for the sale in 1803 of Finlay’s farm, Woodside. Scott, whose own sons evidently had died young, was also entrusted with the guardianship of Finlay’s three minor sons, Hamilton, Charles, and George, and later with the trusteeship of Morrogh’s boy, Robert Lester, a close favourite of the Scotts. Socially, Scott had remained active in the Quebec militia, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the 3rd battalion in 1809.
Following Jane’s death in March 1807, Scott continued to live at his farm and on Rue des Pauvres. In May John Young, looking to succeed him as collector, noted dryly that he was “far advanced in years & requires Assistance.” Scott died at about age 69 on 24 April 1810, attended by his nephew William Phillips, who “used to sit up with him night after night during his illness.” He was succeeded temporarily as collector by William Somerville and then permanently by Michael Henry Percival*.
At the time of his death Scott was keeping four servants and owned a sizeable estate, which included a modest library, much mahogany furniture, and a quantity of wines and spirits. His real property was extensive: Sans Souci, four other houses, several suburban lots, woodlands (bought from the estate of William Grant), and holdings in Durham, Barnston, and Granby townships. In addition to possessing Bank of England stock worth; £11,800 sterling, he was owed more than £1,793 by the failed firm of Lester and Morrogh and £1,140 sterling by Inglis, Ellice and Company of London. The sale of Scott’s livestock and his properties in the Quebec area was carried out by his executors, William Burns*, Mathew Lymburner, and Robert Morrogh, and the proceeds were distributed in England among two brothers, two nieces, and a nephew; none of them, however, claimed his remaining estate. In 1833 William Phillips, then a merchant, became its curator but the claims of settlers in Durham against the legality of Scott’s original titles and a series of lawsuits resulted in several decades of contention over the ownership of the lands.
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