SCOTT, THOMAS CHARLES HESLOP, self-proclaimed Church of England clergyman; b. c. 1753, probably in England; d. 21 March 1813 at Quebec, Lower Canada.
Little is certain about the life of Thomas Charles Heslop Scott. He maintained that his godfather was the Reverend Frederick Keppel, bishop of Exeter from 1762 to 1777, and that Keppel had ordained him in St James Church, London, on 30 Jan. 1774. Scott claimed to have then obtained the post of deputy chaplain of the 34th Foot. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Barrimore Matthew St Leger*, the regiment sailed from Ireland to Quebec, arriving in May 1776, but Scott did not join it until later because, he asserted, his ship was captured by an American privateer; he said he had lost all his belongings, including his certificate of ordination. He turned up in Halifax, N.S., assisted the Reverend John Breynton* at St Paul’s Church, and eventually joined the regiment at Sorel, Que.
Scott was carrying out ministerial duties among both soldiers and civilians when early in 1779 he incurred St Leger’s strong disapproval, perhaps for misconduct and insubordination. Finally, late in 1781, St Leger dismissed Scott from the chaplaincy, and Governor Haldimand forbad him to exercise the office of a minister. Scott protested vigorously, maintaining wryly in 1782 that he had as many good qualities as Haldimand was misinformed he had bad ones. In his own defence he threatened to publish his correspondence with St Leger and appears to have circulated a number of copies of a handbill presumably containing this correspondence in the summer of 1782. Two years later he offered to sell to St Leger the copyright of the correspondence for £210 sterling. No copy of the handbill has been preserved and nothing further is known of the episode.
The Church of England minister, the Reverend Lewis Guerry, a Swiss appointed to Sorel in 1774 to minister in French, had found little opportunity to do so there or elsewhere and, having left in 1776, remained in England on leave of absence. In the eight years after Guerry’s departure Scott was the only person to serve as Church of England cleric for the 100 or 150 Protestants, whom he described as “most of them able Artificers, useful Mechanicks, or Shop-Keepers.” He found a few supporters in and around Sorel who in 1781 signed a subscription list for his salary. Acting under the orders of Major-General Friedrich Adolph Riedesel, at Sorel in command of Britain’s German mercenaries, Captain John Barnes of the Royal Artillery endeavoured to discourage among the subscribers any whose economic dependence on the government made them susceptible to such pressure. Scott had to cease his ministrations for a time and was brought into great penury. In 1783 he sued Barnes for intimidation of subscribers, but in the following year he offered to withdraw the suit if given compensation. How the matter was settled is not known. Meanwhile a search of the London ordination register, conducted for the bishop of London, Robert Lowth, at the request of the military authorities, had produced no evidence of Scott’s ordination either by or on orders from Lowth’s predecessor Richard Terrick, who would have been authorized to ordain Scott for the ministry in the colonies. In June 1784 Lowth ordered Scott to obey Haldimand’s orders.
Despite the bishop’s order and despite the discouragement of his subscribers, “the irreverend Mr. Scott,” as Captain Barnes called him, continued to conduct religious services at Sorel for a few loyal laymen. These were described as Scott’s “besotted followers” by John Doty, who arrived in Sorel in the summer of 1784 as missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and was embarrassed in his work by Scott’s presence. Scott claimed to have permission from Bishop Terrick to marry without a licence from the governor, an authorization which Terrick would have had no power to give. A court of inquiry, established in Sorel in 1787, appears to have concluded that Scott was indeed an impostor.
Scott finally quitted Sorel in 1788, and is reported to have taught school in Quebec. There in November 1789 an indictment for perjury laid against him a year earlier was abandoned by order of Attorney General Alexander Gray, and in 1795 he was acquitted of a charge of libel. In 1797 he signed a four-year lease, at a rent of £15 per annum, for a farm in Sainte-Foy. He died on 21 March 1813 in apparent poverty, after protesting to the last the treatment he had received in the 1780s and demanding compensation. Despite his conflict with the Church of England, he was buried two days later by Salter Jehosaphat Mountain, minister at Quebec. Notwithstanding his lament in 1781 that he was the victim of “the greatest wrongs and injuries that ever innocent man suffered or that the annals of History can possibly produce,” and making allowance for the unsettled times in which he was at Sorel, the evaluation of him as an impostor is substantiated by the total lack of evidence supporting his claims. His correspondence, filled with assertions of his importance, as well as threats of character assassination and reprisals, has none of the forbearance and humility that would be expected of a man of the cloth.
ANQ-Q, CE-61, 23 March 1813; CN1-284, 10 avril 1797. BL, Add.