Thomas Scott (Orangeman)

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Thomas Scott
Born(1842-01-01)1 January 1842
Clandeboye, County Down, Ireland
Died4 March 1870(1870-03-04) (aged 28)
Upper Fort Garry, Red River Colony, Rupert's Land
Cause of deathExecution by firing squad
OccupationSurveyor for Dawson Road Project, Soldier in the Hasting's Battalion of Rifles

Thomas Scott (1 January 1842 – 4 March 1870) was an Irish Protestant who emigrated to Canada in 1863. [1] While working as a labourer on the "Dawson Road Project", he moved on to Winnipeg where he met John Christian Schultz and fell under the influence of the Canadian Party. His political involvement in the Red River Settlement from then on led to his capture at Fort Garry where he was held hostage with others. On 4 March 1870 Scott was marched out of Fort Garry's east gate and was executed on the wall by the provisional government of the Red River Settlement led by Louis Riel. [2]


Scott's execution led to the Wolseley Expedition – a military force said to be sent to protect Canada from American annexation, but widely believed to confront Louis Riel and the Métis at the Red River Settlement, authorized by Sir John A. Macdonald. Thomas Scott's execution highlights a time of severe conflict between settlers and the Métis in Canadian history. [3] Louis Riel's reason for killing Thomas Scott was that Thomas Scott was a racist man. His execution led to Riel's exile, and to Riel's own execution for treason in 1885.


Little is known of Thomas Scott's early years. He was born in the Clandeboye area of County Down, in what is today Northern Ireland in 1842. Raised as a Presbyterian, he became an active Orangeman. [1] Scott emigrated to Ontario in 1863. [1] On his arrival at Red River, he worked as a labourer on the "Dawson Road" project, connecting the Red River and Lake Superior. [1] He took part in a strike in 1869, for which he was fired and convicted of aggravated assault. [4] Scott then moved to Winnipeg, where he met John Christian Schultz and became a supporter of the Canadian Party. [1] Scott backed the annexation of the Red River Settlement to Canada, [1] and the rest of his life revolved around this conflict. [1]

Role in the Red River Resistance

Scott was employed by the Canadian government as a surveyor during the Red River Rebellion. He was first arrested and imprisoned in December 1869 at Upper Fort Garry by Louis Riel and his men while trying to attack the fort along with 34 other volunteers. [5] Thomas Scott had briefly escaped Upper Fort Garry in January with John Christian Schultz and Charles Mair. In February 1870, Scott, alongside several volunteers amassed a rescue party outside John Christian Schultz's house in Kildonan that sought to free any remaining prisoners at Fort Garry. Summarily, the Métis released the prisoners and the rescue party was dispersed. Scott and several volunteers marched to Portage, but passed too close to Fort Garry, where Scott was captured and imprisoned by Riel's garrison once again. [6] Charles Mair and John Christian Schultz travelled through America and later reached Ontario to urge the government for an extensive military expedition to the Red River Settlement. [7] The joint-military operation of the Wolseley Expedition dispatched the Ontario 1st and 60th rifles alongside British troops in May 1870. [8] It has been reported that Thomas Scott suffered severe diarrhea during his second incarceration, which was said to have had a negative effect on both Scott and his captors. [9] During his captivity, Scott was an extraordinarily difficult, opinionated, and verbally abusive individualist who refused to acknowledge his captors' legal authority. There is some evidence that Thomas had an altercation with a group of guards that had brought him out and injured him so severely that Louis Riel had him locked into another cell with a stronger lock, partly for his own safety. It has also been documented that Scott's fellow prisoners had asked that he be removed due to his obnoxious behaviour while in captivity. [10] He was eventually executed for committing insubordination following a trial. [11]

Trial and execution

While in jail, Scott became a nuisance as he caused trouble with the guards and made attempts at escaping. He was then brought in front of a court where they found him guilty of defying the authority of the Provisional Government, fighting with guards, and slandering the name of Louis Riel. [12] Scott was not alone in being sentenced to death, but the other sentences were never carried out. On 4 March 1870, unlike the other members of his group, he faced the firing squad. His execution was watched by 100 bystanders. Many eyewitnesses disagree on multiple aspects of Scott's execution from disagreement on his last words and actions to the manner of his death. What is agreed upon is that he was shot while blindfolded by a firing squad against the east side gate of Upper Fort Garry. It was reported that Scott was kneeling in the snow praying fervently up until he was shot. Other witnesses reported that he had been yelling wildly that his execution was unjust and that his execution was murder. The weapons that were used by the firing squad were ordinary hunting weapons (supposedly muskets) and it was observed that the men who shot these guns were intoxicated. At the time of fire, the men in the firing squad stood 60 meters away from Scott. It was also debated whether or not Scott died immediately when shot by the firing squad. [13]

Métis leader John Bruce claimed that only two bullets from the firing squad actually hit Scott, wounding him once in the left shoulder, and once in the upper chest. A man came forward and discharged his pistol close to Scott's head, but the bullet only penetrated the upper part of the left cheek and came out somewhere near the cartilage of the nose. Still not dead, Scott was placed in a makeshift coffin, from which he was later reported to cry:

"For God's sake take me out of here or kill me."

John Bruce said that he was left there to die of his injuries. [14]

A similar account was reported by Reverend George Young, who was told by Major George Robinson that Scott was confined to a roughly made coffin on the presumption that he had died when shot on by the firing squad. Robinson said that five hours later he and Riel entered the room where Scott's coffin was being kept and heard Scott beg for death. Robinson fled the room, Riel closed the door and, a few moments later, Robinson heard a shot and presumed that Scott was then dead. This account was cast into suspicion, though, as Riel had fired Robinson as the editor of New Nation on 19 March 1870, so it remains unclear whether or not these accounts are based in fact or acted to defame Riel in retaliation for Robinson's dismissal. [15]

Guilmette's depiction of Thomas Scott's execution ShootingThomasScott.jpg
Guilmette's depiction of Thomas Scott's execution

Upon Scott's death, Reverend George Young forwarded Thomas Scott's documents to his brother Hugh. These documents included Scott's commendatory letters and certificates of good character written by Presbyterian minister of whose church Scott had been connected to in Ireland. Additionally his life savings were sent to his brother. It has been suspected that because it was a such substantial amount ($103.50), that this money might have indicated an immoral lifestyle. [17]

It is not known where Scott's body was laid to rest. In 1870, the supposed burial site of Thomas Scott was revisited by a party of men led by Reverend Young. The purpose of this expedition was to bring his body back to Ontario. The party found the reported site of his burial just outside the Hudson's Bay Company store, dug 6 feet down. There they discovered the fruit tree box that was meant to be Scott's coffin. The box was discovered partially open and measuring 5 feet, 8 inches in length. No body was found once the box was opened. The box contained only dirt and shavings of some sort. The length of the box has thrown into question whether Scott had ever been buried at that site. He was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and would not have fit into this makeshift coffin which had been said to have been nailed shut. Later, John Bruce claimed that Goblet, a man who had attended the actual funeral, had told him that a week after Scott's execution a hole had been cut in the ice of German Creek about a quarter of a mile from the mouth of the River La Seine. Scott's body was brought to this site and tied in heavy chains and then sunk into the water. [15] Another theory is that his body was taken out of the coffin by a Fenian Winnipeger, the proprietor of the Red Saloon, under whose floor it was buried. Years later, when the site of the business was torn up for road construction, a skeleton was found. Some suggest that the skeleton belonged to Thomas Scott. [18]

Significance of his death

Though relatively unknown during his lifetime, once news of Scott's death made it to Ontario he was regarded as a martyr by the English-speaking, Protestant population. [13] With opinions divided along ethnic lines during the century following Scott's death, English speaking historians have depicted the execution of Thomas Scott as the murder of an innocent victim. His execution was used to explain Louis Riel's fall from federally recognized politics. It was held that Riel could not be dealt with legitimately because he was seen as a murderer by Ontario. Additionally, the marginalization of Métis peoples in Canada was justified by the Anglo-Canadians' memory of a brutal murder dealt to one of their own (Thomas Scott).

By contrast, French Canadian speakers and sympathizers have emphasized Scott's problematic behaviour, as mentioned above. [19] It was stated by historian Lyle Dick that the martyrdom of Scott created a "rallying symbol" for expansionists who wanted the armed force be sent to the Northwest. This fostered higher recruitment rates for the Red River Expedition and hastened its dispatch. [19] Upon learning about Scott's death, the Canadian government dispatched the Wolseley Expedition to Fort Garry from Ontario to seize the fort and force Louis Riel, now branded a murderer, to flee the settlement. Scott's religious affiliation to the Orange Order had repercussions in Ontario as well. The Toronto Globe had published an article that stated, Scott was cruelly murdered by the enemies of the Queen, country and religion. [20]

The Red River Settlement was reportedly affected by the execution of Thomas Scott as well. It was said that the Red River Settlement had adopted a new social atmosphere following Scott's execution of sullen hostility towards the leadership of Louis Riel. [21] On 14 April 1870, Sir John A. Macdonald had written to the Earl of Carnarvon, that Thomas Scott's men were calling for retribution against Riel for the unjust murder of Thomas Scott. The Scott incident was known to intensify and complicate negotiations with the provisional Red River government and Ontario. [22] Shortly after the death of Thomas Scott, the Manitoba Act was passed and the creation of the Canadian province of Manitoba had occurred.

Memorials and portrayals of Scott in Canada

Thomas Scott Memorial Orange Hall, 216-218 Princess Street, Winnipeg Thomas Scott Memorial Orange Hall.JPG
Thomas Scott Memorial Orange Hall, 216–218 Princess Street, Winnipeg

The Thomas Scott Memorial Orange Hall was constructed in 1902 and is located on Princess Street in Winnipeg. The hall was named in commemoration of Scott. [3]

Thomas Scott and his execution is portrayed in sources by many historians controversially. As mentioned, there is plenty of speculation of his behavior in prison, the event of his execution and the way in which he died and was laid to rest. In Louis Riel (comics), Chester Brown portrays Scott as a nuisance. According to Brown, Scott was aggravating, insulting, and rude while imprisoned in Fort Garry. [23] These qualities are supposedly what may have led to his execution. In the George Bloomfield directed movie, Riel (film), Thomas Scott's trial and execution is briefly portrayed. He is depicted as loud and uses offensive words such as "savage." [24] He is only depicted in this way however, after he is convicted and led to his execution.

J. M. Bumsted, a specialist on the topic of the Red River Rebellion, also discusses many popular portrayals of Thomas Scott in his work, "Thomas Scott's Body: And Other Essays on Early Manitoba History." It is important to note that even Bumsted stresses that many stories may have been elaborated on. [25] According to Bumsted, Louis Riel explains Scott's execution for two reasons. First, Scott's negative behavior and actions while in prison, as described by many other historians. Second, Scott is portrayed simply as a pawn being played in a bigger political game. [25] Historians who expand on the behavioral issues claim that both the guards and other captors were aggravated by Scott's words and actions. [25] He is said to have been threatening towards Riel and the guards and used constant obscene language. [26] It is argued in some works that these behaviors are typical of captives who believe they are held unjustly, which Scott certainty believed. [26] Also mentioned earlier, Scott is reported to have suffered diarrhea. It is commonly said by historians that this would have caused him aggravation, resulting in his negative behavior. The diarrhea combined with the annoying behavior however, is argued to have been reason to execute Scott as he was too much to deal with. [26] Bumsted also discusses Scott's portrayal as a "ringleader" in a labour strike against Dawson Road superintendent John Snow, leading to justification for execution. [26] Scott is also portrayed as a heavy drinker and a "barroom brawler." [26] Contradictory, Scott is also portrayed in some works as being quiet and inoffensive, just powerful and determined. [27] His execution in these stories is portrayed as being a factor of a personal animosity between him and Riel. [27] This animosity is depicted in many different versions ranging from Scott offending Riel by telling him to move out of his way on the street, to a rivalry over love for the same women. [28] This version has Scott rescuing a Metisse named Marie from a flood. Scott subsequently protected Marie from Riel and his "clumsy" courtship of her. This led to a hatred of Scott by Riel, causing him to want him executed. [29]

According to Bumsted, the only thing commonly agreed throughout these depictions is that Scott's execution was a political mistake by Louis Riel and the Metis. [13]

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Further reading