The ancestor of that
branch of the Scott family which came to America was Sir John Scott,
Baronet, of Ancrum, Roxburghshire, Scotland, whose second son, John,
came to this country and was a resident of New York in 1702. At a later
period he was in command of Fort Hunter on the Mohawk River, and had an
adventurous career in the British and Provincial forces. He was the
grandfather of the third President of Saint Andrew’s Society.
John Morin Scott, the
only child of John Scott and Marian Morin, was born in 1730 at the City
of New York and died on the 14th September, 1784, at his residence in
the same city, being buried in Trinity Churchyard.
He probably received his
early education in New York, and in 1746 graduated from Yale College at
New Haven, Connecticut. He then took up the study and practice of law in
the City of New York, in which profession he rapidly attained the first
rank as a learned exponent of the statutes and an orator of no mean
powers. From the first he vigorously opposed the then system of
government of the Colonies without representation, and became one of the
founders of the “Sons of Liberty,” the most extreme of the early
Colonial Societies in advocating the freedom of the Colonies from
He was an Alderman of the
Out Ward of the City of New York from 1757-1762, but soon became the
acknowledged leader of those radically opposed to British rule, and his
violent attitude against the governing powers repeatedly lost him
election to the Provincial Assembly.
In February, 1761, he
became a candidate for the Assembly, receiving 722 votes, but was not
elected. On March 10th, 1768, he again presented himself as a candidate
for the Assembly, but while he gained the highest number of votes of all
the opposition candidates, the regular ticket was elected. He thereupon
charged James Jauncey, one of the successful candidates, with
corruption, but the Assembly decided against the charge by a vote of
eighteen to three. A few days later, however, the Assembly framed an Act
to prevent corruption in elections, one of the first in the history of
that body politic. He again failed of election in 1769, when the last
election under the
Crown was held. These
repeated defeats may be attributed to his radical attitude of opposition
to the governing power and to the nonsupport of the conservative element
in the independent party. At this time he was held to be “one of the
readiest speakers on the continent,” and his able and incisive pen won
instant recognition in the journals of the day.
On June 6th, 13th and
27th, in Holt’s New York Gazette, the liberal organ, under the signature
of “Freeman,” he wrote three masterly papers upon the consequence of
non-resistance, and during the Stamp Act agitation he was one of a
Committee of Twelve to present a petition to the Assembly in regard to
carrying on business without stamps.
Throughout the exciting
period prior to the declaration of war, Mr. Scott with pen and voice
continued to maintain and urge those principles of freedom which were
finally established by the success of the Revolution.
In 1774 Mr. Scott became
a candidate for election to the First Continental Congress, but was
defeated by the “Moderates” in the Committee of Fifty-one.
On the 1st May, 1775, he
was one of a General Committee for the City and County of New York “in
this alarming crisis,” and gave material aid in stopping the removal of
arms and ammunition by the British in this year.
He also was sent as a
delegate to the Provincial Congress of 1775, and on the 9th June, 1776,
was made a Brigadier-General of the New York State Troops. He fought
with his brigade during the Revolutionary War, at the Battle of Long
Island, and was wounded in the Battle of White Plains on the 28th
October, 1776. He took an active part in the campaign around New York,
but retired on the 1st March, 1777, at the expiration of his commission.
Thereafter, he became a
member of the Council of Appointment to prepare a new form of government
for New York, on the 1st August, 1777, and he was also a member of the
New York Council of Safety in 1777. He was a member of the State Senate
from 17771782, and from 1779 to 1783, inclusive, he was a member of the
Continental Congress. His highest office, however, was that of Secretary
of the State of New York, wherein he ably administered the many and
vexatious problems of the newly-created government from the 13th March,
1778, until the day of his death.
During the course of his
career he filled many honorable positions in the history of the Province
and State of New York, and was a prominent figure in the social life of
In March, 1754, together
with Philip Livingston, William Alexander, Robert R. Livingston, William
Livingston and William Smith, the historian, Mr. Scott started the New
York Society Library, which is still in existence, and a worthy monument
to its illustrious founders. He was a trustee of the Presbyterian Church
in 1776, and on the 6th July, 1784, was elected an honorary member of
the Society of the Cincinnati.
An interesting extract
concerning him is taken from the diary of John Adams, 1774-1775, viz.:
“Mr. Scott is a lawyer of about fifty years of age; a sensible man, but
not very polite. He is said to be one of the readiest speakers upon the
continent * * * This morning rode three miles out of town to Mr. Scott’s
to breakfast—a very pleasant ride. Mr. Scott has an elegant seat there,
with Hudson’s river just beyond his house and a rural prospect all
around him. We sat in a fine, airy entry until called into a front room
to breakfast. A more elegant breakfast I never saw; rich plate, a very
large silver teapot, napkins of the very finest materials, toast and
bread and butter, in great perfection. After breakfast a plate of
beautiful peaches; another of pears, and another of plums, and a
water-melon was placed before the table.”
This country place was
located at what is now Thirty-third Street and Ninth Avenue, and
consisted of one hundred and twenty-three acres of land.
In his will, dated the
2nd September, 1784, and proved and recorded in the New York County
Surrogate's Office on the 2Sth September, 1784, he mentions his wife,
Helena; his son, Louis Allaire-Scott; his daughter, Mary McKnight; his
granddaughter, Elizabeth Litchfield ; and John Litchfield, former
husband of his daughter, Mary McKnight. He names as his executors, his
wife, Helena Scott; his daughter, Mary McKnight, and Richard Varick.
An obituary in the New
York Packet and American Advertiser, issue of Thursday, the 16th
September, 1784, reads as follows:
“We are sorry to acquaint
the public that the Honourable John Morin Scott, Esquire, Secretary of
this State, and long an eminent lawyer in this city, departed this life
on the evening of the 14th instant, in the fifty-fifth year of his age,
after a tedious illness, greatly regretted. By his death this State lost
a most valuable citizen, and his family and friends a tender connection.
The many eminent services he has rendered his country during the late
contest must endear him to every friend to the liberties of America, for
which he was a decided and strenuous advocate. He served with great
reputation as a member of the United States in Congress assembled, and
has distinguished himself as an active and vigilant member of the Senate
of this State, ever careful of its interests. At the commencement of the
late war he dared to step forth in opposition to tyranny, and took the
field in the rank of Brigadier-General, where he displayed his abilities
as a soldier. In a word, his country has lost in him a zealous friend, a
faithful servant, a brave soldier, and an able statesman.”
He married Helena
Rutgers, daughter of Petrus Rutgers and Helena Hoogland, and had issue
as follows: (1) Louis Allaire Scott, born 25th October, 1789, in New
York; (2) Mary, who first married John Litchfield and secondly Mr.
McKnight. It was said that he had two or more children, sons, who died
in infancy, but their names and and dates of birth cannot be found.
It is greatly to be
regretted that no authentic portrait of John Morin Scott can be traced
or appears to be in existence, either in Historical Collections or with
his lineal descendants.