SCOTT, WILLIAM HENRY, militia officer, merchant, politician, and Patriote; b. 13 Jan. 1799 in Scotland, son of William Scott and Catherine Ferguson; d. 18 Dec. 1851 in Saint-Eustache, Lower Canada.
William Henry Scott came from a thoroughly Presbyterian family which was vaguely related to Sir Walter Scott. His parents immigrated from Scotland to Lower Canada around 1800. He was still very young when they settled in Montreal; his father, who had set himself up as a merchant, died in 1804. Little is known about William Henry’s education except that in the course of living in Montreal he learned French well.
It is not certain when Scott went to Saint-Eustache, but in June 1827 he was serving on a constitutional committee in York County formed to protest to London against the injustices done to the French Canadians. Although the committee had nothing radical about it, it had the misfortune to displease Nicolas-Eustache Lambert* Dumont, a co-seigneur of Mille-Îles, who as a supporter of the authorities lost no time in denouncing its members to the governor, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*]. In July, Scott, Jacques Labrie*, Ignace Raizenne, and Jean-Baptiste Dumouchel*, among others, were dismissed as militia officers for having taken part in Patriote party meetings during the election campaign that year.
By 1829 Scott was established at Saint-Eustache as a general merchant. In a by-election in York that year he was elected to the House of Assembly to replace Jean-Baptiste Lefebvre, who had died as a result of an accident; Labrie held the county’s other seat. In 1830 the riding was split into three – Deux-Montagnes, Vaudreuil, and Ottawa – and Scott and Labrie continued to sit for Deux-Montagnes.
Scott was imbued with liberal ideas and thus, although he was of Scottish origin, he attached himself to the predominantly French Canadian Patriote party in the house. In 1832 he plunged into the constitutional struggle, having formed friendships with Louis-Joseph Papineau* and Wolfred Nelson*. That year he signed a notice on the door of the church in Saint-Benoît (Mirabel), a village adjacent to Saint-Eustache, denouncing land speculation and other flagrant abuses, including the clergy reserves and the English schools, as injustices perpetrated by the British at the expense of the French Canadians.
In the general election of 1834 Scott, who had just voted for the 92 Resolutions outlining the main grievances and demands of the assembly, ran as a Patriote with Jean-Joseph Girouard in Deux-Montagnes against the tory candidates Frédéric-Eugène Globensky and his brother-in-law James Brown*. A group of Scots and Irish Orangemen from the neighbouring townships attempted to intimidate the French Canadian voters and turn them against Scott and Girouard at St Andrews (Saint-André-Est), where in the event the vote favoured the candidates loyal to the government. Scott immediately proposed to contest the results because of the irregularities at the polls, and he was set upon by a number of Scotsmen armed with staves. At Saint-Eustache the supporters of Globensky and Brown, led by Lambert Dumont, Maximilien Globensky*, and Eustache-Antoine Lefebvre* de Bellefeuille, who were also co-seigneurs of Mille-Îles, seized the opportunity to intimidate the French Canadians again, but their manœuvres almost touched off a riot in the village, and they had to retreat. Despite such tactics, Scott and Girouard managed to emerge victorious.
When the rebellion broke out in 1837 Scott, who by then was a rich merchant in Saint-Eustache and enjoyed the high regard of his constituents, became one of the natural leaders of his adopted village. Although during the events leading up to the rebellion he had uttered violent words in regard to the authorities, he remained firmly in favour of not resorting to force of arms. Seeing that things might take a disastrous turn at Saint-Eustache, he attempted with the support of the parish priest, Jacques Paquin*, to cool the pugnacious ardour of his friends Jean-Olivier Chénier* and “General” Amury Girod*, but to no avail.
From then on Scott was in an untenable position. Not only did the governor, Lord Gosford [Acheson*], put a price on his head on 1 Dec. 1837 but also the Patriotes were threatening him with proceedings of their own for treason, so Scott had no choice but to flee. Just before the middle of December he left Saint-Eustache in the greatest secrecy. He went first to his brother Neil’s house in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville (Sainte-Thérèse). Then, concealed in an empty barrel, he travelled to Montreal, where on 19 December he was captured and imprisoned. Meanwhile his house and store were sacked during the fighting at Saint-Eustache. He was charged with high treason against the government, and was released only on 10 July 1838 on bail of £5,000.
There is no further trace of Scott until 1844. In the general election of that year he was returned, again for Deux-Montagnes, to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. When the session opened he became a member of an assembly committee to study Paquin’s claim for compensation to restore the church and presbytery of Saint-Eustache, which had been damaged by the battles of 1837.
This matter settled, Scott turned his attention to the need to regularize his relationship with Marie-Marguerite-Maurice Paquet of Saint-Eustache, with whom he had been living since 1829. As he was a Presbyterian and she a Catholic, Paquin had categorically refused to solemnize their union. They had four sons and a daughter, Caroline, who was to marry Wolfred Nelson’s son Alfred in 1852, a year after her father’s death. In 1845 Scott asked Félix Martin*, the superior of the Jesuits in Lower Canada, to put an end to a situation which could hardly have been pleasant for a man in public life. Unfortunately this first step proved unsuccessful because of the intransigence of both Martin and Scott. The matter did not end there, however, for Scott continued until his death to seek a solution to this vexing problem.
In 1845, along with other Lower Canadian reform members who had been Patriotes, among them Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*, Papineau, and Nelson, Scott participated in the assembly debate on the Rebellion Losses Bill. In the 1848 general election he was re-elected for his riding on the reform ticket. On 9 March 1849, by a vote of 47 to 18, the reformers of Upper and Lower Canada won the day: a grant of $400,000 was made to those in Lower Canada who had suffered material losses by the actions of troops during the rebellion [see James Bruce*]. Scott himself received a large sum for the loss of his house and furniture.
On 15 Dec. 1851, following a final campaign in which he spared no efforts to get re-elected while continuing to indulge his fondness for alcohol, Scott returned to his home in Saint-Eustache exhausted and ill. He died there three days later, at the age of 52, as a result of a fit of delirium tremens. He was buried the next day in the cemetery of the local Presbyterian church.
Shortly before his death, Scott had managed to persuade the bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget*, to relent about his domestic situation; on 16 December he was married and his five children were made legitimate. Prompted by the prospects of an inheritance or possibly by sectarian sentiment, one of his sisters, Ann, who lived in Montreal, challenged this eleventh-hour marriage. The case went before the Superior Court of Lower Canada in 1854, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Lower Canada in 1857, and, lastly, the Privy Council in London in 1867; each in turn rejected the plaintiff’s case. In Saint-Eustache a plaque on the door of a general store, once Scott’s residence, commemorates his name and his political activity.
ANQ-M, CE6-11, 16 déc. 1851; CE6-65, 18 déc. 1851; CN5-4, 16 déc. 1851. ANQ-Q, E17/13, nos.712–13; E17/14, nos.766–72, 775; E17/39, no.3149. PAC, MG 24, A27, 34. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1852–53, app.VV; Journals, 1844–45. Amury Girod, “Journal tenu par feu Amury Girod et traduit de l’allemand et de l’italien,” PAC Rapport, 1923: 408–19. [J.-J. Girouard], Relation historique des événements de l’élection du comté du lac des Deux Montagnes en 1834; épisode propre à faire connaître l’esprit public dans le Bas-Canada (Montréal, 1835; réimpr., Québec, 1968), 10, 13–15, 18–20. Scott v. Paquet , 1L.R. 1P.C. 552. Le Populaire (Montréal), 13 déc. 1837. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” Desjardins, Guide parl. Fauteux, Patriotes, 373–74. The Lower Canada jurist (35v., Montreal, 1857–91), 4: 149–208. L.-N. Carrier, Les événements de 1837–1838 (Québec, 1877), 69–71, 76. Béatrice Chassé, “Le notaire Girouard, Patriote et rebelle” (thèse de d. ès L., univ. Laval, Québec, 1974). Cornell, Alignment of political groups, 15–16, 22, 24, 30, 32. David, Les gerbes canadiennes, 175; Patriotes, 45–47. Émile Dubois, Le feu de la Rivière-du-Chêne; étude historique sur le mouvement insurrectionnel de 1837 au nord de Montréal (Saint-Jérôme, Qué., 1937), 51–52, 119–20, 135, 145. Filteau, Hist. des Patriotes (1975), 358–59, 476–77. [C.-A.-M. Globensky], La rébellion de 1837 à Saint-Eustache avec un exposé préliminaire de la situation politique du Bas-Canada depuis la cession (Québec, 1883; réimpr., Montréal, 1974), 46–47, 66–67, 224–25. Jacques Gouin, William-Henry Scott et sa descendance ou le destin romanesque et tragique d’une famille de rebelles (1799–1944) (Hull, Qué., 1980), 1–22. Joseph Schull, Rebellion: the rising in French Canada, 1837 (Toronto, 1971), 94–95, 105–6, 209. “Les causes célèbres,” La Patrie (Montréal), 5 juin 1926: 9.