Governor. Scott was born on July 8, 1826, in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, the son of John Scott, a farmer, and Jane Hamilton. At age sixteen he moved to Ohio, where he attended Central College and Sterling Medical College. He joined the gold rush to California in 1850 but returned to Ohio the following year and settled in Henry County, where he prospered as a physician, real estate speculator, and retailer. Sometime in the 1850s he married Rebecca Jane Lowry, and the couple eventually had two children. During the Civil War, Scott organized the Sixty-eighth Ohio Volunteers and eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general. In 1866 Scott was appointed assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau in South Carolina. He struggled diligently to provide food for freedmen and destitute whites but was dismayed by the opposition and cruelty of many whites toward the former slaves.
Scott reluctantly accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 1868 and was elected with support derived largely from newly enfranchised black male voters. With most white South Carolinians regarding his administration as illegitimate, Scott instead cultivated a working but sometimes uneasy relationship with black political leaders. In his 1868 inaugural address he urged reconciliation and advocated the establishment of segregated public schools, and then he failed to invite any African Americans to a reception that followed. In 1870 he supported the election of the black congressmen Robert Brown Elliott and Robert DeLarge, and Alonzo Ransier served as the state’s first black lieutenant governor during Scott’s second term.
In 1868 and 1869 white violence and terror erupted as dozens of black and white Republicans were threatened, beaten, and assassinated. Scott signed a bill in 1869 organizing a state militia composed largely of black men. The violence continued unabated in several upcountry counties until President Ulysses S. Grant dispatched federal troops and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1871 in nine counties. Scott’s administration was further tarnished by the corruption that contaminated Republican and Democratic leaders during Reconstruction. Though he adamantly denied it, Scott was alleged to have participated in a bribery scheme involving the sale of railroad bonds. Reelected in 1870, Scott avoided impeachment in 1872 when several legislators allegedly accepted bribes to defeat the resolution. John J. Patterson defeated both Scott and Robert Brown Elliott for a U.S. Senate seat in 1872 amid further allegations of bribery.
Well intentioned but ineffective, Scott was unable to sustain the confidence of many Republicans and was thoroughly despised by almost every Democrat. Worth more than $300,000 before he became governor, Scott added to his wealth through a series of Columbia real estate transactions. He frequently loaned money to less prosperous black and white politicians as well as to impoverished white planters. He remained in Columbia until 1878 and then returned to Ohio rather than face indictment on charges of corruption. In 1880 Scott was charged with killing a Napoleon, Ohio, drugstore clerk but was acquitted of accidental homicide. He suffered a stroke in 1899 and died on August 12, 1900. He was buried in Henry County, Ohio.
Current, Richard Nelson. Those Terrible Carpetbaggers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Scott, Robert K. Governors’ Papers. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia.
———. Papers. Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.