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History Minute: Judge Scott's rise and fall

May 11, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

By Dr. Ken Bridges

Reputations are built over years of work. But one act can destroy that reputation forever.

Judge Andrew Scott, an early territorial judge, saw a promising career fall apart as he became the epicenter of controversies that ultimately left a fellow judge and a legislator dead.

Andrew Horatio Scott was born into a large family in 1789 in Hanover County, Virginia, in the eastern part of the state. His father was an immigrant from Scotland. When he was 18, the family decided to move west to find new opportunities and arrived in eastern Missouri in 1808, then part of the new Louisiana Purchase.

His older brother was already an established attorney in the area. Scott began learning law as an apprentice to his brother in the absence of established law schools nearby. In 1811, he was admitted to the bar and married.

The Missouri Territory was established by Congress in 1812 as Louisiana became a state. As a result, what would become Arkansas was actually a part of Missouri for seven years until Arkansas was established as its own territory and Missouri prepared for statehood.

In the meantime, an ambitious young Scott saw many opportunities in the Missouri Territory. He became the first clerk of the Territorial House of Representatives, keeping careful records of legislative proceedings. He moved to nearby Potosi in 1815 and established a private school in the young, prospering lead mining community. In 1819, he was appointed sheriff of the newly established Jefferson County, Missouri, located on the Mississippi River.

Not even 30 years old, his fortunes were heading upward. Just as the new Arkansas Territory was created by Congress in March 1819, President James Monroe appointed Scott as one of three judges to serve the area. Scott immediately left Missouri for the territorial capital of Arkansas Post. The position offered many opportunities for Scott, and he was determined to take advantage of all of them.

Several years passed without incident as Scott served as an important judiciary figure in the frontier territory and helped guide the development and implementation of early Arkansas law. His descent into notoriety began with the collapse of a friendship with Judge Joseph Selden.

Selden, a Virginia native and War of 1812 veteran, won appointment as an Arkansas judge in 1821. According to several sources, the two judges were playing a card game one night in 1824 in Arkansas Post with two ladies not their wives. At one point in the evening, Scott claimed that Selden had insulted one of the ladies; and an argument erupted. Selden refused to apologize for the alleged slight; and Scott challenged his friend, who was a sitting judge with an infant daughter and a pregnant wife, to a duel.

Within days, Selden relented and wrote a letter of apology to the offended lady. However, the two judges began arguing over the incident again days afterward, and Scott again challenged Selden to a duel. Since dueling was illegal in the Arkansas Territory, the two journeyed to Mississippi, just across from Helena. Pistols were chosen, and Scott shot and killed Selden on the spot.

Outrage erupted across the territory, and there were moves by several leaders to have Scott removed from the bench. While Scott survived those initial attempts, he was denied reappointment by President John Quincy Adams in 1827. After the death of Territorial Delegate Henry W. Conway in 1827, Scott tried to revive his fortunes by running for the seat. But public outcry against the bloodshed surrounding dueling doomed his candidacy.

In spite of the controversy surrounding him, he still had many political friends. He was appointed as a territorial circuit judge and headed to a site that became known as Scotia. The community, now a small, unincorporated city on the Arkansas River, is near what is now Russellville. Scott helped design the community after he arrived in the area later in 1827, hoping to nurture it and have his own fortunes rise with it.

His encounters with violence had not ended. Bitter over his experiences, in 1828, he confronted territorial legislator Edmund Hogan, accusing him of lying about him during the campaign. As their screams rose, Hogan shoved Scott to the ground. Scott pulled out a knife hidden inside his cane, and stabbed Hogan, killing him within minutes. The judge was arrested and charged with murder, but he was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

In November 1829, Pope County was organized in western Arkansas. Territorial legislators named it in honor of the new territorial governor, John Pope, a former Kentucky congressman and U. S. Senator. Pope chose Scott to be the first county judge to administer the county and oversee its organization. Scotia became the first county seat. Settlers steadily moved into the area, and by the time of the first census taken for the in 1830, the population had already jumped to 1,483. In spite of his controversial reputation, the territorial legislature named Scott County, now on the border with Oklahoma, in his honor in 1833.

In 1841, when the county seat was moved to Dover, Scott moved with it. He worked as a lawyer for a few years afterward, living a much quieter life away from the turmoil of the 1820s. Though respected in some quarters, Scott never regained the respect or influence he had in the years before the deaths of Selden and Hogan. Scott's wife died a few years after the move to Dover. In 1850, he was the official census taker for Pope County for the U. S. Census that year. Pope County's population stood at 4,710.

Scott was in Norristown, a trading community on the Arkansas River later annexed to Russellville, in March 1851 for business when he died suddenly at the age of 61.

Dr. Ken Bridges is a professor of history and geography at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado and a resident historian for the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society. Bridges can be reached by email at [email protected] southark.edu.

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