Ohio History Journal

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The Scott Papers:

An Inside View of Reconstruction





In the light of contemporary turbulence over racial integration, resurgent southern

Negro voting power, and upgrading of black history special significance accrues

to the private papers of Robert Kingston Scott which were acquired in July 1969

by the Ohio Historical Society.1 Scott was a Henry County, Ohio, physician who

became a brevet major general for service in the Civil War, then headed the

Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina, was elected as that state's first Reconstruc-

tion governor in 1868, and was reelected in 1870. After 1872 he remained in Co-

lumbia as a businessman until 1877. At that time the ex-Confederate Democrats

recaptured control of the capital and began a sweeping scrutiny of the irregulari-

ties of his administration and the two subsequent Carpetbagger regimes. Scott

then returned to northwestern Ohio. In Napoleon in 1881 he was acquitted in a

second-degree murder trial for killing the drinking companion of his fifteen-year

old son on Christmas Day 1880. Between 1877 and 1900, when he died, Scott was

actively engaged with other Ohioans in land and mercantile enterprises in Abilene

and Hutchinson, Kansas, and in Toledo real estate.

In South Carolina, Scott was intimately involved in the Federal Government's

devices to improve the welfare and advance the political status of the Negro, in

the schemes and maneuvers of the Radical Republicans to maintain supremacy

over reformers and conservative Democrats in ruling the state, in the bloody re-

sorts to violence by the Ku Klux Klan and militant blacks, and in the skulduggery

of northern carpetbaggers. He also participated in efforts by educated mulattoes,

illiterate blacks, and former Confederates to profit personally from opportunities

offered by a disrupted economy, a defeated ruling aristocracy, and a gullible and

malleable electorate. The Scott Papers are pertinent to all of this.

Writers on Reconstruction since Scott's death have generally dealt harshly with

him. Usually the basest motives are ascribed to him and his character appears in





1. The Scott Papers are the gift of R. K. Groschner, Grosse Point, Michigan, nephew of Scott's

daughter-in-law, Jeannette Ulrich Scott (1872-1948). Scott's only surviving child, R. K., Jr., died in 1906

without issue.


Mr. Cummings is retired managing editor of the Ohio State Journal, Columbus, Ohio.