A St. Genevieve tombstone dated June 9, 1861, and the obscure name of John Scott caught the attention of Gary Edwards years ago while he lived and worked in the historic French-influenced Missouri town that sits along the Mississippi.
Edwards, who serves as Sedalia’s city administrator, said he had to know more about this man no one could remember. He spent 20 years researching and finding that Scott played an integral part in Missouri’s statehood. This forgotten man had been the first U.S. Congressman, first U.S. Attorney and was called the father of Missouri education.
Edwards first thought of writing a book, but soon realized Scott’s story would be better told in a documentary film. “John Scott: Missouri’s Political Pioneer,” a 112-minute film, was released this month with proceeds benefiting the Great River Road Welcome Center in St. Genevieve.
Gary Edwards and his wife Catherine both worked on the documentary for seven months. They traveled during Gary’s vacation time to Washington, D.C., Vincennes, Indiana, and Lexington, Kentucky. They dispatched camera crews to England, Colorado and New Mexico to film noted historians.
“As historian Jo Tice Bloom said, ‘he is arguably the most important figure as far as the creation of the state of Missouri,’” Gary noted. “This is the first time anything comprehensive has been written. There has been no book written about him, only short bios.
“He was the only one in Washington during the creation of the state of Missouri, fighting for Missouri,” he added.
While Gary wrote and narrated the film, Catherine produced the documentary, wrote the original music and even boarded a two-person, open-air gyroplane for an opening aerial shot of the Mississippi River at St. Genevieve.
Catherine researched music of the era and wrote her own scores featuring digitally-created instruments — violin, oboe, brass, drums and accordion.
“I knew I wanted a song that was majestic,” she said. “There’s three pieces in the (film). There’s the main theme and I wanted it to be majestic and inspiring.”
She also wrote a piece she calls “Catherine’s Song” for John Scott’s wife, who died young.
“Because it was kind of sad.” she added. “I put that in the sad parts of the video. Then there was one that was a rowdy piece, with an accordion.”
The last piece simulates a French-themed party atmosphere.
“I tried to have the sound of instruments from that era,” she noted. “The main instrument is an oboe.”
Both Gary and Catherine said sound effects and music play a vital part in any film.
“When we go to movies, if it’s got a great score that is as important as the main character,” Catherine said.
The Edwards are known for choosing “obscure but important subjects” to cover. Their last film featured an obscure part of Harry S. Truman’s life that involved his speech and headquarters in Sedalia.
This film explores how Scott came from “humble” beginnings. His father, Andrew Scott Sr., came to America from Scotland. Scott Sr.’s parents died on the voyage and in 1753, at age 5, he was sent to an orphanage. Scott Sr. eventually became a tailor, married, settled in Vincennes, Indiana, and raised a family. Both his sons Andrew Jr. and John would play vital parts in U.S. political history.
The Andrew Scott Sr. family eventually left Vincennes. Traveling by boat on the Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers, the family finally reached St. Genevieve.
During the war of 1812, John Scott signed up for active duty and traveled to St. Charles where he received the rank of captain. At the age of 31, he became the first U.S. attorney and in 1816 he ran for territorial congressional delegate against Rufus Easton. Scott won the election by 15 votes, although the victory was contested by Easton. Easton declared Scott a fraud.
“As (historian William) Foley said in the interview, Scott won because Congress said ‘we shouldn’t be involved,’” Gary noted. “And as we say in the piece, Scott won because Congress said ‘we shouldn’t be involved in this fight,’ even though the committee said Easton is right, Scott is wrong.”
Scott then traveled to Washington, D.C., on horseback to contest Easton’s claims. Through much controversy, the Senate declared the seat vacant and decided to host a new election in 1817. Scott returned to Missouri and campaigned for seven months. He won again with a 392-vote majority.
According to Gary’s research, the 1816-17 election between Scott and Easton was considered one of the most “turbulent” elections in Missouri history.
Scott’s popularity continued to rise; he took a seat in the House of Representatives Dec. 8, 1817, and helped bring Missouri to statehood through the rising winds of rumored civil war. Many wanted Missouri admitted as a slave state while others did not.
The Missouri Compromise was constructed and passed March 3, 1820. On Nov. 8, 1820, Scott rode to Washington, D.C., once again, this time carrying with him the Missouri Constitution. Congress, in an effort to balance power, admitted Missouri as a slave state Aug. 10, 1821, while Maine was admitted as a free state.
During these years of pre-statehood, Scott became close friends with Thomas Hart Benton, but the friendship was crushed and never repaired when Scott voted for John Quincy Adams during the 1824-25 presidential election. Scott’s former rise in popularity began a descent. He was never able to recover.
“We sent a camera crew to England to interview the historian (Donald Ratcliffe) who did a piece on the election of 1824-25,” Gary said. “He pointed out in the piece that the argument could be made that John Scott traded his vote for President of the United States.”
Scott’s brother, Andrew Scott Jr., who was one of three judges in Arkansas Territory, was to be impeached due to his participation in a dual. Scott turned to presidential candidate John Quincy Adams for a solution.
“The impeachment papers were on (President) Monroe’s desk,” Gary said. “The implication being, if you don’t do anything with the impeachment papers, and Monroe doesn’t do anything, I’ll vote for you for president.
“Interestingly, the next day he runs to John Quincy Adams’ house, says ‘forget everything I said, I didn’t mean any of it,’” Gary added. “Which tells you he did. His brother was never impeached.”
In the end, the protection of his brother cost Scott dearly. He lost credibility, his constituent’s vote and his family’s name. Scott died in June 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War.
During his research, Gary was never able to find descendants of the family. It was as if when John Scott died, his memory and family line died also.
“Until we did this, we didn’t know anything beyond the fact he was born in Hanover County, Virginia,” Gary added. “Then Cathy found ancestry information in the Arkansas Historical Society. So we were able to take him back to his grandfather.
“They’ve got to be out there somewhere” he added of the descendants. “We’ve checked genealogy records, we’ve posted stuff on Ancestry.com, and we can’t find anybody. Except for the tombstone they were all gone.”
During the making of the film, both Gary and Catherine said they were pleased to be able to interview the historians who are presented in documentary.
“We were very fortunate to get the quality of historians that we got for this,” Gary noted. “They are world-class quality. Sending camera crews all over the world basically and in other cities in the United States, it was fun doing that, but we were very fortunate that they said ‘yes’ to us.”
Those interested in purchasing “John Scott: Missouri’s Political Pioneer” may contact the Great River Road Welcome Center, at 66 Main St., in St. Genevieve, or call 573-883-7097.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.