Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

John Henry Scott (African American)
MSA SC 3520-13730
Lynched in Prince George's County, Maryland on March 23, 1875


In 1875, John Henry Scott was a twenty-three-year old worker on the Notley Hall estate, situated near George Washington's Mount Vernon. Edgar A. Nelson had acquired the property around the year 1870. Nelson was an elected official representing the Spalding District as a Republican, and respected in the community. Scott had been employed by, and living with, the Nelson family for about a year. The relationship between Scott and the Nelsons was reportedly friendly, and the contemporary sources notes that Scott had previously stayed in the Nelson home with Mrs. Nelson when Edgar Nelson was away in New York for three weeks.1

According to the newspaper account of the lynching, Scott was accused of raping Edgar Nelson's wife at gunpoint. Edgar Nelson had spent that night in Washington. The article states that Scott threatened Mrs. Nelson and her child, telling her that "he was tired of living, as his sister had become the mother of an illegitimate child, and that he was disgraced thereby." The Baltimore Sun reported that Scott "said he knew he would be killed for his acts, and that he would save her husband that trouble by shooting himself." After the alleged rape, Scott shot himself. Mrs. Nelson went for the assistance of a neighbor, an African American man named Morris, amd "Mrs. Nelson was unable to say anything, except that 'John shot himself.'" Morris went to wake the closest physician, Doctor Bayne, as well as Justice R. Walter Brooke.2

By the next morning, Justice Brooke had taken Mrs. Nelson's affidavit, and by then she had "regained her senses and told what occurred." Presumably the Baltimore Sun article, (the only known account of the lynching) was based, at least in part, on Nelson's statement. Scott was sent to the Marlboro jail, but Justice Brooke did not take him there personally. Brooke deputized a man named Curtis Smith to transport Scott, and the new deputy left with the wounded prisoner at around eight o'clock. By the time they reached the jail, a crowd had formed. The Baltimore Sun claims that there were at least one hundred people. Smith handed Scott over to the mob. Scott was forced onto a horse and taken to a hollow, where he was hanged from a black walnut tree until dead, and his body was left.3

The article includes the unlikely and obfuscating detail that "the colored people in the crowd [made] arrangements to roast his body, having gone so far as to collect a quantity of wood and brush for that purpose. This, however, was not allowed, and the body was left hanging to the tree."4

Scott's body was cut down from the tree that afternoon and a coroner's jury was summoned. They returned the verdict that "the deceased was hung by persons unknown to the jury." 5

The Baltimore Sun stated that "a similar incident"-- presumably a similar lynching-- had been perpetrated two years before the lynching of John Henry Scott.6

1. "Lynch Law in Maryland," The Baltimore Sun, March 24, 1875.

2. "Lynch Law in Maryland." 

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

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