Sunday, November 14, 2010



Teachers learn that any one thing is connected to everything. Students initially believe that no one thing is connected to anything. A semester of literature, mathematics, history, and science are disconnected in all but a scholar’s mind. Let me give you an example. What do Setauket, diaries, treason, New Amsterdam, the Vatican, ship-design, forgery, murder, map-making and habeas corpus have in common? I learned that they were all part of the life of John Scott. Because I keep a diary, inspired by Samuel Pepys’ entries in the 1660s, I checked out a book at the Emma Clark Library in Setauket by James and Ben Long, The Plot Against Pepys. Pepys was Secretary of the Admiralty and a founder of the Royal Society of Science during the reign of Charles II in the 1660s and 1670s.

John Scott was born in England and raised by his widowed mother in Southampton, Long Island. As a young adult he began to pursue wealth and power. He went back to England on money he had stolen and sold land he didn’t own to wealthy British investors. He returned to Long Island and forced those living in Setauket to move, using forged documents from the royal family. He played off Connecticut and Long Island in a land dispute and instigated the British to attack New Amsterdam and drive the Dutch from New York. He was imprisoned in Connecticut but escaped and when he was turned down for a government position on Long Island, he left for Europe, serving as a spy for Britain, France, and the Netherlands. He forged military maps of Britain to sell to the Dutch and French; and he forged maps of France and the Netherlands to sell to the British. In 1679 he returned to England and developed a scheme to frame Pepys and other supporters of James Stuart (King Charles’s Catholic brother) as part of a “Papist plot” to kill King Charles and return Great Britain to the Catholic Church.

Pepys, who was not Catholic, was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. After several months, he managed to get released on habeas corpus (ironically freed of its loopholes by the plotting members of Parliament who wanted to prevent James from ascending to the throne). Pepys assembled a powerful defense by having his friends obtain documents of the fraud, forgery, perjury, thefts, escapes, and assaults that Scott had accumulated in his pathological career. The charges were dropped after Scott killed a coach driver in a drunken brawl. Pepys was restored to his post in the Admiralty and his good name was restored. Scott escaped to the Netherlands and stayed there until Charles II died. When James II ascended to the throne, Scott joined the forces of William of Orange in the Netherlands and returned to England with a Dutch armada. James fled to exile and the House of Orange became the new royal line for Great Britain. As a reward for his service, Scott was given a pardon for his murder and sent to Montserrat in the Caribbean as a government official, where he led a comfortable life and died of old age. Pepys was forced to retire after James fled and spent his last years preparing his library and papers for donation to Oxford University.

I would certainly not have believed in 1948, when I first read excerpts of Pepys’ diaries and started my own, that I would connect these 60 years later, through Scott’s life to Setauket where I now live.

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