Biographers and memorialists of Josiah Scott all commented that while he successfully pursued a classical education in Greek, Latin and mathematics, earned distinction as a member of the Supreme Court of Ohio and acquired some wealth as a trial lawyer; he displayed an absent mindedness about money. More than one of his biographers noted that he continually stowed money representing legal fees that he had collected in his coat pockets and hung the coats in public places. On one occasion in 1840, after being given the proceeds from that year’s Crawford County tax collection to take to Columbus for deposit with the treasurer of state, Scott proceeded to leave the wrapped bundle on a chair in a Columbus tavern, before remembering to return for it.
Scott, the son of Alexander and Rachel McDowell Scott, was born on Dec. 1, 1803 in Washington County, Pa. He was raised on his father’s farm outside of Canonsburgh, the home of Jefferson College. Scott attended local schools and Jefferson College, where he graduated in 1823 with the highest honors in his class. After graduation, Scott taught school for two years in an academy in Newton, Pa. and then ventured south to teach in the William Pollard household on a farm outside Richmond, Va. While teaching Latin, Greek and mathematics to the Pollard children and their neighbors, Scott read and studied law. Although his family hoped he would pursue a career in the church or medicine, Scott desired to become an attorney.
Scott returned to Pennsylvania in 1827 to tutor at Jefferson College and continue his legal studies. One of his students was Thomas Welles Bartley, whom Scott visited in Mansfield when he first traveled to Ohio in the spring of 1829. Scott decided to remain in Ohio to pursue a legal career and he was admitted to the Ohio bar.
Scott entered public office for the first time when he campaigned as a Whig for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives in 1840 to represent Crawford, Delaware and Marion counties. Scott chose not to seek re-election and he left the Ohio House at the end of his term in 1841 to return to his law practice in Bucyrus.
Scott, in an effort to attain more financial success, moved his law practice to Hamilton in 1849. While in Hamilton, Scott’s legal opportunities soared and his finances increased. In October 1856, Scott, the nominee of the newly organized Republican Party in Ohio, successfully campaigned for a seat on the Supreme Court by defeating Justice Rufus Ranney. After Ranney’s resignation, Gov. Salmon P. Chase appointed Scott to the Supreme Court on Nov. 29, 1856.
Scott took his seat for his elected term on Feb. 9, 1857. Scott was re-elected in 1861 and 1866 and retired from the Supreme Court on Feb. 9, 1872. He served as the Chief Justice in 1861, 1866 and 1871 and his opinions are in volumes 5 through 21 of the Ohio State Reports.
One case of note, John Fordyce v. James H. Godman, Auditor of State (1870), concerned the legality of Ohio’s payments for damages caused by Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Raid in Ohio during the Civil War. Scott’s opinion stated that Ohio’s 1851 Constitution gave the General Assembly the authority allowing such damage claims, and that for the Supreme Court to overturn the law would deny to the General Assembly authority granted by the Constitution of Ohio and the Supreme Court shall not nullify plain provisions of the state’s Constitution.
Scott returned to Bucyrus shortly after retiring from the Supreme Court and reopened a law practice with S. R. Harris, who had been his partner before Scott’s move to Hamilton. Ohio voters at the Oct. 12, 1875 general election authorized the establishment of a Supreme Court Commission to assist the Supreme Court with its considerable backlog of cases. On Jan. 17, 1876, Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Scott to the first commission for a term of three years. His opinions are in volumes 32 and 33 of Ohio State Reports.
In 1871, the Mathematical Society of London published Scott’s paper on “magic squares”: combinations of 3, 4, 5, or more integers that are arranged in squares of 9, 16, 25, or more and add up to the identical sum horizontally, vertically or diagonally. The society also made Scott an honorary member for his contribution on the formula for constructing the magic squares. While on the Supreme Court, Scott and fellow Justices Allen Thurman, William H. West and John Welch traded difficult mathematics problems with each other as a break from their courtroom work.
Scott married twice; first to Elizabeth McCracken on Feb. 8, 1838 and to Susan Elizabeth Moffit on May 4, 1846. Five children were born to Josiah and Elizabeth Scott. Elizabeth Scott died Dec. 27, 1844. No children were born to Josiah and Susan Scott; she died June 29, 1891. Josiah Scott died from the effects of kidney disease on June 15, 1879 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Bucyrus.
b. Dec. 1, 1803
d. June 15, 1879
40th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio