The mysterious Mary Scott of “Clearview”–and a trivial feud bubbles forth

From John Hennessy (for a possible image of Mary Scott, found since this post was done, click here)

Today the place, which still stands, is largely forgotten and invisible, enshrined only by the name of the subdivision that surrounds it:  Clearview Heights. “Miss Mary Scott’s” Clearview was in 1862 one of the most visible and prominent homes in the region, though hardly palatial. It appears in dozens of Union accounts of the war.

A postwar view of the Scott House, "Clearview"

The label that appears on many maps, “Miss Mary Scotts” or “Miss Scott’s” conjures an image of an independent, together, self-contained woman.  In fact, Miss Mary Scott was none of those things. When the Union army arrived in the spring of 1862, she was 39 years old, unmarried, and apparently unstable. She lived at Clearview with an invalid aunt and a sister, Fannie, separated in age by 20 years. Mary owned twelve slaves.  For practical purposes, Fannie, just 19,  ran the place, largely keeping out of view and turmoil, living “in great retirement.” A neighbor said of the sisters, “Fanny was the younger of the two but she generally took the lead in everything, and what she did or said Miss Mary generally acquiesced in and she does yet. ….Miss Fanny generally did all the talking. Miss Mary could not get a chance to say anything…”

One of the most interesting and obscure images of slaves or former slaves, taken at Clearview. Mary Scott owned 12 slaves in 1860. We know little of the origins of this photograph.

Other neighbors testified to exactly why this was: “Miss Mary was changeable; her mind was flighty at times. She was very nervous and excitable and would scold either party or anybody that meddled with her things or disturbed their property,” though, she added, “when rational [Mary] was kind and obliging to all parties.”  Even sister Fanny conceded Mary’s foibles, “It is true that my sister was very easily irritated and sometimes made unfortunate remarks…., for which she could not be held strictly accountable…”

The Scotts’ isolation was exacerbated by disputes with at least a few of their neighbors. Most notably, they clashed with the family of New Jersey born Johson and Susan Carter, who lived about two miles north.  The dispute, apparently, was rooted in Mary Scott’s outright dismissal of the Carter’s low-class ways.  “The Carters were very unneighborly… not fit associates for me, and resolved never again to visit there, which resolution I religiously kept….”  At some point, the Scotts found one of their cows with its back broken. They fingered the Carters for the deed (bear this in mind as you read ahead).

The Civil War brought the Scott sisters’ independence–some said impudence–into full relief. Mary and Fanny were kin both to Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott and Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon (a cousin). At the beginning of the war, Mary Scott declared her intent to change her last name.  If that spasm implied discontent with the Union cause or army, that unease disappeared by next April, when Union General Christopher Columbus Auger led Union troops into Falmouth and Fredericksburg. Clearview quickly became a favored hang-out for Union generals–Augur, Gibbon, King, and probably others. The Scott women greeted them enthusiastically. Fanny Scott explained, “I had rather talk to army officers than citizens for they would do me no harm—they carried but one face while the citizens around here carried two faces.”

The combination of overbearing and unpredictable personalities, antipathy toward neighbors, and apparent sympathy with Unionists set the Scotts up for a wartime ordeal. Once the Scott sisters’ affinity for Yankee officers became apparent, and once the Union army had departed, Susan Carter exacted her revenge on her neighbors. She reported them to the Confederate authorities, who put the women on a list of locals to be watched.

The Union gunpits just southeast of Clearview. They do not survive.

The Confederate Provost Marshall in Fredericksburg, Hugh Doggett, remembered, “I regarded them as giving aid and comfort to the enemy and as sympathizing with them…If these ladies had been men…I should have sent them to Richmond…I was so well convinced of their sympathy with the other side that when they came to Fredericksburg I had men detailed to see that they carried no letters or held conversation with persons suspected of sympathizing with the enemy.”

Three times Miss Mary was detained in Fredericksburg. Once she was summoned to the office of her cousin, Secretary of War James Seddon. Seddon, Mary related, “told me I had disgraced the Seddon name by such conduct and that if the Yankees took I had had he would never help me to a cent, which he has religiously remembered.”  (Mary Scott is today buried in the same family cemetery is James Seddon’s brother John.)

After the war, the Scotts applied to the Federal government for damages done to their property by the Union army. One of the requirements for those claims for reimbursement was evidence of unbroken loyalty to the Union. The Scotts’s case came up in the 1870s, and who emerged to oppose their claim–to refute their claims of loyalty? Caroline Carter Primmer—one of the Carter girls.

(Virtually all of the material quoted above comes from testimony related to the hearing of the Scotts’ claim; the claims are in the National Archives.)

Clearview is privately owned. No public access is permitted.

As for the Scotts’s house, Clearview, it still stands above Falmouth, privately owned. It was at this house in the spring of 1862 that that then-Captain John Gibbon received his commission as Major General. Mary remembered, “His commission was handed to him by my sister in our dining room in a letter just received from Washington. Gen Gibbon was a real gentleman and Gen Auger appeared to be jealous of his popularity and disposed to prick at him which annoyed me very much and in my excitement I one day told him Gen Gibbon was more of a gentleman than he was.” The Union army placed guns atop the hill in December 1862–building huge earthworks to protect them. A postwar photograph of the works survives, though the works themselves do not.

12 thoughts on “The mysterious Mary Scott of “Clearview”–and a trivial feud bubbles forth

    • John: Untangling the Scott geneaology hereabouts is a daunting task that I have not undertaken, though at some point I will. At this point, I have not found any connection with either John Scott of the Hope Foundry, Hugh Scott the grocer, or the Scotts of Scotia. But, that’s based only on a cursory look of what has easily come to hand.

  1. When did John Scott own Hope Foundry? The billheads among my papers show that it was owned by Benjamin Bowering by the 1880s.

  2. Pingback: Follow-up: Miss Mary Scott revealed? And some notes on Widow Alsop « Mysteries and Conundrums

  3. I just came across this fascinating posting about the Scotts and Clearview.
    I am the grandson of Michael and Agnes Wallace, who owned
    Clearview for much of the last century until selling it to Mr. Sale
    of Crown Jewelers. My “Nanny” told me that a cannonball
    was found in the basement sometime in the Thirties and donated
    to the Park Service Visitors Center. She had been told (possibly by
    Scott relatives) that the cannonball had hit one of the chimneys and fallen into the basement. As far as the cannon emplacements go, they
    were used by Rhode Island Light Artillery and other Federal units. As
    kids, my cousins and brothers, and I played on them regularly in
    the 1940s and 1950s. They are not completely gone. Three or four
    of the mounds survive, but are overgrown with large trees and brush.

    I have many photos of Clearview but the front view shown here is new
    to me. Where could I get a print of it?

    Bayley Silleck
    128 Caroline Street
    Fredericksburg, VA 22401

  4. My 2G Grandmother spent time in Falmouth in the early 1850s with her in-laws, George and Sarah Kiger. In letters written home to her husband, she mentioned Mary Scott several times. In one letter of 1852 she says that Cousin Nancy Seddons (who reportedly had entirely lost her mind) was now living with Mary Scott. Mary Scott was also mentioned in connection with Miss Barnes, Mrs. Conway, Miss Vi’ Green, Mrs. O’Bannon…In 1868 Mrs. O’Bannon wrote my 2G Grandmother telling her among other things that she had heard from Fannie Scotte who had had a very sore throat all winter and that the Widow Scotte was still with them. Who was the Widow Scott?
    In this blog it is written that James A. Seddon and Mary A. Scott were cousins. Can anyone tell me how they are related?
    I am so interested in all the people of Falmouth.

  5. Hi all,

    I just purchased this amazing property and love reading all the responses here. We are very excited to restore the house and property. My plan is to place a conservation easement on the property, so the reaming 8 acres can never be touched.

    We found a book this past week in the attic dated 1814 and signed by one of the Scotts. You can make out “Clearview” and “Falmouth” on the back of the book. Pretty amazing history.

    If anyone has any photographs that I could copy for framing, that would be much appreciated.

    Joel Butterworth

    • Mr. Butterworth,
      I recently discovered your post here of a year ago on this blogsite, in response to the article “The Mysterious Mary Scott of Clearview and a trivial feud bubbles forth.”  You had requested copies of photographs for your own collection and research as I understand you own the property.  
      My ancestor may well have been one of the federal light artillery batteries (Battery B 1st NY, Captain Rufus Pettit) positioned on or near  the property when they first arrived with the General Darius  Couch’s II Corps troops on about November 17.  They stayed at or near this same position for the duration of the battle providing long range support for the right flank of the Union Army.  A friend and fellow historian on Pettit’s Battery mentioned the Mary Scott House as the major landmark for their location.  
      I visited the battlefield and Fredericksburg several years sago and was directed by the NPS historians at the visitor center to an elevated location across the river on the west side of town in the Falmouth area.  I have an address somewhere, but do recall we parked in a church parking lot to get near to where the location of the battery was supposed to be. 
      If you are able and willing, I would appreciate knowing of any more specific information on the locations of the light artillery batteries on the Clearview property in relation to the Mary Scott House.  And if you have any digital copies of photographs you could share, I would appreciate that as well.  I have been researching my ancestor’s experience and journey during his 4+ years of service based on a set of letters he left the family.  I am collecting as many period photographs and sketches of the many sites he saw during the war along the way.  He spent a lot of time in Falmouth between winter camps and the battle during his service.  
      I plan to revisit the area again, so maybe I can learn more about your efforts to preserve the 8 acres and allowing some public access to these historical grounds.  You can reach me at this email address,  I also left a message on the blog post, a reply to your comment on December of 2020.  Thank you for your time and attention and hope to hear back from you.  
      Steven M. Gates  

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