Scott, Thomas (c.1842–1870), adventurer and Canadian ‘martyr’, was born at Clandeboye, Co. Down, the son of a presbyterian tenant farmer, most likely on the earl of Dufferin's estate. By 1863 he had emigrated to Canada West (Ontario), where he worked as a labourer, and in the summer of 1869 he went westwards to the Red River settlement, in the Hudson's Bay Company territory, to work on an east–west wagon road connecting Red River to Lake Superior.
Scott first came to attention in the territory when in August 1869 he led a strike over wages; he physically threatened the superintendent overseeing the road construction, and in November was found guilty of assault, fined, and fired. Out of work, he drifted around Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and fell under the influence of a small Anglophone group that actively promoted the annexation of the Red River settlement to Canada. The settlement was effectively controlled by a provisional government led by Louis Riel and Métis (descendants of European fur traders and natives), who were generally Francophone and catholic. On 7 December 1869 Scott took part in an abortive raid against Riel, resulting in the capture of over fifty men, including Scott, and their incarceration in Upper Fort Garry. On 9 January 1870, Scott and several others escaped from jail and fled to Portage la Prairie, a Canadian enclave, with stories of maltreatment by their Métis jailers.
Over the next month Scott helped organise a relief expedition of Canadians, ostensibly to secure the release of the remaining prisoners, but with a secondary motive of capturing Riel. In mid-February the Canadian group returned to the Red River settlement but found no support for any action against Riel; people were content to allow Riel's government to negotiate entry into confederation with Ottawa. Unbeknown to the Canadian party, Riel had already released the remaining prisoners from the December 1869 activity, but Scott and a number of the party marched past Upper Fort Garry on the way back to Portage, effectively under Riel's nose. The group was again captured and incarcerated in Upper Fort Garry.
Scott proved a difficult prisoner, insulting and provoking his guards, which led to a beating in the fort yard on 28 February 1870. Scott was brought before a Métis court martial on charges of insubordination, was convicted, and on 4 March 1870 was executed by firing squad outside the walls of Upper Fort Garry. According to most eyewitnesses, the six Métis who shot Scott with muskets were intoxicated, and Scott did not die from the first volley of shots, or from a subsequent point-blank revolver shot. His body, not inspected by a medical examiner, was placed in a rough wooden box, nailed shut, and carried into the fort, where Métis later claimed Scott still called out from within the box. Two days later the box was buried. In October 1870 the grave was disinterred but Scott's body was not in the box; his body was never found.
Riel paid for the grave political mistake of executing Scott with his own execution, in 1885, for leading the Red River rebellion. Scott's execution threatened to jeopardise the entry of the Hudson's Bay Company territory into the dominion, soured English and French relations in Canada, and claimed Scott as a martyr for Canadian expansionism westwards and for the powerful Orange Order in Ontario. Traditionally, Scott has been portrayed as a racist and religious bigot whose intolerance of the catholic, French-speaking mixed ancestry Métis led to his execution. Current scholarship suggests no one in the Red River settlement knew he was an Orangeman and that his actions were motivated by a belief that the Métis were rebels rather than rascals. Attributions of racial and religious bigotry came from Ontario after the execution. Scott was most likely executed because he was a difficult prisoner of no real consequence who goaded the Métis to breaking point, forcing Riel to placate his men, and to demonstrate the power of the provisional government.