Sunday, March 22, 2020

Mary Jane Scales


Mary Jane was born in 1822 as a slave owned by Mr. Bascombs in Virginia. Her parents were also slaves. At the age of 7, she was bought by Freeman McClendon of Georgia. With McClendon, for two years, she picked cotton from dawn until dark and then held a candle for others until midnight. She was then kidnapped by traders who then sold her to Jim Ferguson. Around 1842 she became the slave to Jefferson Davis in Mississippi. Davis would go on to become the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. With Davis, Mary Jane was treated cruelly, poorly dressed, poorly fed, and worked beyond her endurance. For eight years, from five a.m. until midnight, Mary worked a treadwheel gristmill tending to the horses. Mary then worked on the railroad for seven years splitting ties and laying track. She got married to a free man, Sprankling Watts and had four children. Worried that his freedom might encourage Mary to escape, Watts was sent away but was allowed to buy her four children, and was never seen again.

Mary was sold and resold a couple more times until becoming a slave of Mathew Davis, in Arkansas. It was with Mathew Davis that Mary Jane met Lewis Ford. Lewis Ford was born, also a slave, in Mississippi, in 1849. His job was mostly picking and ginning cotton. Almost immediately, Mary Jane took a liking to Lewis. Keep in mind that when they met, Lewis would be, at most, ten-years-old and she was 37. By all accounts, they were sexually active even with him at this young age. In 1861, Mary escaped slavery by running toward a passing Union army regiment as her master and overseers were hiding. Other slaves then followed her lead including James Ford, Lewis' brother, and Lewis himself. Mary Jane and James married but their marriage fell apart either due to his infidelity or hers depending on who you ask. Lewis joined a Union regiment and became the servant of Col. Lewis Booth who he served for one year. Lewis' father took him back from the army but, unable to care for him, gave Lewis some money and sent him to live with his brother, James, and Mary Jane.

James and Mary Jane separated. She received an opportunity to have her way to Kansas paid for. Mary convinced Lewis to join her on the boat and the two arrived in Leavenworth, Kansas. They then made their way to Lawrence where they came into the employ of Major Walker, her working in the house and him working in the fields. Lewis left to do odd jobs around the Douglas-Shawnee county line while Mary Jane was introduced to Reverend Burnett Scales.

Reverend Burnett Scales was born a slave in Cass County, Missouri around 1814. He came to Kansas at the onset of the Civil War and settled in and around the Tecumseh area in 1861. He started the Colored Baptist Church at 1st and Madison in Topeka in 1864. Little is known of his early life. He had two sons from a previous relationship--Anderson and Jacob. He married Mary Jane in 1863 and they had one daughter, whose name I was unable to find. Mary Jane and Lewis reunited around 1869 or so and Lewis moved into the Scales house.

On November 17, 1870, Reverend Burnett Scales was found beaten and shot to death in the front yard of his home west of North Topeka. Mary Jane said that some Indians were riding near and her husband invited them in. They ate a little, drank a little, and then they attacked Burnett, beating him and then stealing his gun to shoot him before riding away. In questioning witnesses, neighbors, the Scales children, and Lewis Ford revealed that Mary Jane was lying and that she and Lewis Ford had killed the pastor. During the inquest, it was revealed that the Scales' marriage was not perfect and had gotten worse since Lewis moved in. Mary showed no remorse for what had happened and only confessed after she had been convicted.

Mary and Lewis were convicted in June 1871 and sentenced to hang. When she confessed to the crime, she hoped her daughter would grow up to be a good woman and that boys would turn away from evil. Newspapers speculated that because Mary Jane was a slave and was not exposed to religion she created her own consisting of conspiracies and her own beliefs. On the day they were to be executed, their sentence was commuted to just life in prison. They were sent to Lansing but Lewis was soon deemed insane and sent to the state hospital in Topeka where he resided until 1898 when he was "cured" and sent back to Lansing.

At the age of 69, in 1894, Mary Jane petitioned for her pardon which was granted by the governor in September. She was the oldest prisoner in the state. The Topeka Daily Capital noted that of her 69 years she spent 38 as a slave and 23 as a prisoner. Her daughter--now Mrs. Smith--took her home to Des Moines, Iowa. Sadly, Mary Jane died within a month of her pardon.

Lewis Ford was granted a pardon in 1899. The Topeka State Journal endorsed his pardon proudly because "few remembered the murder, the Santa Fe Railroad only ran to Emporia, and only one wing of the statehouse was completed". I was unable to find additional information on Lewis Ford after his release from prison.

I was also unable to get much information on Anderson and Jacob Scales. Jacob testified against his step-mother during the trial and I was unable to find what happened to him after that. Anderson Scales was also difficult to find. An Anderson Scales of Topeka was sent to Parsons State Hospital after shooting a bartender for cheating him out of twenty cents. An Anderson Scales is buried in Parsons State Hospital Cemetery, dying in 1913. There is another Anderson Scales of Topeka who died in 1907 and is buried under a veterans' stone in Topeka Cemetery. The same address is given to both Anderson Scales but I wasn't able to determine if they were the same person, related in same way, or two different people.

Wrapping things up, I was unable to find the burial spot of Burnett Scales or Mary Jane Scales. The Scale house west of North Topeka, south of the railroad tracks no longer stands, more than likely due to Kansas River floods. The Colored Baptist Church at 1st and Madison no longer stands and neither does the house listed as Anderson Scale's residence at 1st and Madison.

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Until next time, I remain...
~Brian

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