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Scots began settling in North America in the earliest colonial days, and
they were strongly represented in the Great Lakes region's major
industries as they evolved from fur trade to farming and lumbering to
industry. From early settlement to the industrial revolution Scots
brought to the state a pioneer spirit and an extraordinary level of
education, among their many contributions. Though rendered almost
invisible both by clustering under the umbrella of the British
Commonwealth and by the fact that few Scottish traditions are considered
whatsoever foreign, ethnic, or exotic, Scottish influences run deep in
Michigan history and culture. From ice hockey to heavy industry, much of
what represents Michigan has roots that were embedded in Scotland first.
Though Alan T. Forrester notes that symbolic Scottish ethnicity—Highland
games, Scottish festivals, and Burns Night suppers—is practically the
only obvious relic of Scottish heritage in Michigan, he illuminates how
much more of this legacy is by now so much a part of this state as to be
all but inseparable.
ALAN T. FORRESTER was born in Saskatchewan of
Scottish and English grandparents. He earned B.A. and B.S. degrees from
the University of Washington, served in the U.S. Army Medical Service,
and worked for many years editing medical manuscripts.
Discovering the Peoples of Michigan is a
series of publications examining the state's rich multicultural
heritage. The series makes available an interesting, affordable, and
varied collection of books that enables students and educated lay
readers to explore Michigan's ethnic dynamics. A knowledge of the
state's rapidly changing multicultural history has for-reaching
implications for human relations, education, public policy, and
planning. We believe that Discovering the Peoples of Michigan will
enhance understanding of the unique contributions that diverse and often
unrecognized communities have made to Michigan's history and culture.
To my grandchildren:
Katherine, Thomas, Megan,
John, and William.
Almighty God, who hast given us this good
land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless
our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.
Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy,
and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one
united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and
—From For Our Country in the 1928 American
edition of The Book of Common Prayer based on an eighteenth-century
Scottish version of The Book of Common Prayer.
"The Scotsman is never at home except when
—Shetland Island Proverb.
Whatever his or her name or national origin,
everyone is a Scot for the day in Michigan at Alma's Highland Festival
and the Detroit St. Andrew's Society Highland Games. Legions of people
from throughout the Midwestern United States and Canada flock to hear
bagpipe bands and Scottish fiddlers; see Highland and Scottish country
dancing and athletic contests; eat Scottish meat pies, scones,
shortbread, and oatcakes; purchase Scottish apparel and souvenirs;
search family trees at clan tents; and otherwise enjoy all kinds of
sights and activities that recall Scottish heritage. The Highland Games
in Detroit, first presented by the St. Andrew's Society in 1850 and one
of the first events of its kind in the United States, have been
celebrated annually ever since, making the Detroit St. Andrew's Highland
Games the oldest continuing annual Scottish heritage celebration in the
Less spectacular but no less fervent
celebrations of Scottish heritage can be found in Battle Creek, Grand
Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Traverse City, and other places in Michigan.
The events include Scottish festivals, "tartan balls," and observances
of St. Andrew's Day and Robert Burns's birthday, and of course no
Michigan parade is complete without the spectacle of at least one of the
state's several tartan-clad bagpipe bands.
In the 1990 U.S. Census, about 5.4 million
Americans reported themselves to be of Scottish ancestry. (Others were
self-designated as being of American, British, Scotch Irish, and
Canadian ancestry.) Who are these Scots, and where did they come from?
The author claims only to be one of them, being no scholar but only a
spectacularly inept, lapsed bagpipe player with fond memories of (and a
fanciful imagination about) Scottish forebears. He is keenly aware that
anyone who writes fondly about the Scots or any other nationality runs
the risk of contributing to chauvinism and racism. In America we are
"one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Let's remember that liberty and justice for all are possible only if
pride in one's heritage is balanced by respect for the heritage of
others—even if they're not Scottish.
The word "Scot" originally meant "raider."
The first so-called Scots were actually Celtic immigrants from what is
now Ireland, but the land to which they gave their name was already
inhabited by another Celtic people called the Picts. By the sixth
century, Scotland was divided among four peoples—Picts, Scots, Britons,
and Angles. Visitations from, incursions by, and romances with other
peoples infused the blood of Saxons. Jutes, Danes, Norse, Romans, and
Normans. For whatever reason, the name eventually used to designate any
inhabitant of the land the Romans called "Caledonia" was "Scot." (Although
"Scottish" is purported to be the correct term for the people, "Scotch"
was commonly used and not politically incorrect until about the
twentieth century. John Kenneth Galbraith called his book The Scotch
because that's the term his family and neighbors used to describe
Scotland is geographically and culturally
divided into the Highlands and the Lowlands. To grossly oversimplify
facts, let us say that Highlanders spoke Gaelic, were governed primarily
by clan chiefs, and only unwillingly accepted the Protestant
Reformation, whereas Lowlanders spoke a dialect of English, tolerated
central government, and enthusiastically embraced Presbyterianism. To
grossly oversimplify history, let's begin with events in Scotland at
about the time Detroit was established, in 1701.
As the eighteenth century began, a truly
momentous but generally unappreciated development was Scotland's
establishment of free public education. Intending to ensure the ability
of all to read the Bible, Presbyterian reformers founded schools
throughout the land. Despite the poverty and sparsity of its population,
Scotland in the 1700s became the first modern literate society in
Europe, and one can hardly overestimate the consequences of that fact.
Unique among the populace of European
countries, including England, even the poorest of Scots were given some
education. At a time when Oxford and Cambridge were the only two
universities in England, Scotland boasted four: St. Andrew's, Glasgow,
Edinburgh, and Aberdeen. The Scottish universities, unlike those in
England, were open to all, and were academically equal or superior to
any in continental Europe. As we shall discuss, Scottish public
education played a singularly important role in the New World's culture.
First, let us consider what else was going on in the Old Country while
Detroit was becoming an important center in the New World.
Less than a decade after the union of
Scotland and England in 1707, recalcitrant Highlanders, primarily, but
some Lowlanders and English as well, refused to accept the Hanoverian
George I as King. In 1715, having lost their bid to enthrone a Stuart
descendant to be styled as "James VIII and III" (eighth of Scotland and
third of England), the Jacobites ("Jacobus" is the Latin for "James")
paid a price in various ways. One punishment, as had occurred in previous
generations, was "transportation" or banishment. Exiled along with
common criminals to the North American colonies—primarily the Carolinas,
Virginia, Maryland, and Nova Scotia (Latin for "New Scotland," and at
the time a vast region of British North America), they were treated as
bonded servants at best and slaves at worst.
At first, says the Scottish journalist Iain
Finlayson, "the Indians flocked to the docks to welcome the plaid and
feather-bedecked strangers, whom they took to be brothers. Soon, however,
the strangers showed their true colors"; they were not always above
misusing the people who had once welcomed them. The colonial English and
Dutch landowners considered the "transported" Scots beneath them. "No
sooner had one group of Scots established themselves than there was
another boat load on the way, just as canny eyed and covetous.1 Fairly
soon. however, Scots infiltrated politics, the military, medicine, law,
science, education, commerce, and religious institutions. Their
accomplishments might be credited for averting the rise of an English
class system in America, as later generations of Scots were warmly
welcomed into "the establishment."
Meanwhile, enough Scots had stayed home to
mount a second uprising, the consequences of which were more severe.
After the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, the
Highland clans were outlawed, the wearing of tartan was forbidden,
bagpipes were banned, and transportation was intensified.
Having lost their feudal powers in "the 45,"
the Highland clan chiefs could no longer count on rents in kind from
tenant crofters, nor could they order raids and blackmail when the meat
supply ran low. As John Prebble put it, "if men could no longer be counted in
broadswords they must be valued in shillings and pence, and dispensed
with when the reckoning was unprofitable."2 So began the chief's
transportation to "laird," and his demands for money rather than part of
the harvest, with greater demands each year. The consequent resentment,
fear, and poverty sparked "the diaspora," as Highlanders fled to Lowland
or English city factories and slums or, more commonly, were dispatched
to British colonies throughout the world—usually more in despair than in
In London, meanwhile, the military prowess
and "macho" image of England's erstwhile enemies had not gone
unappreciated. Entire villages were decimated of young men, who, at the
mercy of the laird and to his profit, were pressed into service in the
Highland regiments, fighting and dying valiantly wherever British troops
were needed. (At this point let us note that "British" is not synonymous
with "English." Great Britain comprises not only England but also
Scotland, Wales, and Ulster, or Northern Ireland, and until the
twentieth century included the whole of Ireland.)
In time, Scots became the backbone of the
British army. In How the Scots Invented the Modern World, Arthur
Herman notes that by 1750, 25 percent of the British Army's
officers—and, one might suspect, a greater percentage of enlisted
ranks—were of Scottish birth.3 In North America, therefore, Scots were
called upon to fight other Scots. From editor P. J. Marshall's
estimation in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire,
we can infer that about three of every four emigrants from the British
Isles to North America in the fifteen years before the American
Revolution were either of Scottish birth or, in the case of "Protestant
Irish" (that is, "Scotch Irish"), of Scottish descent4. At the time of
the Revolution, about 20 to 30 percent of the American population was of
Scottish birth or descent, and almost half the signers of the
Declaration of Independence were of Scottish ancestry. However, not all
Scots were sympathetic to the cause of American independence, and many,
Highlanders especially, fled north to what is now Canada. To be a
descendant of a "United Empire Loyalist" is comparable in Canada to
being a Daughter of the American Revolution in the United States. A
significant population of Loyalists settled in areas of Ontario within
three hundred miles east of Detroit; ironically, some of their
descendants subsequently moved from Ontario to Michigan.
As events turned out, Highlanders who were
too old or feeble to fight for the king were perhaps even less fortunate
than those called to war. The laird's solution to his economic woes was
the Great Cheviot sheep, which needed little or no human care to provide
rich fleece as well as meat less costly than beef. Sheep needed only
grazing land to be highly profitable as Britain's continuing wars with
France increased the demand for meat and wool. Grazing land was obtained
very simply—by evicting tenants and their few cattle.
The Highland Clearances, which began on the
Sutherland estates in 1800, became increasingly cruel. The year 1814 was
called "Bliandhna an Losgaidh," or "The Year of the Burning," as
cottages and barns were set afire to force their occupants to flee.
Various histories tell of truly barbaric evictions. Donald MacLeod, a
Sutherland estate survivor who died in 1860 in Woodstock, Ontario
(within a hundred miles of Detroit), recalled drunken gangs burning down
houses, maliciously destroying the inhabitants' food and animals, and
gleefully enjoying the shrieks and moans of infants, elderly, and ill
trapped in the flames.
As noted, some survivors went to the slums
of Lowland or English cities, in which disease, poverty, and crime
prevailed, but many more were dispatched to serve as settlers or
laborers in North America. Their passage in overcrowded steerage was
paid for by Canadian and American landowners, railroads, or governments
eager to profit from cheap labor or to populate unsettled regions in the
west. In rare cases, transport to the New World was funded by the more
humanitarian evictors in the Old Country. Charitable organizations saved
orphans by sending them to Canada and the United States, where some were
adopted and lovingly cared for and some were cruelly exploited. In any
event, by 1819 most Highland valleys had become sheep-grazing fields
virtually devoid of human habitation.
Cruelty was not the only stimulus to the
diaspora, however, nor was misery limited to the Highlands. Frequent
famines and epidemics took their toll, and the potato blight of 1846
that most people associate with Irish emigration did not spare Scotland.
Emigration to Lowland cities, to England, to the Empire countries, and
to the United States intensified. Meanwhile, Scotland became less
Scottish as legions of Irish made their way east across the sea to
Lowland cities, hoping to escape the famine. At one time during the mid
1800s, 20 percent of Glasgow's population was Irish born.5 With
industrialization and the coming of World War I there was some economic
relief, but, especially after the war, the wealth of the United States
and Canada contrasted greatly with the impoverished conditions in
Scotland. A postwar depression and the hope of employment overseas
caused a resurgence in emigration as Scots were actively recruited to labor or farm in the New World.
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