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The Scottish Highlanders going to Carolina
From the Celtic Magazine of 1876


THE sunny plains of Carolina was the first emigration field taken advantage of by the Scottish Highlander. And there is no denying that his temporal interests required a change for the better. Oppressed with poverty in his own wild glens, in the endeavour to eke out an existence from the returns of a soil the reverse of fertile, or from the produce of a small flock of trifling value, or from the precarious productions of stormy lochs, the honest Gael becomes gradually convinced that his condition might be much improved in the genial climes recently opened up. With this in view he gives a willing ear to the kindly suggestions of those who sought to promote his welfare; and he resolves at length, in acting upon these suggestions, to rupture the ties that bound him to his home, and to face a voyage which was then regarded as the highest test of courage, but which can now be accomplished in as little time, and with as little concern as a voyage in those days from Mull or Skye to the banks of the Clyde.

It has often been said that the Highlander is wanting in a spirit of adventure, and that in consequence there is still a great amount of poverty and wretchedness at home, which might easily be remedied by a little more pluck in taking advantage of the rich soil of colonial fields. This phenomenon, which is only too true, has its explanation in a strange mystic spell of attachment to the native heath with all its associations, This is proverbially true of the Highlander in distinction from all other nationalities, and it cannot be ignored by those who wish to see him emigrate to countries where lie can soon raise himself, by a little industry, to a position of affluence and independence which he never dreamed of in his native country.

Even the physical aspect of his native scenery has a charm for the Gael which can never be lost. His very heath in autumnal bloom spread out like a gorgeous carpet, towering summits, wild cascades, birch and rowans, verdant hill sides, browsing flocks, bounding deer, soaring eagles, and the vast expanse of land and water—all form an enchanting panorama which indelibly instamps itself on the mountaineer's mental vision. Add to this the social aspect of his nature, and you have a still stronger chain of attachment to his barren home. He feels himself as an individual member of a large family or confederacy, with common interests, common language and traditions. The huge mountain barriers which prevent the inhabitants of a glen from general communication with others, and so completely isolate them, tends to generate this feeling of clannishness, They work in a great measure together, tending their flocks, cultivating their crofts, capturing their fish. And especially is their social nature developed in their long winter evening gatherings from house to house, in rehearsing their traditionary folk-lore, and cultivating the poetic muse in every variety of verse and style of chorus. Nor does the holy day of rest interrupt their gregarious proclivities. They meet at the same kirk, they survey with becoming emotion the last resting place of those who were content to have their remains repose in their native valley, they hear proclamations of plighted affection between parties who have no higher ambition than to share each other's future lot on the scantiest fare, they join "their artless notes" together in grateful thanksgiving to the Sovereign of all lands for such temporal gifts as others might think it mercies," and more especially do they hear, in their own expressive vernacular, impressive lessons upon time and its manifold labours, its constant changes and solemn issues.

All this constitutes a sacred tie of affection to the native spot, lasting as the hills, and which no other can understand like the Scottish Gael. It must, therefore, be duly recognised and weighed by all benefactors of the race, if they would loosen its hold upon the individual without outraging his feelings, and loosening "the brittle thread of life." Of this strong attachment many instances might be given. We have been told by a venerable divine of a Highland parish how repeatedly he had witnessed the fond affection of his parishioners in taking their departure, how they approached the sacred edifice, ever dear to them, by the most hallowed associations, and with tears in their eyes kissed its very walls, how they made an emphatic pause in losing sight of the romantic scenes of their childhood, with its kirks and cots, and thousand memories, and as if taking a formal and lasting adieu, uncovered their heads and waived their bonnets three times towards the scene, and then with heavy steps and aching hearts resumed their pilgrimage towards new scenes in distant climes.

But in thus quitting his native land the Highlander did not leave his loyalty and patriotism behind. The country to which he was steering his course was under the colonial sway of George the Second; and to that region he transferred his loyalty and clannishness, and all those traits of character which distinguish him from other races. Unless, indeed, these peculiarities were taken advantage of, the foreign field for emigration, with its various inducements, might have appealed in vain. As a clannish being, and accustomed throughout his whole historical life to follow the direction of chiefs and leaders, the Scottish Gael is now invited to resign himself to the same leadership with the view of crossing the great Atlantic. Accordingly emigration leaders were found who made it their business to attend to the interests of their countrymen, and accompany their footsteps to their new homes. The first of these leading benefactors who broke the ice of emigration to Carolina was a Neil M'Neill of Kintyre, who succeeded in leading a whole shipload of his countrymen to that colony and settled them on the banks of the Cape Fear River, where he himself also made his permanent home, and where his name is still perpetuated by a numerous and respectable offspring to the present day.

Here at the head of navigation, and at a distance of more than a hundred miles from the sea coast, the immigrants literally pitched their camp, for the country was then almost an unbroken wilderness and few human abodes to offer shelter, the chief occupants of the soil being droves of wild horses, wild cattle, deer, turkeys, wolves, raccoons, opossums, and last but not least, huge rattlesnakes in hideous coils, ready to oppose the disturbers of their marshy tranquillity. Fortunately for the homeless pioneers the climate was genial and favourable, and all that could be expected from its southern latitude of 35 degrees. The only protection, therefore, absolutely necessary for health and comfort was some temporary shelter from the heavy autumnal dews of that region; and this they could speedily extemporise or discover already at hand in the arching canopy of stately hickories, mulberries, and walnut trees, where in patriarchal fashion, "each one under his own vine and fig tree" they could while away days and weeks without any serious discomfort or detriment to health. But they soon set about the work of improvement in their new domains. They construct more permanent abodes in the shape of log cottages, neat, clean, and tidy, and two for a family, according to subsequent use and wont in that warm country. They begin to fell the primeval forest, to grub, drain, and clear the rich alluvial swamps bordering on that stream, to reduce to ashes in a thousand conflagrations the most valuable timber of every variety and sort, and to supersede this primeval growth by the more precious production of rice, cotton, maize, melons, pumpkins, peaches, apes, and other endless varieties for comfort and luxury. All this is accomplished, be it known, by ways and means of which, in the case of the new settler, stem necessity is the inventing mother. And may we not here suggest the reflection how much the residuary occupants of our glens are interested in these bush clearances. In receiving in regular supplies: from that very district, the famous "Carolina Rice," chief of its class, not to speak of other products, is there not awakened a feeling of interest and grateful thanks to the memory of our hardy kinsman in the days of yore.

But progression and improvement is the rule in every colony and growing community. By the increase of population and settlement of a country the laws of society imperatively demand a different mode of life. The abundant supply of the necessities of life soon creates a desire for its comforts, and these in turn for its conveniences and luxuries. This progressive change is distinctly marked in the case before us. Very soon the nucleus of a town is seen iii the centre of the settlement, where the products of industry could be bartered and sold, and where the usual system of commerce could afford facilities for supplying the growing demands of a prosperous community. The name of Campbelton is given to this hamlet, thus identifying the national origin of its patriotic founders, and when by subsequent emigrations it grew to a large and commercial importance, rivalling and soon surpassing its namesake in the Fatherland, and becoming the seat of justice and general centre of traffic for that whole Highland district, the names of its commercial firms, of its civic officials, judges, and barristers, unmistakeably declared that the name of the town was well chosen. And although the course of events afterwards changed its original designation to that of La Fayette or Fayettevile, which it still retains, yet it will always be remembered with a lively interest by Scottish Highlanders as the abode of their brave countrywoman, the renowned heroine Flora Macdonald, whose memory is still cherished in the country of her sojourn, and whose name is preserved from oblivion by time gay and gallant little steamer "Flora Macdonald," which plies up and down the unruffled waters of the Cape Fear.

As already remarked, this was the beginning of the tide of emigration to Carolina, and at a period now buried in the annals of well nigh a century and a half. The ice being thus broken, and the pioneers of the flock giving good accounts of the new pasture, others soon eagerly began to follow their footsteps in large numbers. There was, in fact, a Carolina mania at that time, and which did not fairly subside until within the last half century. It is here necessary to note the great event which gave such a special impetus to the movement. That was the disastrous results which followed the memorable rebellion of '45. The collapsing of the romantic scheme which enlisted so many brave mountaineers, and unsheathed so many claymores, proved ruinous to the whole race of Scottish Celts. There was no discrimination made in the exercise of punishment between those "who were out" for Charlie, and those who followed Maccallan Mor and others in defence of the reigning dynasty. All were alike nationally persecuted, so that the whole system of clanship was completely and for ever broken up. The golden chain of patriarchal respect and affection to the chief, cemented by law or immemorial usage, was now severed. No military service or vassalage could any more be exacted by a feudal superior, and no support or protection could henceforth be expected by the vassal. All was now at an end; and the ghostly idea of chieftainship, which still hovers in our mists, is only entertained as a harmless sentiment or a pleasant burlesque. The Highlander was totally disarmed. Those weapons, as naturally associated with the mountaineer's life as the implements of husbandry to the farmer, were wrested from him, and heavy fines and transportation enforced in case of disobedience. Nay more, his very garb was proscribed. A romantic costume, suggestive of the well-known dirk and other weapons of military warfare, and of prowess, bravery, and skill, in the use of them, falls under the ban of the state. What must have been the Gael's feelings, from this state of things, we can easily imagine. Dispirited, insulted, outlawed, without chief or protector, with such a complete revolution in his social life, he has no alternative but to quit his native haunts and try to find peace and rest in the unbroken forests of Carolina. Accordingly the flame of enthusiasm for foreign adventure passes like wild fire through the highland glens and islands at the period to which we refer. It pervades all classes, from the poorest crofter to the well-to-do farmer, and in some cases men of easy competence, who were, according to the appropriate song of the day, "dol a dlz'iarruidh an fhortain do North Carolina," (i.e., sequ.enfuri fortunam usque Oaiolinam).

Within a short time great crowds had left the country. Large ocean crafts, from several of the Western Lochs, laden with hundreds of passengers, sailed direct for the far west, and this continuous tide kept rolling westwards from year to year, until at the era of the Colonial Revolution, the Highland settlers in Carolina could be numbered by many thousands. And there you find their worthy sons at the present day, occupying a large area of the state, no less than five counties in a body, all preserving the genuine names and sterling qualities of their sires; and with their known enterprise and patient industry, exerting more than their numerical share of political influence in that country. They constitute doubtless the largest Gaelic community out of Scotland, tenaciously holding the religion of their fathers, and preserving, to some extent, their language and customs. And be it known to our "Brither Scots" of Saxon origin, that these are known by their neighbours as preminently "the Scotch," and their tongue "the Scotch language," so that a native of Auld Reeky or Dumfries, without a knowledge of the Celtic tongue, could hardly pass muster among them for being a genuine son of Scotia.

But the clans were not long settled in the land of their adoption before having their national character put to the test. The occasion was furnished by the unfortunate revolt of the North American Colonists, arising from causes useless to dilate upon at this time of day, but which might have been obviated at the time by wise imperial policy, and thus retained under the imperial aegis an enormous territory which has since then become an independent and powerful rival. Of course the Carolina Highlander was not a disinterested spectator of the rising struggle. Nor was it with him a question for a moment upon which side his claymore should be unsheathed. Naturally Conservative, and ever loyal to constituted authorities, he at once enlisted under the banner of King George the Third, and resolved with devoted loyalty and wonted military prowess to exert his utmost endeavours to perpetuate the British sway and quell the great rebellion. At the call of his leaders, and to the martial strains of his national pipes, he readily obeys; and with such alacrity as if summoned by the fiery cross of old, he musters to the central place of rendezvous, band after band, day after day, until a whole regiment of active volunteers are enrolled and ready for action. This was called the "Highland Regiment of Carolina," a body of men, let us remark, less known in history than it deserves; for in resolute courage, strength of nerve and muscle, intrepid bravery and unshaken fidelity, few instances could be found of superior excellence within the annals of the empire. The officers of the regiment were taken from influential leaders among the emigrants, and it need hardly be said, were of the same sterling metal. When we mention the name of Capt. Macdonald of Kingsborough, the husband of the famous Flora, and another officer of the same clan, as also the names of Macleod and M'Arthur, all of whom were the ruling chiefs of the "Royalists," it will at once appear how homogeneous was the body, and how naturally they were all animated by a kindred spirit with the view of achieving the same great end. Thus marshalled under the royal standard, they rush into the contest, with the sole determination, be the issue what it might, of discharging their conscientious duty to their king and country, and resolved with true Highland courage to conquer or to die. But, alas, this latter was, in substance, the inevitable alternative to which they had to succumb. The odds against them was overpowering. For even supposing them to have had the advantages of regular military discipline, they were not able to withstand the immense numbers by which they were assailed. Almost the whole colonies were in a state of revolt, and the imperial forces, from well-known causes, were few and far between. There was, therefore, no help for the royal cause. After long and fatiguing marches by night and day, through creeks and swamps, in and sand and scorching sun, and after several desperate encounters with the numerous foe, meeting them at various points, they had finally to disperse, and thus for ever surrender a cause which it was hopeless to have undertaken. Their leaders had to flee for life and find their way through swamp and forest to the far distant sea-board, as their only hope of safety. This they made out, and then found the means of transit, though by a circuitous voyage, across the ocean to their native land. The perils and hardships endured by these in their several routes could not be narrated in the space at our disposal. But we cannot take leave without briefly relating the daring exploit of one of their leaders after being captured and imprisoned. This, however, must be reserved for a subsequent number.

JOHN DARROCH, M.A.


 

 


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