The Celtic Fringe
thousand years ago, the Legions of Rome pushed our Celtic ancestors
into the westernmost mountains, coast and wilderness of Britain, Gaul
thousand years later, we were kept to these
outlands by the oppression of the Saxons, by the violence of the
Vikings, and by every kind of pressure from Norman,
English, French and Spanish Kings.
experience of living on the fringes of the known world for over
fifteen hundred years becomes entwined in the ancestral memory and
very genetic makeup of a people. With the Scots, the Irish and our
cousins from the Isle of Man, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and Galicia,
this experience has become a part of us.
people living on the edge of the world, we were also great explorers.
We all know the story of Saint Brendan and his twelve Culdee
brothers as they sailed in leather coracles across the Atlantic to
“Tir nan Og”, the ‘Land of the Forever Young’. Theories abound of
Scotland’s Prince Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney,
Baron of Roslyn. In 1398, he sailed to Nova Scotia and even as
far south as Westford Massachusetts. There his men left a carved the
effigy and coat of Arms of Sir James Gunn on a rock.
Closer to our times, many of our families were forced from their
native lands to live in exile after the Jacobite Risings of 1644,
1689, 1715, 1719 and 1745. In Ireland, the last great Rising against
the English took place in 1798. Soon after these uprisings, our
ancestors were again scattered by a Diaspora of the cruel forces of
repression, market economics and famine.
again flung to the fringes of the known world - we came to live and
thrive in the wilder, unsettled and violent places in the known world.
Many of us came to what seemed both naked wilderness and Promised Land
The New World
the early colonial times, our Celtic ancestors were always the first
to ‘go native’. The Highlander understood and adapted to indigenous
American tribal and cultural positions, customs, ways of life and
feuds with frighteningly fluid ease.
explorers, warriors or farmers, many Highland émigrés came to the raw
and dangerous American frontier and continued to live in what was to
them a comfortable clan environment not unlike back home.
Hand-fasting with Native American wives, they raised families, worked
the land, fought, hunted and built new lives far away from home.
Through out our early history, there are many instances of a blending
of Highland and Native American cultures. In the 1740’s, Lachlan
MacGillivray, a cousin of the Clan Chattan Chieftain MacGillivray of
Dunmaglas married a Princess of the Creek Nation in Georgia and
Alabama. His son Alexander became Chief of the entire Creek
Confederacy in 1783 and negotiated several treaties with the new
Mackintosh from Inverness was a cousin to the Mackintosh of
Mackintosh, the Chief of Clan Chattan. He married into another
important family of the Creek Nation in the late 1730’s. His son,
William Mackintosh commanded a unit of Creeks fighting for the British
in the Revolutionary War. Both of these families numerous descendants
today are proud vigorous and loyal members of both their Scottish clan
and Oklahoma tribe.
Western Washington State, many of us remember the late William Shaw of
Easter Lair, known to many as ‘Uncle Bill’. Even as recent as 1939, he
was adopted into the Yakima Nation in sweat lodge ceremonies, and
took the name Spotted Calf. Uncle Bill became known for his skill and
knowledge in Native American tribal and ceremonial dances. He is
represented today by his nephew, another Bill Shaw – who inherited not
only his Scottish title, but his sacred eagle feathers.
The American Frontier
President Woodrow Wilson, the son of a Scots Minister said it best: “Every
line of strength in American history is a line coloured with Scottish
the great Jacobite heroine Flora Macdonald immigrated to North
Carolina after the 1745 Rising, she saw the opportunity to ‘begin
the world again, anew, in a new corner of it’. Flora joined many
Highlanders who had sailed the rough and dangerous passage to settle
in family and clan groups in the Carolinas, Georgia, East Jersey, and
in Upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley.
Ever-rugged and hard-working, industrious Scots soon established
themselves as tobacco farmers in Virginia and Maryland, and were the
first to blaze trails with Daniel Boone through the Cumberland Gap and
Books and Bibles
From the smallest
Highland village and clachan to the great Universities at St.
Andrews, Glasgow or Paris, education has always played an important
part in Scottish society. Even in the most primitive frontier
conditions, most headmasters of these simple schools in the colonies
south of New York were Scottish or of Scottish ancestry. Scots
arriving in the New World soon established universities, colleges and
other educational establishments such as Princeton University in 1746.
These schools were fundamental in the education of America's new
Witherspoon, who signed the American Declaration of Independence was
an Scottish educationist who took the belief of the Scottish
Enlightenment to America. Witherspoon was influential in getting the
framers of the Constitution to strictly separate State and Church in
politics. ……One wonders what Dr. Witherspoon would have to say about
the blurring of this vital separation of church and state in
fire, steel, lead and powder, for the sake of liberty our nation was
also forged in thought, reason, words and action. Many of its military
and political founders were sons of Scotland or products of its
education and upbringing.
greatest speaker/orator of his generation was Patrick Henry. Then and
today, this son of a Scot’s words ring out over 225 years to galvanize
and to remind our nation: “Give me Liberty or give me Death”.
1320, Scotland’s sacred document of Freedom, the Declaration of
Arbroath was written. It formed the spiritual template for the
revolutionary Thomas Jefferson when he composed the Declaration of
Independence in June of 1776. Nearly half of its signers were of
Adding wood, sail and chain-shot to Jefferson’s quill pen, parchment
and ink, a bold Scotsman named John Paul took the nom de guerre
of John Paul Jones. Under his command, a rag-tag collection of six
lightly armed genteel pirates and privateers became the fledgling US
Navy. Bringing the war to Britain, Jones often sailed off of
Scotland’s west coast to harass the Royal Navy.
Thomas Jefferson, who later
was our first Secretary of State and second President was of Scots
descent. Our 3rd President, Alexander Hamilton and our
first Secretary of War Henry Knox were both of Scots blood as well.
the desperate time when the War of Independence was barely hanging by
a thread, an interesting spotlight on the colonial Scots and Irish of
the day was penned during the freezing winter at Valley Forge.
General George Washington wrote:.......
“…and If all else fails, I will retreat up the Valley of the
Virginia, plant my flag on the Blue Ridge, rally around the Scots and
Irish of that region, and make my last stand for liberty amongst a
people who will never submit to British tyranny whilst there is a man
left to draw a trigger.”
generation after their ancestors crossed the Appalachian Mountains
into Kentucky and Tennessee, many Scottish Americans crossed the
Mexican border into Tejas. In 1836, two frontiersmen from the
Blue Ridge Mountains of Scots descent once again stood their ground
for liberty on the ramparts of the Alamo.
they listened to John MacGregor play the pipes, Davy Crocket and Jim
Bowie loaded their long-guns and primed a brace of pistols each,
grimly testing the sharpness of their blades as General Santa Ana’s
troops charged the battered walls. Their deaths were avenged by a
Scots Irish Virginian, Texas patriot Sam Houston.
The War Between the States
historians suggest that Celtic influence was a central feature in
Scottish and Irish cultural traits on the American southern frontier.
From its agrarian society and farming practices to frontier folklore.
From mournful Appalachian ballads to the "rebel yell”, many aspects of
the Scots/Scotch-Irish/Celtic gentility lay just below the surface of
antebellum southern society.
“Stars and Bars” Confederate Battle flag was reminiscent of the
Scottish Saltire. The President of the Confederate States of America,
Jefferson Davis was of Scots descent. As were the Confederate Generals
that served him: Joseph Johnston, John Brown Gordon and John B.
North, Chicago and New York each raised a Scottish-American regiment
that fought for the Union. New York’s 79th, which modeled its uniforms
after the famed Black Watch, remains the most celebrated of these
Scots Union military contingents. A grandson of a Jacobite who fought
at Culloden, General Winfield Scott commanded US forces during the
American/Mexican war of 1846-48. Another son of a Scot’s name was
also writ large in this War Between the States: General U.S. Grant.
The Pacific Northwest.
Closer to home, our own beloved Pacific Northwest was inhabited on the
coast and inland sea by the native Salish tribes and in the interior
by the plains Indian culture. It was at the edge of the known world.
Before Lewis and Clarke’s Expedition the region was explored by
Scotsman Alexander MacKenzie in 1796. By 1810 our region was traversed
by mountain men – most of whom were Highland and Islesmen Voyageurs
from Montreal. These were the tough men of the North West Company and
later Hudson’s Bay Company.
Warriors, entrepreneurs, explorers, poets and free spirits - all
ranged the Rockies heading ever west in search of lucrative and
valuable Beaver pelts. By canoe, horseback and on moccassined feet,
they came down the Columbia Basin, explored the passes of the mighty
Cascade Range and first saw the possibilities of the lush Puget Sound
for a while as New Caledonia, and later Columbia, this land was
British territory. British forts were established at Spokane House,
Vancouver, Langley and Nisqually, and many other smaller outposts.
Each night at sunset, Fort Vancouver featured two bag pipers playing
however, wave after wave of Americans flooded north up the Oregon
Trail in great numbers. The righteous idea of Manifest Destiny
overwhelmed British commercial and military possessions in what would
later be Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
their wits and canny entrepreneurialism, with their bravery, guts and
fortitude and with their determination for independence and freedom –
the legacy of Scots and their brother Celts have continued to be writ
large in the destiny this great nation of ours and in the Pacific
like them, their great-great grandchildren and their children
will continue to fight and strive for their liberties……And, to
paraphrase George Washington, to remain independent and free from
tyranny and injustice - whether it be from within or from without our
may it be so.
Copyright July 2007 - William G. A. Shaw of Easter Lair
Please do not use, alter or paraphrase without permission of the
260 Mount Pilchuck Ave. S.W.
Issaquah, WA. 98027