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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part I - Scots in the Settlement and Development of The United States
Scots in Science and Invention


IN science, in engineering, in invention, the Scottish race has made an extraordinary contribution to the wealth, knowledge and comfort of mankind. The pioneer days in America offered an especially attractive field for this peculiar genius of the Scot both in natural and applied science; and throughout two centuries we find him at the forefront in every step of development.

Robert Erskine, Chief Engineer on the staff of General Washington, has already been mentioned. Another of these early civil engineers was the geographer Thomas Hutchins (1730-1789), born of Scottish descent in New Jersey. He took part in the campaign of General John Forbes and General Henry Boquet and in other Indian campaigns. While in London, in 1779, he was arrested and imprisoned, on account of correspondence with Benjamin Franklin; but he escaped to America and became Geographer-General to General Nathaniel Greene in South Carolina.

John Melish (1771-1822), geographer, was born in Perthshire, Scotland, and died in Philadelphia. He came to America in 1809, and was an indefatigable traveller and issued many maps, books, and pamphlets on geography and political economy. In 1816 he published A Geographical Map of the United States, with Gontiguous British and Spanish Possessions, known as "Melish’s Map," which in 1818 had reached a third edition.

George Walker, a native of Clackmannanshire, was a surveyor in Virginia, and was the first to point out to President Washington the advantages of the site of the present national capital city.

James Geddes (1763-1838), who with Samuel Forrer was one of the pioneer civil engineers of the Northwest Territory, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, of Scottish descent. He made the first surveys of the route of the Erie Canal and was its Chief Engineer during construction. He was also one of the first of the salt manufacturers in Onondaga County, New York. He was magistrate, legislator, judge and congressman, and engineer in charge of canals in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

James Ferguson, another engineer employed upon the Erie Canal, was also noted as an astronomer. He was an assistant in the United States Naval Observatory until his death in 1867, and was the discoverer of several asteroids.

Peter Fleming was the surveyor of the upper part of New York City. He also laid the grades for the first railway in the State, the Mohawk Railroad, between Albany and Schenectady.

Many of the early stone buildings in the colonies were designed and built by Scots, and Scots and their descendants have always held a notable place as architects and in the building and contracting trades.

MacBean, a Scot, was architect of old St. Paul’s Chapel, New York, and many of the other buildings of that time. Alexander McComb, from whom McComb's Dam in the upper part of the city takes its name, was the architect of the New York City Hall. He was an extensive landowner both in New York City and the Adirondacks.

John MacArthur, born in Bladenoch, Wigtownshire, Scotland, 1823, came to the United States at the age of ten and became the most noted architect in Philadelphia. In 1869, he was selected by competition to design and construct the Philadelphia City Hall. He also designed many other notable buildings.

John L. Hamilton (1835-1904), a native of Newmilns, Ayrshire, Scotland, who came to New York in 1853, was the builder of many notable buildings in that city and elsewhere in the United States and Mexico, and one of the most successful building contractors. He was for many years president of the Master Carpenters’ Association and general secretary of the National Builders’ Association of America. He designed the colossal funeral car upon which General Grant's body was borne to its final resting place on Riverside Drive, New York. Mr. Hamilton was connected with many religious, social and philanthropic organizations and a generous contributor to many worthy causes. His son, Thomas L. Hamilton, was a Police Commissioner and County Clerk, in New York City.

Henry Eckford (1775-1832), shipbuilder, a native of Irvine, Ayrshire, gave New York in his day the reputation of building the best wooden ships in the world. He learned his trade from his uncle, John Black, in Quebec, Canada, coming to New York in 1797. In 1812 he built the United States fleet for the Great Lakes, and in 1820 became naval constructor at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he built some of the best ships of the old navy.

Donald Mackay (1810-1880) , a native of Nova Scotia, in 1845 established the shipyards in East Boston, where he became famous as the builder of clipper ships.

Captain Barr, who sailed so many of the American Cup-Defenders to victory, was a native of Gourock, Scotland.

In the field of natural science, America has been indebted from the beginning to men of Scottish birth or descent. It is necessary to mention but a few such names as William Maclure, Alexander Wilson, Robert Dale Owen, John Muir, Spencer F. Baird and Asa Gray, to realize the extent of this service. Samuel Mitchell, a Scot, also published the first scientific periodical in the United States.

William Maclure, "the father of American geology," born in Ayr in 1763, after a short visit to the United States in his youth, returned in 1796 and engaged in mercantile pursuits in Philadelphia, from which he amassed a comfortable fortune. In 1803 he was appointed one of the commissioners to adjust claims against France, presented by citizens of the United States for spoilations committed during the Revolution in that country. On the conclusion of this task, Mr. Maclure undertook single handed a geological survey of the United States at his own expense. In the course of this research he crossed and recrossed the Alleghenies no less than fifty times, and covered every state and territory from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. The results of this remarkable exploration were published in the transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 1809, and eight years later he published a final revision of his explorations accompanied by the first geological map of the United States. This was six years prior to the Smith geological map of England. On the foundation of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812 he became a member and in 1817 was elected President, a position to which he was annually re-elected for twenty-two years. In 1816-17 he carried out scientific explorations in the West Indies, and in 1819 he engaged in the same work in France and Spain. His collections he generously distributed among various scientific societies, particularly in Philadelphia. To the Academy of Natural Sciences of that city Mr. Maclure transferred his library (2259 volumes), besides bestowing from time to time about 5000 other books and many maps and charts. It was chiefly through his liberality that the Academy’s new building was erected at the corner of Broad and Sansom streets. He died in 1840, in his seventy-seventh year, "thus closing a life in which no views of pecuniary advantage or personal aggrandisement entered, but devoted with untiring energy and singular disinterestedness to the attainment and diffusion of practical knowledge."

The three Owens—David, Richard, and Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877)— sons of Robert Owen, the Lanarkshire reformer, all bore a high reputation in American geological annals, Robert Dale Owen having the first museum and laboratory in the United States.

Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), the great ornithologist, was a Paisley weaver who after being imprisoned for writing lampoons on labor questions in his native town fled to Philadelphia. His study of birds carried him far afield. Once, abandoned by his companions, he walked alone from Niagara Falls to Philadelphia in the dead of winter. In addition to his great work, American Ornithology (9 volumes), he was the author of The Foresters and some fine nature poems.

Asa Gray (1810-1888), the most famous American botanist, was descended from a New England Scot. Ormsby McKnight Mitchell (1809-1862), of.Kentucky Scottish parentage, was among the first to popularize astronomy in

America. Maria Mitchell, the noted woman astronomer, was also of Scotch descent. Dr. Alexander Garden (1728-1792), born in Aberdeenshire, resident in Charleston, S. C., was as noted a botanist as a physician. It was for him that the genus Gardenia was named. He was a correspondent of Linnaeeus and the author of many scientific papers.

Robert Buist (1805-1880), a native of Edinburgh, was a noted American horticulturist. His place "Rosedale," in Philadelphia, was one of the first great nurseries in the United States. It was known all over the world, and many young Scottish gardeners received their training there. Buist and his son, Robert, Jr. (1837-1910), together with Peter Mackenzie (1809-1868), James Ritchie, Robert Scott, John Dick, and Andrew Dryburgh, all of Scottish birth, made Philadelphia famous as the center of ornamental horticulture in America from 1840 to 1870.

John Muir (1838-1914), geologist and explorer, was born in Dunbar, and came with his parents to the United States when eleven years old and settled on a farm in Wisconsin. In 1860 he entered the University of Wisconsin, supporting himself by teaching, and by working in the harvest fields. After an accident to one of his eyes, in 1867, he set out on foot for California, with a few books and a plant press. His wanderings led him into the Sierras and through the Yosemite Valley, the later preservation of which, together with the Big Trees and other National Parks, the United States owes almost solely to him. As a member of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, he explored thousands of miles of Alaska, whose greatest glacier is named for him. He also traveled extensively in Norway, Switzerland and Brazil. He was the author of many books on natural science, and many popular articles in magazines and newspapers, and degrees were conferred upon him by the leading universities.

Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887), one of the foremost American naturalists, was of Scottish descent. He superintended the scientific and geographical survey of the Western United States, and was Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

W. R. Smith, a Scot, was for years Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens in Washington, and D. F. MacDougall was the first director of the Desert Botanical Laboratory, in Arizona.

In inventive science whether we give credit for the invention of the telegraph to Charles Morrison, to Joseph Henry, or to Samuel Finley Breese Morse, each of whom contributed towards it, the honour still belongs to a Scot. Edison’s mother was Mary Elliott, of Scottish blood; and John Ericsson had a Scottish mother and a Swedish father. Likewise, William Henry, James Rumsey, and Robert Fulton, who each had a share in the invention of the steamboat were all three Scots; as well as Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray, the inventor and the improver of the telephone, and the McCormicks, who did so much for the improvement of harvesting machinery.

Peter Cooper built the first locomotive in the United States, and the present position of the greatest railroad in the Union, the Pennsylvania Railroad, is due to the united efforts of the following Scotsmen or men of Scottish descent:

Thomas Alexander Scott, the "discoverer" of Andrew Carnegie, William Thaw, J. N. McCullough, Robert Pitcairn, Frank Thompson, Alexander Johnston Cassatt, and James McCrea. General Campbell, a former manager of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was also a Scot. To Major-General Daniel Craig McCallum (1815-1878), born in Renfrewshire, was due the efficiency of the Federal railroad service during the Civil War.

Another notable railroad builder was the Hon. Alexander Mitchell, of Milwaukee, a native of Aberdeen, who died in 1887. He is credited with having done more for the state of Wisconsin than any other single man.

Matthew Baird (1817-1877), a native of Londonderry, Ireland, came to Philadelphia at the age of four. In 1838, he entered the boiler department of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, and on the death of Matthias W. Baldwin, in 1865, he succeeded him as sole proprietor. He retired from active business in 1873. He was a director in many railroads and a generous contributor to many charities and institutions.

The Carnegie group in the iron and steel business had many worthy predecessors. The first iron furnace west of the Allegheny Mountains was built by a Scot named Grant. It was here that the cannon balls were cast that were used by Commodore Perry in the battle of Lake Erie. Another Scot, John Campbell, first employed the hot-blast in making pig-iron.

William Chisholm another distinguished inventor, born in Lochgelly, in 1825, settled in Cleveland in 1852. He invented many new methods and machinery for manufacturing steel shovels, and in 1871 organized and was long head of the Union Steel Company of Cleveland. His brother Henry, born in Fifeshire, was the first to introduce steel making into that city and might, therefore, be justly called the "Father of Cleveland."

Thomas Dickson (1822-1844), a native of Lauder, founded the Dickson Manufacturing Company (1836), for the building of steam engines and the construction of mining machinery. In his hands the company became one of the most important locomotive works in the United States. Later he acquired a national reputation as President of the Delaware and Hudson Coal Company, and as organizer of a great iron plant on the shores of Lake Champlain. Thomas Jefferson is said to have invented the modern plow; and it was John Oliver, a Roxburghshire man, descended on his mother’s side from Edward Irving, who improved it and manufactured it on a scale unknown in the world before. He died at eighty-five, leaving $60,000,000.

William Longstreet (1760-1814), a New Jersey Scot, improved the cotton-gin and made possible its operation by steam-power.

Cyrus Hall McCormick (1809-1884), the inventor of the reaping-machine, was of Scottish parentage. At the age of twenty-one he invented plows, and in 1831 built with his own hands the first practical reaping machine ever made. Reverdy Johnson said in 1859, "The McCormick reaper has already contributed an annual income to the country of $55,000,000 at least, and must increase through all time." The French Academy of Sciences, when electing him a corresponding member, declared that through his invention he had "done more for the cause of agriculture than any other living man."

Henry Burden (1791-1871), a native of Dunblane, the founder of the Burden fortune, came to America in 1819. His inventive genius was particularly directed towards agricultural and labour-saving machinery. The first cultivator invented in this country was patented by him in 1820. He also improved plows, threshing-machines and grist-mills. He was also the inventor (1840) of machinery for making the hook-headed spike used on all the railroads in the United States. It was this invention that made possible the great progress in railroad building in this country; as the spikes could not have been made fast enough by hand. His greatest triumph, however, was the machine for making horse shoes (1835. 1843, 1857). This machine turned out sixty shoes a minute—a day's work for two men. He was a great iron-master in Troy, N. Y., and much interested in early steam navigation. His son, James Abercrombie Burden, inherited his father’s genius and became president of the Burden Iron Company.

Hugh Orr (1717-1798), born in Lochwinoch, Renfrewshire, inventor and manufacturer, came to the United States in 1737, and a year later settled in Bridgewater, Mass., where for some years he was the only manufacturer of edged tools in that part of the country. He was also a locksmith and gull-maker, and in 1748 manufactured 500 stand of arms for the Province of Massachusetts, the first muskets ever made in the Colonies. During the Revolutionary War, he cast brass and iron cannon, and iron cannon-shot for the colonial troops. One of his important inventions was a machine for dressing flax (1753), and in 1786, in company with other Scots, Robert and Alexander Barr, he built three carding, roping and spinning machines, and so became the introducer of the spinning-jenny into the United States.

In 1868, the late James Lyall, born in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1836, invented the Lyall positive-motion loom, the last great advance in weaving. He came with his parents to Jersey City in 1839. In 1863, he invented a simple mixture for enamelling cloth, which was approved by the United States Government. He and his brother William employed at one time 4,000 men in filling the orders they received. They afterward engaged in the manufacture of weaving machinery and were interested in the Brighton mills and Chelsea Jute Mills.

Peter Watson, born in Arbroath in 1816, became an expert in the manufacture of linen in Dundee. In 1860, he brought over to Philadelphia a plant for manufacturing linen, the first introduced into America. He afterwards took up the manufacture of jute, and was the pioneer of the jute trade in the United States, and the importer of the first ship-load of East Indian jute into America. Two of his sons gave their lives for their adopted country in the Civil War.

To the inventive minds of two Scotsmen is due the greatness of the New England shoe industry. The sole-stitching machine invented by Gordon McKay, and the pegging-machines, stitching-machines, lock-stitch machines for sewing uppers of Duncan H. Campbell (born in Greenock in 1827), revolutionized the entire industry.

Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, is a distinguished son of Auld Reekie. His biography will be found elsewhere in this volume.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872), the inventor of the telegraph, was the great-grandson of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, the Ulster- Scot President of Princeton College. His father was a noted divine and editor, of Woodstock, Conn., who took a great interest in christianizing the indians.

Dr. Charles Morrison, born in Greenock, a surgeon in Virginia, was the first to announce, in the Scots Magazine of 1753, that electricity could be used for telegraphic signals.

In this connection it is interesting to note that many of the early telegraphers—James D. Reid, Andrew Carnegie, Robert Pitcairn, Kenneth Mc Kenzie, David McCargo—were Scots or of Scottish blood.

Robert Dick (1814-1893), missionary, newspaper-editor, and inventor, was born in Bathgate, and at the age of seven years, was brought to this country by his parents. He is famous for his invention of the newspaper mailing machine (1856), which with some later improvements is still in universal use.


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