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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part I - Scots in the Settlement and Development of The United States
Notable Scots of Colonial Times


ROBERT LIVINGSTON, the first possessor of Livingston Manor, New York, and the ancestor of a distinguished line of American patriots and statesmen, was born in Ancrum in 1654, and came to America about 1672. He was the son of Rev. John Livingston, a noted clergyman of the Church of Scotland, who was banished and died in Rotterdam in 1672. Like many others of his countrymen, Robert Livingston went first to Carolina, but soon afterward settled in New York State. In 1680 he received the appointment of Secretary of the Commissaries at Albany, and in 1686 became town clerk of the city of Albany, a position which he held till 1721.. In 1686 he received from Governor Thomas Dongan a large tract of land near the Hudson River, which was the beginning of the immense land holdings of the family. In 1715 he obtained a royal confirmation of this grant, together with manorial privileges. He was also a member of the Colonial Assembly, and at his death in 1725 he was looked upon as one of the richest and most influential men in the colonies. His eldest son, Philip, who succeeded him, largely added to the family wealth and lands through his success as an Indian trader. The standing of the family in the colony is shown by the fact that in 1790 there were no less than six Livingstons members of the New York St. Andrew ‘s Society. Among the sons of Philip Livingston was Peter Van Brugh Livingston, who became President of the New York Provincial Congress. Another son, Philip, was born at Albany in 1716, and in 1759 was elected a member of the General Assembly of the colony from the city of New York. In 1774 and again in 1776 he was elected a member of Congress and was one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Other noted members of the family were William, another son, governor of New Jersey 1776-1790; Robert R. (1746-1813) ; and Edward (1764-1836).

It would be impossible to mention here all the notables of Colonial times who came from Scotland or who were descended from Scottish parents; also, many names will appear in later classifications.

Alexander MacDougall (born in Islay, Scotland, in 1731: died 1786) was another successful Scottish merchant of New York who gave early support to the cause of the colonists. He bears the distinction of being the first American imprisoned for his utterances in behalf of Independence, being confined for twenty-three weeks. He was a colonel, brigadier-general and major-general in the Revolution, and was appointed by General Washington to succeed General Benedict Arnold in command of West Point; a member of the Continental Congress, and of the New York State Senate; and was a stanch supporter of the old First Presbyterian Church in New York. He held many positions of trust and was the first president of the Bank of New York. Macdougal street, New York, was named for him by the Common Council in 1807.

Col. James Burd (1726-1793) was born at Ormiston, near Edinburgh. On coming to America he settled in Philadelphia and in 1755 in conjunction with others he was appointed to lay out a road from Harris’s Ferry (now Harrisburg) to the Ohio River. In 1756 he served as a captain in the provincial forces sent to select a site for a fort at Mahoning; in December, 1757, he was commissioned colonel. In the second advance to Fort Duquesne in 1758 under Generals Forbes and Bouquet, to redeem the failure of Braddock, he commanded one of the battalions. When stationed later at Fort Augusta he kept an extremely interesting journal recording the events of each day, which has been published in the Pennsylvania Archives, 2 series, v. 2, pp. 745-820.

Major Richard Stobo, a native of Glasgow, served in Canada with Roger’s Virginia Rangers and was captured and taken to Quebec. With two confederates, Lieutenant Stevenson and Clarke, a carpenter from Leith, he escaped from the citadel May 21, 1734, and commandeering various boats by the way, reached Louisbourg. Stobo went back to Quebec with General Wolfe, and it was he who guided the Fraser Highlanders up the Heights of Abraham.

The notorious Captain Richard Kidd, who previous to the adoption of the career of pirate was honoured by the New York Assembly by votes of thanks and gifts of money, was also of Scottish blood.

Sir William Johnson, Great Britain's celebrated Indian agent in Northern New York, was born in Smithtown, County Meath, Ireland, in 1715, the son of Christopher Johnson, of Scottish ancestry.

General John Forbes, who took up the work of General Braddock after his death and disastrous defeat and captured Fort Duquesne and christened it Pittsburgh, was born, in Petincrief, Fifeshire, in 1710. He was a most indomitable character. During the whole campaign he was seriously ill, commanding his troops from a litter, and died in Philadelphia in 1759 almost immediately upon his return.

James Alexander (1690-1756), a native of Scotland, was a noted lawyer in Colonial New York. He, with William Smith, was disbarred for his part in defending Peter John Zenger, August, 1735. With Benjamin Franklin and others, he was one of the founders of the American Philosophical Society.

However, the most notable figure of this famous trial, which is often cited as the beginning of American liberty, was the Hon. Andrew Hamilton, the venerable Scottish Attorney-General of Pennsylvania, whose eloquence and logic won the day for free speech in the Colonies. He was born in Scotland, and came to America about 1700, and ranked as the most eminent lawyer of his time in Pennsylvania. He was the chief projector of the State House, afterward Independence Hall. His son, Hon. James Hamilton (1710-1813), was the first native-born Governor of Pennsylvania (1748-1754, 1759-1763), and was Mayor of Philadelphia in 1745.

The trial and acquittal of Peter John Zenger is notable not alone for the principles it established, but as an instance of the prominent part played by the Scots in the cause of liberty of thought and conscience in America.

When William Crosby, Governor of New York, who was very tyrannical, removed Governor Morris from office, the popular party desired that the public should know Cosby’s true character, and decided that a newspaper should be started. Lewis Morris, James Alexander, William Smith and Mr. Golden, sturdy Scotch Presbyterians, arranged with Peter John Zenger to print the paper, for which they contributed all articles, James Alexander being editor-in-chief. Zenger, a German job printer of New York, printed the first copy of the New York Weekly Journal, in 1733. The New York Weekly Gazette, the first paper published in the colony, founded by William Bradford, in October, 1725, advocated the cause of Governor Cosby, while the Journal was a rival. Its open attacks upon Governor Crosby soon brought forth an order directing that certain issues of the paper be seized and burned by the common hangman. This order was followed by the arrest of Zenger, who was charged with falsehood and sedition. Zenger's counsel, James Alexander and William Smith, who undertook to file an objection, were declared guilty of contempt, and debarred from court. Alexander Hamilton, of Philadelphia, was sent for to plead Zenger's cause.

At the trial, Hamilton admitted the publication, but justified it on the ground that it was not "false, scandalous, malicious and seditious." He was not permitted by the Court to introduce this proof, and after a lengthy argument between the judge and Hamilton, he turned to the jury and said:

"Then it is to you, gentlemen of the jury, we must now appeal to witness the truth of the facts we have offered, and are denied the liberty to prove. You are to be the judges of the law and the facts." Then followed a masterly address of rare power and inspiring eloquence; he covered every phase of the question, and emphasized his argument with many apt illustrations. He painted the danger of unlicensed rule, and likened it to a raging stream that breaks its banks. He turned aside with irony t.he interruptions of the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General; he closed his speech with a touching peroration, which made a lasting impression upon the audience. The verdict, "Not Guilty," announced by the jury was greeted with tumultuous applause. Hamilton had won a wonderful case—in establishing in North America the principle that in the prosecution for libel the jury were the judges of both the law and the facts. The liberty of the press was secured from assault, and the people became equipped with the most powerful weapon for successfully controlling arbitrary power.

In connection with this trial of Zenger, it is interesting to note that in the same city of New York, June 3, 1707, Rev. Francis Makemie made his great appeal for liberty of religious worship; the first printed protest against human slavery was issued by a Scottish Quaker, Rev. George Keith, October 13, 1693; and James Pollock, another Scot, was the first anti-slavery governor of Pennsylvania. The first prohibitionist in the United States, Neal Gow, a native of Maine, was a namesake of the famous fiddler.

George Keith, a native of Aberdeen, who was a tutor in the Quaker family of Robert Barclay of Ury came out to New Jersey and through Barclay's influence was made Surveyor-General of New Jersey in 1684. He founded the town of Freehold and marked out the division line between East and West Jersey. In 1869, he became superintendent of the City School of Philadelphia. Latterly he was a missionary of the Church of England, and died in 1708.

Matthew Patterson, a stonemason, who came from Scotland about 1750, gave name to Patterson, Putnam County, New York, which was settled largely by Scotsmen. He served as a captain under General Abercrombie against the French, and was nine times elected to the New York legislature and nine years a county judge.

Bath, New York, was founded in 1793 by Captain Charles Williamson, a native of Edinburgh. He was one of the many soldiers who settled in America after the Revolution. In 1791, he was made manager of the company organized by Patrick Colquhoun, Lord Provost of Glasgow, and others, which had purchased a tract of 1,200,000 acres in New York. He also founded Williamsburgh, on the Genesee River. For three terms he represented Steuben County in the New York legislature, was county judge and a colonel of militia. He died on shipboard between New Orleans and Jamaica in 1808.

James Graham, a descendent of Claverhouse, was the first Recorder of the city of New York, in 1686, and another Graham was Speaker of the first Colonial Assembly. John Lamb, another Scot, was the first Collector of the Port of New York.

That these early Scots in America were not solely devoted to business and their own selfish welfare is evidenced by the founding and growth of societies based upon the extension of fellowship among Scots in the new world and for the collection and distribution of charitable funds among the poor and needy of their countrymen. The oldest of these societies, the Scots’ Charitable Society of Boston, was founded January 6, 1657, with twenty-seven members; followed by the St. Andrew’s Club of Charleston, South Carolina (the first to bear the name of St. Andrew), 1729; the St. Andrew's Society of Philadelphia, December 7, 1749; the St. Andrew’s Society of Savannah, Georgia, 1750; the St. Andrew’s Society of the Province, afterward State of New York, November 19, 1756; and the St. Andrew’s Society of Albany, November 10, 1803; until, at the present time, there is no city of any size or prominence in the country that does not have its St. Andrew’s Society, or Burns or Caledonian Club, which serves to keep alive the memories of the home-land and to aid the distressed among their kinsfolk. There are now more than 1000 of these societies, including the Order of Scottish Clans, a fraternal, patriotic and beneficial order, with more than a hundred separate clans, organized in 1878. (American Year Book-Directory of Scottish Societies, edited by D. MacDougall, 1915-1916.)


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