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Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America
Chapter 3
Causes that led to Emigration


The social system of the Highlanders that bound the members of the clan together was conducive to the pride of ancestry and the love of home. This pride was so directed as to lead to the most beneficial results on their character and conduct: forming strong attachments, leading to the performance of laudable and heroic actions, and enabling the poorest to endure the severest hardships without a murmur, and never complaining of what they received to eat, or where they lodged, or of any other privation. Instead of complaining of the difference in station or fortune, or considering a ready obedience to the call of the chief as a slavish oppression, they felt convinced that they were support- ing their own honor in showing their gratitude and duty to the generous head of the family. In them it was a singular and characteristic feature to contemplate with early familiarity the prospect of death, which was considered as merely a passage from this to another state of existence, enlivened by the assured hope that they should meet their friends and kindred in a fairer and brighter world than this. This statement may be perceived in the anxious care with which they provided the necessary articles for a proper and becoming funeral Even the poorest and most destitute endeavored to save something for this last solemnity. It was considered to be a sad calamity to be consigned to the grave among strangers, without the attendance and sympathy of friends, and at a distance from the family. If a relative died away from home, the greatest exertions were made to carry the body back for interment among the ashes of the forefathers. A people so nurtured could only contemplate with despair the idea of being forced from the land of their nativity, or emigrating from that beloved country, hallowed by the remains of their kindred.

The Highlander, by nature, was opposed to emigration. His instincts, as well as training, led him to view with delight All permanency of home and the constant companionship of those the whom he was related by ties of consanguinity. Neither was to creature of conquest, and looked not with a covetous eye he a upon the lands of other nations. He would do battle in a foreign land but the Highlands of Scotland was his abiding place. If he left his native glen in order to become a resident elsewhere, there must have been a special or overpowering reason. He never emigrated through choice. Unfortunately the simplicity of his nature, his confiding trust, and love of chief and country, were doomed to receive such a jolt as would shake the very fibres of his being, and that from those to whom he looked for support and protection. Reference here is not made to evictions awful crimes that commenced in 1784, but to the change, desolation and misery growing out of the calamity at Culloden.

Notwithstanding the peculiar characteristics of the Highlander, there would of necessity arise certain circumstances which would lead some, and even many, to change their habitation. From the days of the Crusader downwards he was more or less active in foreign wars; and coming in contact with different nationalities his mind would broaden and his sentiment change, so that other lands and other people would be viewed in a more favorable light. While this would not become general, yet it would follow in many instances. Intercourse with another people, racially and linguistically related, would have a tendency to invite a closer affiliation. Hence, the inhabitants of the Western Isles had almost constant communication, sometimes at war, it is true, but generally in terms of amity, with the natives of North Ireland. It is not surprising then that as early as 1584, Sorley Buy MacDonald should lead a thousand Highlanders, called Redshanks, of the clans or families of the MacDonalds, Campbells, and Magalanes, into Ulster, and in time intermarry with the Irish, and finally become the most formidable enemies of England in her designs of settling that country. Some of the remaining men were forced to flee on account of being attainted for treason, having fought under Dundee in 1689, or under Mar in 1715, and after Culloden in 1745 quite a hegira took place, many of whom found service in the army of France. Individuals, seeking employment. found their way into England before 1724. Although there was a strong movement for England from the Lowlands, yet many were from the Highlands, to whom was partly due the old proverb, "There never came a fool from Scotland." These emigrants, from the Highlands, were principally those having trades, who sought to better their condition.

Seven hundred prisoners taken at Preston were sold as slaves to some West Indian merchants, which was a cruel proceeding, when it is considered that the greater part of these men were Highlanders, who had joined the army in obedience to the commands of their chiefs. Wholly unfitted for such labor as would be required in the West Indies and unacclimated. their fate may be readily assumed. But this was no more heartless than the execution in Lancashire of twenty-two of their companions.

The specifications above enumerated have no bearing on the emigration which took place on a large scale, the consequences of which, at the time, arrested the attention of the nation. The causes now to be enumerated grew out of the change of policy following the battle of Culloden. The atrocities following that battle were both for vengeance and to break the military spirit of the Highlanders. The legislative enactments broke the nobler spirit of the people. The rights and welfare of the people at large were totally ignored, and no provisions made for their future welfare. The country was left in a state of commotion and confusion resulting from the changes consequent to the overthrow of the old system, the breaking up of old relationship, and the gradual encroachment of Lowland civilization, and methods of agriculture. While these changes at first were neither great nor extensive, yet they were sufficient to keep the country in a ferment or uproar. The change was largely in the manner of an experiment in order to find out the most profitable way of adaptation to the new regime. These experiments resulted in the unsettling of old manners, customs, and ideas, which caused discontent and misery among the people. The actual change was slow; the innovations, as a rule, began in those districts bordering on the Lowlands, and thence proceeded in a northwesterly direction.

In all probability the first shock felt by the clansmen, under the new order of things, was the abolishing the ancient clan systern, and the reduction of the chiefs to the condition of landlords. For awhile the people failed to realize this new order of affairs, for the gentlemen and common people still continued to regard their chief in the same light as formerly, not questioning but their obedience to the head of their clan was independent of legislative enactment. They were still ready to make any sacrifice for his sake, and felt it to be their duty to do what they could for his support. They still believed that the chief’s duty to his people remained unaltered, and he was bound to see that they did not want, and to succor them in distress.

The first effects in the change in tribal relations were felt on those estates that had been forfeited on account of the chiefs and gentlemen having been compelled to leave the country in order to save their lives. These estates were entrusted to the management of commissioners who rudely applied their powers under the new arrangement of affairs. When the chiefs, now reduced to the position of lairds, began to realize their condition, and the advantage of making their lands yield them as large an income as possible, followed the example of demanding a rent. A rental value had never been exacted before, for it was the universal belief that the land belonged to the clan in common. Some of the older chiefs, then living, held to the same opinion, and among such, a change was not perceptible until a new landlord came into possession. The gentlemen of the clan and the tacks-men, or large farmers, firmly believed that they had as much right to a share of the lands as the chief himself. In the beginning the rent was not high nor more than the lands would bear; but it was resented by the tacksmen, deeming it a wanton injury inflicted in the house of their dearest friend. They were hurt at the idea that the chief,—the father of his people—should be controlled by such a mercenary idea, and to exercise that power which gave him the authority to lease the lands to the highest bidder. This policy, which they deemed selfish and unjust, naturally cut them to the quick. They and their ancestors had occupied their farms for many generations; their birth was as good and their genealogy as old as that of the chief himself, to whom they were all blood relations, and whose loyalty was unshaken. True, they had no written document, no "paltry sheep-skin," as they called it, to prove the right to their farms, but such had never been the custom, and these parchments quite a modern innovation, and, in former times, before a chief would have tried to wrest from them that which had been given by a former chief to their fathers, would have bitten out his tongue before he would have asked a bond. There can be no doubt that originally when a chief bestowed a share of his property upon his son or other near relation, he intended that the latter should keep it for himself and his descendants. To these tacksmen it was injury enough that an alien government should interfere in their domestic relations, but for the chief to turn against them was a wound which no balm could heal. Before they would submit to these exactions, they would first give up their holdings; which many of them did and emigrated to America, taking with them servants and sub-tenants, and enticing still others to follow them by the glowing accounts which they sent home of their good fortune in the favored country far to the west. In some cases the farms thus vacated were let to other tacksmen, but in most instances the new system was introduced by letting the land directly to what was formerly sub-tenants, or those who had held the land immediately from the ousted tacksmen.

There was a class of lairds who had tasted the sweets of southern luxuries and who vied with the more opulent, increased the rate of rent to such an extent as to deprive the tacksmen of their holdings. This caused an influx of lowland farmers, who with their improved methods could compete successfully against their less favored northern neighbors. The danger of southern luxuries had been foreseen and an attempt had been made to provide against it. As far back as the year 1744, in order to discourage such things, at a meeting of the chiefs of the Isle of Skye, Sir Alexander MacDonald of MacDonald, Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, John MacKinnon of MacKinnon, and Malcolm MacLeod of Raasay, held in Portree, it was agreed to discontinue and discountenance the use of brandy, tobacco and tea.

The placing of the land in the hands of aliens was deplored in its results as may be seen from the following portrayal given by Buchanan in his "Travels in the Hebrides," referring to about 1780: —"At present they are obliged to be much more submissive to their tacksmen than ever they were in former times to their lairds or lords. There is a great difference between that mild treatment which is shown to sub-tenants and even scallags, by the old lessees, descended of ancient and honorable families, and the outrageous rapacity of those necessitous strangers who have obtained leases from absent proprietors, who treat the natives as if they were a conquered and inferior race of mortals. In short, they treat them like beasts of burden; and in all respects like slaves attached to the soil, as they cannot obtain new habitations, on account of the combinations already mentioned, and are entirely at the mercy of the laird or tacksman . Formerly, the personal service of the tenant did not usually exceed eight or ten days in the year. There lives at present at Scalpa, in the isle of Harris, a tacksman of a large district, who instead of six days’ work paid by the sub-tenants to his predecessor in the lease, has raised the predial service, called in that and in other parts of Scotland manerial bondage, to fifty-two days in the year at once; besides many other services to be performed at different though regular and stated times; as tanning leather for brogans, making heather ropes for thatch, digging and drying peats for fuel; one pannier of peat charcoal to be carried to the smith; so many days for gathering and shearing sheep and lambs; for ferrying cattle from island to island, and other distant places, and several days for going on distant errands; so many pounds of wool to be spun into yarn. And over and above all this, they must lend their aid upon any unforseen occurrence whenever they are called on. The constant service of two months at once is performed at the proper season in making kelp. On the whole, this gentleman’s sub-tenants may be computed to devote to his service full three days in the week. But this is not all: they have to pay besides yearly a certain number of cocks, hen, butter, and cheese, called CAORIGH-FERRIN, the Wife’s Portion. This, it must be owned, is one of the most severe and rigorous tacksmen descended from the old inhabitants, in all the Western Hebrides: but the situation of his sub-tenants exhibits but too faithful a picture of the sub-tenants of those places in general, and the exact counterpart of such enormous oppression is to be found at Luskintire." [Keltie's "History of the Highland Clans," Vol. II, p.35.]

The dismissal of retainers kept by the chiefs during feudal times added to the discontent. For the protection of the clan it had been necessary to keep a retinue of trained warriors. These were no longer necessary, and under the changed state of affairs, an expense that could be illy afforded. This class found themselves without a vocation, and they would sow the seeds of discontent, if they remained in the country. They must either enter the army or else go to another country in search of a vocation.

Unquestionably the most potent of all causes for emigration was the introduction of sheep-farming. That the country was well adapted for sheep goes without disputation. Sheep had always been kept in the Highlands with the black cattle, but not in large numbers. The lowland lessees introduced sheep on a large scale, involving the junction of many small farms into one, each of which had been hitherto occupied by a number of tenants. This engrossing of farms and consequent depopulation was also a fruitful source of discontent and misery to those who had to vacate their homes and native glens. Many of those displaced by sheep and one or two Lowland shepherds, emigrated like the discontented tacksmen to America, and those who remained looked with an ill-will and an evil eye on the intruders. Some of the more humane landlords invited the oppressed to remove to their estates, while others tried to prevent the ousted tenants from leaving the country by setting apart some particular spot along the sea-shore, or else on waste land that had never been touched by the plow, on which they might build houses and have an acre or two for support: Those removed to the coast were encouraged to prosecute the fishing along with their agricultural labors. It was mainly by a number of such ousted Highlanders that the great and arduous undertaking was accomplished of bringing into a state of cultivation Kincardine Moss, in Perthshire. At that time, 1767, the task to be undertaken was one of stupendous magnitude; but was so successfully carried out that two thousand acres were reclaimed which for centuries had rested under seven feet of heath and vegetable matter. Similarly many other spots were brought into a state of cultivation. But this, and other pursuits then engaged in, did not occupy the time of all who had been despoiled of their homes.

The breaking up of old habits and customs and the forcible importation of those that are foreign must not only engender hate but also cause misery. It is the uniform testimony of all travellers, who visited the Highlands during the latter half of the eighteenth century, especially Pennant, Boswell, Johnson, Newte, and Buchanan, that the condition of the country was deplorable. Without quoting from all, let the following lengthy extract suffice, which is from Buchanan:

"Upon the whole, the situation of these people, inhabitants of Britain! is such as no language can describe, nor fancy conceive. If, with great labor and fatigue, the farmer raises a slender crop of oats and barley, the autumnal rains often baffle his utmost efforts, and frustrate all his expectations; and instead of being able to pay an exorbitant rent, he sees his family in danger of perishing during the ensuing winter, when he is precluded from any possibility of assistance elsewhere. Nor are his cattle in a better situation; in summer they pick up a scanty support amongst the morasses or heathy mountains; but in winter, when the grounds are covered with snow, and when the naked wilds afford neither shelter nor subsistence, the few cows, small, lean, and ready to drop down through want of pasture, are brought into the hut where the family resides, and frequently share with them the small stock of meal which had been purchased, or raised, for the family only; while the cattle thus sustained, are bled occasionally, to afford nourishment for the children after it bath been boiled or made into cakes. The sheep being left upon the open heaths, seek to shelter themselves from the inclemency of the weather amongst the hollows upon the lee-side of the mountains, and here they are frequently buried under the snow for several weeks together, and in severe seasons during two months and upwards. They eat their own and each other’s wool, and hold out wonderfully under cold and hunger; but even in moderate winters, a considerable number are generally found dead after the snow hath disappeared, and in rigorous seasons few or none are left alive. Meanwhile the steward, hard pressed by letters from Almack’s or Newmarket, demands the rent in a tone which makes no great allowance for unpropitious seasons, the death of cattle, and other accidental misfortunes: disguising the feelings of his own breast—his Honor’s wants must at any rate be supplied, the bills must be duly negotiated. Such is the state of farming, if it may be so called, throughout the interior parts of the Highlands; but as that country has an extensive coast. and many islands, it may be supposed that the inhabitants of those shores enjoy all the benefits of their maritime situation. This, however, is not the case ; those gifts of nature, which in any other commercial kingdom would have been rendered subservient to the most valuable purposes, are in Scotland lost, or nearly so, to the poor natives and the public. The only difference, therefore, between the inhabitants of the interior parts and those of the more distant coasts, consists in this, that the latter, with the labors of the field, have to encounter alternately the dangers of the ocean and all the fatigues of navigation. To the distressing circumstances at home, as stated above, new difficulties and toils await the devoted farmer when abroad. He leaves his family in October, accompanied by his sons, brothers, and frequently an aged parent, and embarks on board a small open boat, in quest of the herring fishery, with no other provisions than oatmeal, potatoes, and fresh water; no other bedding than heath, twigs, or straw, the covering, if any, an old sail. Thus provided, he searches from bay to bay, through turbulent seas, frequently for several weeks together, before the shoals of herring are discovered. The glad tidings serve to vary, but not to diminish his fatigues. Unremitting nightly labor (the time when the herrings are taken), pinching cold winds, heavy seas, uninhabited shores covered with snow, or deluged with rain, contribute towards filling up the measure of his distresses ; while to men of such exquisite feelings as the Highlanders generally possess, the scene which awaits him at home does it most effectually. Having disposed of his capture to the Busses, he returns in January through a long navigation, frequently amidst unceasing hurricanes, not to a comfortable home and a cheerful family, but to a hut composed of turf, without windows, doors, or chim— ney, environed with snow, and almost hid from the eye by its astonishing depth. Upon entering this solitary mansion, he generally finds a part of his family, sometimes the whole, lying upon heath or straw, languishing through want or epidemical disease; while the few surviving cows, which possess the other end of the cottage, instead of furnishing further supplies of milk or blood, demand his immediate attention to keep them in existence. The season now approaches when he is again to delve and labor the ground, on the same slender prospect of a plentiful crop or a dry harvest. The cattle which have survived the famine of the winter, are turned out to the mountains; and. having put his domestic affairs into the best situation which a train of accumulated misfortunes admits of, he resumes the oar, either in quest of herring or the white fishery. If successful in the latter, he sets out in his open boat upon a voyage (taking the Hebrides and the opposite coast at a medium distance) of two hundred miles, to vend his cargo of dried cod, ling, etc., at Greenock or Glasgow. The product, which seldom exceeds twelve or fifteen pounds, is laid out, in conjunction with his companions, upon meal and fishing tackle : and he returns through the same tedious navigation. The autumn calls his attention again to the field the usual round of disappointment, fatigue, and distress awaits him ; thus dragging through a wretched existence in the hope of soon arriving in that country where the weary shall be at rest."  [Keltie's "History of the Highland Clans," Vol. II, p. 42.]

The writer most pitiably laments that twenty thousand of these wretched people had to leave their homes and famine-struck condition, and the oppression of their lairds, for lands and houses of their own in a fairer and more fertile land, where independence and affluence were at their command. Nothing but misery and degradation at home; happiness, riches and advancement beyond the ocean. Under such a system it would be no special foresight to predict a famine, which came to pass in 1770 and again in 1782-3. Whatever may be the evils under the clan system, and there certainly were such, none caused the oppression and misery which that devoted people have suffered since its abolishment. So far as contentment, happiness, and a wise regard for interest, it would have been better for the masses had the old system continued. As a matter of fact, however, those who emigrated found a greater latitude and brighter prospects for their descendants.

From what has been stated it will be noticed that it was a matter of necessity and not a spirit of adventure that drove the mass of Highlanders to America; but those who came, nevertheless, were enterprising and anxious to carve out their own fortunes. Before starting on the long and perilous journey across the Atlantic they were first forced to break the mystic spell that bound them to their native hills and glens, that had a charm and an association bound by a sacred tie. A venerable divine of a Highland parish who had repeatedly witnessed the fond affection of his parishioners in taking their departure, narrated 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. [" Celtic Magazine," Vol. 1, p. 143.]

"Farewell to the land of the mountain and wood,
Farewell to the home of the brave and the good,
My bark is afloat on the blue-rolling main,
And I ne’er shall behold thee, dear Scotland again!

Adieu to the scenes of my life’s early morn,
From the place of my birth I am cruelly torn;
The tyrant oppresses the land of the free:
And leaves but the name of my sires unto me.

Oh! home of my fathers, I bid thee adieu,
For soon will thy hill-tops retreat from my view,
With sad drooping heart I depart from thy shore,
To behold thy fair valleys and mountains no more.

‘Twas there that I woo’d thee, young Flora, my wife,
When my bosom was warm in the morning of life.
I courted thy love ‘mong the heather so brown,
And heaven did I bless when it made thee my own.

The friends of my early years, where are they now?
Each kind honest heart, and each brave manly brow:
Some sleep in the churchyard from tyranny free,
And others are crossing the ocean with me.

Lo! now on the boundless Atlantic I stray,
To a strange foreign realm I am wafted away,
Before me as far as my vision can glance,
I see but the wave rolling wat’ry expanse.

So farewell my country and all that is dear,
The hour is arrived and the bark is asteer,
I go and forever, oh! Scotland adieu!
The land of my fathers no more I shall view."

—Peter Crerar.

America was the one great inviting field that opened wide her doors to the oppressed of all nations. The Highlanders hastened thither; first in small companies, or singly, and afterwards in sufficient numbers to form distinctive settlements. These be— longed to the better class, bringing with them a certain amount of property, intelligent, persevering, religious, and in many instances closely related to the chief. Who was the first Highlander, and in what year he settled in America, has not been determined. It is impossible to judge by the name, because it would not specially signify, for as has been noted, Highlanders had gone to the north of Ireland, and in the very first migrations of the Scotch-Irish, their descendants landed at Boston and Philadelphia. It is, however, positively known that individual members of the clans, born in the Highlands, and brought up under the jurisdiction of the chiefs, settled permanently in America before 1724. [See Appendix, Note A. See Appendix, Note B.] The number of these must have been very small, for a greater migration would have attracted attention. In 1729, there arrived at the port of Philadelphia, five thousand six hundred and fifty-five Irish emigrants, and only two hundred and sixty-seven English, forty-three Scotch, and three hundred and forty-three Germans. Of the forty-three Scotch it would be impossible to ascertain how many of them were from the Highlands, because all people from Scotland were designated under the one word. But if the whole number were of the Gaelic race, and the ratio kept up it would be almost insignificant, if scattered from one end of the Colonies to the other. After the wave of emigration had finally set in then the numbers of small companies would rapidly increase and the ratio would be largely augmented.

It is not to be presumed that the emigrants found the New World to be all their fancies had pictured. If they had left misery and oppression behind them, they were destined to encounter hardships and disappointments. A new country, however great may be its attractions, necessarily has its disadvantages. It takes time, patience, industry, perseverance and ingenuity to convert a wilderness into an abode of civilization. Innumerable obstacles

must be overcome, which eventually give way before the indomitable will of man. Years of hard service must be rendered ere the comforts of home are obtained, the farm properly stocked, and the ways for traffic opened. After the first impressions of the emigrant are over, a longing desire for the old home engrosses his heart, and a self-censure for the step he has taken. Time ameliorates these difficulties, and the wisdom of the undertaking becomes more apparent, while contentment and prosperity rival all other claims. The Highlander in the land of the stranger, no longer an alien, grows stronger in his love for his new surroundings, and gradually becomes just as patriotic for the new as he was for the old country. All its civilization, endearments, and progress, become a part of his being. His memory, however, lingers over the scenes of his early youth, and in his dreams he once more abides in his native glens, and receives the blessings of his kind, tender, loving mother. Were it even thus to all who set forth to seek their fortunes it would be well; but to hundreds who left their homes in fond anticipation, not a single ray of light shone athwart their progress, for all was dark and forbidding. Misrepresentation, treachery, and betrayal were too frequently practiced, and in misery, heart-broken and despondent many dropped to rise no more, welcoming death as a deliverer.


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