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Why Scots cursed the damn Yankees


VISITORS to the USA would choke on their next bottle of Samuel Adams if they knew the part "the father of the revolution" played in persecuting immigrant Scots before the War of Independence.

New research has revealed that encouraged by Adams - known only to most holidaymakers as the name of a popular designer beer — Scots were treated in the same way as Jews in Nazi Germany: being ostracised, beaten and robbed by American-born colonists because of their strong support for British rule.

Colin Nicolson, a lecturer in American history at Stirling University also claims that it was the failure of the British government to clamp down on this intimidation which led directly to the revolution and the loss of the colonies.

Scots immigrants had been arriving in Boston since the establishment of Massachusetts in the 1630s. They attained wealth, power, and privilege, but never great numbers. By the 1760s, less than five per cent of the state population were first or second-generation Scots, but they accounted for nearly one-in-five of pro-British Loyalists.

"The Scots were very, very unpopular and very wealthy," says Dr Nicolson. "Resentment of them became manifest when, in protest at new duties being levied on colonial commerce, Boston’s merchants and shopkeepers launched a boycott of British goods. The Scottish merchants and shopkeepers were, to a man, defiant importers."

In the mid-1760s Boston was home to several prominent agents for Scottish-based exporting companies. They were caricatured by the Patriots as clannish krypto-Jacobites, a myth designed to engender hatred in the Puritan hearts of native-born colonists. And, although evasion of the boycott was widespread, the Scots soon found themselves made scapegoats for its failure.

Dr Nicolson says: "At one town meeting, Samuel Adams, the great and feted revolutionary actually stood up and said, ‘I have a plan to banish all Scotsmen’."

By January 1770, crowds of more than a thousand were demonstrating at persistent importers’ homes and stores. Three Scots brothers —Patrick, James and Daniel McMasters who had amassed a small fortune by importing British goods —were subjected to some particularly rough treatment. Patrick McMasters was even seized-by the mob and stripped naked, ready to be tarred and feathered, before "some prudent persons present" saved him.

According to Dr Nicolson’s new book, The Infamas Govener: Francis Bernard and the Origins of the American Revolution, that episode and others demonstrated how little protection was available to friends of the Government, either from British troops stationed in Boston or the colonial judiciary.

The book published today to coincide with Evacuation Day, the anniversary of the final withdrawal of the British garrison from Boston, focuses on the role of Bernard, English governor of Massachusetts, in the run-up to the 1775 Revolutionary War.

His mismanagement and misreporting of the situation in the colony is widely believed to have led to independence. It was his ill-judged speech to the Boston legislature, saying they had "no choice" but to accept taxation without representation, that led to the Boston Tea Party, probably history’s most famous act of civil disobedience.

"Crucially, Bernard, an appalling English snob, failed to cultivate friendship with the Scots, who were some of the most ardent supporters of retaining British rule, so easing the way for the rebels," says Dr Nicholson.

"During the 1776 Siege of Boston, Scots formed one of the earliest Loyalist regiments, the Royal Highland Emigrants. Bernard ignored all that potential.

"Massachusetts’ treatment of the Loyalists of the revolutionary era is often cited as a paradigm of Yankee tolerance, but this tends to neglect the basic fact that those who opposed the struggle for independence, and comprised about one-fifth of the colonial population, were the revolution’s most conspicuous victims."

Among those who deliberately exploited anti-Scottish feeling to keep revolutionary fervour on the boll were Samuel Adams, his cousin John Adams - who went on to become the second president of the United States — and John Hancock, first signatory of the American Declaration of Independence.

Matters came to a head in 1769 when John Mein, a bookseller and printer recently arrived from Edinburgh, published in his newspaper, the Boston Chronicle, the names and cargo manifests of more than 280 merchants who broke the agreement. Many of them — including to his great embarrassment, John Hancock — were at the forefront of the colonial protest movement.

Mein’s allegations, that the boycott provided an opportunity for wholesalers such as Hancock to squeeze out their smaller competitors, have been vindicated by modern historians but, at the time, they led to his near-lynching.

In response to the destruction of £9,000 worth of East India Company tea in December 1773, the British closed Boston Harbour and replaced the elected upper chamber of the legislature with royal appointees.

Dr Nicolson explains: "Today, that would be akin to Westminster closing down the Parliament in Edinburgh and the Assembly in Cardiff. Understandably, that was the spark of the revolution.

"There are lessons for politicians today. Bernard was not a good listener. He was arrogant, he was a snob, but he saw himself as a moderniser and it is often the things that modernisers do to strengthen the central authority of the State that bring about revolutions."

The Infamas Govener: Francis Bernard and the Origins of the American Revolution is published by Northeastern University.