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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Chapter XI


Irmportance of the emigrants to our colonies; custom of settling in the United States; means of inducing a change of destination; will not increase the spirit of emigration.

KEEPING in view the distinction already insisted upon, between the cotters and the small tenants, I think it may now be assumed as sufficiently proved, that emigration, to a greater or less extent, is likely to go on from the Highlands, till the latter class is entirely drained off. If this be admitted, I need not take up much time to prove, that it is an object deserving of some attention, and of some exertion, to secure these emigrants to our own colonies, rather than abandon them to a foreign country.

Some persons, indeed, have insinuated, :that the colonies are altogether of little use. That is a point which it would be foreign to my present purpose to discuss. Those however, who are of that opinion, ought to argue, not for their being neglected, but relinquished; and, if they are to be retained, it cannot surely admit of a doubt, that it is better the overflowings of our own population should contribute to their improvement, than to that of a country with which we are unconnected, and which may become hostile to us: it is besides of no small importance, that our own colonies should be peopled by men, whose manners and principles are consonant to our own government.

It is with regret I have heard persons of distinguished judgment and information give way to the opinion, that all the continental colonies, and particularly the Canadas, must inevitably fall, at no distant period of time, into the :hands of the Americans. That continued mismanagement may bring this about, cannot be denied; but I think it equally clear, that, by steadily pursuing a proper system, such an event may be tendered not only improbable, but almost impossible.

The danger to, be apprehended, is not merely from an invading military force, but much; more from the disposition of the colonists themselves, the republican principles of some, and the lukewarm affection of. others. From the original composition of some of. the settlements, formed at the close of the American war entirely by refugee loyalists, we might naturally expect to find a population firmly attached to the interests of Britain. The fidelity of which they had given proof during the war, was recompensed by the scrupulous attention of Government to their relief and support, when the contest became desperate; and, in all the situations where an asylum was provided for them, they received advantages unprecedented in the history of colonisation. This generous conduct of Government has not been forgotten, and the most satisfactory dispositions still remain among these loyalists and most of their descendants.

But the general character of some of the colonies has received an unfortunate tinge, from the admixture of settlers of a very different description. Numbers of Americans, of principles the most opposite to the Loyalists (many of them worthless characters, the mere refuse of the States), have since found their way into these provinces, Unless effectual means are adopted to check this influx, there is every probability that it will continue; for, in consequence of some capital errors in the original regulations laid down for the direction of the officers intrusted with the disposal of waste lands, and from the state of landed property arising from these, there is a continual encouragement for settlers of the same description. In some parts, where, from local circumstances, it is peculiarly desirable to have a population of steady dispositions, these intruders are fast approaching to an absolute majority of numbers: there is even too much probability of their principles infecting the mass of the people throughout the provinces.

Under these circumstances, it is evident what important services may be derived from such a body of settlers as the Highland emigrants would form. It is not merely from their old established principles of loyalty, and from their military character; that they would be a valuable acquisition. It is a point of no small consequence, that; their language and manners are so totally different from those of the Americans. This will preserve them from the infection of dangerous principles: but it seems, in this view, of essential importance, that, whatever situation be selected for them, they should be concentrated in one national settlement, where particular attention should be bestowed to keep them distinct and separate, and where their peculiar and characteristic manners should be carefully encouraged.

It is much to be regretted, that more attention had not been paid to this principle, not only with respect to the Highlanders, but also the Dutch and Germans, who, in some parts, form a considerable proportion. Had these also been separated into distinct national settlements,. they would have formed a strong barrier against the contagion of American sentiments; and any general combination against the mother country would have been rendered almost impossible.

The local circumstances of the different provinces, the political and commercial advantages to be expected from the further colonization of each, the precautions requisite for this security, and the means which may be found for remedying the errors of their former administration, are topics which would lead into too great length, and which this is not the proper place to discuss. I must proceed, therefore, to the points immediately connected with the subject of these observations, to consider the measures that are necessary for diverting the current of emigration, and directing it to any part of the colonies which may appear to government most advisable. It has been supposed that this could not be done without such encouragements as would tend very much to increase the evil in general: but I hope to make it appear that this is a mistake; and that the object may be accomplished without recurring to the measures that can have any permanent bad effect.

The difficulty of directing the emigrations of the Highlanders, arises from their peculiarly gregarious disposition. Circumstances in a great measure accidental, induced the first persons who left the different districts of the Highlands, to fix themselves in various situations. The first steps of this kind were taken with feelings of awful uncertainty. They were decided upon, under a total want of information respecting the country towards which their course was directed; except, perhaps, by interested representations of persons concerned in land speculations. It is said that some of. the first adventurers had fatal experience of the falsehood of these;—that they were misled and ruined.

Whether from the tradition of such events, or from the habitual jealousy which is. generally found among men in the earlier stages of society, it is certain that the Highlanders always show great distrust of any information which, does not come from their own immediate connexions; and, from this disposition, those adventures which have proved fortunate, have been scarcely less important to the persons immediately embarked in them, than to the friends whom they had left behind. These were soon informed of their success; and to men who foresaw the necessity of similar steps, it was highly interesting to be certain of an asylum. The success of those with whom they were acquainted, was a sufficient motive to determine their choice of situation; and having found a rallying point, all who at subsequent periods left the same district of Scotland, gathered round the same neighbourhood in the colonies.

No one of these settlements, however, gained an universal ascendancy. A number were formed about the same period of time, and each attracted the peculiar attention of the district from which it had proceeded. The information sent home from each, as to the circumstances of the country in which it was situated, did not spread far. The nature of’ a mountainous country, and the difficulty of mutual intercourse; tended to confine any information to the valley in which it was first received. These natural causes were strengthened by those feudal animosities of the different clans, which were not entirely forgotten at the period of the first emigrations. Thus it often happened, that the inhabitants of one estate in the Highlands acquired a strong predilection for a particular place in America, while on the adjoining estate, separated only by a river or a mountain, a preference as decided was given to another settlement, perhaps extremely remote from it.

In this manner the people of Braedalbane and other parts of Perthshire, as also those of Badenoch and Strathspey, and part of Ross-shire, have generally resorted to New York, and have formed settlements on the Delaware, the Mohawk, and the Connecticut rivers. A settlement has been formed in Georgia, by people chiefly from Inverness-shire. Those of Argyleshire and its islands, of the Isle of Skye, and of the greater part of the Long Island, of part of Ross and Sutherland, have a like connexion with North Carolina, where they have formed the settlement of Cross Creek, noted in the history of. the American war for its loyalty and its misfortunes, and since, named Fayetteville. Some people from Lochaber, Glengary, &c. who joined the settlements in New York at the eve of the American war, were forced, by. the ensuing disturbances, to remove themselves, and take refuge in Canada, to which they have attracted the subsequent emigrations of these districts. The people, again, of Moydart, and some other districts in Inverness-shire, with a few of the islands, are those who have formed ‘the Scottish settlements of Pictou in Nova Scotia, and the Island of St. John, now called Prince Edward’s.

The continued and repeated communication between these settlers, and their relations in Scotland, has given the people of every part of the Highlands a pretty accurate acquaintance with the circumstances of some particular colony; and the emigrants, though their ideas are often sanguine, are by no means so ignorant of the nature of the country they are going to, as some persons have supposed. But the information which any of the peasantry have of America, is all confined to one spot; to the peculiar circumstances of that place, they ascribe all those advantages which it has in common with other new settled countries. Of the other colonies they are perfectly ignorant, and have often very mistaken notions. Those, in particular, whose views are directed towards the southern states, have received very gloomy impressions of the climate of Canada, and of all the northern colonies. But to rectify these mistaken opinions, is by no means the greatest difficulty in bringing them to change their plans. The number of their friends or relations who have all gone to the same quarter, give it the attraction almost of another home.

It is therefore indispensable, that, to overcome these motives, some pretty strong inducement should be held out to the first party who will settle in the situation offered to them. To detached individuals, it would be difficult to offer any advantage sufficiently strong to counterbalance the pleasure of being settled among friends; as well as the assistance they might expect from their relations. But if means can be found of influencing a considerable body of people, connected by the ties of blood and friendship, they may have less aversion to try a new situation and such a settlernent be once conducted safely through its first difficulties, till the adventurers feel a confidence in their resources, and acquire some attachment to the country, the object may be considered as almost entirely accomplished.  All those circumstances which operate against the first proposal of change will serve to confirm it when it is brought to this stage of advancement; and no peculiar encouragement will any longer be necessary.

Even in the first Instance, the encouragement which may be sufficient to induce people to change their destination, must be very far short of that which would induce men, who have no other motive, to think of emigration. To excite a spirit of emigration where no such inclination before existed, is a more arduous task than those who have not paid a minute. attention to the subject may imagine. To emigrate, implies a degree of violence to many of the strongest feelings of human nature; a separation from a number of connexions dear to the heart; a dereliction of the attachments of youth, which few can resolve upon without the spur of necessity. Dr. Adam Smith has justly observed, that Man is of all species of luggage the most difficult to be transported; the tendency of the labouring poor to remain in the situation where they have taken root, being so strong that the most palpable and immediate advantages are scarcely sufficient to overcome the force of habit, as long as they and a possibility of going on in the line they have been accustomed to. In one out of a hundred, this tendency may be overcome by motives of ambition or enthusiasm; but when a general and universal disposition to emigration ex sts in any country, it would need strong grounds indeed, to justify the supposition that it arises from any accidental or superficial cause.

There occurs, in the history of the Highland emigrations, one striking example how little permanent effect arises from any casual and occasional encouragement. I allude to the settlement of Georgia in 1729. The patrons of that undertaking, conceiving the Highlanders to be people of a description likely to answer their purpose, serif agents to Inverness to publish their proposals. The causes which have since produced so strong a spirit of emigration in the Highlands had not begun to operate; and nothing of the kind had taken place, except in the case of some few detached individuals who may by various accidents have found their way to America. The settlement, however, was to be conducted under such respectable patronage the terms were so liberal, and the advantages offered to people of the poorest class so extraordinary, that there was no difficulty in finding a considerable number of that description who entered into the undertaking. But this does not appear to have had any effect in occasioning a general spirit of emigration. It was forty years afterwards, before any such spirit was to be observed.

We neither find that the people who went to Georgia were the subject of regret in the country they left, nor that this operation, by its subsequent effects, produced any such inconvenience as to give rise to the slightest complaint.

This example seems to prove that the utmost effect of such encouragement, will by itself be, inconsiderable and transitory, and that there is no reason to be apprehensive of the consequences of any temporary inducements which government might judge proper for the purpose of diverting the emigration into a different channel. I have observed that there is no necessity for continuing this encouragement long, or affording it to any but the first who should enter into the measures proposed, or at most to a few people from each district. Supposing that such a party were even wholly composed of persons who would not otherwise have emigrated, it is not clear that they would form a net addition to the general amount of emigration; for, if I have been successful in proving that this disposition arises from unavoidable and radical causes in the state of the country, then must it go on till these causes are exhausted, and the population brought to that level which natural circumstances point out. A certain number of people must leave the country; and whether it falls to the lot of this or of that man to go, the general result will not be affected. If a set of people, who had no such intention, are by any means induced to go, they make room for others to stay, who would otherwise have been under the necessity of emigrating.,

The force of the principle is illustrated by the feelings of the country-people themselves on the subject; by the anxiety they frequently show that others should emigrate, though they have no such intention themselves; merely that they may have a chance of procuring lands which would not otherwise be in their offer. It has been known in more than one instance, that an individual, who felt that his example would have~ some weight, has even pretended to join in the emigration, and made every demonstration of zeal for the undertaking, till his neighbours have been fully committed, and has then deserted them as soon as he could see any vacant farm, that he could have a chance of procuring.

But if peculiar advantages are to be given, to encourage a party of emigrants to settle in a new situation, is it to be supposed that these must all be people who would not otherwise have left the country? Or rather is not such a supposition contrary to every. probability? Let encouragement be held out, even in the most indiscriminate manner, the persons most likely to accept the offer, will certainly be those whose views were previously directed to emigration. Perhaps, indeed, the more opulent among the people who have taken such a resolution, will not be easily diverted from their preconceived plans, and will be little influenced by the offer of assistance. Those who feel some difficulty in accomplishing their views, will be the more ready to listen to terms by which the attainment of their object is rendered more easy. The encouragement held out, must therefore be of such a nature as to suit those whose means are scanty. There is a chance, no doubt, that, in this way, emigration may be brought within the reach of a few, who could not otherwise have made the attempt. The difference, however must be trifling; and, at any rate, the object in view deserves some sacrifice. There are individuals, perhaps in the Highlands, who may think it better that a hundred persons should emigrate to the United States, than that a hundred and one should go to our own colonies. But this is a sentiment in which, I trust, they will not be joined by many whose opinions deserve respect.


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