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Scottish Emigration

Until lately, the great majority of Highland emigrants preferred British America to any other colony, and at the present day Cape Breton, Prince Edward's Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and many other districts of British North America, contain large Highland population, proud of their origin, and in many instances still maintaining their original Gaelic. One of the earliest Highland settlements was, however, in Georgia, where in 1738, a Captain Mackintosh settled along with a considerable number of followers from Inverness-shire. The favourite destination, however, of the earlier Highland emigrants was North Carolina, to which, from about 1760 till the breaking out of the American war, many hundreds removed from Skye and other of the Western Islands. During that war these colonists almost to a man adhered to the British Government, and formed themselves into the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, which did good service. At the conclusions of the war, many settled in Carolina, while others removed to Canada, where land was allotted to them by Government. That the descendants of these early settlers still cherish the old Highland spirit, is testified to by all travellers; some interesting notices of their present condition may be seen in Mr David Macrae's American Sketches (1869). Till quite lately, Gaelic sermons were preached to them, and the language of their forefathers we believe has not yet fallen into disuse in the district, being spoken even by some of the Negroes. Those who emigrated to this region seem mostly to have been tacksmen, while many of the farmers and cottars settled in British America. Although their fortunes do not seem to have come up to the expectations of themselves and those who sent them out, still there is no doubt that their condition after emigration was in almost every respect far better than it was before, and many of their descendants now occupy responsible and prominent positions in the colony, while all seem to be as comfortable as the most well-to-do Scottish farmers having the advantage of the latter in being proprietors of their own farms. According to the Earl of Selkirk, who himself took out and settled several bands of colonists, "the settlers had every incitement to vigorous exertion from the nature of their tenure. They were allowed to purchase in fee-simple, and to a certain extent on credit. From 50 to 100 acres were allotted to each family at a very moderate price, but none was given gratuitously. To accommodate those who had no superfluity of capital, they were not required to pay the price in full, till the third of fourth year of their possession; and in that time an industrious man may have it in his power to discharge his debt out of the produce of the land itself". Those who went out without capital at all, could, such was the high rate of wages, soon save as much as would enable them to undertake the management of land of their own. That the Highlanders were as capable of hard and good labour as the lowlanders, is proved by the way they set to work in these colonies, when they were entirely freed from oppression, and dependence, and charity, and had to depend entirely on their own exertions.

Besides the above settlements, the mass of the population in Caledonian County, State of New York, are of Highland extraction, and there are large settlements in the State of Ohio, besides numerous families and individual settlers in other parts of the United States. Highland names were numerous among the generals of the United States army on both sides in the late civil war.

The fondness of these settlers for the old country, and all that is characteristic of it, is well shown by an anecdote told in Campbell's Travels in North America (1793). The spirit manifested here is, we believe, as strong even at the present day when hundreds will flock from many miles around to hear a Gaelic sermon by a Scotch minister. Campbell, in his travels in British America, mainly undertaken with the purpose of seeing how the new Highland colonists were succeeding, called at the house of a Mr Angus Mackintosh on the Nashwack. He was from Inverness-shire, and his wife told Campbell they had every necessary of life in abundance on their own property, but there was one thing which she wished much to have - that was heather. "And as she had heard there was an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence, opposite to the mouth of the Merimashee river, where it grew, and she understood I was going that way, she earnestly entreated I would bring her two or three stalks, or cows as she called it, which she would plant on a barren brae behind her house where she supposed it would grow; that she made the same request to several going that way, but had not got any of it, which she knew would beautify the place; for, said she, 'This is an ugly country that has no heather; I never yet saw any good or pleasant place without it". Latterly, very large numbers of Highlanders have settled in Australia and New Zealand, where, by all accounts, they are in every respect as successful as the most industrious lowland emigrants.

No doubt much immediate suffering and bitterness was caused when the Highlanders were compelled to leave their native land, which by no means treated them kindly; but whether emigration has been disastrous to the Highlands or not, there can be no doubt of its ultimate unspeakable benefit to the Highland emigrants themselves, and to the colonies in which they have settled. Few, we believe, however tempting the offer, would care to quit their adopted home, and return to the bleak hills and rugged shore of their native land.

An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of Emigration from the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland
with Observations on the means to be employed for Preventing it by Alexander Irvine (1802).(pdf)

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