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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - August/September 2003
Electric Scotland Speaks

As I study the history of the Highlanders and their descendants it becomes a challenge to me to identify what made us the way we are and why we were able to punch way beyond our weight all over the world.

I was reading a page about the Highland regiments and included was...

"In the summer of the year 1779, a party of the Seventy-first Regiment, consisting of fifty-six men and five officers, was detached from a redoubt at Stoneferry, in South Carolina, for the purpose of reconnoitring the enemy, which was supposed to be advancing in force to attack the post. The instructions given to the officer who commanded went no further than to reconnoitre and retire upon the redoubt. The troops were new troops, ardent as Highlanders usually are. They fell in with a strong column of the enemy (upwards of two thousand) within a short distance of the post; and, instead of retiring according to instruction, they thought proper to attack, with an instinctive view, it was supposed, to retard progress, and thereby to give time to those who were in the redoubt to make better preparations for defence. This they did; but they were themselves nearly destroyed. All the officers and non-commissioned officers were killed or wounded, and seven of the privates only remained on their legs at the end of the combat. The commanding officer fell, and, in falling, desired the few who still resisted to make the best of their way to the redoubt. They did not obey. The national sympathies were warm. National honours did not permit them to leave their officers in the field; and they actually persisted in covering their fallen comrades until a reinforcement arrived from headquarters.

Does it not amaze you that some 61 men thought it right to attack 2000? To me it's incredible and yet as I read more about the Highland regiments this is by no means an isolated incident.  Many times you'll read of the Highland regiments fighting against tremendous odds and as often or not actually winning.

It was through the army that many Scots ended up emigrating to other lands. A clue perhaps can be reached when you read an account of the Highland soldier...

"A learned and ingenious author, who, though himself a Lowlander, had ample opportunity, while serving in many campaigns with Highland regiments, of becoming intimately acquainted with their character, thus writes of them:-

"The limbs of the Highlander are strong and sinewy, the frame hardy, and of great physical power, in proportion to size. He endures cold, hunger, and fatigue with patience; in other words, he has an elasticity or pride of mind which does not feel, or which refuses to complain of hardship. The air of the gentleman is ordinarily majestic; the air and gait of the gilly is not graceful. He walks with a bended knee, and does not walk with grace, but his movement has energy; and between walking and trotting, and by an interchange of pace, he performs long journeys with facility, particularly on broken and irregular ground, such as he has been accustomed to traverse in his native country.

"The Highlanders of Scotland, born and reared under the circumstances stated, marshalled for action by clans, according to ancient usage, led into action by chiefs who possess confidence from an opinion of knowledge, and love from the influence of blood, may be calculated upon as returning victorious, or dying in the grasp of the enemy.

"Scotch Highlanders have a courage devoted to honour; but they have an impetuosity which, if not well understood, and skillfully directed, is liable to error. The Scotch fight individually as if the cause were their own, not as if it were the cause of a commander only, and they fight impassioned. Whether training and discipline may bring them in time to the apathy of German soldiers, further experience will determine; but the Highlanders are even now impetuous; and, if they fail to accomplish their object, they cannot be withdrawn from it like those who fight a battle by the job. The object stands in their own view; the eye is fixed upon it; they rush towards it, seize it, and proclaim victory with exultation.

"The Highlander, upon the whole, is a soldier of the first quality; but, as already said, he requires to see his object fully, and to come into contact with it in all its extent. He then feels the impression of his duty through a channel which he understands, and he acts consistently in consequence of the impression, that is, in consequence of the impulse of his own internal sentiment, rather than the external impulse of the command of another; for it is often verified in experience that, where the enemy is before the Highlander and nearly in contact with him, the authority of the officer is in a measure null; the duty is notwithstanding done, and well done, by the impulses of natural instinct.

"Their conduct in the year 1745 proves very distinctly that they are neither a ferocious nor a cruel people. No troops ever, perhaps, traversed a country which might be deemed hostile leaving so few traces of outrage behind them as were left by the Highlanders in the year 1745. They are better known at the present time than they were then, and they are known to be eminent for honesty and fidelity, where confidence is given them. They possess exalted notions of honour, warm friendships, and much national pride."

In the above statement can be seen many reasons why the Highlander was so successful when emigrating to other lands.  They were used to living and travelling in rough country. Their education made them want to understand the purpose for which they were fighting. They were part of a "family" which demanded honour.  They also desired warm friendships and they did have a national pride.  Are these not a race of people you would want with you in settling a new land?

Because of their pride it would be natural for them to want their new settlements to be the best they could be. We already know the Highlander was well educated as the local church would see that the children could read and write. As one writer put it...

"The Reverend Malcolm MacDonald, a native of Whitton, Quebec, a descendant of the early Scots settlers and of the first church established in the area, says:

"‘The Book of Books was the library they opened, and the Church of Jesus Christ was the first institution they established and that in their homes, and the Gospel of Christ was the philosophy they espoused.’ "

"The most casual observer and historian must admit that these early settlers played a leading part in setting the course in which the Nation travels today.

"I am indeed grateful that we are privileged to stand in the stream of a noble, spiritual, national and cultural tradition, which has flourished in Scotland for centuries, and for some 150 years established firmly on this North American Continent, in both Canada and the United States."

So perhaps we have the clues now?  A people brought up in a religious faith, with good basic education. Part of an extended family where bravery and honour were important and a desire to be part of a community and to serve it well. Being brought up in tough living conditions in terrain and weather they were used to hardship and thought it normal.  It is no wonder that the Highlander made the very best settler of new lands and that they contributed so much to the communities they became part of.

In previous articles I've often mentioned how the Highland soldiers were warmly regarded by people of different nations because of their fairness and sense of honour. I've often mentioned how the Highlander got on well with Native Indians in America due to the many similarities in their life styles. The Highlander just likes people no matter of what country, race or colour. Their reputation for hospitality is legend, even if they do like to take a wee dram or two more than most :-)

As I am actually writing this article on the 4th of July I can well understand how those Highlanders of old wanted their new settlements and country to be the best they could be. They wanted to have that same sense of pride and community that they had in their old clan lands and it is why they did "punch well beyond their own weight" in the communities and country they helped to form.  It is why I think there is so much pride in being an American with all that the nation and its people have achieved in the world. At the same time it is why there is still so much pride in being of Scots descent due to the major contribution the Scots and their descendants have made in building such a great nation.

In a previous article I wrote about the tremendous welcome I personally received when visiting America in February 2003. I said then and I'll say it now... Our ancestors are alive and well and living in America!

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