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Children of Alba
A story of Scots in America by William G. A. Shaw of Easter Lair

The Celtic Fringe

Two thousand years ago, the Legions of Rome pushed our Celtic ancestors into the westernmost mountains, coast and wilderness of Britain, Gaul and Spain.

A thousand years later, we were kept to these outlands by the oppression of the Saxons, by the violence of the Vikings, and by every kind of pressure from Norman, English, French and Spanish Kings.

The experience of living on the fringes of the known world for over fifteen hundred years becomes entwined in the ancestral memory and very genetic makeup of a people. With the Scots, the Irish and our cousins from the Isle of Man, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and Galicia, this experience has become a part of us.

As a people living on the edge of the world, we were also great explorers. We all know the story of Saint Brendan and his twelve Culdee brothers as they sailed in leather coracles across the Atlantic to “Tir nan Og”, the ‘Land of the Forever Young’. Theories abound of Scotland’s Prince Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, Baron of Roslyn.  In 1398, he sailed to Nova Scotia and even as far south as Westford Massachusetts.  There his men left a carved the effigy and coat of Arms of Sir James Gunn on a rock.  

Closer to our times, many of our families were forced from their native lands to live in exile after the Jacobite Risings of 1644, 1689, 1715, 1719 and 1745. In Ireland, the last great Rising against the English took place in 1798.  Soon after these uprisings, our ancestors were again scattered by a Diaspora of the cruel forces of repression, market economics and famine.

Once again flung to the fringes of the known world - we came to live and thrive in the wilder, unsettled and violent places in the known world. Many of us came to what seemed both naked wilderness and Promised Land – America.

The New World

In the early colonial times, our Celtic ancestors were always the first to ‘go native’.  The Highlander understood and adapted to indigenous American tribal and cultural positions, customs, ways of life and feuds with frighteningly fluid ease. 

As explorers, warriors or farmers, many Highland émigrés came to the raw and dangerous American frontier and continued to live in what was to them a comfortable clan environment not unlike back home.  Hand-fasting with Native American wives, they raised families, worked the land, fought, hunted and built new lives far away from home.

Through out our early history, there are many instances of a blending of Highland and Native American cultures.  In the 1740’s, Lachlan MacGillivray, a cousin of the Clan Chattan Chieftain MacGillivray of Dunmaglas married a Princess of the Creek Nation in Georgia and Alabama. His son Alexander became Chief of the entire Creek Confederacy in 1783 and negotiated several treaties with the new American Government.

John Mackintosh from Inverness was a cousin to the Mackintosh of Mackintosh, the Chief of Clan Chattan. He married into another important family of the Creek Nation in the late 1730’s. His son, William Mackintosh commanded a unit of Creeks fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War. Both of these families numerous descendants today are proud vigorous and loyal members of both their Scottish clan and Oklahoma tribe.

In Western Washington State, many of us remember the late William Shaw of Easter Lair, known to many as ‘Uncle Bill’. Even as recent as 1939, he was adopted into the Yakima  Nation in sweat lodge ceremonies, and took the name Spotted Calf.  Uncle Bill became known for his skill and knowledge in Native American tribal and ceremonial dances. He is represented today by his nephew, another Bill Shaw – who inherited not only his Scottish title, but his sacred eagle feathers.

The American Frontier

President Woodrow Wilson, the son of a Scots Minister said it best: “Every line of strength in American history is a line coloured with Scottish blood”.

When the great Jacobite heroine Flora Macdonald immigrated to North Carolina after the 1745 Rising, she saw the opportunity to ‘begin the world again, anew, in a new corner of it’. Flora joined many Highlanders who had sailed the rough and dangerous passage to settle in family and clan groups in the Carolinas, Georgia, East Jersey, and in Upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley.

Ever-rugged and hard-working, industrious Scots soon established themselves as tobacco farmers in Virginia and Maryland, and were the first to blaze trails with Daniel Boone through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky.

Books and Bibles

From the smallest Highland village and clachan to the great Universities at St. Andrews, Glasgow or Paris, education has always played an important part in Scottish society. Even in the most primitive frontier conditions, most headmasters of these simple schools in the colonies south of New York were Scottish or of Scottish ancestry. Scots arriving in the New World soon established universities, colleges and other educational establishments such as Princeton University in 1746. These schools were fundamental in the education of America's new future leaders.

Doctor John Witherspoon, who signed the American Declaration of Independence was an Scottish educationist who took the belief of the Scottish Enlightenment to America. Witherspoon was influential in getting the framers of the Constitution to strictly separate State and Church in politics.  ……One wonders what Dr. Witherspoon would have to say about the blurring of this vital separation of church and state in today’s politics!


With fire, steel, lead and powder, for the sake of liberty our nation was also forged in thought, reason, words and action. Many of its military and political founders were sons of Scotland or products of its education and upbringing.

The greatest speaker/orator of his generation was Patrick Henry.  Then and today, this son of a Scot’s words ring out over 225 years to galvanize and to remind our nation: “Give me Liberty or give me Death”.

In 1320, Scotland’s sacred document of Freedom, the Declaration of Arbroath was written. It formed the spiritual template for the revolutionary Thomas Jefferson when he composed the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. Nearly half of its signers were of Scottish blood.

Adding wood, sail and chain-shot to Jefferson’s quill pen, parchment and ink, a bold Scotsman named John Paul took the nom de guerre of John Paul Jones.  Under his command, a rag-tag collection of six lightly armed genteel pirates and privateers became the fledgling US Navy.  Bringing the war to Britain, Jones often sailed off of Scotland’s west coast to harass the Royal Navy.  Thomas Jefferson, who later was our first Secretary of State and second President was of Scots descent. Our 3rd President, Alexander Hamilton and our first Secretary of War Henry Knox were both of Scots blood as well.

In the desperate time when the War of Independence was barely hanging by a thread, an interesting spotlight on the colonial Scots and Irish of the day was penned during the freezing winter at Valley Forge.  General George Washington wrote:.......

“…and If all else fails, I will retreat up the Valley of the Virginia, plant my flag on the Blue Ridge, rally around the Scots and Irish of that region, and make my last stand for liberty amongst a people who will never submit to British tyranny whilst there is a man left to draw a trigger.”

A generation after their ancestors crossed the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee, many Scottish Americans crossed the Mexican border into Tejas. In 1836, two frontiersmen from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Scots descent once again stood their ground for liberty on the ramparts of the Alamo.  

As they listened to John MacGregor play the pipes, Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie loaded their long-guns and primed a brace of pistols each, grimly testing the sharpness of their blades as General Santa Ana’s troops charged the battered walls. Their deaths were avenged by a Scots Irish Virginian, Texas patriot Sam Houston.

The War Between the States

Many historians suggest that Celtic influence was a central feature in Scottish and Irish cultural traits on the American southern frontier. From its agrarian society and farming practices to frontier folklore. From mournful Appalachian ballads to the "rebel yell”, many aspects of the Scots/Scotch-Irish/Celtic gentility lay just below the surface of antebellum southern society.

The “Stars and Bars” Confederate Battle flag was reminiscent of the Scottish Saltire.  The President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis was of Scots descent. As were the Confederate Generals that served him: Joseph Johnston, John Brown Gordon and John B. Magruder.

Up North, Chicago and New York each raised a Scottish-American regiment that fought for the Union. New York’s 79th, which modeled its uniforms after the famed Black Watch, remains the most celebrated of these Scots Union military contingents. A grandson of a Jacobite who fought at Culloden, General Winfield Scott commanded US forces during the American/Mexican war of 1846-48.  Another son of a Scot’s name was also writ large in this War Between the States: General U.S. Grant.

The Pacific Northwest.

Closer to home, our own beloved Pacific Northwest was inhabited on the coast and inland sea by the native Salish tribes and in the interior by the plains Indian culture. It was at the edge of the known world.

Before Lewis and Clarke’s Expedition the region was explored by Scotsman Alexander MacKenzie in 1796. By 1810 our region was traversed by mountain men – most of whom were Highland and Islesmen Voyageurs from Montreal. These were the tough men of the North West Company and later Hudson’s Bay Company.

Warriors, entrepreneurs, explorers, poets and free spirits - all ranged the Rockies heading ever west in search of lucrative and valuable Beaver pelts.  By canoe, horseback and on moccassined feet, they came down the Columbia Basin, explored the passes of the mighty Cascade Range and first saw the possibilities of the lush Puget Sound Country.

Known for a while as New Caledonia, and later Columbia, this land was British territory.  British forts were established at Spokane House, Vancouver, Langley and Nisqually, and many other smaller outposts.  Each night at sunset, Fort Vancouver featured two bag pipers playing revile. 

Soon however, wave after wave of Americans flooded north up the Oregon Trail in great numbers.  The righteous idea of Manifest Destiny overwhelmed British commercial and military possessions in what would later be Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

With their wits and canny entrepreneurialism, with their bravery, guts and fortitude and with their determination for independence and freedom – the legacy of Scots and their brother Celts have continued to be writ large in the destiny this great nation of ours and in the Pacific Northwest. 

And like them, their great-great grandchildren and their children will continue to fight and strive for their liberties……And, to paraphrase George Washington, to remain independent and free from tyranny and injustice - whether it be from within or from without our borders.

Long may it be so.

Suas Alba.


Copyright July 2007 - William G. A. Shaw of Easter Lair

Please do not use, alter or paraphrase without permission of the author:
260 Mount Pilchuck Ave. S.W.
Issaquah, WA. 98027

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