A Brief History of
Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.
From very early on, the
Scots have been a nation of emigrants. Harsh conditions in a poor land
ensure that people on the verge of famine seek a better life elsewhere.
It is known that the 11th century First Crusade attracted Scottish
adventurers. In the later middle ages, when the universities of Europe
began to attract students, so many were Scots that the French had a
saying that "rats, mice and Scotsmen were found everywhere." When Doctor
Johnson and his Scottish companion Boswell visited the Isle of Skye in
1773, he found what he called "an epidemical fury of emigration." The
islanders even had a dance, a reel that they called "America," in which
the broad circular movements showed Boswell "how emigration catches till
all are set afloat."
In the East India
Company, more than a quarter of the army's officers were Scotsmen, as
was a good proportion of its civilian officers in Madras and Bengal,
where shrewd Scottish bankers and stockholders had such a tight grip on
the company. Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings, though an
Englishman himself, freely used the opportunity to place a steady stream
of Scotsmen into every available position of influence in the Eastern
Empire. It Hector Munro, from a poor family in Cromarty whose victory at
the Battle of Behar ensured Britain's annexation of Bengal in India.
Munro was only one in a long line of Scottish military leaders. For
centuries, Scottish mercenaries fought in different armies, under
different rulers, in different countries, for different causes. It was a
Scot, James Murray, of a Jacobite background, who was entrusted by
General Wolfe to lead the successful campaign to capture Quebec from the
French. He later became Britain's first Canadian governor. The son of a
Scottish adherent of the exiled Stuart dynasty was Jacques Alexandre,
appointed by Napoleon as Marshall of the Empire for his military skills.
Another Scot who distinguished himself on the battlefield was Sir Hector
(Archibald) MacDonald (1833-1903), one of the very few to rise from the
ranks to major general. "Fightin Mac," as he was known, served with
distinction in Afghanistan, South Africa and the Sudan, where he
commanded the Egyptian Brigade in the victory at Omdurman.
In the annals of the British military, the charge of the Scots Greys at
Waterloo, shouting "Scotland for Ever" with the Gordon infantry clinging
to their stirrups to accompany them into battle has earned an honored
and unforgettable place. On occasion, in the past, Scottish soldiers had
fought at home, within the borders of their own land, for Scotland.
Culloden had changed all that; now, as part of the British Army, they
fought all over Europe and the expanding British Empire.
However, not all Scots who ventured abroad were military men. We have
already learned of the disastrous schemes of Scottish financier William
Paterson, who in the 1690's tried to break the East India Company's
monopoly by planting a colony across the Isthmus of Panama with a port
on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In his attempt to create the
most profitable trade route in the world, Paterson wasted about half of
Scotland's finances on the Darien Misadventure. The whole concept
failed, defeated by the mosquito, the Spaniard and the English
indifference or hostility. Scottish mercantile interests had then looked
south to England and the Act of Union of 1707 seemed their best bet. It
was followed by the migration of Scottish Lords and the M.P.'s to
London. Some of them never returned.
Scotland's interests were not well served in London and the following
two centuries encouraged only one Scottish industry -- the export of its
people. Some of these were convicts; the first considerable number of
Scots to reach the New World were prisoners captured by Oliver
Cromwell's army at Dunbar and Worcester, most of whom were sent to New
England. In 1657, a Scots charitable society was established in Boston.
In 1683, following the debacle at Darien, a new, but short-lived
settlement began. Colonists arrived from Gourock on the Carolina
Merchant to Stewart's Town in the Carolinas. This was followed by a more
successful attempt in East New Jersey under Quaker Robert Barclay with
the Earl of Perth as chief proprietor that became most important in the
subsequent story of Presbyterianism in the colonies.
The 1706 ordination of John Boyd at the Old Scots Meeting House,
Freehold, New Jersey, marked the first presbytery meeting and the first
known Presbyterian ordination in American. Not all early church leaders
were Presbyterians, however; in Virginia, the first president of William
and Mary College was James Blair, pioneer and subsequent architect of
Scottish influence upon the Colonial Episcopal Church.
An expanding empire needed a steady supply of soldiers for one thing and
the Scots supplied whole regiments from the Highlands for this purpose;
it also needed settlers and administrators. Everywhere the British
Empire spread, Scotsmen played leading roles in its administration. They
were truly Britain's empire-builders (and as the example of
Scottish-born John Paul Jones shows, they could also play leading parts
in its dissolution). Though people of German stock predominated in the
colonies by 1790, it is estimated that 260,322 people of Scottish
descent were living in the United States, about 9 percent of the total
population. After the Germans came the English, then the Scots.
(Scotch-Irish constituted about 6 percent of the total).
The role of the Glasgow merchants in the expansion of the tobacco trade
of the southern colonies was crucial. Many factors contributed to their
pivotal role: many men in the trade were senior partners in Glasgow
companies; they provided money and men for the clearing of the forests
and the planting of tobacco inland. Between 1750 and 1765, Glasgow
merchants gave their rapidly-growing city predominance in the British
tobacco trade, making it one of the leading commercial cities in Europe.
Tobacco was Scotland's first big business; it stimulated shipbuilding,
encouraged manufacture for colonial markets and helped the Scottish
banking system become one of the strongest anywhere.
It may surprise many to read that the majority of Scots who settled in
the New World were fiercely loyal to the Crown. The Act of Union had
cemented the two kingdoms together mainly through their Royal families,
but one reason for the American Scots loyalty to the royal family was
their strong attachment to clan and country. Scotland remained ever in
their hearts, and Scotland was part of the United Kingdom. Closely bound
to their friends and fellow Highlanders at home, the expatriates fought
for their national heritage. Of the loyalists who fought for the King,
Scots comprised l9 percent. At war's end, over 30,000 loyal Scots left
for Canada where their influence on the development of that country was
One of the most well known loyalists was Flora MacDonald, who had helped
Charles Edward (disguised as maid Betty Burke) escape in 1746. Flora was
captured by fellow Scot Captain John Fergusson "the scourge of the
Highlands" imprisoned on a British ship and later paroled from the Tower
of London. She became something of a celebrity. Her company was eagerly
sought by London's leading citizens and literary men, no doubt all agog
at her tales of the Bonnie Prince. In 1774, she emigrated with her
husband Allen MacDonald and their seven children to North Carolina. As
ardent loyalists, they were not alone in the American south. Between
1764 and 1776, during the hard years of famine and recriminations
following Culloden, more than 23,000 Highlanders had emigrated to the
American colonies. They tended to settle with their fellows and retained
the ways of clan life.
Perhaps it was suspicion of the local authorities and new ruling classes
that made the MacDonalds loyalists. In any case, they joined a large
group of fellow Scots at Cross Creek (now called Fayetteville). When the
royal governor of North Carolina called for volunteers to fight for King
George III against the rebel Americans, he found a ready source among
these Highland expatriates. Allen MacDonald raised the Royal Highland
Emigrants Regiment. His troops were decimated by gunfire before they
could charge in an ill-advised engagement at Moore's Creek that was so
eerily reminiscent of Culloden. Following their defeat, the clan's
property was confiscated, the family consequently left for British-held
New York City and later Nova Scotia. Flora eventually returned to her
beloved Isle of Skye, where she died in 1790.
Other Scottish-American regiments were more successful. Included were
some raised in northern New York State where Highlanders led by William
Johnson had been clearing the vast, uninhabited wilderness. After the
Revolution, many moved to Quebec, where Glengary Highlanders continue to
be proud of their McDonnell ancestors. Historians are fond of pointing
out that today there are probably more descendants of the Highland clans
in North America than in Scotland.
Great numbers of Scottish immigrants helped settle the American South.
Lowland Scots and Scots-Irish (from Ulster) came to play a significant
part in colonial life, especially in the development of the Piedmont
areas of Virginia and the Carolinas. Scottish merchants were found in
all the principal cities, playing a large part in the organization of
overseas trade. In the southern colonies, they formed a large part of
the official establishment, and in addition to providing governors and
clergymen, they established colleges and schools.
The very first US census,
taken in 1790, showed that people of Celtic descent outnumbered the
Anglo-Saxons by two to one in the South. Perhaps three-quarters of the
white population of the American South before the Civil War were of
Celtic (mostly Scottish) descent. It is not too far-fetched to hear the
fearsome Rebel Yell that struck terror in the Yankee ranks during the
Civil War as being derived from the battle cry of the Scots Highlanders.
Many Scottish emigrants settled in Georgia. General Oglethorpe invited
many of these hardy folk to help defend his southern frontier. One
incentive he used was the banning of highland dress in Scotland. No such
restrictions applied in the colonies, where the Highlanders could retain
their language, their customs, their traditions and their way of dress.
The general himself wore highland dress to visit some of the
Perhaps no part of the American colonies was more attractive to Scottish
settlers than North Carolina. Land grants to John Innes, Hugh Campbell
and William Forbes in 1732 ensured a steady supply of immigrants. A
letter written by a British minister visiting the Scottish settlements
around Cross Creek (Fayetteville) at the end of the century wrote, "The
Gallic language is still prevalent among them, their Negroes speak it,
and they have a clergyman who preaches in it." As late as 1851, it was
reported in the "Raleigh Register" that many in the areas still spoke
There have been many notable governors of southern states to achieve
distinction, among them James Glen of South Carolina; Alexander
Spotswood and Lawrence Dinwiddie of Virginia, John Murray, Earl of
Dunmore and Governor of New York and Virginia and Gabriel Johnstone and
Thomas Pollock of North Carolina. The north had famed Cadwallader Colden
of New York State. In addition, many Scots served in lesser, but
important offices such as secretary of a colony, collector of customs
and surveyor of crownlands. Neil Jamieson became the wealthiest Scottish
merchant in Virginia before the Revolution introduced a new chapter in
Scottish-American relations. Highlanders often followed their
traditional calling to enter the military.
Ever since the 1707 union with England, the overseas Scots had developed
a deserved reputation for business success, medical science, philosophic
thought and academic excellence. Their contributions to the progress of
the British-American colonies were enormous. Jefferson (who claimed
Welsh ancestry) said of Scotland, "From that country we are surest of
having sober attentive men." Many Scots came to American as teachers;
they enjoyed a high reputation for diligence, sobriety and serious
purpose as well as skill in teaching. No skill was in more demand than
that of medicine.
A steady stream of Scots from upper-class families emigrated to serve as
medical doctors, though the majority expected to enter business,
including the Dunbars who traded in all kinds of much-sought after
commodities on both sides of the ocean. In South Carolina, Robert
Pringle made a fortune exporting rice and indigo. One emigrant to the
southern colonies was James MacPherson, the translator (and perhaps
forger) of the "Ossian" poems, who came to Florida for a short while.
MacPherson retained a salary as Surveyor General of West Florida even
after his return to London society in 1764 by writing pamphlets
supporting the Government's unpopular American policies.
An indissoluble link between American and Scottish universities came
about with the intransigence of Oxford and Cambridge; concerning the
curriculum. Both were training grounds for the ministry under Anglican
control and Non-Anglicans need not apply. Thus, because Oxford and
Cambridge were restricted to members of the Church of England, American
students flocked to Scottish universities which had no such restrictions
and American colleges, including William and Mary in Virginia followed
their example. One famous student was Cotton Mather -- given a Doctorate
in Divinity by the University of Glasgow in 1710.
When Benjamin Franklin helped found the University of Pennsylvania, he
had the Scottish curricula in mind; its first president was William
Smith, who had studied at Aberdeen. Above the entrance to its famous
medical school is carved a Scottish thistle, paying tribute to the
enormous influence of Scottish medicine in the United States. Indeed,
American medical education's high place in this century can be traced
directly to Scottish universities two centuries ago.
were also influential in spreading the Word to native Americans. The
SPCK was especially active in New England. It is also believed that many
of the democratic ideas incorporated in the Declaration of Independence
came from the teachings of Scottish philosophers Francis Hutcheson and
Thomas Reid. Principal centers for the dissemination of Scottish ideas
were Princeton and Philadelphia, where no doubt prominent Welsh settlers
were also involved in the political and philosophical discussions of the
Twentieth-century author James Barrie wrote of "this race of men [the
Scots] the wind of whose name has swept the ultimate seas." As there
were not that many positions available to Scotsmen at home, the growth
of the Empire more than made up for the disparity. Scottish explorers,
administrators, diplomats, adventurers, bankers, merchants, soldiers and
sailors, engineers, missionaries and doctors made their indelible mark,
first on the new colonies, and second, on the mighty nation that grew
out of them.
Donald Mackay (1810-1880) was a U.S. Naval architect and builder of the
largest and fastest clipper ships in the world. His name joins those of
John Paul Jones, Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Stonewall
Jackson, Jeb Stuart, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, General
Patton and many others who contributed so richly to the forging of the
two nations. General Douglas MacArthur was of Scottish stock; and who
can forget the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II
and his heroic defense of Bastogne, General McAuthur. One of the miners
who discovered the Comstock Lode was Scot John William Mackay, who later
organized the Commercial Cable Company in 1883 to break the monopoly of
the Western Union Telegraph Company. His son was Clarence Hungerford
Mackay, who supervised the construction of the first transpacific cable
between the U.S. and the Far East in 1904.
A March 1996 "Reader's Digest" article about Scottish contributions to
the U.S. stated, "From Revolutionary War heroes to rebel generals, from
duel-fighting Presidents to frontier pathfinders -- these warrior heroes
with Scottish blood have fought, in their own way, the battle that "Braveheart"
so vividly illustrates." The journal failed to mention the Scottish
outside United States.
The Scots also penetrated into Europe, where their influence was widely
felt from medicine to freemasonry, from the flax trade to the iron
industry, from Walter Scott's impact on literature to Samuel Greig's
command of the Russian Imperial Navy of Catherine the Great. Scottish
architects also predominated in the building program because so many of
the Russian Empire's leaders sought to emulate achievements in the West.
Queen Catherine's official court architect was Charles Cameron,
responsible for many magnificent buildings that came to represent
Russia's growing might.
Along with fellow Scots Colin Campbell, Robert Adam and William
Chambers, Cameron was famous throughout Europe for his classical
designs. His assistant was William Hastie, who designed the contract
house in Kiev in 1815, the first stone building of note after a
catastrophic fire of 1811. He also drew up the plans for the imperial
capital city of St. Petersburg, with its wide, straight streets and
regular squares. To carry out his plans, Hastie imported many craftsmen
from Scotland whose ship, the Betsey and Brothers in 1784 also carried
Adam Mendaws, builder of imperial palaces and parks in the
reconstruction of Sophia.
One of the rallying points of the Scottish Nationalists in the 20th
century was the success of Scottish emigrants in so many different
fields. Scottish explorers Mungo Park, David Livingstone and Alexander
Mackenzie became household names in all corners of the English-speaking
world. In the events leading up to the successful referendum more than
one appeal was made to echo that of Bob Busby in the late 1930's that
"our phenomenal control of a world-wide Empire [that] has made the name
of Scotland famous, admired and respected in every quarter of the
Another great example of Scottish achievement, widely cited, had been
the appointment of John Buchan as Governor General of Canada in 1935.
Such examples were cited to show that the Scots were indeed capable of
self-government. For did they not show their traditional qualities of
ambition, independence, hard-headedness and entrepreneurship in
abundance. It is in Canada, however, that the overseas Scots have had
the greatest influence.