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Scots in the USA

A Brief History of Scotland
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 enormous.

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 settlements.

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 Gaelic.

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.

Scottish missionaries 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 time.

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 globe."

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.


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