Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 16: The Scots in the US

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.

Chapter 16: The Scots in the US continued