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

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.

Chapter 16: The Scots in the US continued