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

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 ežducation'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 McAuliffe? 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.

Chapter 17: Scots in Canada