Highland Scots of Scotland
Highlanders are descendants of Celts who settled in the northern mainland and islands of Scotland, which is part of Great Britain. The Highland Scots are unique in the way they moved in large, organized groups directly from their homeland to America, specifically North Carolina.1 The McRae (MacRae) clan was one of the first Highland clans to migrate.
Way Of Life
The Highlands are a gorgeous but rough land of mountainous, rocky terrain and cruel winters. In the 1700s it was a poor region where the staple foods were oatmeal and beef. The landscape promoted isolation and independence, and as late as the early 1700s, Highland society was structured along a tribal clan system. The clan chief—who was related by blood to clan members—provided land for members to farm. They, in turn, gave him obedience, military service, and land rents.1
War & Upheaval
Scotland experienced changes in the mid-1700s that resulted in thousands of Highlanders emigrating. Many Highland clans supported Charles Edward Stuart—whose grandfather had been King James II of England—in his attempt to overthrow the English throne from King George II. The Highland army of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” was defeated at Culloden Moor in 1746 by Scottish and English forces. The aftermath of this defeat included the victors taking weapons from the Highlanders; forbidding clan members to give military service to their chief; putting clansmen under the jurisdiction of the law, rather than their chief; forbidding the wearing of Highlanders’ native tartans, or plaids; and requiring all schooling to be conducted in English, rather than the Highlanders’ native Gaelic language.1
Migrations To America
In 1735, a group of Scottish Highlanders sailed from Inverness, Scotland aboard the Prince of Wales, headed for Georgia. They disembarked on the northern bank of the Altamaha River, where they founded New Inverness—later named Darien—60 miles south of Savannah. The Scots were among the finest soldiers in the world and had been recruited by General James Oglethorpe to provide a buffer between the English Colony and the Spanish in Florida. The Scots built a fort to replace Fort King George at the mouth of the Altamaha River, which had been abandoned in 1732.2
In 1739, Gabriel Johnston, royal governor of North Carolina and native Scotsman, encouraged 360 Highland Scots to settle in North Carolina and later provided them a ten-year tax exemption for doing so. Subsequent offers by Johnston attracted Highland Scots to North Carolina primarily for economic and political reasons, for in Scotland, they had difficulties paying the increasing land rents and had experienced defeat against the English at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. Although their exact numbers are unknown, records reveal that countless Highland Scots migrated to North Carolina during the colonial period.3
Africans as slaves existed in Scotland and Great Britain before the arrival of Scottish Highlanders to America. Most of the enslaved brought to Britain were young, and generally male, and they were brought to be personal attendants and domestic servants (a few others were craftsmen, and some were sailors belonging to ship captains and officers). Collars and branding were applied to slaves in many cases, both to ensure slaves would be easily identifiable, and to exhibit the wealth of their owners. Indeed, it was highly fashionable to have a young male black servant or slave at the time. 67 notices advertising for the recapture and return of enslaved people who had escaped placed in Scottish newspapers have been found between 1700 and 1780 giving an idea of how slaves were living in Scotland at the time. From the Edinburgh Evening Courant to the Caledonian Mercury, adverts quite clearly describe the slaves as “property,” and offer up to six guineas reward (the equivalent of around £735 today) for the return of their slaves.6 So upon arriving to America, slavery was not a new idea and mostly all Scots purchased slaves to work the huge tracts of land given to them through land lottery drawings.
- Beach, Kathryn. "The Highland Scots". Ncpedia; Tar Heel Junior Historian, NC Museum of History, 1 January 2006, ncpedia.org/highland-scots
- "Marker Monday; Fort Darien". Georgia Historical Society, georgiahistory.com/marker-monday-fort-darien/
- Cain, Robert J. "Scottish Settlers". Ncpedia; Encyclopedia of North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press; 1 January 2006, ncpedia.org/scottish-settlers
- Young, Jeffrey R. "Slavery In Antebellum Georgia". New Georgia Encyclopedia; Georgia State University; 20 October 2003, georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/slavery-antebellum-georgia
- "African Americans And The Federal Census, 1790 - 1930". National Archives And Records Administration, Rev. July 2012, https://www.archives.gov/files/research/census/african-american/census-1790-1930.pdf
- McEachern, Megan. "From Adopting the Scottish Accents To Escaping In Orkney: The Stories Of Runaway Slaves In Scotland". The Sunday Post, 23 August 2018, sundaypost.com/fp/from-adopting-scottish-accents-to-escaping-in-orkney-the-stories-of-runaway-slaves-in-scotland/