Scottish Settlement in the Carolinas

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If you've been long in North Carolina, chances are you've met someone with the surname of Campbell, McNeill, or Stewart. It's also very likely that you've come across more than a few Presbyterian churches, particularly in the more rural areas. These are two of the legacies that have been brought here by immigrants from the highlands of Scotland. Something rather unique to these immigrants is the way they moved in large, organized groups directly from their homes, to the new and uncertain landscape of the British colony of Northern Carolina.

The Highlands are strikingly beautiful, but rocky, craggy, and harsh. It is a rugged and mountainous land of awe-inspiring promontories and foggy moors, green hills, dells, step valleys, isolated groves, and sheer cliffs battered by the sea.

In the 1700s it was a poor region, and the people relied for the most part on oats and beef as staple foods. The landscape was ever conducive to men valuing independence and self-governance, and it certainly was isolated in comparison to the cosmopolitan south. As late as the early 1700s, a tribal clan system was still the mode of society here. The chief was related to his clansmen by blood and a strong sense of kinship- he gave them land to farm and fields for cattle to graze, in return for their fealty, military service when he asked it of them, and usually a paid rent. The loyalty of the clansmen to their chief was unwavering... and the British government saw this as a threat to their control over the region.

Drastic upheaval came in the mid 1700s which bought about the emigration of thousands of Highlanders. Many of the clans were Jacobites, meaning they gave their support to Charles Edward Stuart, a claimant to the throne of England after the “Glorious Revolution”, when the Dutch Prince William of Orange sailed to England and took power. Charles' Highland army was defeated at the battle of Culloden in 1746 by opposing Scottish and English forces. The ramifications of this event included the confiscation of the defeated Highlanders' weapons, prohibiting military service to clan chiefs, imposing the “jurisdiction of law”, forcing all children to be taught in English, and the outlaw of the tartan (plaids).

Other factors contributed to making emigration seem desirable. There was a significant increase in population, which put pressure on a region already hard-pressed to make do with what meager resources were available. Commercial sheep herding was also first introduced, and an unscrupulous clan leader might soon realize that his livestock were more valuable than his tenants, and would simply have them cleared out of their homes and put on a ship to the colonies. The concerted repression of these people by the British government, as well as a myriad of other hardships, all set in motion the mass exodus of highlanders from their native country.

The first organized immigration to North Carolina came in 1739, when 350 people from Argyllshire journeyed to the port town of Wilmington and came up the Cape Fear river to settle in what's now known as Cumberland county. The recent arrivals wrote letters to their loved ones back home encouraging immigration. By 1775 thousands had already made it to the colony. British officials interviewed departing highlanders about their reasons for leaving, and the most common answer was that they were seeking better employment. Tradesmen anticipated higher profits, and farmers criticized high rents by their abusive landlords.

The journey across the Atlantic was not easy, it necessitated weeks on a ship living in cramped quarters, as well as being prostrate to the whims of the sea.

James Hogg organized a group of 264 immigrants to travel to North Carolina in 1773 on the ship Bachelor. The fee for passage was the equivalent of 553$. Hogg contracted with the shipmaster to provide an ample stock of food. Weakly adult rations consisted of : 2 lb. Meat, 2lb. Barley, 5lb. bread biscuit, 4 lb. Oatmeal, 1 lb. Molasses, and six gallons of water. Passangers gathered at the end of June awaiting their journey, but the ship did not arrive at port until the end of August. Sailing at the beginning of the Atlantic storm season, the Bachelor was immediately hit by a fierce gale and had to divert it's course to seek shelter. Upon sailing for a second time, the ship encountered another storm. Then smallpox broke out on board. The ship was harbored in the Shetland Islands where a third strom caused severe damage. Months later the unfortunate passengers booked ship to Wilmington at a later date.

Highlanders were encouraged to settle in North Carolina by the Royal Governor, Gabriel Johnston. Johnston was himself a lowland Scot, and granted the new arrivals an exemption on paying public or county taxes for ten years. Most Scots coming to the colony were farmers who needed land, so this tax exemption acted as a strong incentive. When the highlanders arrived, their priorities were to select land, have it surveyed, and then plant a crop. The native longleaf pines allowed crops to be planted without the backbreaking work of first removing all trees. Settlers simply removed a ring of bark from the tree, killing it, and causing the needles to fall and sunlight to reach the crops.

The settlers had many adjustments to make in their new home. North Carolina was an English colony, so English was by default the language of the majority, and the only language used in government affairs. Highlanders spoke Gaelic. Only educated Scots spoke and read English. The Highlanders were Presbyterian. Since the colony was English, it's official religion was Anglican. Marriages by Presbyterian ministers were not considered valid. Although Highlanders did not attend Anglican services, they were taxed to support Anglican churches. The Highlands of Scotland are a cold, barren, rocky land where trees are few in many areas. New immigrants had to adapt to the hot, clammy, moist air of the coastal plains and the sprawling regions of festering swampland. The thin soil and short growing seasons of the highlands made oats and barely the main crops, while in this new land, Scots grew corn and wheat and raised hogs rather than cattle. Pitch for naval stores was also lucrative and widely produced.

Despite differences in language, religion, and traditions, the Highland Scots integrated well into North Carolina society. They were involved in both local and colonial government. When the colonial assembly called for a Revolutionary Congress to meet in 1774, two highlanders represented Cumberland county. Concerned over the thousands of Highlanders immigrating to the colony in 1774, the Provincial Congress asked a group of highlanders to meet with new arrivals and explain the nature of the colonists' grievances with England. In 1775 Alexander McAllister wrote to relatives in Scotland that “All colonies are fully determined to fight to the last before they give up their most valuable privilege which is their liberty. If Parliament persists in putting the acts (the Intolerable Acts) in force, they will have a severe battle”.

Yearning for land and better employment, forced to flee their own country in the wake of oppression and hardship, the Highland Scots came to North Carolina in the hope of finding a better future for themselves and their posterity.

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  1. Loki's Avatar
  2. Loki's Avatar
    I like William of Orange.
  3. McCauley's Avatar

    Thanks man.

    [QUOTE=Loki;bt985]I like William of Orange.[/QUOTE]

    Yeah he was a good Dutchman. Really the only reason so many Scots followed Charles to their deaths was because the House of Stuart was a Scottish house, you can see why they were such ardent Jacobites.
  4. larali's Avatar
    I'm related to the Campbells of North Carolina!!

    What a great blog post!!
  5. McCauley's Avatar
    [QUOTE=larali;bt988]I'm related to the Campbells of North Carolina!!

    What a great blog post!![/QUOTE]

    Were they from Cape Fear by any chance?

    And thank you.
  6. larali's Avatar
    I am not sure, I'll have to check.
  7. Atlantic Islander's Avatar
    Very interesting!
  8. MINARDOWICZ's Avatar
    Nice read :). Upstate SC guy here! :)
  9. Ultra's Avatar
    Nice story bro.