Scottish and scotch-irish americans

by Mary A. Hess


Scotland occupies roughly the northern one-third of the British Isles; its area is 30,414 square miles (78,772 square kilometers), or about the size of the state of Maine. A fault line separates the country into the northern Highlands and the southern Lowlands, the agricultural and industrial center of the country. In addition, there are several island groups offshore, notably the Hebrides, Shetland, and Orkney Islands. Two-thirds of the nation's population of 5,100,000 live in the Lowlands, most near the country's two largest cites—Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, and Glasgow. The other major cities of Dundee and Aberdeen reflect Scotland's major industries, particularly fishing and shipbuilding, and its strong ties to maritime commerce. The name Scotland derives from a Gaelic word for "wanderer."

Although the Highlands occupy a greater land mass than the Lowlands, they are more sparsely populated. There are also distinct cultural differences between the two. Highlanders, who were organized in family groups called clans, share a mostly Celtic culture and many are still Roman Catholic; whereas the Lowlanders are mostly Presbyterian, and speak Scots, which is an English-based language.

A land of considerable natural beauty, Scotland is surrounded on three sides by water—the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Sea to the east. Deep and narrow inlets known as firths penetrate the coastline of Scotland, while inland are distinctive glacial lakes known as lochs, the most famous of which is Loch Ness, the home of the fabled "Nessie," a prehistoric creature said to live in the deepest part of the lake.


The earliest recorded history concerning the Scots comes from the Romans, who controlled southern Britain in the first century A.D. In 84 A.D. , the Romans defeated the tribal armies of Scotland in battle but they were unable to conquer the people. In an attempt to isolate the fierce "barbarians," the Roman emperor Hadrian built a massive stone wall, the remains of which are still visible traversing northern England just south of the Scottish border. By the 600s, four tribal groups had emerged: the Angles of the Southeast, related to the Germanic tribes settling England at the time; the Britons of the southwest, a Celtic people related to the Welsh; the Picts, also Celtic, who dominated the Highlands; and the Scots, a Celtic group that settled the western islands and cost from nearby Ireland. Christianity, brought by missionaries such as St. Ninian and St. Columba, spread slowly among the tribes beginning in about 400.

Following the Viking invasions of the 800s and 900s, the four tribes gradually united under Scottish kings such as Kenneth MacAlpin, who brought the Scots and Picts together in 843 and is often called the first king of Scotland. His descendants succeeded in gaining limited control over rival kings and the feuding clans (groups of families related by blood). One king who briefly unseated the dynasty was Macbeth of Moray, who killed Duncan, a descendant of MacAlpin, in 1040. Eventually, the Scots gave their name to the land and all its people, but the kings often ruled in name only, especially in the remote Highlands where local clan leaders retained their independence.

In 1066 Norman invaders from France gained control of England. Powerful new English rulers such as the thirteenth century's Edward I, who was called "the Hammer of the Scots," gained influence over the Scottish kings and helped shape culture in the Lowlands. Still the Scots resisted English dominance, often allying with England's enemy, France. One brief period of glory came when Robert Bruce, a noble, gained the Scottish crown and wiped out an English army at Bannockburn in 1314. Bruce's daughter married Walter the Steward (steward was a high office of the royal administration). This led to Stewart, later spelled Stuart, becoming the name of Scotland's royal house.

The English and Scottish royal houses had become closely connected through marriage. On Elizabeth's death in 1603, Mary's son James IV, already king of Scotland, ascended the throne of England. The Catholic Stuart monarchs faced trouble in both England and Scotland as the religious disputes between Catholics and Protestants wreaked the land. His coronation as James I of England settled Scotland's fate, for it was during his reign that the Plantation in Ulster relocated Lowland Scots in an attempt to reconstruct Ireland as a Protestant country. James's son, Charles I, was executed in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell's Protestant regime; after the Stuarts' restoration to the throne, James II was replaced by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange in 1688. While rebellions continued in Scotland, the union of crowns marked the beginning of an increasing bond between Scotland and her more powerful neighbor. The Treaty of Union (1707) formalized the political connection by incorporating Scotland's government into that of England. This created the United Kingdom and laid the foundation for the British Empire—to which the Scots would contribute greatly in coming centuries.

Political turmoil continued in Scotland during the 1700s with rebellions led by James Stuart (son of James II), who was backed by France and Spain—England's Catholic enemies. The most important of these "Jacobite" (from Jacobus, Latin for James) campaigns occurred in 1715 and in 1745, when James' son Charles also surprised Britain by invading from Scotland. These failed attempts engendered a vast body of romantic legend, though, particularly around the figure of Charles, called "Bonnie Prince Charlie" or the "Young Pretender" (claimant to the throne). The Jacobites found more support among the fiercely independent Highlanders, who had remained largely Catholic, than among the stern Protestant Lowlanders. The Scots retained their distinctive character, however, even as they contributed to Britain's prosperity and worldwide power.


The Scotch-Irish trace their ancestry to Scotland, but through Northern Ireland, which also belongs to the British Empire. Northern Ireland, which is composed of six counties—Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Down, Monaghan, and Tyrone, occupies an area of 5,452 square miles (14,121 square kilometers), or a territory somewhat larger than the state of Connecticut. Its capital and largest city is Belfast, where approximately one-fifth of the country's population of 1,594,000 resides.

The Scotch-Irish descend from 200,000 Scottish Lowland Presbyterians who were encouraged by the English government to migrate to Ulster in the seventeenth century. Trying to strengthen its control of Ireland, England tried to establish a Protestant population in Ulster. Surrounded by native hostility, though, the group maintained its cultural distinction. The same economic pressures, including steadily increasing rents on their land, frequent crop failures, and the collapse of the linen trade, coupled with the belief in greater opportunity abroad, caused many Scotch-Irish to leave for the American colonies during the eighteenth century. It is estimated that nearly two million descendants of the Scotch-Irish eventually migrated to the American colonies.


From 1763 to 1775, 55,000 Scotch-Irish from Ulster and 40,000 Scots arrived in America. Since Scotland was able to pursue its own colonies in the New World, several small colonies were established in the early seventeenth century in East Jersey and South Carolina. These colonies were primarily for Quakers and Presbyterians who were experiencing religious persecution by the then Episcopalian Church of Scotland. Although some Scots were transported to America as prisoners or criminals and were forced into labor as punishment, many voluntarily settled in America as traders or tobacco workers in Virginia. However, the political persecution of the Jacobite sympathizers, combined with economic hard times, forced many Scots to emigrate. Unlike the Scotch-Irish, who emigrated individually, the Scots emigrated in groups, which reflects their early organization in clans. They became a significant presence in the New World, settling in the original colonies with a particularly strong presence in the Southeast.

Many Scotch-Irish joined the mass migrations to the New World brought on by the Potato Famine of the 1840s. Substantial numbers of Scots also immigrated to the United States in the nineteenth century to work in industry. Throughout the twentieth century, immigration would rise when economic conditions in Scotland worsened; this was especially true during the 1920s when an economic depression hit Scotland particularly hard. Because British law then prohibited skilled workers to leave the country, many Scotch-Irish laborers found their way to the United States through Canada.


Because of profound doctrinal differences with New England's Congregationalism, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians opted for the religious freedom of William Penn's colony; and the earliest settlements there were near Philadelphia in the 1720s. They reached as far west as Pittsburgh before finding greater opportunities in the southern colonies. The Scotch-Irish and Scots alike were strongly represented in the push westward, though, and their participation in military campaigns was significant. Darien, Georgia, was founded by Highland Scots in service to General James Oglethorpe, and their assistance was invaluable in protecting the British colonies of the Southeast from the Spanish in Florida. These Highland Scots strongly protested against the institution of slavery in the colony, setting a precedent for strong anti-slavery sentiment that stood against the Scotch-Irish planters and English colonists who were eager for slavery to help build the colony and amass fortunes.

"P eople who had come to this country in the earlier years had told me, you'll be sorry when you get to Ellis Island. But I wasn't really sorry, I was just maybe upset a little bit. What upset me the most was having to go through so many people's hands and take such a long time."

Mary Dunn in 1923, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).

Today the descendants of the Scotch-Irish number over six million, with about five million identifying themselves as descended from Scottish ancestry. In the 1990 U.S. Census "Scotch-Irish" was the eleventh most populous ethnic group, followed by "Scottish." The states reporting the highest concentration of Scotch-Irish are California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Those claiming Scottish descent are also most populous in California, then Florida, Texas, New York, and Michigan. The issue of descent is somewhat confused since not all historians and social scientists count Scotch-Irish as a culturally distinct group. For the purposes of the 1990 census, "Scotch-Irish" was included as a classification that was a single, rather than a multiple, response to the question of national origin. Also, a significant number of African Americans and Native Americans claim Scotch-Irish ancestry.

Acculturation and Assimilation

The Scots people were among the first European settlers, and along with the other colonists from the British Isles, helped create what has been recognized

This girl is performing a Scottish sword dance.
This girl is performing a Scottish sword dance.
as the dominant culture in America, namely, white and Protestant. By working hard and seizing the opportunities of a rapidly growing country, many Scottish immigrants were able to move up rapidly in American society. Unaffected by barriers of race, language, or religion, they earned a reputation for hard work and thrift that was greatly admired in the young republic. Perhaps the most notable among this group is one of America's most successful immigrants—the industrialist Andrew Carnegie. After arriving in America at the age of 13, he worked first in a cotton mill, then as a superintendent for the Pennsylvania Railroad. By shrewd investments, he parlayed his Carnegie Steel Company
David Barron throws a 28 pound weight for distance during the 25th annual Quechee Scottish Festival in Vermont.
David Barron throws a 28 pound weight for distance during the 25th annual Quechee Scottish Festival in Vermont.
into a huge fortune. In his famous essay, "The Gospel of Wealth," he described his rationale for philanthropy—Carnegie donated hundreds of millions of dollars to build public libraries, endow universities, and fund scholarships. His most famous gift is one of New York's most beautiful public buildings, Carnegie Hall, which has hosted the world's most distinguished performers in the lively arts. Carnegie believed that wealth acquired by hard work should be shared with society, but on his terms; for example, Carnegie was bitterly opposed to unionization in his steel plants and was behind the murder of strikers in the Homestead Strike at his plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, in 1892.

Scots are relatively unscathed by any ethnic stereotyping; however, the phrase, "cold as Presbyterian charity" reflects the long standing belief that Scots are dour and stingy. This seems to be lessening, although brand names such as "Scotch Tape" reinforce the idea that to be Scottish is to be thrifty. There is also the persistence of the "hillbilly" legend, which portrays Appalachian residents as ill-clad, unshod bumpkins fond of brewing "moon-shine" (bootleg whiskey). This image became widespread with the "Lil' Abner" comic strip drawn by Al Capp beginning in 1932; the strip reached 60 million readers and became first a Broadway musical and then a film in 1959. In the 1960s, a CBS television series, "The Beverly Hillbillies" and its spinoffs "Petticoat Junction" and "Green Acres" furthered the image of rural people as simpletons. The dignity of most rural Southern life has emerged, however, with the publication of the "Foxfire" books in the 1970s, and the efforts of folklorists to preserve and document a vanishing way of life. Appalshop, a rural arts and education center in Whitesburg, Kentucky, exemplifies the effort to preserve the Scottish and Scotch-Irish heritage of Appalachia on film and also recorded music.

The figure most associated with the best aspects of this tradition is the pioneer Daniel Boone (1734-1820), whose life has been celebrated in song and story, as well as movies and television. Daniel Boone was a trailblazer and patriot who continues to capture the imaginations of Americans. Other famous Scots who immigrated to America were Flora MacDonald, the woman who saved the life of "Bonnie Prince Charlie" by hiding him from his pursuers. Imprisoned by the English until she became too troublesome as a symbol of Jacobite sentiment, she was pardoned and immigrated to North Carolina. John Muir, Scottish-born naturalist (1838-1914), was reared as a strict Calvinist, and reacted to a near loss of his eyesight in an accident by a spiritual quest for the natural world. He began a walk on foot across the continent, and fiercely advocated the preservation of the wilderness; he influenced President Theodore Roosevelt to become a conservationist. The national parks are a tribute to his foresight and love of America's natural beauty.

There is a cliché about "the wandering Scot" which contains an essential truth—that Scottish people have both a wanderlust and a strong affection for Scotland. This attachment can be seen today in the celebration by Americans of their Scottish and Scotch-Irish roots, which often means both a consciousness of ethnicity as well as taking a journey to discover their ancestral heritage. Many genealogical firms in Great Britain and Ireland specialize in helping these Americans trace their ancestry. A family crest, a tartan tie, or an interest in traditional customs is a demonstration of pride in their ethnic identity.


Scottish and Scotch-Irish customs include the shivaree (an elaborate courting ritual that involves the serenading of the bride outside her window) and square dancing. The square dance began with reels and other dances enjoyed by the nobility and was transformed to the present popularity of line dancing—steps done to music often featuring the most Scotch-Irish of instruments, the fiddle. Today's "Texas Two-Step" and "Boot-scooting" evolved from ancient ritual dances.

Scots enjoy large "gatherings of the clan," which celebrate their heritage and offer opportunities to meet others who share membership in the clan. Most states with a large Scottish and Scotch-Irish population (such as New York and Michigan) have "Highland Games," which feature sports such as "tossing the caber," in which men compete to toss a heavy pole the farthest distance. Bagpipe music is a very important part of this celebration, as it is at any celebration of clan identity. North Carolina, which has one of largest concentrations of people of Scottish descent, hosts the biggest gathering at Grandfather Mountain each July. Campbells mingle with MacGregors and Andersons, while enjoying Scotch whisky and traditional cuisine.


Main Scottish staples are oatmeal, barley, and potatoes. Oatmeal is made into a porridge, a thick, hot breakfast cereal traditionally seasoned with salt. Barley is used primarily in the distillation of Scotch whiskey, now a major source of export revenue. Potatoes ("tatties") are most often eaten mashed. There is also the traditional haggis (a pudding made from the heart, liver, and other organs of a sheep, chopped with onions and oatmeal and then stuffed into a sheep's stomach and boiled). This unique meal, served with tatties and "a wee dram" (small portion of whiskey), has taken its place with the tartan and the bagpipes as a national symbol. Scots also enjoy rich vegetable soups, seafood in many forms, beef, oatcakes (a tasty biscuit), and short-bread (a rich, cookie-like confection).


The famous Scottish kilt, a knee-length skirt of a tartan pattern, was created by an Englishman, Thomas Rawlinson, who lived in the 1700s. The older kilts were rectangles of cloth, hanging over the legs, gathered at the waist, and wrapped in folds around the upper body. The blanket-like garment served as a bed-roll for a night spent outdoors. Aside from the kilt, fancy "highland" dress includes a sporan (leather purse on a belt), stockings, brogues (shoes), dress jacket, and a number of decorative accessories. The plaid is a length of tartan cloth draped over the shoulder and does not properly refer to the pattern, which is the tartan. Women's fancy dress is simpler, though elegant, consisting of a white cotton blouse, perhaps with embroidered patterns, and a silk tartan skirt. Her version of the plaid, a tartan also in silk, is hung over the shoulder and pinned in place with a brooch. This finery, like the tartans, is mostly an invention of the modern age but has become traditional and it is taken quite seriously. The tartan shows up elsewhere, commonly worn on ties, caps, and skirts—even on cars and in the costumes of young "punk rockers" in Edinburgh and Glasgow.


There is considerable Scottish influence in the field of country and folk music, directly traceable to the Scots ballad—a traditional form in which a story (usually tragic) is related to the listener in song. The ballad (e.g. "Barbara Allen") originated as an oral tradition, and was brought to the southeastern United States by immigrants who preserved the form while adapting melody and lyrics to suit their purpose. Instruments, especially the fiddle and harp,

Bagpipe music is a very important part of "Highland Games" type celebrations, as it is at any celebration of clan identity.
Bagpipe music is a very important part of "Highland Games" type celebrations, as it is at any celebration of clan identity.
have been transformed into unique sounding relations such as the hammered dulcimer, pedal steel guitar, and electric mandolins, and are the staples of today's country music, particularly bluegrass, which emphasizes the heritage of country music in its traditional origins in Scotland and Ireland.


Most Scottish holidays are those celebrated throughout Great Britain; however, two holidays are unique to Scotland: Scottish Quarter Day, celebrated 40 days after Christmas, and the commemoration of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, on November 30. A sentimental holiday is the birthday of poet Robert ("Robbie") Burns, born January 25, 1759, who is perhaps best known to Americans for the perennial New Year's anthem, "Auld Lang Syne." The Scotch-Irish also celebrate July 12, the anniversary of William of Orange's victory over the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, with parades.


Health concerns are primarily determined by economic factors, and especially by location. Having found, for the most part, economic security due to generations of residence and the economic advantage of an early arrival in America, many Scots and Scotch-Irish are insured through their employers, are self-employed, or have union benefits. The great exception is in Appalachia, where poverty persists despite the initiatives of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" in the 1960s. The dominant industry of the area, coal mining, has left a considerable mark on the health of Scottish and Scotch-Irish Americans. Black lung, a congestive disease of the lungs caused by the inhalation of coal dust, disables and kills miners at a high rate. This and chronic malnutrition, high infant mortality, and low birth weight remain the scourge of mountain people. West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee still have pockets of poverty as a result of high unemployment and isolation. The pattern of early marriage and large families is still typical, as is a significant problem with domestic violence.


The Scotch-Irish are unlikely to share speech patterns and the characteristic burr (a distinctive trilled "r") with the Scots. However, linguists who have studied Appalachian accents have found continuity in usage and idiom that can be shown to originate in Scottish phrases. Occasionally remnants of the Scottish idiom survive in words such as "dinna" which means "don't," as in "I dinna ken" (I don't know), but this is increasingly rare as even isolated mountain hollows in the South are penetrated by mass media and its homogenizing influence.

Family and Community Dynamics

Traditional family structure, especially in the Highlands, centered around the clan. There are about 90 original clans. Many of the clan names are prefixed by "Mac," meaning "son of." The clans have loosely defined territories, and prolonged wars, often spanning generations, were once common between clans. The most famous feud was that between the Campbells (who supported the English) and the MacDonalds (Jacobites). Even today there are MacDonalds who will not speak to Campbells and vice-versa. Large clans enrolled smaller ones as allies, and the alliances also became traditional. The adjective "clannish," derived from the Gaelic clann (descent from a common ancestor) perfectly describes the sentimental attachment that Scottish Americans feel concerning extended family and heritage. The origin of this term is the tendency of Scots to migrate with their clan and settle in the same location. This tendency was so pronounced that in parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, relatives adopted the use of their middle name as a surname since all their kin shared a common last name. One of the most infamous examples in America of the Scottish tendency to clannishness is the Hatfield and McCoy feud of the 1880s in the Tug River Valley along the West Virginia and Kentucky border. The murderous vendetta lasted years and involved disputes over a razorback hog, a romance between a Hatfield son and a McCoy daughter, and various other affronts to family dignity. After nationwide publicity, the feud was finally ended in 1897 after the execution of one of the Hatfields and the jailing of several other participants. However, the phrase, "feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys" is still a part of the American vocabulary.

Gatherings were purposeful and practical in frontier America, as in the "quilting bee," which allowed women to enjoy each others' company while creating a patchwork quilt—the essence of thrift. Various small pieces of fabric were sewn together in patterns to create a beautiful and utilitarian bed covering. Today many of these quilts are treasured by the descendants of the women who made them. Quilting is a popular craft that has enjoyed an ever-widening appreciation both as a hobby and folk art; quilts are often displayed in museums, and one of the best collections can be seen in Paducah, Kentucky, home of the American Quilting Society. Another traditional community activity is that of the barn raising and the subsequent dance—a tribute to the pioneer spirit that built America. Neighbors cooperated to erect barns and celebrated their hard work with fiddle music and a square dance late into the night. These gatherings helped shape community in rural areas such as the Midwest and the West.


The traditional dividing line between the Scotch-Irish and the Irish has been religion. While Irish immigrants have been primarily Catholics, the Scotch-Irish are followers of John Knox and John Calvin. The belief in predestination of the soul had a powerful effect on the shaping of the Scots' psyche. The original plantation of Scots in Ulster, which was motivated by economic hard times as much as by politics, was an attempt by England to subdue the native Catholic population. England thereby politicized religion when it initiated the discord between the two groups, a discord that still plays itself out in Northern Ireland. When the Potato Famine of the 1840s caused the Scotch-Irish to migrate to the New World, they brought their faith with them, retaining a tradition that stood them in good stead in the largely Protestant country. Although in Scotland the Church of Scotland was an austere entity, not given to large churches or displays of wealth, it gradually gave way to grand affirmations of material success in America. Today the Presbyterian church still plays a significant role in American religious life. The stirring hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" (1864) exemplifies the Scottish heritage reflected in today's church: "Onward Christian soldiers / Marching as to war / With the Cross of Jesus / Going on before!" Written first as a children's hymn, it became a favorite in Protestant churches.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Scots and Scotch-Irish have been drawn to the land as farmers and herders just as in their home country. Highland Scots, in particular, were attracted to mountain areas that resembled their homeland, and replicated their lives as herders and small scale farmers wherever possible. Others were drawn to work in heavy industry, such as the steel mills and coal mines. The nation's railroads provided employment for many, and in the case of Andrew Carnegie, provided a step up in his career as a capitalist. Many sought higher education and entered the professions at all levels, particularly as physicians and lawyers. For others, isolated in Appalachia or the rural South, hard times during the Great Depression brought scores of Scotch-Irish to the factories of Detroit and Chicago, where they labored in the auto plants and stockyards. Poverty returned for many of these people as plants shut down and downscaled in the 1960s, creating so-called "hillbilly ghettoes" in major Northern industrial cities. Generations of poverty have created an underclass of displaced Southerners which persists as a social problem today. Author Harriette Arnow, born in 1908, wrote movingly of the plight of these economic migrants in her novel The Dollmaker (1954). Scottish and Scotch-Irish Americans have, of course, assimilated to a high degree and have benefited much from the opportunities that class mobility and a strong work ethic have brought them.

Politics and Government

Not until the 1970s would Scottish nationalism be a significant force in British politics; nonetheless, in 1979, Scottish voters rejected limited home rule in a referendum. There is a significant presence of Scottish nationalists today despite the historic, economic and cultural ties to Britain.

Scottish and Scotch-Irish Americans have been involved with U.S. government from the founding of the Republic. As landholders and farmers, they were very much the people Thomas Jefferson had in mind as participants in his agrarian democracy. From legislators to presidents, including President Bill Clinton, the passion of Scottish people for government has been felt in America. Presidents who shared this heritage include Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), and Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911– ).


Both Scots and the Scotch-Irish were a significant presence in the American Revolution and the Civil War. The divided union was embodied by Generals "Stonewall" Jackson and Jeb Stuart for the Gray and George B. McClellan for the Blue. Many Scots had settled on the frontier and moved westward seeking land and opportunity, and pressed forward to the West, particularly Texas, Oklahoma, and the Gulf Coast. Texas in particular was a land of opportunity for the land-hungry Scots—Sam Houston and his fellows were among the intrepid settlers of that diverse state. They fought the Comanches and settled the Plains, creating a legend of Texan grit and determination not unlike the reputation of their Scottish forebears. The Alamo in San Antonio is a symbol of the tenacity of the Scotch-Irish who were prominent among the defenders of the Texas Republic.

Highland Scots and their descendants (who typically settled in the mountains) were active in the anti-slavery movement, while it was more common for the Lowland Scots and the Scotch-Irish to be proslavery. This created a major rift in the mid-South and the lowland areas, which clung to slavery while the highlands in large part chose the Union during the Civil War. Scots and Scotch-Irish have figured prominently in all the major political parties in American history, and were perhaps most identified as a group with the Populist movement which reached its peak in the 1890s and united farmers for a short time against perceived economic injustice. The South and Midwest were the stronghold of the populists, led by men like Tom Watson and Ignatius Donnelly. Scots and Scots-Irish were also a major force in the union movement, exemplified by the agitation for workers rights in the textile mills of the Southeast and the mines of West Virginia and Kentucky, marked by serious outbreaks of violence and strikes. "Which side are you on?" was a question often heard in these conflicts. Filmmaker Barbara Kopple documented this long and bloody struggle in her prize-winning film, Harlan County, USA (1977).

Since the breakup of the so-called Democratic "Solid South", it is difficult to predict how Scottish and Scotch-Americans vote. In addition, because of assimilation, it would be unlikely that there would be a "Scots vote" or "Scotch-Irish vote."

Individual and Group Contributions


Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) was a major innovator in modern dance, creating a unique expression based on Greek classicism and a belief in liberating the body from the constrictive costumes and especially footwear of classical ballet; her flowing draperies and bare feet made her the sensation of her day; her colorful life story is chronicled in her autobiography, My Life (1926).


The influence of Scottish and Scotch-Irish Americans in the performing arts stretches from Oscar-winning directors like Leo McCarey (1898-1969), whose films Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) are considered classics in Hollywood sentimentality, to the remarkable Huston family whose careers span much of the history of the motion picture in America. Walter (1884-1950), his son John (1906-1987), and John's daughter Angelica (1951– ) have all won Academy Awards. Walter Huston was a memorable character actor, perhaps best remembered for one of his son John's best films as a director, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948); granddaughter Angelica was directed by her father in three films, notably Prizzi's Honor (1985) for which she won as best supporting actress. John Huston's last film, The Dead, a 1987 adaptation of James Joyce's story, also starred Angelica and was scripted by her brother Danny. James Stewart (1908– ), one of Hollywood's most famous and beloved citizens, is well known for classics such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It's a Wonderful Life (1947), and Rear Window (1954). One of his leading ladies (in The Philadelphia Story, 1940) is Katharine Hepburn, (1907 – ) a strong-willed and talented actress who portrayed the doomed Mary, Queen of Scots in Mary of Scotland (1936). Hepburn, daughter of a prominent Connecticut physician and his wife, a suffragist and birth control activist, has enjoyed a long and honored career on stage and screen; she won three Academy Awards and was nominated for eight. Another remarkable career was that of Fred MacMurray, an actor known for films such as Double Indemnity (1944)—a tense film noir —and The Apartment (1960), was also known as a comic actor. He made a successful transition to Walt Disney films such as The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and became a television icon in the 1960s as the widowed father in the popular sitcom "My Three Sons." Two singers, Gordon MacRae (1921– ) and John Raitt (1917– ), enjoyed Broadway success that transferred to Hollywood musicals; both are known for their portrayal of Curley in Oklahoma ! (which depicts customs such as the shivaree and the barn dance).


Writers who have enriched American literature include: Robert Burns (1759-1796), the beloved Scots poet; Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941), author of the pathbreaking novel, Winesburg, Ohio (1919); North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), whose novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929) has been called "the great American novel." Carson McCullers (1917-1967), author of Member of the Wedding (1946) and Reflections in A Golden Eye (1941), is one of the South's most important novelists. Ellen Glasgow's (1873-1945) best novel, Vein of Iron (1935), concerns the fortunes of Ada Fincastle, the daughter of a hardy Scotch-Irish family of Virginia in the early part of the twentieth century. Larry McMurtry, whose novels The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove have enjoyed tremendous success after filmed versions have captured fans for the prolific writer's view of his home state and its rich history.


Michael Nesmith (1943– ), son of Bette Nesmith Graham, became famous as a songwriter and performer with the 1960s rock group, the Monkees. Bonnie Raitt (1950– ), daughter of John Raitt, is a popular Grammy-winning singer and a noted interpreter of the blues.


Cyrus McCormick (1809-1884), an immigrant from Ulster, invented the reaper. Samuel Morse (1791-1872), who revolutionized communications with the telegraph and Morse Code, was also an accomplished portrait painter and a founder of Vassar College in 1861; in 1844, he sent the famous message "What hath God wrought?" from Washington to Baltimore, and between 1857 and 1858 he collaborated with entrepreneur Cyrus Field (1819-1892) in laying the first transatlantic cable. Field later established the Wabash Railroad with financier Jay Gould. A particularly enterprising Scotch-Irish woman, Bette Nesmith Graham (1924-1980), born in Dallas, Texas, died with a net worth over $47.5 million; a poor typist, she devised a product that would cover mistakes and in so doing created "Liquid Paper"—a correction fluid. Claire McCardell (1905-1958) revolutionized fashion design and dance with the invention of the stretch leotard; a pioneer in women's ready-to-wear clothing, she also created the affordable and practical "popover," a wrap-around denim housedress, and the "Moroccan" tent dress.


Scottish and Scotch-Irish craftsmen and artists are similarly prominent. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), perhaps America's best-known portrait artist, was of Scottish heritage (his paintings of George Washington provide the definitive image of the "father of his country" for many Americans), as was Scots-born portrait artist John Smibert (1688-1751), and sculptor Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937), whose graceful public sculptures adorn the New York Public Library, among many other locations (his Columbian fountain at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was one of the most celebrated artistic achievements of that fair). Another is Duncan Phyfe, craftsperson (1768-1854), whose name is well-known to generations of Americans who cherish the tables, chairs, and cabinets he created, as well as inspiring imitators of his work—the apex of the Federalist style.



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Address: 560 Green Bay Road, Winnetka Illinois 60093.

Telephone: (800) 607-4410; or (847) 784-9660.

Fax: (847) 784-9661.


An interdisciplinary journal of Scottish studies.

Contact: William S. Rodner.

Address: Old Dominion University, Department of History, Arts and Letters Building, Norfolk, Virginia 23529.

Telephone: (804) 683-3933.

Fax: (804) 683-3241.

Scottish Banner.

Covers Scots in North America and Scotland. Intended for Scottish expatriates and descendants.

Address: P.O. Box 3065, Seminole, Florida 33775.

Telephone: (800) 729-8951; or (727) 394-0924.

Fax: (727) 394-1294.


Online: .


TNN (The Nashville Network).

The Nashville Network is a 24-hour cable country music channel. Programming is primarily geared toward performance; programming includes recorded videos and talk shows, with a strong regional emphasis toward the South and West. "The Grand Ole Opry," a radio/television simulcast of the weekly performances of leading country music performers from Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, airs each Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. on TNN and on a syndicated network of radio stations as well. Begun in 1925, it is the nation's oldest radio program.


"The Thistle and The Shamrock," a weekly Celtic music and cultural appreciation program, featuring thematically grouped presentations on Scottish, Irish and Breton music. Carried nationally on National Public Radio.

Contact: Fiona Ritchie.

Address: 1 University Place, Charlotte, North Carolina 28213.

Organizations and Associations

American Scottish Foundation.

An organization that promotes Scottish heritage through Scotland House, a cultural center in New York City, and a newsletter, Calling All Scots .

Contact: Alan L. Bain, President.

Address: 545 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (212) 605-0338.

Fax: (212) 308-9834.

Online: .

Association of Scottish Games and Festivals.

Provides information for its members on Highland Games held in the United States; compiles statistics and maintains a computer database.

Contact: Robert McGregor, President.

Address: 47 East Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania 19462.

Telephone: (215) 825-7268.

Fax: (215) 825-8745.


Council of Scottish Clans and Associations.

Provides information on clan organizations for interested individuals or groups and maintains files of clan newsletters, books, etc. Meets each July at Grandfather Mountain.

Contact: Robert McWilliam, President.

Address: Route 1, Box 15A, Lovettsville, Virginia 22080-9703.

Telephone: (703) 822-5292.

Online: .

Scotch-Irish Foundation.

Members are of Scotch-Irish descent; the foundation compiles records and bibliographic materials on the Scotch-Irish. Affiliated with the Scotch-Irish Society of the United States on America.

Address: 201 Main Street, New Holland, Pennsylvania 17557.

Telephone: (717) 354-4961.

Fax: (717) 355-2227.

Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America.

An organization of persons of Scotch-Irish heritage; sponsors the work of the Scotch-Irish Foundation.

Contact: Ian Stuart, Esquire.

Address: Box 181, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 19010.

Museums and Research Centers

There are significant collections on Scotch-Irish and Scottish heritage to be found in university collections; notable ones include the Robert Louis Stevenson Collection at Yale University, the Robert Burns Collection at the University of South Carolina at Columbia, and a new archive of Scottish materials to be housed in Durham, North Carolina, under the sponsorship of North Carolina Central University. There is an important genealogical collection housed at the Ellen Paine Odum Library in Moultrie, Georgia.

Sources for Additional Study

Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

A Companion to Scottish Culture, edited by David Daiches. London: Edward Arnold, 1981.

Dobson, David. Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1607-1785. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994.

Finlayson, Iain. The Scots. New York: Atheneum, 1987.

Jackson, Carlton. A Social History of the Scotch-Irish. Lanham, Maryland: Madison Books, 1993.

Johnson, James E. The Scots and Scotch-Irish in America. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Lerner Publications, 1966; reprinted, 1991.

Lehmann, William C. Scottish and Scotch-Irish Contributions to Early American Life and Culture. Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1978.

Leyburn, James G. The Scotch-Irish. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1962.

McWhiney, Grady. Cracker Culture: Celtic Customs in the Old South. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988.

Parker, Anthony W. Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia: The Recruitment, Emigration, and Settlement at Darien, 1735-1748. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.

Rethford, Wayne, and June Skinner Sawyers. The Scots of Chicago: Quiet Immigrants and Their New Society. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co., 1997.

User Contributions:

McKenzie Newgard
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Jan 4, 2007 @ 11:11 am
Thank you for your aritcle about the Scots, it helped me alot for my friend and I on our report for the Scotland Immigrating.On our report, we got a 95% Thank you.

McKenzie Newgard and Torie Miesko
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Feb 9, 2008 @ 10:22 pm
The information you provided in your article has helped me learn more about my heritage and I want to thank you for that.
m browne
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Dec 7, 2009 @ 2:14 pm
The information shared has been valuable and has assited me greatly, it has been very informative. I would like some additional info on the Highland Scots as it relates to their anti-slavery involvement, Thank you very much
Stan St. Clair
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Dec 27, 2009 @ 8:20 pm
I thuroughly enjoyed the article. I have been an officer ib the Scottish Clan Sinclair since 2002, and am a regular contributor to our Publication, Yours Aye. I was born in Rabun County GA, and reared in Franklin, NC, where the Scottish Museum now is. I live in middle TN. I now also write books, mostly about history. Thanks!
Robin Craddock (McDonald)
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Jan 30, 2010 @ 11:11 am
I enjoyed this reading this article. I had been told by my grandmother that my great grandfather colonized to Florida with a General Oglethorpe. Reading this article confirmed that there really was a General Oglethorpe that colonized a lot of the Scotch-Irish into Florida from Georgia
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Jun 2, 2010 @ 12:00 am
Your pictures are really cool. they helped me with my project and other stuff like that.
But the only thing is that i think you have more picture and more variety of them, and
you should in my opinion i think you should have more pictures of their traditional clothing
on there to, and if you could do that, that would be so awsome. Cheers Docko
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Aug 25, 2010 @ 10:10 am
Please use this information for reasearch, with the university of Phoenix.
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Dec 12, 2010 @ 5:17 pm
this is so helpful! I LOVE IT!! THX! it was so useful for my immigrant paper. i needed some good info. THX U GUYS!
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Jan 27, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
i love all these interesting facts about ireland this has allowed me to learn so much. The also allwoed me to get information and use it for my project report.
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Feb 20, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
JUst recently I discovered that my father is of Scotish decent and I found this article to be very informative. Or family came here in the late 1600's and settled in Georgia. I am now going to search for my clan and family tree in Scotland
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Apr 30, 2011 @ 11:11 am
I really found this article very good a lot i did not know. i am from Missouri my Family is Scottish- Irish I dont know much about them you know would be great.
WR Anderson
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Jul 17, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
The proper wording is:Scot-Irish", not Scotch-Irish. SCOTCH is WHISKEY, and whiskey only, as any Scot will tell you. Period.
Ellen F.
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Jul 23, 2011 @ 7:19 pm
My mother said her grandmother was from the McCoys that left the feud in a wagon train going to Utah with the Mormons, she was born in 1882. I am interested in validating this fact. Also would like to know where from (Ulster ?) and when did the clan of McCoy migrate to the Americas. Where did they migrate to. The article was very informative, but this one piece of information was not here. Thank you.
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Aug 7, 2011 @ 7:07 am
This information was extremely helpful in my quest to learn where my family originates from. It has also greatly assisted me in search for information in my thesis paper for my college Ethnic and cultural diversity course. Thank you so much.
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Aug 15, 2011 @ 8:08 am
An interesting piece unfortunately a little short in historical fact, you fail to mention the Battle of Culloden 1746 and the subsequent British suppression that followed culminating in the ethnic cleansing of the Highland Clearances.
PLEASE NOTE: in Scotland its called "Whisky" and not whiskey
Another omission, you fail to mention that the SNP are in fact now the ruling majority party in Scotland forming the Government after a landslide victory in the recent election.
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Aug 17, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
I am trying to locate my granddads relatives. my mother said we were scoth-irish.his name was stonewall jackson stone and they settle in poston s. c. please send me any information you have about them. thanks shirley baggett seidnitzer.
Jonathan R. De Mallie , A Loudon Campbell Decendant
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Dec 27, 2011 @ 1:01 am
Thank you for all. With a fifty character limit now herein.. I have to say the largest Scottish settlement in the World besides our Scotland is in New Jersey, the Third US State.
David Deeley
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Apr 19, 2012 @ 7:07 am
I am looking for any information about Scottish Gaelic hymn singing,especialy with regard to Line, and Call and response hymns; and any influence they may have had on the early Afro American church congregational singing, Any info would be very welcome.
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Dec 13, 2012 @ 11:11 am
can you say more about their life in scotland? how they got to school, what they wore, etc...
Russell MacEachern
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Dec 6, 2013 @ 10:10 am
My ancestors on dad's side came with the Glenaladale settlers on PEI,Canada in 1803 I believe and mom's grandpa was a cousin of Stonewall Jackson named Marian S Jackson who married Margaret McNulty in Iunkhannock,Wyoming county,Pa in the mid 1890s according to mom!?! Hee was a protestant and she was Irish-catholic who insisted my grandpa(William P. Jackson) be raised catholic. As a youth I spent many pleasant summers away from NJ on PEI helping relatives on the farm or uncle Roy on his lobster boat! NJ has quite a few Scots from the Canadian maratime's settled in NJ in the early 20th century who never forgot where they came from!! Nothing like the 1st week in August on PEI on old home week.
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Aug 20, 2014 @ 9:21 pm
Hello all. Thank you for this information. It's answered a lot of questions for me. I am looking for the Stewarts that settled in Sweetwater Tennessee. Please contact me if you have any information. Thank you.
Ashley Stewart
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Dec 29, 2014 @ 10:22 pm
I love reading articles on my hertiage. My family has been traced back to Mary Queen of Scots and Eric the Red. My family is from Eastern Kentucky. I would like to find out more.
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Jan 29, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
For decades my ancestors and relatives have been looking for a way to confirm our heritage. Today we learned that my 7th G Grandfather and his son (my 6th) were of Scots-Irish Descent and that they came from Ulster and were Presbyterians as were all of my grandfathers (Paternal). My other side is as well (Maternally). This is a great compilation of information that I truly enjoyed. Ironically, after living all over the US, I now currently live within 5 minutes of every grave of all of my ancestors that lived in the US from Ireland\Scotland in Pennsylvania.
maurice mcnulty
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Feb 9, 2015 @ 11:11 am
I,m tracing my ancestors.thank you.i enjoyed reading your article.i,m still trying to trace my father.i would appreciate any help.thank you.
Richard Young
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Jun 12, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
I am a Young on my Father's side who came from Tennessee. A Cameron on my Mother's side who came from a founding family in Mississippi. My Father's clan came to America in the same ship as the McBean's, landing in New England and traveling south to Virginia where there was an offer of free land, and abatement of taxes for 10 years on the frontier. Some were Royalists and some Rebels in the War of Independence. I have three letters of significance. From the same relative, who lived in South Carolina. One describes his first fight at age 17 with an English Calveryman. It details his cut across his face and the blow by blow fierce fighting in which he eventually killed the man. The second letter describes a chance meeting while bathing in a river in which he met a Royalist from the other bank who was also a Young. He said after meeting him he fired his weapon in a different area then where the Young returned to his company. The third letter describes a meeting in which a Young approached him after the war and said he had lost his lands because he was a Royalist and borrowed money on a handshake to be returned in one year to the day. He said the man, a Young returned one year to the day with the money and repaid the loan, shook his hand and left. Apparently, American Scotts fought with a knife and hatchet. Maybe because the hatchet was a cheap weapon for poor Border Scotts, but it matched the Native combatants they met on the Virginia and Carolina frontiers. I have often wondered about that. Two cultures an ocean across comin together over the same land and both having cultures that valued individualism, combativeness, pride, honor, and indomnitable will to survive and similar weapons of choice.
Rob D
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Jun 18, 2015 @ 10:10 am
Sorry but I couldn't find a way to write to you personally. In 1609, the beginning of the Plantation, there was no Northern Ireland. The area was known as the Province of Ulster and comprised nine counties, the present (2015) Six Counties of Northern Ireland (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone) and the three counties which chose to join the Irish Free State in 1922, Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan.

It is misleading to say "The Scotch-Irish descend from 200,000 Scottish Lowland Presbyterians who were encouraged by the English government to migrate to Ulster in the seventeenth century." The Plantation began under James Stuart VI and I who was a Scottish king (James VI) who came to rule England, Ireland and Wales (so James I) as well after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. Most of the Plantation settlers were English or Scottish.

"Scot" usually refers originally to the Irish who invaded western Scotland in the early 500s AD and set up a kingdom of Dalriada, based at Dunadd, Argyll and Bute.

Rob D
Vicky Fraser
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Jun 26, 2015 @ 1:13 pm
Great to hear of so many people helped by you in finding their roots. We are looking for a James Fraser born appr. 1830 in Pennsylvania, married Catherine Fletcher, when ? where? she was born 1834 in Ireland. They were in Iona, Ontario, Canada in 1861 with a daughter. Any info on where I could find anything at all about them in the US, would be greatly appreciated. In addition his occupation was carpenter/joiner/gunsmith.
ron brake
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Aug 5, 2015 @ 8:08 am
Archibald Wilson is found living in Calhoun County, Florida in 1840. He was born in Scotland. Were there any Scottish settlements in western Florida? Would he and his family have arrived to North America elsewhere? ron brake
Kay Peddie
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Oct 25, 2015 @ 1:13 pm
Thank you for all the wonderful information. I look forward to reading more.
Sherry Murphy
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Jan 20, 2016 @ 3:15 pm
I have been working on my ancestry tree for 4 years now on and off. I have traced our roots to Stewarts/Stuart all the way to Robert the Bruce (1st) from a marriage to his daughter to a Stewart. I always wondered why I have two grandsons with bright red hair, bright blue eyes and very fair skin came from as they are the only ones in the family with the bright red hair for the last 100 years. In my ancestry tree Catherine Montgomery (Stewart) Calhoun was my 7th great-grandmother, who along with several of he children, were killed in the Long-Cane massacre in Abbeville, SC. We have a very interesting history. I would love any information.
Derek McMahon
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Jan 31, 2016 @ 6:06 am
I was starting to get a bit irritated by the use of SCOTCH-IRISH, thank God that some people on the forum actually get that scotch is a drink not a nation, anyway I quite enjoyed the forum apart from the obvious, I am writing this on another dreech day in Scotland and hope to be emigrating to Florida around June, I'm an RN so that gives me a bit of an advantage job wise.
Alba gu brath
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Feb 1, 2016 @ 2:14 pm
you helped me know my culture just thank you
you should write a book about our culture and
i think you are awesome and i am
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Mar 19, 2016 @ 9:21 pm
I have traced my Ancesters to a Highland community in the town of Nairn. It seems they were one of the original families that settled in this small closed fishing community. Their surname is Ralph, and I am assuming came from a Scandinavian township, but not really certain of this. Would love to find out their origins, if it's possible. My grandfather left Nairn in about 1911, and arrived in Australia where he married a local.
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Jun 21, 2017 @ 1:13 pm
Does anyone have documentation on the Scots-Irish origins of the New Year's custom called riding fantastic or shanghaiing? It consisted of a group, often quite large, parading around the neighborhood to visit homes of friends. The riders were often costumed and appeared to be doing it for fun, sometimes with a spot of whiskey. There are brief mentions by Shenandoah Valley of Virginia folk life scholars.
yvonne mcewen
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Jan 1, 2019 @ 12:12 pm
It would be interesting if you could included the relationships between the Scots and Indigenous Peoples of North America. As they were significant, I think they are well worth highlighting.

Regards from Scotland,

Isobel Lockhart
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Jan 5, 2020 @ 10:10 am
Wow! What a comprehensive piece of work! We are Scots living and working in Scotland and this was so interesting to read. We are Scottish musicians who play a lot of traditional stuff so this has given us ideas for getting our music out there. Many thanks, your hard work on this is much appreciated! X
Karla Broadfoot
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Feb 4, 2020 @ 4:16 pm
Kenneth McKenzie Walker Henderson was the 13th and last child of Dr Patrick Henderson and Elizabeth Livingston. Kenneth traveled from Scotland and eventually settled in British Columbia, Canada. There he married a coastal First Nations widow, Lucy Johnson of the Nakwaxdax'w clan. Kenneth adopted her children, and then they had 4 children as well. Catherine, James, Samuel, and Elizabeth. (Elizabeth died young from a horse accident)
Yvonne McEwen mentions in a post from 2019 that there is some significant First Nations connections.. Samuel and his family are noted carvers with works all over the world.. Catherine (Katie) was very knowledgeable on customs and culture (passing that on to us younguns) They lived mostly with their mother in the traditional territories, and James lived mostly with his father on Denman Is. near Comox BC, they visited often. Kenneth ranched on Denman, and Lucy would have harvested and prepared traditional foods when they were in season further up the coast.
James was my maternal grandfather.

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