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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands

When, on a question that has undergone much investigation and excited general attention, and individual comes forward to controvert received opinions, and to offer views which have previously passed unnoticed, every one is disposed to ask, what have been the peculiar opportunities of information upon which he presumes to contradict those who have gone before him. I trust, therefore, it will not be deemed an unbecoming egotism, that some particulars relating to myself form the subject of those preliminary pages.

Without any immediate or local connection with the Highlands, I was led, very early in life, to take a warm interest in the fate of my countrymen in that part of the kingdom. During the course of my academical studies, my curiousity was strongly excited by the representations I had heard of the ancient state of society, and the striking peculiarity of manners still remaining among them; and , in th eyear 1792, I was prompted to take an extensive tour through their wild region, and to explore many of its remotest and most secluded valleys. In the course of this I ascertained several of the leading facts, on which the arguments of the following pages are grounded; in particular, that Emigration was an unavoidable result of the general state of this country, arising from causes above all control, and in itself of essential consequence to the tranquillity and permanent welfare of the kingdom.

The particular destination of the emigrants is not likely to excite much interest in those who believe that emigration may be obviated altogether. Being persuaded that no such expectation could be reasonable entertained, I bestowed some attention on details, which to other observers may have appeared nugatory. I learned, that the Highlanders were dispersing on a variety of situations, in a foreign land, where they were lost not only to their native country, but to themselves as a separate people. Admiring many generous and manly features in their character, I could not observe without regret the rapid decline of their genuine manners, to which the circumstances of the country seemed inevitably to lead. I thought, however, that a portion of the ancient spirit might be preserved among the Highlanders of the New World - that the emigrants might be brought together in some part of our own colonies, where they would of national utility, and where no motives of general policy would militate (as they certainly may at home) against the preservation of all those peculiarities of customs and language, which they are themselves so reluctant to give up, and which are perhaps intimately connected with many of their most striking and characteristic virtues.

It was on the eve of the late war that these views occurred to me, and any active prosecution of them was precluded by the eventful period which followed; but the object was deeply impressed on my mind, and has never been lost sight of. Far from being effaced by the lapse of time, or the occupations of maturer years, my ideas of impracticability and its importance have been confirmed by every succeeding reflection.

The emigrations from the Highlands, which has been of little amount during the continuance of hostilities, recommenced upon the return of peace, with a spirit more determined and more widely diffused than on any former occasion. All those views which I had hitherto entertained, then recurred as requiring immediate attention; and the strong impressions I had on the subject induced me to state, to some members of the then Administration, the necessity of active interference, for attracting the emigrants to our own colonies. These representations were treated with polite attention, but did not excite an interest corresponding to my own ideas of the importance of the object. Inasmuich, however, as it could be promoted by the disposal of waste lands of the Crown, I was informed that every reasonable encouragement might be expected. Seeing no probability of my views being effectually adopted by Government, and reluctant to abandon the subject altogether, I was led to consider how far, under the encouragement held out, I could, as an individual, follow it up on a more limited scale, to the effect at least of establishing the practicability of my suggestion. Having, therefore, received the assurance of a grant of land on liberal terms, such as promised an adequate return for the unavoidable expenses of the undertaking, I resolved to try the experiment, and, at my own risk, to engage some of the emigrants, who were preparing to go to the United States, to change their destination, and embark for our own colonies.

It is unnecessary to detail the transactions to which this led, and the various obstructions I met with in the Highlands, from persons whose jealousy had been roused by my attempt. When the preparations for my expedition were pretty far advanced, I learned that in consequence of some calumnious reports, Government were disposed to look less favourably than at first on my undertaking. To remove the grounds if these misapprehensions, in February 1803, I stated to the Secretary of State for the Colonial Department, (in the concise form to which the bounds of a Letter restricted me,) the principal outlines of the following arguments; and I had the satisfaction to learn that this representation had removed the doubts of the Nobel Lord to whom it was addressed.

I was given to understand, however, that it would be more satisfactory to Government, if the people I had engaged were settled in a maritime situation, instead of that I had at first in contemplation. For reasons, which I may perhaps have occasion hereafter to lay before the public, I was by no means satisfied that this suggestion was founded in just views of national policy. Nevertheless I thought it my duty under all the circumstances of the case, to acquiesce, and determined on making my settlement in Prince Edward's Island, in the Gulph of St. Lawrence.

From various considerations I found that, to give the experiment a fair prospect of success, my own presence with the colonists was indispensable. It was indeed with some reluctance that I ultimately yielded to this; for, before I sailed, the unexpected renewal of hostilities had taken place. The business was then too far advanced to admit of any change of plan; and it was with the most anxious feelings that I found myself under the necessity of quitting the kingdom at so critical a moment. In other respects I have had no reason to regret my absence, as it has not only led me to sources of information, to which few have access; but I trust that my occupation in the meantime has not been wholly useless to my country.

I find, that my own views in this undertaking have been as much misrepresented, as the subject in general has been misunderstood. But I enter with confidence on the task of correcting the mistakes that have been disseminated; trusting that a simple statement of facts will be not less convincing to the public at large, than it has already been to an official character.

My first intention indeed was to have given to the world the very Letter, I have above alluded to, with a few additional illustrations; but I could not avoid expanding my observations more than was consistent with such a plan, in order to render them intelligible to those who are not well acquainted with the local circumstances of Scotland. I have therefore cast the whole anew into its present form; and, notwithstanding the bulk to which it has grown, I cannot flatter myself that the subject is exhausted. If time had permitted, some valuable additional documents might have been circulated under the sanction of respectable names, should no longer remain uncontradicted, I venture to submit these remarks, in their present imperfect state, to the judgment of the public, and solicit that indulgence, to which, perhaps, I have some claim from the importance of the subject, and the unavoidable haste of this publication.

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