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Scots in Michigan
A book by Alan T. Forrester

We have been given permission to put up the Introduction and first chapter of this book for you to read here. We'll add information as to where you can purchase it below.

Scots began settling in North America in the earliest colonial days, and they were strongly represented in the Great Lakes region's major industries as they evolved from fur trade to farming and lumbering to industry. From early settlement to the industrial revolution Scots brought to the state a pioneer spirit and an extraordinary level of education, among their many contributions. Though rendered almost invisible both by clustering under the umbrella of the British Commonwealth and by the fact that few Scottish traditions are considered whatsoever foreign, ethnic, or exotic, Scottish influences run deep in Michigan history and culture. From ice hockey to heavy industry, much of what represents Michigan has roots that were embedded in Scotland first. Though Alan T. Forrester notes that symbolic Scottish ethnicity—Highland games, Scottish festivals, and Burns Night suppers—is practically the only obvious relic of Scottish heritage in Michigan, he illuminates how much more of this legacy is by now so much a part of this state as to be all but inseparable.

ALAN T. FORRESTER was born in Saskatchewan of Scottish and English grandparents. He earned B.A. and B.S. degrees from the University of Washington, served in the U.S. Army Medical Service, and worked for many years editing medical manuscripts.

Discovering the Peoples of Michigan is a series of publications examining the state's rich multicultural heritage. The series makes available an interesting, affordable, and varied collection of books that enables students and educated lay readers to explore Michigan's ethnic dynamics. A knowledge of the state's rapidly changing multicultural history has for-reaching implications for human relations, education, public policy, and planning. We believe that Discovering the Peoples of Michigan will enhance understanding of the unique contributions that diverse and often unrecognized communities have made to Michigan's history and culture.

To my grandchildren:
Katherine, Thomas, Megan,
John, and William.

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues...

—From For Our Country in the 1928 American edition of The Book of Common Prayer based on an eighteenth-century Scottish version of The Book of Common Prayer.


"The Scotsman is never at home except when he's abroad."
—Shetland Island Proverb.

Whatever his or her name or national origin, everyone is a Scot for the day in Michigan at Alma's Highland Festival and the Detroit St. Andrew's Society Highland Games. Legions of people from throughout the Midwestern United States and Canada flock to hear bagpipe bands and Scottish fiddlers; see Highland and Scottish country dancing and athletic contests; eat Scottish meat pies, scones, shortbread, and oatcakes; purchase Scottish apparel and souvenirs; search family trees at clan tents; and otherwise enjoy all kinds of sights and activities that recall Scottish heritage. The Highland Games in Detroit, first presented by the St. Andrew's Society in 1850 and one of the first events of its kind in the United States, have been celebrated annually ever since, making the Detroit St. Andrew's Highland Games the oldest continuing annual Scottish heritage celebration in the Western Hemisphere.

Less spectacular but no less fervent celebrations of Scottish heritage can be found in Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Traverse City, and other places in Michigan. The events include Scottish festivals, "tartan balls," and observances of St. Andrew's Day and Robert Burns's birthday, and of course no Michigan parade is complete without the spectacle of at least one of the state's several tartan-clad bagpipe bands.

In the 1990 U.S. Census, about 5.4 million Americans reported themselves to be of Scottish ancestry. (Others were self-designated as being of American, British, Scotch Irish, and Canadian ancestry.) Who are these Scots, and where did they come from? The author claims only to be one of them, being no scholar but only a spectacularly inept, lapsed bagpipe player with fond memories of (and a fanciful imagination about) Scottish forebears. He is keenly aware that anyone who writes fondly about the Scots or any other nationality runs the risk of contributing to chauvinism and racism. In America we are "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Let's remember that liberty and justice for all are possible only if pride in one's heritage is balanced by respect for the heritage of others—even if they're not Scottish.

The Homeland

The word "Scot" originally meant "raider." The first so-called Scots were actually Celtic immigrants from what is now Ireland, but the land to which they gave their name was already inhabited by another Celtic people called the Picts. By the sixth century, Scotland was divided among four peoples—Picts, Scots, Britons, and Angles. Visitations from, incursions by, and romances with other peoples infused the blood of Saxons. Jutes, Danes, Norse, Romans, and Normans. For whatever reason, the name eventually used to designate any inhabitant of the land the Romans called "Caledonia" was "Scot." (Although "Scottish" is purported to be the correct term for the people, "Scotch" was commonly used and not politically incorrect until about the twentieth century. John Kenneth Galbraith called his book The Scotch because that's the term his family and neighbors used to describe themselves.)

Scotland is geographically and culturally divided into the Highlands and the Lowlands. To grossly oversimplify facts, let us say that Highlanders spoke Gaelic, were governed primarily by clan chiefs, and only unwillingly accepted the Protestant Reformation, whereas Lowlanders spoke a dialect of English, tolerated central government, and enthusiastically embraced Presbyterianism. To grossly oversimplify history, let's begin with events in Scotland at about the time Detroit was established, in 1701.

As the eighteenth century began, a truly momentous but generally unappreciated development was Scotland's establishment of free public education. Intending to ensure the ability of all to read the Bible, Presbyterian reformers founded schools throughout the land. Despite the poverty and sparsity of its population, Scotland in the 1700s became the first modern literate society in Europe, and one can hardly overestimate the consequences of that fact.

Unique among the populace of European countries, including England, even the poorest of Scots were given some education. At a time when Oxford and Cambridge were the only two universities in England, Scotland boasted four: St. Andrew's, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen. The Scottish universities, unlike those in England, were open to all, and were academically equal or superior to any in continental Europe. As we shall discuss, Scottish public education played a singularly important role in the New World's culture. First, let us consider what else was going on in the Old Country while Detroit was becoming an important center in the New World.

Less than a decade after the union of Scotland and England in 1707, recalcitrant Highlanders, primarily, but some Lowlanders and English as well, refused to accept the Hanoverian George I as King. In 1715, having lost their bid to enthrone a Stuart descendant to be styled as "James VIII and III" (eighth of Scotland and third of England), the Jacobites ("Jacobus" is the Latin for "James") paid a price in various ways. One punishment, as had occurred in previous generations, was "transportation" or banishment. Exiled along with common criminals to the North American colonies—primarily the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and Nova Scotia (Latin for "New Scotland," and at the time a vast region of British North America), they were treated as bonded servants at best and slaves at worst.

At first, says the Scottish journalist Iain Finlayson, "the Indians flocked to the docks to welcome the plaid and feather-bedecked strangers, whom they took to be brothers. Soon, however, the strangers showed their true colors"; they were not always above misusing the people who had once welcomed them. The colonial English and Dutch landowners considered the "transported" Scots beneath them. "No sooner had one group of Scots established themselves than there was another boat load on the way, just as canny eyed and covetous.1 Fairly soon. however, Scots infiltrated politics, the military, medicine, law, science, education, commerce, and religious institutions. Their accomplishments might be credited for averting the rise of an English class system in America, as later generations of Scots were warmly welcomed into "the establishment."

Meanwhile, enough Scots had stayed home to mount a second uprising, the consequences of which were more severe. After the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, the Highland clans were outlawed, the wearing of tartan was forbidden, bagpipes were banned, and transportation was intensified.

Having lost their feudal powers in "the 45," the Highland clan chiefs could no longer count on rents in kind from tenant crofters, nor could they order raids and blackmail when the meat supply ran low. As John Prebble put it, "if men could no longer be counted in broadswords they must be valued in shillings and pence, and dispensed with when the reckoning was unprofitable."2 So began the chief's transportation to "laird," and his demands for money rather than part of the harvest, with greater demands each year. The consequent resentment, fear, and poverty sparked "the diaspora," as Highlanders fled to Lowland or English city factories and slums or, more commonly, were dispatched to British colonies throughout the world—usually more in despair than in hope.

In London, meanwhile, the military prowess and "macho" image of England's erstwhile enemies had not gone unappreciated. Entire villages were decimated of young men, who, at the mercy of the laird and to his profit, were pressed into service in the Highland regiments, fighting and dying valiantly wherever British troops were needed. (At this point let us note that "British" is not synonymous with "English." Great Britain comprises not only England but also Scotland, Wales, and Ulster, or Northern Ireland, and until the twentieth century included the whole of Ireland.)

In time, Scots became the backbone of the British army. In How the Scots Invented the Modern World, Arthur Herman notes that by 1750, 25 percent of the British Army's officers—and, one might suspect, a greater percentage of enlisted ranks—were of Scottish birth.3 In North America, therefore, Scots were called upon to fight other Scots. From editor P. J. Marshall's estimation in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, we can infer that about three of every four emigrants from the British Isles to North America in the fifteen years before the American Revolution were either of Scottish birth or, in the case of "Protestant Irish" (that is, "Scotch Irish"), of Scottish descent4. At the time of the Revolution, about 20 to 30 percent of the American population was of Scottish birth or descent, and almost half the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish ancestry. However, not all Scots were sympathetic to the cause of American independence, and many, Highlanders especially, fled north to what is now Canada. To be a descendant of a "United Empire Loyalist" is comparable in Canada to being a Daughter of the American Revolution in the United States. A significant population of Loyalists settled in areas of Ontario within three hundred miles east of Detroit; ironically, some of their descendants subsequently moved from Ontario to Michigan.

As events turned out, Highlanders who were too old or feeble to fight for the king were perhaps even less fortunate than those called to war. The laird's solution to his economic woes was the Great Cheviot sheep, which needed little or no human care to provide rich fleece as well as meat less costly than beef. Sheep needed only grazing land to be highly profitable as Britain's continuing wars with France increased the demand for meat and wool. Grazing land was obtained very simply—by evicting tenants and their few cattle.

The Highland Clearances, which began on the Sutherland estates in 1800, became increasingly cruel. The year 1814 was called "Bliandhna an Losgaidh," or "The Year of the Burning," as cottages and barns were set afire to force their occupants to flee. Various histories tell of truly barbaric evictions. Donald MacLeod, a Sutherland estate survivor who died in 1860 in Woodstock, Ontario (within a hundred miles of Detroit), recalled drunken gangs burning down houses, maliciously destroying the inhabitants' food and animals, and gleefully enjoying the shrieks and moans of infants, elderly, and ill trapped in the flames.

As noted, some survivors went to the slums of Lowland or English cities, in which disease, poverty, and crime prevailed, but many more were dispatched to serve as settlers or laborers in North America. Their passage in overcrowded steerage was paid for by Canadian and American landowners, railroads, or governments eager to profit from cheap labor or to populate unsettled regions in the west. In rare cases, transport to the New World was funded by the more humanitarian evictors in the Old Country. Charitable organizations saved orphans by sending them to Canada and the United States, where some were adopted and lovingly cared for and some were cruelly exploited. In any event, by 1819 most Highland valleys had become sheep-grazing fields virtually devoid of human habitation.

Cruelty was not the only stimulus to the diaspora, however, nor was misery limited to the Highlands. Frequent famines and epidemics took their toll, and the potato blight of 1846 that most people associate with Irish emigration did not spare Scotland. Emigration to Lowland cities, to England, to the Empire countries, and to the United States intensified. Meanwhile, Scotland became less Scottish as legions of Irish made their way east across the sea to Lowland cities, hoping to escape the famine. At one time during the mid 1800s, 20 percent of Glasgow's population was Irish born.5 With industrialization and the coming of World War I there was some economic relief, but, especially after the war, the wealth of the United States and Canada contrasted greatly with the impoverished conditions in Scotland. A postwar depression and the hope of employment overseas caused a resurgence in emigration as Scots were actively recruited to labor or farm in the New World.

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