Historic Accomplishments of
the Scottish In America

The Scots have left an historic trail of deeds and accomplishments across the American continent, from the first explorers and settlers, through the years to modern times.

The Scottish were well prepared to explore and thrive in the New World. They had lived in the austere mountains, lochs, and solitude of the Highlands.

Around the world, the Scottish immigrants have gained fame and fortune for their historic accomplishments in every field they entered.

Having lived on an island, with the seas and oceans no more than 45 miles away, the Scots have a long history of exploring and thriving on the seas. The call of the sea was always present. Adventuring to far-away places has been an historic part of their way of life.

The Scots readily sailed to Iceland, Greenland, the Baltic countries, across the channels to Ireland and France…and eventually to the fishing banks of Newfoundland and on to the North American continent.

The First Known Explorer

Prince Henry Sinclair, an explorer, landed in Nova Scotia, Canada on June 2, 1398. In an historic voyage, he sailed on to what is now Westford, Massachusetts, where he etched the arms of the clan Gunn into a rock, commemorating the landing.

The Roslin Chapel was built near Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1480’s by Prince Sinclair’s grandson. Within the chapel are carvings of Indian maize and aloe cactus known only in the New World. These historical carvings are used to substantiate the voyage.

The First Settlers

  • In 1623, David Thomson became the first acting governor of New England and first settler in New Hampshire.

    In 1667, the Hudson Bay Company was founded. Men who knew hardship, hard work, and a life of adventure were needed. The Highlanders filled that need, while their desire to travel and explore was also satisfied.

  • A listing of the employees of the Hudson Bay Company reads like an historic meeting of the clans ~ Campbell, Douglas, Fraser, Leith, and Murray ~ McDougall, MacGillivray, McKay, McLellan, and McLean ~ MacTavish, Simpson, Smith, and Stuart.
  • The North West Company, the other big fur trading company was also run by Scots. Their records abound with names like Lamont, McKenzie, McTavish, and Stewart.

Colonial Times

Two famines in Scotland, the first in the late 1600’s, during the reign of William and Mary, prompted an historic exodus from Scotland to the Americas. The second came with the Potato Famine in the 1840’s.

  • In the 1690’s Captain William Kidd, son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister, hero and pirate, operated off Long Island in New York.
  • In 1691, Andrew Hamilton was appointed first postmaster general in the American colonies.
  • 9 of the 13 British Colonial Governors were of Scottish blood.

The Ulster Scots-Irish came with an historic grudge against the British government, who had given, then taken away, many rights. They arrived through Philadelphia, settling first in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

  • As they moved into Virginia, the Scots usurped the tobacco trade from the British, making Glasgow the tobacco center of Europe ~ and creating another point of friction between the Colonists and the Loyalists.
  • Scots published many of the first Colonial newspapers. The tradition has continued with Scotsmen founding The New York Post, The Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, and The National Inquirer.

    They also founded many magazines, including National Geographic, Forbes, Business Week, Reader’s Digest, Gourmet, and The New Yorker.

Historically, Scotland was a land that valued education for the masses. Founded between 1410 and 1593, the universities of St. Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Old Aberdeen, King’s College, and Marischal began an education system that surpassed anything in England or the Continent.

Between 1750 and 1850, the Scottish Universities educated ten thousand medical doctors. In the same time period, Oxford and Cambridge only educated five hundred. Scotland led the Western world in medicine, economics, history, and law.

  • South of New England, most schoolteachers and tutors were Scottish.
  • Scotsmen founded major American universities including William and Mary, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, the University of North Carolina, and Dartmouth.
John Witherspoon, president of Princeton University, was probably the most influential educator in all of American history.

Of our original government, his historic students included ~

  • James Madison, 4th U.S. President
  • Aaron Burr, Vice President
  • Chief Justice John Marshall and 3 Supreme Court Justices
  • Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph

Witherspoon’s students also included ~

  • 12 state Governors
  • 21 U.S. Senators
  • 29 U.S. Representatives
  • 56 state legislators
  • 6 signers of the Declaration of Independence
  • 9 delegates to the Constitutional Convention
  • 31 Revolutionary War Army officers
  • 100+ ministers

One explanation for this imbalance was the geographical distribution of his students ~

  • 90% of the Harvard men came from Massachusetts.
  • 75% of the Yale men came from Connecticut.
  • 90% of the William & Mary men came from Virginia.
  • But only 25% of the Princeton men came from New Jersey, the others came from, and returned to, their homes throughout the colonies.

Heading into Kentucky and Tennessee ~

  • In 1775, Daniel Boone of Ulster Scottish ancestry, founded Boonesboro, Kentucky.
  • In 1799, James Robertson founded Nashville.
  • America’s most famous whiskey is still distilled in historic Lynchburg, Tennessee, by descendants of Jack Daniel.

From Tennessee, the Scots-Irish pioneers, spilled over into North Carolina and on into Georgia. The Scots-Irish sided with the colonials, the Georgians and the Highlander immigrants stood with King George.

The Georgians found the Scots-Irish pioneers to be loud, pushy, and outspoken. Moreover, the Scots were soon more successful financially. When talking about the Scottish, the Georgians used the Scottish word, craik, which means boaster. The people in Georgia loyal to King George began using 'craiker' as an historic epitaph against the Scots, whom they disdained. Today, all the peoples of Georgia proudly call themselves Crackers.

The French and Indian Wars

  • In 1763, during the French and Indian War, Fort Duquesne at Pittsburgh was taken by Scots of the Montgomery and Black Watch Highlanders Regiments, opening up Pittsburgh as the ‘Gateway to the West’.

  • By the beginning of the Revolution, 50,000 Americans had moved in the Ohio Valley. Many had come from Scotland.

The American Revoluntionary War

In 1964, it was discovered that George Washington was remotely descended from the Scottish King Malcolm II. This is now an accepted historic fact by the officials of English genealogy.

Thomas Jefferson descended from a sister of King Robert I, the Bruce.

  • Nine of the men signing the Declaration of Independence were from Scots descent.

  • George Washington’s surgeon, Hugh Mercer, had been a surgeon to Bonnie Prince Charles on the historic battlefield at Culloden.

  • A Philadelphia seamstress, Betsy Ross, sewed the first American flag.

But as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

In 1775, Patrick Henry, son a Scottish-born judge, penned these historic words. With James Madison, another Scotsman, he drafted The Bill of Rights.

The Shot Heard Round the World

  • Ebenezer Munro, a colonial in the Lexington Minutemen, is credited with having fired that famous shot.

  • Major John Pitcairn, a Scot in the British forces, is also credited with having fired the first shot. His historic Doune pistol now resides in the Lexington Museum.

  • At least one third of the American generals were of Scottish ancestry, including Mad Anthony Wayne, George Rogers Clark, and Henry Knox.

I have not yet begun to fight!

John Paul Jones, founded the American Navy. His tomb is in the chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

In 1779, commanding the Bon Homme Richard, Jones engaged the British ship, Serapis, off Scarborough, England.

At one point, the British commander called upon Jones to surrender, in reply he offered these historic words, “I have not yet begun to fight.” Jones won the battle and became a hero.

Give ‘em Watts, boys

James Caldwell, a Scots-Irish chaplain, was handing out Watts Psalm books to the soldiers at the Battle of Springfield.

They ran short of wadding, so Caldwell told them to tear out the Psalm pages and use them for wading. As he’d tear out pages and hand them to the soldiers, he’d say, “Give ‘em Watts, boys”. Today, this has evolved into “Give ‘em watt for.”

In 1789, George Washington was sworn in as President by the chancellor of New York, Robert Livingston, who was also president of the Saint Andrew’s Society of New York.

Brigadier General William Malcolm, commanded Washington’s military escort. For the ceremony he wore a kilted Highland military uniform. A painting of this historic event, including the kilt, hangs in the Museum of the City of New York.

Fur Traders and Explorers
on the Frontier

From the 1790’s, Scotsmen dominated the western expansion in North America. Lowlanders tended to be explorers, while the trappers were mostly Highlanders.

Alexander MacKenzie, of the Outer Hebrides, first followed the MacKenzie River 3,000 miles to the Arctic Ocean in 1789.

In 1793, he was the first to cross the full width of North America, inscribing these historic words on a rock at the Pacific Ocean.

Image courtesy Stock Xchange ~ www.sxc.hu


Both voyages spurred Thomas Jefferson to organize the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806.

  • William Clark, a relative of George Rogers Clark, along with Merriwether Lewis, completed the expedition to the Pacific Ocean, chronicling the natural sciences across America.

  • When John Jacob Astor founded his American Fur Company in 1800, he hired six disgruntled employees away from the North West Company; all were Scots. A later defector from the North West Company, Robert Stuart, eventually became Astor’s business partner.

Scotland also gave the Americas the explorers and botanists to explore the interior. Most noted is Archibald Menzies.

Menzies was a surgeon with the British Navy and sailed with Captain George Vancouver on his historic voyages in 1792 to1794. A botanist as well, Menzies was the first botanist to explore the Pacific Northwest Coast.

Knowing he had found a new natural world, Menzies catalogued over one hundred varieties of flowering plants. When returning to England, he took back the California poppy and Sitka spruce. Sixteen species bear his name.

The War of 1812

Samuel Wilson was an inspector of army supplies during the War of 1812. His nickname was "Uncle Sam." All barrels of provisions were stenciled with the initials “U.S.” so his workmen joked that the U.S. stood for “Uncle Sam”. The joke spread and became legend. During World War I a military recruitment poster gave Uncle Same a face, uttering that historic phrase, “Uncle Same Wants You”.

  • Alexander Macomb was a general and hero of the War of 1812.

  • In 1817, the Erie Canal was begun under Scottish engineer, James Geddes.

Between the years 1825 and 1938, historians estimate that as many as 233,000,000 Scots immigrated to America.

The Republic of Texas

The Republic of Texas was founded by Scotsmen, including Sam Houston and David Burnet, the first and second Presidents of the Republic.

  • The defenders of the Alamo included Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, John MacGregor ~ the piper of the Alamo, and 50 other Scottish-Americans.

  • Over half the counties in Texas bear names of historic men with Scottish ancestry.

The Wild, Wild West

  • In 1883, Aberdeen Angus cattle was exported to Texas and bred into many of the spredith of longhorns.

  • Scotsmen managed the largest cattle ranch in the U.S., the Matador Land and Cattle Company, out of Dendee, Scotland until 1951.

  • Scottish architects and stone masons built the historic state capitol in Austin, Texas.

  • Ten men from Scotland financed the state capitol building in Austin. They received 150,000 acres in exchange. This became the XIT Ranch. XIT stood for Ten in Texas.

In the early 1800’s, the Cherokee tribal leader was John Ross, by blood seven-eighths Scots and one-eighth Cherokee. He oversaw the Cherokee ‘Trail of Tears’ move to Oklahoma.

In 1847, he read of the Highland poor who were suffering from the Potato Famine. Ross requested a tribal meeting in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, to raise money for the cause.

The Cherokees met and sent $190 to a New York bank "for the relief of those who are suffering by the famine in Scotland." Many Oklahoma Indian surnames of today tell of a distant Scottish ancestor.

Other western settlers with Scottish blood ~

  • Jesse Chisholm who began the historic Chisholm Trail.

  • Wyatt Earp, sheriff of Dodge City.

  • Samuel Colt who invented the Colt 45 revolver.

  • Gilroy, California, garlic capital of the world, is named for John Gilroy, the first Anglo resident of California. He landed in Monterey in 1814.

  • Christopher “Kit” Carson, frontiersman and explorer.

The War Between the States

  • Stonewall Jackson, George B. McClellan, J.E.B. Stuart, Ulysses S. Grant, and Robert E. Lee all were of Scottish ancestry.

  • The New York 79th, with uniforms modeled after the famed Black Watch, remains the most celebrated of the Scottish Union military regiments.

World War I

  • Douglas Campbell was the first American-trained air ace in World War I. He shot down a German airplane on his first day of combat.

“Every line of strength in American history is a line colored with Scottish blood.” ~ Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, 1913-1921

World War II

  • George S. Patton, exponent of mobile warfare.

  • General Douglas MacArthur, son of General Arthur MacArthur, a Civil War hero and military governor of the Phillipines.

Others Through the Years

Though the Scottish have been only 1% of our immigrants, they make up 9% of our millionaires. Historically, immigrants from Scotland are five times more likely to become millionaires than any other immigrant group.

  • James Pollock, of Scots descent, put the slogan In God We Trust on American coins.

  • Thomas Watson, of Scottish parentage, and John Graham Johnston, born in Scotland, founded IBM. Their computer was based on the work of John Napier, a Scot who invented logarithms and the slide rule in 1615. Ada Byron, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, had also cleared the way for them by inventing computer programming in 1843.

  • Bill Gates, who claims Scottish ancestry, had gone on to be the computer wizard of America.

  • In 1973, Malcolm Forbes, publisher, and his son, Robert, completed the first transcontinental flight across North America in a balloon.

Another example of Scottish ingenuity are the Smith Brothers of Cough Drop fame. Andrew and William Smith, built on their father’s candy making success, developing a throat lozenge. The packaging of the drops made them celebrities and a success.

The images of the two brothers with their famous beards were cut into woodblocks, reproduced in line drawings, and placed on the cardboard boxes of their licorice drops. Portraits of the two men were placed above the words 'trade' and 'mark' which appeared as names beneath each brother’s portrait.

This trademark, registered in 1877, is one of the oldest and most famous in America. William or 'Trade,' was known as an eccentric. Andrew or 'Mark,' gained a reputation of being free with his money, consequently earning the nickname 'Easy Mark'.

In c. 1896, the words easy mark were added to the dictionary, meaning one easily taken advantage of.

During his historic walk on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke with the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. Both were descended from the clan Armstrong. They spoke, using a telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell, another Scotsman.

Our 11th President, James Knox Polk, 1845-1849, founded the Naval Academy, created the Department of the Interior, and authorized the Smithsonian Institute. He was also of Scottish parentage.

In Summary

“It is no doubt true that the Scots have excelled in the New World. Scots are tough, individualistic and have dogged determination. Highlander and Lowlander, men and women, have come to the fore in every conceivable industry and art. Science, invention, business, literature and art. Scots have arguably fared better in the New World than they might have in the old country. Yet there is a desire, a need if you prefer, for us to be able to touch the homeland again; to feel the Highland air in our lungs, to know that our ancestral home is still there and still welcomes us to see her again. The land and the Scot are bound, even after some two centuries, to each other in some way that only the Celts and Scots seem to understand. We need the Highlands in our hearts and minds -- it is already a permanent fixture in our souls.” Robert M Gunn, Historian, Scottish History Online, www.members.aol.com/skyelander

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