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The following article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of the Clan MacIntyre Society newsletter.

In the Tartan Mold

By Karen Kennedy

In March 1998, Society members met at the Dutch Embassy in Tacoma, Washington for a fascinating and fun lecture presented by Robert Edgar, FSA Scot. In the Tartan Mold: Scotland's Influence on American Identity was revealing in how our Scottish heritage contributed to America's growth and identity.

The lecture was all day and covered a variety of topics including our Scottish roots and origins, the cultures of Scotland, the reasons why Scots immigrated to America and their arrival points. He also discussed Scottish movement as a result of the Act of Union in 1707, the Jacobite rebellions and other reasons through this century. It is impossible to cover all of the information in an article such as this, so only the highlights will be given. If this lecture is presented again, I highly recommend that you attend. There is a great deal to learn and appreciate about our Scottish heritage.

The Scots are a melting pot of seven ethnic origins. They include:

  •  The Picts were a Celtic people with hereditary ties to the Swiss and French.
  •  The Romans who invaded the British Isles.
  •  The Britons were also a Celtic people who populated England. It is thought that the legends of King Arthur originate with the Britons.
  •  The Scoti were a tribe of Gaelic people of Northern Hibernia (Ireland). It is believed that they have strong ties with the Galatians of the Middle East.
  •  The Norse, or as more commonly known, the Norwegians and Vikings.
  •  The Anglos came into England after the Romans left, about 911 A.D.
  •  The Flemish and Dutch who settled in the east nook of Scotland.

From these ethnic origins emerged three distinct cultures: the Highlanders, who are a mixture of Pict, Gaelic and Scandinavian; the lowland Scots were primarily of English origin; and the Ulster Scots, who moved to Ireland in the 1600's. There was a rebellion by two earls who, upon defeat, exiled themselves. King James I confiscated their lands in Ireland and created the Ulster plantation. This land was free with the only requirement that those claiming the land become Protestant. This appealed to fundamentalist Scots who took over the Ulster plantations. They believed that they were God's chosen people, the new people of Israel. They called themselves Scotch-Irish and became a distinct cultural group.

There were four reasons the Scots moved to North America: economic, religious, political, and occupational. Poverty moved a lot of people. In the Highlands, there was a lack of exploitable natural resources such as timber.

The primary religious reason for moving to North America was non-conformity. Those who did not want to join the Church of England could move to the Americas and be allowed religious freedom. It appealed to the Catholics, Episcopalians, Ulster Scots, and members of the Church of Scotland.

In 1687, the Clarendon Code compelled people to join the Church of England. If they didn't do so, it was considered an act of treason. Many Scots were deported for treason. In 1682, the first Scottish ethnic colony was established in Perth Amboy, East Jersey.

In 1707, the Act of Union turned Scotland, Ireland, and England into the Great Britain. The Ulster Scots immigrated to North America en masse. Roughly 80-90% migrated and they populated Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

The Jacobite rebellions of 1708, 1715, and 1719 were Highland rebellions against the English crown. Jacobite sympathizers were forced to the colonies. In 1718, the Ulster men began to move.

After the battle of Culloden in 1746, the Jacobites were tossed out in mass, some 20,000 people. While deportations were occurring before Culloden, they were stepped up afterwards.

During the American Revolution (or the American Colonial Rebellion as it's known in England today) immigration dwindled to almost nothing. The Highland and Lowland Scots already in America believed that their banishment was reversible. Therefore, they were loyal to the Crown and joined the British. The Ulster Scots were American patriots.

World War I cut off almost all Scottish immigration. The Scots lost the largest number of men per capita than any other nation. Some churches lost 10% of their congregation in the war. Many children were sent to Canada for adoption as a result of the losses from the war and the influenza epidemic.

Today, being Scottish in America is a cool thing. We see many entertainers and intellectuals arriving in America. Also, an interesting note is that 52% of people who identify themselves as having Scottish heritage live in 10 states from New York to Louisiana. The University of Birmingham in Alabama published research that 85% of people living in Northeast Alabama could identify a Scottish ancestor or had a Scottish surname.

There are six components a culture can be identified in. They are self-perception, social structure, language, religion/philosophy, education, and the arts.

The self-perception of the Highlander is the Clan. Their culture and awareness is as big as the Clan. The lowland Scots and Ulsterman adopted an integrated Calvinist theology. They were God's chosen people. It was their duty to be a part of the Christian nation. Components of this philosophy are seen in American identity in items such as “In God We Trust,” the Manifest Destiny, and “God is on Our Side.”

The Ulsterman were congregationalists, which is more exclusive than the Highlander Clan. We see this social structure in the American concept of team sports, our congregation versus yours. The social structure of lowland Scots is that of community, from the inner circle of family to the outer world of the community.

There were two dominant languages in Scotland. The Highlands were Gaelic and the Lowlands were Broad Scot. The Ulster Scots had a combination of Gaelic and Broad Scots.

The Scottish have three identifiable religions or philosphies. The lowland Scots were typically members of the Church of Scotland. The Ulster Scots practiced radical Presbyterianism. The Highlanders used personal folklore and lifestyle.

In 1496 Scotland had the first education act. Every landowner was required to send their eldest son through all parish schools and university (the equivalent of a high school education). The Highlanders were strong on vocational, or how-to and education. And the Ulster Scots, believed in the three R's, anything else was extraneous. They did not have music or the visual arts. We continue to see this fight, philosophically, even today.

An interesting review of music was also presented. Comparing Scottish and American dance music, the rhythm was identical. As for the arts, Scottish art is functional art. There is little fine art from Scotland and very few sculptures. The sculptures that were created were three-dimensional and had a purpose in everyday life.

As you can see, the American identity is heavily influenced by the cultures of Scotland. We see it in our religious debates, our almost fierce determination to establish our individuality, and our commitment to our communities. This lecture showed the extent of Scottish influence on American identity. It was an enlightening and fascinating journey.

Robert Edgar, FSA Scot, teaches and lectures on Scottish history. If you would like to contact him, you can write to him at P.O. Box 213, Monmouth, OR 97361 or e-mail him at

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