Atlantic crossings

Each migration story begins with a departure and a subsequent arrival – if the journey was without problems. In the early days the journey was long and often adverse, for instance when crossing the Atlantic.

Scottish migration to the United States

Data on the number of Scottish migrants arriving in North America for the period before the American Revolution is sparse. Estimates suggest that, prior to the mid-seventeenth century, around 200  Scottish settlers had made their way to English plantations. Several early ventures, for instance to South Carolina, ended in tragedy, and, overall, the number of Scots emigrating was decreasing. While the Union of 1707 officially opened the now British Empire for Scots, numbers were still low, approximately 30,000 Scots arriving in North America in the period 1700–60. Although many of them were attracted by the availability of land, there was also a strong pull to the emerging urban centres.

By the time the first census was taken in the United States in 1790, the distribution of those who considered themselves ‘Scotch’ followed the broader settlement patterns of the expanding United States, with centres of settlement traceable in particular in Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York. The figures should be seen as a minimum of Scots resident in the early Republic as a number of factors, including the placing of Ulster-Scots in categorizations, does, in all likelihood, provide some distortions.

Later on in the nineteenth century census statistics offer a more detailed view on those migrants who had still been born in Scotland. While this does not reveal the overall number of people with Scottish ancestry in the US in that period, it documents the settlement patterns of recent arrivals. New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts had remained main centres for Scots, but westward expansion in the course of the nineteenth century had had a clear effect, with Illinois, Michigan and California also boasting strong numbers.

Immigration controls

With time, anti-immigrant sentiment became a major political force, leading to the development of more systematic and more restrictive immigration policies. In the US, the opening of Ellis Island as an immigrant processing centre in 1892 was the first step in a dramatic turn against settler colonists.

Did you know that the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn was celebrated in the US?

As the New York Times reported, the Scots of the city may not be going back to Scotland ‘to take part in the commemoration of the greatest event in their history, but they will certainly celebrate with enthusiasm here in their adopted home’. Clans gathered in Carnegie Hall, and the event was framed, as the planning committee observed, ‘to be a celebration of the spirit of Scottish nationality and that principle of liberty dear to a people noted the world over for their patriotism and pride of country.’ The event in New York was part of a plethora of events that took place worldwide. In the US, celebrations were also held, for instance, in Bridgeport and Jersey City.

John Muir

Scotland saw many a geologist, surveyor and explorer go out into the world charting lands unknown to Europeans. What is perhaps less well known is that there were also botanists and naturalists who cared for the environment in, for their time, progressive ways. One of them was John Muir

Preserving US wilderness

Born in Dunbar on 21 April in 1838, Muir’s parents emigrated to the United States in 1849, setting up Fountain Lake Farm in Wisconsin. At 22 Muir commenced studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he first became interested in botany, chemistry and sciences. He selected courses rather randomly and never actually graduated, however. This was not to stand in the way of what became a lifelong passion for the preservation of nature and wilderness.

After a brief stint in Canada, Muir went on to a 1,000 mile walk from Indiana to Florida in 1867 – a journey he later wrote about in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Without an exact plan, Muir was simply guided by the ‘wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could find.’ Due to illness he abandoned his original plan to continue his walk in South America, sailing instead to California. After his arrival in San Francisco in early 1868, Muir quickly made his was to Yosemite, having heard so much about its natural beauty. One of his earliest thoughts was that the valleys of Yosemite could not have been formed by a major earthquake – the established view at the time – but were rather a result of glacial activity.

It was such progressive ideas that contributed significantly to Muir’s standing, though, initially, they were dismissed as ridiculous by many geologists for whom Muir was a silly amateur. One of Muir’s early supporters was Louis Agassiz, one of the foremost geologists of the time who described Muir as ‘the first man I have ever found who has any adequate conception of glacial action.’

The preservation of wilderness became Muir’s greatest passion and achievement. For him Yosemite and other areas in the Sierra deserved protection from humans and livestock alike to maintain their pristine natural environment. As a result not least of Muir’s lobbying activities, the United States Congress passed a bill at the end of September 1890 that followed most of Muir’s recommendations. Muir was also co-founded, in 1892, of the Sierra Club, acting as its first President. The Club is one of the oldest environmental organizations in the United States. As a result of his growing reputation, Muir acted as expert on many occasions. His endeavours received a significant boost when Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States. At the President’s suggestion, he and Muir camped together in Yosemite in 1903, with the President leaving the trip convinced that Yosemite should be brought entirely under control of the federal government – something Muir had long since campaigned for.

To learn more about Muir and his activities, click here or watch the documentary.

Harry Lauder in the US

Harry Lauder went to the United States in 1907, his first performance taking place in the New York Theatre; it was hailed by the New York Times as a ‘deserved success’. Lauder’s US audience loved him and he returned for tours in the United States 22 times.

Transatlantic ties

In July 1909 the love story of Gabriel R. Gibson of Kilsyth – a small town halfway between Stirling and Glasgow – and Myrtle MacIntyre made headlines in the San Francisco Call. Gibson had fallen in love with MacIntyre and ‘wooed his sweetheart’ during his school days in Kilsyth. But, in 1903, Gibson left for the United States, seeking to make a better life for himself in Berkeley, California. His departure from Scotland did not put an end, however, to his love for Myrtle: the two kept in touch, corresponding regularly by sending many a letter across the Atlantic Ocean. But ‘[s]ix years of correspondence’ eventually ‘proved unsatisfactory to Gabriel . . . and he left for his native land . . . to wed Miss Myrtle MacInyre, the woman of his choice.’ Together the newly-wed couple then made home in Piedmont, California.

One story of transatlantic ties maintained between Scotland and the United States says little, of course, of the wider Scottish emigrant experience of the return home – be it temporary or permanent. What the story points to, however, is the fact that emigration was not as fi nite and ‘conclusive in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as perhaps it had been half a century before.’ People, their culture and their ideas fl owed between places of Scottish settlement overseas and the old homeland, and the return home, made for a multiplicity of reasons that included factors such as Gabriel’s desire to wed his school sweetheart, but also illness or family obligations, was more common than one might assume.