Scotland and the American Revolution


October 14, 2013
by Matthew P. Dziennik Also by this Author


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A New & Accurate Map of Scotland from the latest Surveys (1760). Source:
A New & Accurate Map of Scotland from the latest Surveys (1760). Source:

Reading Thomas Fleming’s fascinating article on “Celts in the American Revolution,” one is struck by the extent to which Scotland and the Scots informed and supported American independence.  From the presence of Scots in congress, to the influence of common sense moral philosophy (Paine’s phrase was not coincidental), to the still-debated influence of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath on the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Scots were, and are, credited with a disproportionate impact on American independence.[1]  One thing missing from Fleming’s excellent article, however, is the inconvenient truth that eighteenth-century Scots largely disavowed the American Revolution.  In both Scotland and America, the overwhelming majority of Scots rejected colonial theories about the rights of Englishmen and remained loyal to the British crown.  Scottish emigrants, more often than not, became Loyalists and participated in large numbers in the armed provincial regiments.  The most sophisticated retort to the Declaration of Independence, The Rights of Great Britain Asserted Against the Claims of America: being an Answer to the Declaration of the General Congress, was penned by James Macpherson, a Scottish member of parliament who, in addition to his well-known fabrications of Gaelic poetry, also wrote for the North government.[2]  For a nation that had won its independence from England in the early fourteenth century and had fought numerous wars to protect this independence, such loyalty may seem bizarre.  This article will attempt to explain, in part, why this was not as odd as it might seem.

As with most significant events in history, Scottish reactions to the Revolution must be situated within a broad chronology.  The Union of the Crowns in 1603, which saw James VI of Scotland become James I of “Great Brittaine,” profoundly shifted the political culture of the British Isles.  James, whose predecessors in Scotland had typically been killed off in palace coups, rebellions, or on the battlefield, ascended to a much stronger, stable, and powerful English state and wanted to unite the parliaments of Scotland and England under his leadership.  The interests of parliamentarians on both sides of the border prevented this from happening during his reign but James left an important legacy in which the idea of Britain was as much a Scottish aspiration for equality as it was an English desire for hegemony.

During the British civil wars of the 1640s, in which James’ son, Charles I, lost a rather vital extremity, the idea of Britain developed as parliamentarians in Scotland and England found common cause in their opposition to monarchical absolutism.  In fact, it was the Scots who sparked the war when they took up arms to resist the imposition of a book of common prayer; many Scots believed that Charles I’s efforts to enforce religious conformity over his kingdoms was an attempt to destroy Presbyterianism and introduce Church of England Anglicanism into a nation highly suspicious of high church doctrines.  The Scottish invasion of England in 1638 and their occupation of Newcastle forced Charles to recall the English parliament, thus sparking the English Civil War.  In that subsequent conflict, the Scots were an aggressive party, demanding that English parliamentarians adopt Presbyterianism in England in return for Scottish military support against the king.  Under pressure, the English parliament agreed and signed the “Solemn League and Covenant” of 1643.  But, in the British context at least, Presbyterians did not make good revolutionaries.  While among the first to challenge the rights of the king, the Scots were appalled by the execution of Charles I in 1649 and immediately installed his son as Charles II.  Oliver Cromwell’s subsequent invasion and occupation of Scotland was brutal but Scottish loyalty to the monarchy had become well entrenched.

Scotland thus had a long history of engagement with England on more complex levels than the resistance of “English oppression.”  Even some of the most patriotic Scots looked to England for guidance; Scotland in the late seventeenth century was, despite its impressive levels of education, still an underdeveloped and often backward nation.  Looking south, Scots saw a centralized state, relative stability, Newtonian science, political philosophers, greater enfranchisement, and, after 1689, a constitutional-circumscribed monarchy.  The desire to be part of this was clear and, in 1707, Scottish parliamentarians, after realizing that the nation’s wealth would not permit her to compete in colonial ventures on the European stage, signed the Treaty of Union which unified the parliaments of Scotland and England.

It took a long time for Scotland to witness the benefits of Union.  Major Jacobite rebellions in support of the deposed House of Stuart (which had been replaced as part of the revolutionary settlement of 1689) broke out in 1715 and 1745 and there were numerous plots and conspiracies as late as the 1750s.  But slowly, the advantages of Union became clearer and placed Scotland firmly within a British political sphere.  First, the economic benefits began to emerge as the Treaty of Union opened up English markets to Scottish traders.  The increased burden of taxation as a result of the Union did provoke violent outbursts such as the malt tax riots of 1725 and the Porteous riot of 1736, just as they did in England during the infamous excise tax riot of 1733.  But Scotland was largely spared the levels of taxation seen in England and, as a result, benefited economically from the Union.  Under the Navigation Acts, which so frustrated American traders, Scots were permitted to carry on trade with British colonies without paying the tariffs associated with foreign states.  The biggest beneficiary was Glasgow, which overtook centers such as London and Liverpool to become Britain’s leading tobacco port by the 1770s.  In fact, so important was tobacco to Glasgow that the city’s merchants successfully pressured the burgh corporation not to submit a loyal address to the king after the battles of Lexington and Concord.  The fact that seventy-seven other Scottish public bodies did submit loyal addresses and that Glasgow was the lone dissenting voice, however, suggests just how popular British policies were in Scotland.[3]

Second, Scots were philosophically aware of how much they had benefitted from the Union with England.  The economic transformation of Scotland was accompanied by a transformation in science, literature, philosophy, and newspaper circulation.  This was the age of the Scottish Enlightenment and a time in which many of the most sophisticated theories in the science of man were emanating from Scotland.  As a result, Scots began to seriously question the success of their nation as an independent historical entity and began to sees its fate bound up with that of England.  As historian Colin Kidd has pointed out, Scots took to calling themselves “North Britons” and went so far as to disavow their own past.  By 1750, it was hard to find a Scot who openly argued that Scottish institutions were as capable of protecting commercial society and the liberties of the subject as effectively as English / British Whig principles.  This did not mean that enlightened Scots simply copied from English institutions, but it is fair to say that many Scots borrowed from the languages of English Whiggism in an attempt to re-write Scotland’s place in the world.[4]

Third, the larger British state was far more capable of offering employment to Scots than the small Scottish state had been pre-1707.  The biggest source for employment proved to be the armies of the British state and the East India Company.  Thousands of Scots entered the British armed forces and some benefitted significantly from this.  This was particularly evident in the Scottish Highlands (which was linguistically and culturally divided from the rest of Scotland) from where the Jacobite rebellions had typically gained their most determined support.  From bitter opponents of British state interference in the early eighteenth-century, the Highlands emerged as a leading supplier of manpower for Britain’s armies by the 1760s.  Highland soldiers would fight in both the French & Indian War and the War of American Independence in large numbers.  While many officers of these regiments did attack colonial arguments for independence, they probably fought more for the economic and social benefits of service than anything else.  The level of money and patronage coming into the Highlands as a result of government expenditures on the military was impressive; by the 1770s, even junior officers could retire on half-pay pensions and have enough money to cover their annual farm rentals with cash to spare.[5]

Finally, the political benefits of Union permitted Scots to take a leading role in the creation of British power.  From the 1760s especially, Scottish politicians were among the leading figures in parliament.  In 1762, John Stuart, 3rd earl of Bute, became the first Scot to become prime minister of Great Britain.  He was joined by a coterie of figures who would help guide British policy during the imperial crisis.  Alexander Wedderburn, from East Lothian, served as the solicitor-general and the attorney-general during the American War of Independence and was an unrepentant critic of colonial rights.  It was Wedderburn who was chiefly responsible for the incendiary attack upon Benjamin Franklin before the Privy Council in January 1774 in which Franklin was accused of being the “prime conductor” of agitation against Britain.  It was another Scot, William Murray, 1st earl of Mansfield, who passed judgment on the famous Somerset case in 1772 in which a runaway slave, James Somerset, was prevented from being deported to Jamaica by his owner.  Mansfield asserted that because slavery did not feature in the laws of England then his owner had no right to imprison him or sell him to a plantation.  As he stated: “The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law … It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.”  The case was significant not only in questioning the rights of slave-owners but was interpreted in the colonies as evidence of a British conspiracy to deprive Americans of their property.[6]

Portrait of John Paul Jones (circa 1890)
Portrait of John Paul Jones (circa 1890)

Not every Scot was a keen supporter of British imperial power.  In addition to John Paul Jones, probably the best known Scot to serve in the armed forces of congress, we can add the names of Arthur St. Clair from Caithness, Hugh Mercer from Aberdeenshire, Alexander Macdougall from Islay, Lachlan Macintosh from Badenoch, and New York-born William Alexander (who claimed the Scottish title of Lord Stirling), all of whom served as generals in the Continental army.  Nevertheless, on balance, for every Scot in the service of congress, there may have been dozens who served the crown.  The benefits of being allied to the British state and the long tradition of benefiting from engagement with England was a crucial factor in the anti-revolutionary stance taken by many Scots, both in the colonies and in the British Isles.

Indeed, one theme of considerable importance to the role of Scots in the Revolution is the perception of Scots among the revolutionary generation.  Colonial Americans looked to England for their political cues and it is therefore not surprising that Americans should also have been infected with a distasteful contempt for the Scots.  In the 1760s, John Wilkes had gained a large anti-establishment following in England based, in a large measure, on his denunciations of Bute and other Scots.  To many Englishmen, the arrival of Scottish politicians was a portent of the corruption of their state into clannishness, Toryism, and tyranny.  Americans borrowed from this language and molded it to their concerns over the corruption of political virtues in the British constitution.  In 1746, for example, Americans had widely celebrated the defeat of the Scottish Jacobites.  By the 1770s, American revolutionaries laid the blame for the major faults of parliamentary rule firmly at the door of the Scots.  It was the Scots who were purportedly leading English rulers down a path of confrontation with their fellow nationals in the colonies.  The Scots, it was said, were “the contrivers and supporters of all measures against you [congress]. Nor will they ever desist while the English have a penny to be plundered or a man sacrificed.”  An Address to the Inhabitants of the American Colonies declared that the righteousness of the colonial cause would be vindicated in battles against the British: “Their principal muscular strength, at present, consists then in a number of mercenary, hackneyed, tattered Regiments, patched up by the most abandoned and debauched of mankind, the scum of the nation, the dregs of Irish and Scottish desperadoes.”  Thomas Jefferson may have been influenced by Scottish philosophy but this did not prevent him from claiming in a draft of the Declaration that Britain had sent “Scotch and foreign mercenaries” to “deluge” the colonists in blood.  The offending article was only left out at the insistence of Scottish-born John Witherspoon, the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and a signer of the Declaration.[7]  If these were the attitudes toward Scots present in the highest levels of the revolutionary leadership, the idea that Scottish support for the Revolution was widespread must be treated with some suspicion.

The only question left to ask is why Scotland has been the focus of so much attention with regards to support for the American Revolution?  It is clear that Scottish philosophy did have a role in developing common sense moral codes and the belief that society could be improved by evaluating cause and effect.  It was under Aberdeen’s-own William Small that Thomas Jefferson received his undergraduate education at the College of William and Mary.  In some respects, American independence was one of the towering achievements of the applied enlightenment.  One the other hand, Scottish philosophers were only one small group among many influences on American revolutionaries.[8]  Perhaps it is the case that Scottish philosophers had a greater role in influencing the subsequent development of the early republic rather than influencing initial support for independence.  In Book V of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the Kirkcaldy-born moral philosopher had advocated a federal solution to the imperial crisis and commented that the benefits accrued by Scotland as a result of the Treaty of Union could also be applied in an American context to prevent dissolution of the empire.  While this idea collapsed in the bloodshed of the revolutionary war, his ideas on federated unions and liberal economics did generate a powerful following in the early republic.  Adam Ferguson’s work on civil society was also widely read in early national America and Scottish-born James Wilson was a major figure in drafting the Constitution.

But it may be that we are asking the wrong questions.  As historians, it is our mission to understand historic shifts and look for the contingent factors that influence the decisions people make.  People rarely make a decision based solely on their nationality or their ethnic heritage.  It is interesting to note that those Scots who had lived in the colonies for long periods and were familiar with colonial politics tended to support the Revolution, even in areas of Loyalism.  They supported the Revolution not because they were Scots; they supported the Revolution because they believed in the potential of the Revolution to challenge the corruption of the Old World and turn its back on the constraints of aristocracy and privilege.  And surely that was the whole point.  As Tom Paine had put most clearly in 1776, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”  As far as the role of ethnic identity in the American Revolution is concerned, an old eighteenth-century adage, “just because one is born in a stable, doesn’t make one a horse,” is equally valid.[9]


[1] Gary Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (New York: Doubleday, 1978); Scotland and America in the Age of the Enlightenment, eds. Rick Sher and Jeffrey R. Smitten (Princeton, NJ: Edinburgh University Press, 1990); Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001).

[2] Wallace Brown, The Good Americans: The Loyalists in the American Revolution (New York: Morrow, 1969); Paul H. Smith, “The American Loyalists: Notes on their Organization and Numerical Strength,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 25 (Apr. 1968): 274.

[3] Dalphy I. Fagerstrom, “Scottish Opinion and the American Revolution,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 11 (Apr. 1954): 264.

[4] Colin Kidd, Subverting Scotland’s Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

[5] Andrew Mackillop, More Fruitful than the Soil: Army, Empire, and the Scottish Highlands, 1715-1815 (East Linton, UK: Tuckwell, 2000); Matthew P. Dziennik, “Through an Imperial Prism: Land, Liberty, and Highland Loyalism in the War of American Independence,” Journal of British Studies, 50 (Apr. 2011): 322-51.

[6] Alfred W. & Ruth G. Blumrosen, Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2005), 48-9; see also Robert Olwell, “Domestick Enemies: Slavery and Political Independence in South Carolina,” Journal of Southern History, 55 (1989): 21-48

[7] “Letter to Committee of Secret Correspondence,” The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1889), 3:95-96; American Archives, Fourth Series, ed. Peter Force (Washington, DC: np, 1837), 3:1588; Frank Whitson Fetter, “Who Were the Foreign Mercenaries of the Declaration of Independence,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 104 (Oct. 1980): 508-13

[8] Ronald Hamowy, “Jefferson and the Scottish Enlightenment,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 36 (Oct. 1979): 503-23.

[9] Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings, ed. Mark Philp (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1995), 53.


  • Another individual of Scottish descent worth noting, but seldom given the credit he deserved, was Major Allan McLane of the Delaware line. While born in Philadelphia in 1746, he was a first generation American as his father, Allan McLean or Maclean, came to the colonies in 1738 from Isle of Coll, Scotland. As a young man he returned to Scotland to visit relatives in 1767-9.The Major was one of Washington’s intelligence managers, or field Case Officers. He ran productive intelligence collection activities around British occupied Philadelphia and later provided valuable intelligence in support of General Anthony Wayne’s assault on Stony Point.
    Like most of Washington’s intelligence officers, his accomplishments as a soldier are better remembered than his intelligence successes.

  • Could it be that the Scots’ attitudes toward the different sides in the US Revolution were less theoretical and more ethnic/geographic? I seem to recall that those Americans from the highlands tended to settle in the southern colonies and became Loyalists while the lowland Scots (and related Ulster Irish) were rebels.

    Where I grew up (New York) the Loyalists were of mostly southern English stock.

    1. Scots who settled in the South were loyalists.
      There were surely pockets of Scottish support for the crown in the South, just as some individuals in the South refused to recognize the Confederate States of America as a country. But actions of British-supporting Scotsmen paled in comparison with the fiery leadership of our Southern Scott’s officers.
      One need only study the make-up — by name origin –as depicted In veteran’s rolls. Or Google the “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
      Scots in the South had been chased from Scotland by the British and treated so badly by the British in Northern Ireland that they fled to the New World. They were determined to have it out with the British once and for all. And win.

      1. I agree, but as you say, the rebels were from the lowland Scots and Uslter Irish. The Loyalists seem to be highlanders.

        1. My GGGGrandfather William Ferguson came to this country from Scotland in the 1830s-1840s. I’ve just been interested in the history of Scotland and the American Revolution since 2013 or so. It was my understanding that the Highland Clearances were England’s attempt to rid themselves of the savage rebelious troublemakers which were the Highlanders going as far as outlawing traditional Highland Garb, the Kilt and Tartans from Scotland in around 1760-1770. These Scot’s were indeed kicked out of Scotland ultimately becoming Ulster Scots or Scot’s-Irish in Northern Ireland. After this initial forced exodus to Ireland those rounded up and arrested as rebels, Jacobite’s or just refused to leave Scotland were placed in prison. When the the prisons became overflowing, they were cleared by transporting and selling the prisoners to Governors of the American Colonies as indebted Slaves. That is, until the Revolutionary War broke out. Unless I missed something this seems to the opposite of what your claiming, the Lowlanders as rebels and Highlanders as Loyalists?

          1. James,

            The Highland clearances predated the great wave of immigration from Ulster to America. The immigration began in ca. 1725. These men were primarily from the Lowlands, and mostly from the Borders as well, though there were signifcant numbers of Englishmen included. They came in far greater numbers than the later Highland Scots.

            The Ulster Scots, or Scotch-Irish as well call them, settled the back country from PA to GA in great numbers, and in lesser numbers up as far as Vermont. They and their descendants overwhelmingly supported the Revolution.

            Highlanders, with some exceptions, tended to support the Crown. Perhaps the largest single area of Highland settlement was the upper Cape Fear river area of NC, where the governor (himself a Scot) granted a great deal of land to Highland Scots. The men from this area raised a regiment of Loyalists to fight for the King in the Revolution.

            That this is ironic can’t be understated, as in the old country it was generally the other way around, with the Union enjoying far more support in the Lowlands than in the Highlands. But as pointed out in this article, a large consideration was who was the king, with the Highlanders supporting the Stuarts more so than union or disunion.

            A grand irony in the middle of all this general irony is the story of Flora MacDonald, a heroine of the Highlands. She who hid Bonnie Prince Charlie, and helped him escape after Culloden. She settled in NC and married a British officer, and supported the Crown in the Revolution. She was forced to leave after the war was over.

            While one should really hesitate in using a personal family history as a rule when viewing history in general, as it’s as likely to be an exception, we all tend to do so at one point or another. However Robert Kirk’s assertion is supported by the history of the Carolinas I’ve read.

  • Good article. In New England I sense that one factor in Scottish immigrants being more loyal to the Crown (as Gov. Thomas Hutchinson observed) was that they were immigrants. They were newcomers to the fairly insular New England society with more family and professional ties to Britain. The Yankees’ suspicion and resentment of outsiders didn’t help. And there was still that lingering and surely undeserved suspicion of Jacobitism.

    1. Scotland didn’t win it’s independence fro England n the fourteenth century. It defended it’s independence from English expansion. Scotland was a nation long before England.

  • Thank you for this article. I am currently reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I wanted to do some of my own research to see if there was any truth to her writing. I’m surprised to learn how the Scottish people played such a role in the American Revolution.

  • I always thought that the greatest percentage of Washington’s Continental Army was made up of the Scots and the Irish, which made sense to me since the English had treated them so cruelly. So I was surprised to read in your post that any Scots were “loyalists.” It was a disappointment to me that Scotland recently passed on a chance to finally be independent. American Scots are inclined to wonder how that happened. It seems the Scots have forgotten what the English did to them and somehow even in the early days of the American Revolution were of a mixed mind toward independence. Very sad to me.

  • The only reason anyone needs to give, as to why this is a VERY SKEWED perception of actual opinions and feelings in Scotland at the time, is Robert Burn’s “Ballad on The American War”. In Which, Burn’s lays out a witty and comical telling of the Revolution. Throughout the writing he continuously highlights the blunders of the British generals, from Gage to Cornwallis. It is clear from the writing that Burns either followed the events of the war closely, either from word of mouth or written source, Burns pretty much understood the war’s events as they happened. What’s more, the song is set to the same tune as the Jacobite song “The Battle of Prestonpans”, which again, is a mockery of English mistakes at that battle during the Jacobite Uprising of 1745-46.

    I take offense in the same way a Jew or a man of color would to a similar mistake. What happened after 1746 amounts to no less than genocide, and that should never be forgotten, and it won’t be.

    1. Agreed! The men who died on the Moor were slaughtered. Our families lost their history. Our language, our culture…the British tried to obliterate it!

      My question to this whole thing is how can the writer be so sure that the Scots were truly loyal to the crown during the American Revolution? To me it seems far more likely they had no choice. Culloden had only been 30 years prior. How many of the men had seen that battle? Young men could have been sent to the colonies as prisoners to work the land. The British could have easily come in and told them they had no option but to fight.

      The Scots had already seen the destruction wrought by the British…did they really want to face that again or was fighting for them (in their opinion) a safer option?

      I know we can never truly know an answer but it certainly makes you think!

  • Adam, that’s a truly tasteless generalisation from someone with a university education. Lowland Scots are no more racist than any other people. If you’d ever been to this country you might appreciate how undulating the whole country is and how problematic this makes the highland-lowland distinction.
    As for clearances the so-called Lowland Clearances came first with the same rural depopulation for the same ‘economic’ reasons. Scotland suffered and still suffers from very concentrated landownership over the whole of the mainland. Elites oppress in highland and lowland…your prejudiced distinction is without any merit. I feel embarrassed for you that you are comfortable showing such ignorance in a public forum.
    The Scots are well-known for their welcoming nature…even lowlanders!
    A little knowledge sure is a dangerous thing…

  • Scottish Philosopher, Thomas Reid, gave us “. . . truths to be held self-evident . . .” in his work Common Sense published 1710. That Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence. We need to give the Scottish Enlightenment a bit more credit than this article allows. The fact that the new nation focused so much on building institutions of higher learning and liberal arts education are also out of this movement. Remember England only had two Universities for many centuries, while Scotland, small and poor had five.

  • I am not well enough informed to distinguish significantly between the histories of the low-land and highland Scots, so I am not clear which became primarily the Scots-Irish, but it appears to me that they became some of the most fierce proponents of the Revolution. My ancestors on both sides are primarily Scots-Irish, settling mostly in the Carolinas.

    1. I most highly recommend you purchase or borrow James Leyburn’s, The Scotch-Irish, a Social History. It is THE seminal work on the history and culture of your ancestors.

      Senator James Webb wrote, Born Fighting, and it’s good, but it’s romantic, and problematic in many ways. It may more properly be labeled propaganda than history, while Leyburn’s books is pure history.

      I also recommend Grady McWhiney’s book, Cracker Culture; Celtic Ways in the Old South. It’s less about the Scotch-Irish, and more centered on their influence on American culture, and Southern culture in particular. It’s also an amusing read.

  • I have an old book from 1778 with the names Richard eaton, Benjamin Adams, and M.D. Williams in Tryon County, North Carolina.
    Relatives were Rankin, Cox, Harbison, Moffett, George

  • One aspect about Scotland and the American Revolution is the extremely important role which Scottish and Scots-Irish soldiers and officers contributed to BOTH armies during the Revolution. The British Army was successful in recruiting many Scots into Scottish regiments, and encouraging the wearing of Scottish kilts and kit. In America after the French & Indian War in 1763, the British Army wisely settled the veterans of Scottish regiments in America, many of whom would rejoin the British Army during the Revolution. The British Army then did the same thing with their Scottish veterans of the RevWar in 1783, by settling them in Canada across the St. Lawrence River from upstate New York. The British Army must have considered their Scottish soldiers to be extremely loyal, and they were. Of course, the American Patriot forces enjoyed tremendous support from the Ulster Scots-Irish, who helped turn the RevWar around after 1780 with their fighting in the South. The Ulster Scots-Irish held the entire western frontier from upstate New York, through Pennsylvania, and down into the Deep South, and the British Army never could defeat these Patriot Scots-Irish Militia regiments. It could be again that the Scots and the Scots-Irish were the backbone of the best regiments in both the British and American Patriot armies.

    1. Chester,

      In James Leyburn’s book, The Scotch-Irish, a Social History, he devoted the entirety of Appendix I to the history of what these people were called, and what they called themselves.

      The term “Scotch-Irish,” while sometimes used abroad (Queen Elizabeth I was the first person recorded using it), everywhere but America they are called Ulster Scots, or simply Ulstermen. In America they were often called Scotch-Irish, and are recorded referring to themselves as such, well before the Revolution. However in my readings they more generally called themselves simply Irish, and referred back, not to Scotland, but to Ireland as their mother country. It’s clear they stopped calling themselves Irish, and switched to Scotch-Irish after Catholic Irish started immigrating to America in great numbers.

      The term “Scots-Irish” is a 20th Century invention. I see it a lot. Many people try to correct my use of the term Scotch-Irish, commonly writing something like, “Scotch is whiskey.” However the term I use is historically correct, as attested to in detail by Leyburn.


  • Having come to this site to research Scottish Jacobites in the USA, it seems I’ve stumbled into a ‘wee stooshy’. It seems to be counter intuitive to a Brit that the majority of Scots were loyal to the British crown. Perhaps the explanation is that religious differences between the fiercely Protestants and staunch Catholics could more account for the dichotomy. However, the economic opportunities for immigrants would certainly weigh more in the minds in a new country where religion was more ‘free’ than in the Old World, despite there being obvious differences between those who settled in PA as opposed to GA. The 13 States had far more openings for the entrepreneurial and inventively gifted for any creeds than existed in the European context. As in all revolutions, one man’s allegiance is as unique as his outlook.

  • The author asks: “The only question left to ask is why Scotland has been the focus of so much attention with regards to support for the American Revolution?”

    May I suggest a a possible answer to that question?

    To the Revolutionary armed struggle, Scotland contributed 5 Continental Army generals (Arthur St. Clair, Alexander McDougall, Hugh Mercer, Adam Stephen and Lachlan McIntosh); Commodore John Paul Jones of the Continental Navy and several other prominent Scottish-born Revolutionary officers, such as Brigadier General Andrew Williamson, Colonel John Allan (the Revolutionaries’ ‘main man’ in Maine) and Allan McLane.

    Two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon and James Wilson, were from Scotland. Witherspoon was a prominent and supremely eloquent advocate of the American colonists’ rights and proponent of independence.

    On the other side of the Atlantic, Commodore George Johnstone of the Royal Navy was a prominent opponent of the British Government’s coercive policy toward the North American colonists in 1760s and early ’70s and refused to serve against them when war broke out. Another Scottish officer, Colonel Ralph Abercromby (later a famous general) jeopardised his career by refusing to serve against the American Revolutionaries.

    Also in the UK, James Aitken, known as ‘John the Painter’, committed a series of acts of sabotage at Royal Navy dockyards in support of the Revolutionary cause: for which he has received the dubious distinction of honour of being styled, “the first modern terrorist”. He was, of course, executed for his activities.

    Given the substantial nature of the Scottish contribution to the Revolutionary cause, wouldn’t it be a bit odd if it were NOT “the focus of so much attention”?

    And yet, during the Revolution and its wake, the idea that Scots were, in general Loyalists, was widespread and resulted in a certain amount of hostility toward them. I have read a whole dissertation on the subject that was available online (it is somewhere on my computer but I have so much stored there that I cannot find it!). The idea of contemporary Scots being predominantly Royalist in their sympathies, although subject to a fair degree of revision, still has a certain amount of currency.

    The fact is that, as regards the American Revolution, contemporary Scots were no more unanimous in their opinions than were contemporary Americans. Stereotypes notwithstanding, Scots were as divided on the issue as anyone else.

    In response to Regan Walker’s remark that, “It seems the Scots have forgotten what the English did to them”, I would wish to point out that, as warring kingdoms, the Scots and the English did unspeakable things to each other for centuries. In this respect, Scotland and England were no different from most other places in the World in the Mediaeval and Early Modern periods. As regards Britain, those things happened centuries ago. They are ancient history. As regards the brutality of the British Army during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and the repressive measures in the Highlands by the British Government after it, it should be remembered that most Scottish Lowlanders and many Scottish Highlanders were strongly opposed to the Jacobite cause; that Scottish troops participated in atrocities that were committed and that many Lowlanders were in favour of the destruction of the culture of the Highlanders. The enmity between Highlander and Lowlander in Scotland goes away back into the mists of time and did not disappear until population growth in the Lowlands and depopulation in the Highlands reduced the Highlanders from being one third of Scotland’s population (in 1750) to a tiny minority (currently less than 5%).

    Engaging in an historical “blame game” will never get us anywhere.

    Finally, I noticed that on Page 59 of, “The Fatal Land: War, Empire and the Highland Soldier in North America’, Matthew Dziennik (the author of the above article), writes: “This chapter argues that the Highland soldier was neither the most effective nor the most loyal of soldiers.”

    The various mutinies by Highland troops are a matter of record. On some of those occasions, the mutinous conduct was fully warranted: on other occasions it was not. On that evidence, Highlanders can hardly claim to have been the British Army’s “most loyal” soldiers.

    Mr. Dziennik’s assertion that Highlanders were not “the most effective…of soldiers” is an entirely different kettle of fish. The only evidence that he puts forward for this claim is the disastrous performance of the 77th Regiment (Montgomerie’s Highlanders) at the Battle of Fort Duquesne in 1758. The trouble with that is that the other (non-Scottish) troops at that engagement do not seem to have performed any better. Nor was performance of the British Army’s 44th and 48th Regiments at the Battle of the Monongahela, three years earlier, any less catastrophic. The fact is that the Forest Indians of the ‘Sixty Years War’ (1755-1815) were among the most formidable fighters ever to take the field. Their mastery of tree-to-tree fire and movement was something that white troops, European or American, could never match. The won many a devastating victory and the handful of engagements that they lost were near-run things. It should perhaps be remembered that on one of those latter occasions, Bushy Run (1763), a detachment from Montgomerie’s Highlanders played their part.

    In his book, Mr. Dziennik presents no other evidence than Fort Duquesne for the supposed ineffectiveness of the Highland soldier.

    A question occurs to me: if Matthew Dziennik thinks that Highland troops were “not the most effective of soldiers”, who does he think were better? Lowlanders? Irishmen? Englishmen? Americans? Germans? Japanese? Who? If he wishes his generalisation to have any real meaning, he needs to specify.

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