The Royal Colony of South Carolina

The Highland Scots Settlers During the Royal Period (1729 to 1775)

Scots emigration to the colonies soared to 145,000 between 1707 and 1775. Generally poorer than the English, the Scots had greater incentives to emigrate and the union of 1707 (when England and Scotland agreed to form the United Kingdom) gave them legal access to all of the colonies. The growth in Scots overseas shipping also provided more opportunities and lower costs for passage. After a few early emigrants prospered, their reports homeward attracted growing numbers in a chain migration. During a tour of northwestern Scotland, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson saw the locals perform a popular and symbolic new dance called “America,” in which a few original dancers gradually drew in the entire audience.

The Scottish diaspora flowed in three streams: Lowland Scots, Highland Scots, and Ulster Scots.

Assimilated to English ways, the Lowland Scots were primarily skilled tradesmen, farmers, and professionals pulled by greater economic opportunity in America. They usually emigrated as individuals or single families, then dispersed in the colonies and completed their assimilation to Anglo-American ways.

More desperate than the Lowland Scots, the Highlanders responded primarily to the push of their deteriorating circumstances. In 1746, the British army brutally suppressed a rebellion in the Highlands (the end of the Jacobite Rebellion), and Parliament outlawed many of their traditions and institutions. At mid-century, the common Highlanders also suffered from a pervasive rural poverty worsened by the rising rents demanded by their callous landlords. The emigrants primarily came from the relatively prosperous peasants, who possessed the means to emigrate and feared remaining in the Highlands, lest they fall into the growing ranks of the impoverished.

After 1750, emigration brokers and ambitious colonial land speculators frequented the northwest coast of Scotland to procure Highland emigrants. The brokers and speculators recognized that the poor but tough Highlanders were especially well-prepared for the rigors of a transatlantic passage and colonial settlement. Confined to cheap (and often dangerous) lands, the Highland Scots clustered in frontier valleys, especially along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, the Mohawk River of New York, and the Altamaha River in Georgia. By clustering, they preserved their distinctive Gaelic language and Highland customs, in contrast to the assimilation practiced by the Lowland emigrants.


Highland Scots are not noted to have chosen South Carolina as their primary destination for immigration during the Royal Period - instead, they seemed quite content to settle in North Carolina. However, late in the Royal Period some of the Highland Scots who had settled in Cumberland County, North Carolina moved across the border and settled into what is present-day Marion County, South Carolina.
Captain John Stuart, "father of the Cherokees," a descendant of Scotland's Royal line, was one of the most widely known and admired persons in the province of South Carolina during the decade preceding the American revolution. Although an untitled private gentleman, he became the Royal Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Districts of North America in 1762 largely because of the most amazing example of friendship between an Indian and a white man ever recorded.

He would meet and become the blood-brother of Attakullakulla, (The Little Carpenter), the beloved Peace Chief of the Cherokee Nation. There was a sincere affection between these men that endured for their lifetime. Although he had no previous experience with Indians, Stuart was attracted to their way of life and was readily accepted by the fierce mountain people.

A number of Cherokee warriors accompanied General Oglethorpe when he invaded east Florida in 1740 and had witnessed the bravery of the kilted warriors from over the sea, as they battled the Spanish with their deadly broadswords at Fort Mosa. The Cherokee admired the Highland Scots whom they considered fellow warriors.

Some purists may be dismayed at this but it is a fact the two races had much in common. Both were mountain people with proud, independent, warrior societies who gloried in a good fight, rough games, and reckless living. Both were clan societies, which considered loyalty to the clan their first obligation. An Indian's insistence on vengeance for the killing of a member of his clan was perfectly understood by an 18th century Highlander with a similar custom.

The Scottish Martinmas Fair, held each fall, was almost identical to the Cherokee Green Corn Busk, also held each fall. Cherokees passed a newly born child through the smoke of a fire to purify it and the Scots had an identical custom. The Scots were so compatible with the Indians that after 1750 nearly all the traders among the southern Indians were Highland Scots.

Because of his ability to get along with the Indians, Captain John Stuart (aka Stewart) handled all liaison with them and traded for provisions for his garrison. On January 5, 1762, Stuart was appointed Royal Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Districts of North America. Stuart held that office for 18 years, during which he had a harmonious relationship with the Commanders in Chief and Ministers under whom he worked.

At a time when many Royal officials considered their office mainly as a means to advance their own fortunes. Stuart's tenure was one of the few bright spots of the English administration of her American colonies. He was a consummate diplomat and truly devoted to his savage charges, their welfare was always his foremost concern. The southern Indians in turn loved and trusted their "Beloved Father," a title of great respect given him by the Cherokees.



© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved