Scots in The South and in Georgia
BY LARRY M. NICHOLS
The remarks below were delivered at the 2002 Annual General Meeting of the Clan Graham Society in Atlanta, Georgia, when the Larry was Vice President of Communications.
Richard, Kate, officers and members of the Clan Graham Society. I know each of you join with Frances and me in continued prayers for the speedy recovery of our chief, His Grace, the 8th Duke of Montrose, who could not be with us at this Annual General Meeting of the Clan Graham Society. My remarks today, in fact, were to acquaint His Grace and his Lady of the rich Scottish tradition of the Southern United States in general and of the state of Georgia in particular. All in all, it's a pretty good story in the telling and I don’t think His Grace would want any of you to miss it.
To really understand the allure of migration to the colonies by Scots in the 17th and 18th centuries, you should understand the political and religious climate of Scotland and England during that period. The 17th century in Scotland is often referred to as the lost century because of the religious battles that resulted in tremendous loss of life. One English king lost his head and another abdicated the throne and set up a series of unsuccessful attempts by his progeny to regain the monarchy. Two notable Grahams, the Great Marquis and Bonnie Dundee, lost their lives in support of these ill-starred kings.
For the common man and woman, Scotland during the 17th and early 18th centuries was a place of grinding poverty. In comparison, the colonies of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina seemed a panacea. With work, and not a little of it, land was to be had. And if you ventured far enough into the woods and mountains, say into modern day West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio, you could escape English civilization altogether. If civilization got too close again, there was always the other side of the mountain. It must have seemed heady stuff to the average Scot and thousands upon thousands of families and single men and women heeded the siren call of migration. These pioneers became the backbone of the American Revolution and the building stock of what was to be the United States. They proudly carried their names and pride in Scotland across the Mississippi, the Great Plains and down the slopes of the Rocky Mountains into California, Oregon and Washington State and beyond. It is impossible to look at a map of the United States and not see the names of Scots on scores of towns and counties. Of the 167 counties in Georgia, for example, 60 are of Scottish origin.
There was one attempt to establish an all-Scottish colony outside of North America. In 1695, the Scottish Africa and India Company was founded with the vision of economic gain in the model of the British East India Company. Three years later, about 1,500 Scottish men, women and children landed in the Isthmus of Panama. Instead of an Eden, the settlers soon discovered that their new colony of Darien was a hell-hole. Torrential rains came "200 inches a year in the area is not uncommon" and with the rain came mosquitoes, malaria and yellow fever. By June 1699, half the colonists were dead. The remainder fled to Jamaica. Meanwhile, another 1,300 Scots, unaware of the fate of the first colonists, arrived in Darien. They fared no better. After beating off several Spanish attacks, Fort St. Andrew surrendered in 1700 ending Scotland’s attempt to settle a colony in the New World.
During the next 45 years, the coastline of present day Georgia continued to be disputed territory between Spain, France and England. It must have seemed a god-send to English political and military leaders when James Edward Oglethorpe was granted permission to establish a colony to be named for King George II in the disputed area. Oglethorpe, who was also a general in the English army, arrived in what was to be Savannah in February 1733. Two years later, the Spanish launched a surprise attack that was beaten back, but just barely so. Oglethorpe realized the need for military outposts to the south and fighters to man them. In January 1736, a band of 177 Highland Scots recruited from around Inverness arrived in Savannah and established a settlement to the south that they called Darien after the ill-fated expedition in Panama.
Oglethorpe made his first visit to Darien in February 1736 and reviewed the marching Scots in the first military parade of British troops to be held in Georgia. In their honor, Oglethorpe wore Highland attire. Despite the early success of the Georgia colony, trouble was still brewing between Spain and England and in 1739, a British sea captain lost one of his ears, allegedly to the captain of a Spanish ship. The three-year War of Jenkins’ Ear was to have severe repercussions on the Georgia colony and the Scottish garrison at Darien.
In May 1740, Oglethorpe advanced on St. Augustine with 2,000 men. The Spanish withdrew from the city and the surrounding area to the Castillo de San Marcos to await help from Cuba. The Darien Scots, about 100 strong plus their Indian allies, occupied abandoned Fort Mose, a
free-black settlement a few miles from St. Augustine. During the night, the black soldiers decided to return. Arriving in the pre-dawn hours, they caught the Scots and their Indian allies asleep and in less than 30 minutes killed all but three of the defenders. The historical significance of this small skirmish in a Florida marsh is that it marks the first military engagement by an organized unit of Scottish militia in North America. It would not be the last.
After several months of siege, Oglethorpe withdrew his forces to Georgia to await the next year when he hoped to attack again. The Spanish beat him to it. On July 7, 1742, the Spanish with 52 ships and more than 2,000 men entered Georgia. Oglethorpe had about 650 English, Scottish Highlanders and Indian allies and no prospects of help from South Carolina. He planned to ambush the Spanish at a point on the Georgia coast where the military road crossed a marsh. The Spanish were channeled into the narrow part of the road where the English forces cut them down with musket fire. The battle lasted less than an hour and the Spanish withdrew. The Battle of Bloody Marsh ended forever the Spanish claims to Georgia.
The end of the battles with the Spanish also meant the end of Oglethorpe's career in America. He returned to England where a court martial acquitted him of misconduct during the battles with the Spanish. Oglethorpe was recalled to command in 1745 to put down the forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the last Jacobite rebellion. After Culloden, Oglethorpe was again acquitted at a court martial of charges that he had not pursued the retreating Scottish rebels vigorously enough. Perhaps if Oglethorpe chased the retreating Scots with less vigor than his more enflamed peers, it was because he may have remembered the exploits and courage of his Inverness Scots at St. Augustine and at the Battle of Bloody Marsh.
After the American Revolution, John Adams visited London as the American ambassador to Britain. Among the first people he sought out was James Edward Oglethorpe, now an 88-year-old man who had lived to see the little buffer colony he had once envisioned and helped to establish now a state of the new United States of America.