Scottish Americans

Last updated
Scottish Americans
Ameireaganaich Albannach
Total population
Scottish Americans
20–25 million [1] [2] [3] [4]
Up to 8.3% of the U.S. population
Scotch-Irish Americans
27–30 million [5] [6]
Up to 10% of the U.S. population
5,310,285 (2013 ACS) Scottish
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in New England, Appalachia and the Deep South Plurality in New York, West Virginia, Idaho, North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania [8]
English (American English dialects) Scottish Gaelic and Scots speaking minorities
Christianity (including Presbyterianism, Baptist, Pentecostalism, Methodist, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism), other religions (including deism [9] )
Related ethnic groups
Scotch-Irish Americans, English Americans, Irish Americans, Welsh Americans, Manx Americans, British Americans, Scottish Canadians, Scotch-Irish Canadians, Scottish Australians

Scottish Americans or Scots Americans (Scottish Gaelic: Ameireaganaich Albannach; Scots : Scots-American) are Americans whose ancestry originates wholly or partly in Scotland. Scottish Americans are closely related to Scotch-Irish Americans, descendants of Ulster Scots, and communities emphasize and celebrate a common heritage. [10] The majority of Scotch-Irish Americans originally came from Lowland Scotland and Northern England before migrating to the province of Ulster in Ireland (see Plantation of Ulster ) and thence, beginning about five generations later, to North America in large numbers during the eighteenth century.

Scots language Germanic language

Scots is the Germanic language variety spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster in Ireland. It is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language which was historically restricted to most of the Highlands, the Hebrides and Galloway after the 16th century. The Scots language developed during the Middle English period as a distinct entity.

Americans citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and the North Channel to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.


Large-scale emigration from Scotland to America began in the 1700s, accelerating after the Jacobite rising of 1745, the resulting breakup of the clan structures, and the Highland Clearances. Displaced Scots went in search of a better life and settled in the thirteen colonies, initially around South Carolina and Virginia, and then further in successive generations.

Jacobite rising of 1745 attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart

The Jacobite rising of 1745, also known as the Forty-five Rebellion or simply the '45, was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. It took place during the War of the Austrian Succession, when the bulk of the British Army was fighting in mainland Europe, and proved to be the last in a series of revolts that began in 1689, with major outbreaks in 1708, 1715 and 1719.

Highland Clearances the mass eviction of tenants from the Scottish Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries

The Highland Clearances were the evictions of a significant number of tenants in the Scottish Highlands, mostly in the period 1750 to 1860.

South Carolina State of the United States of America

South Carolina is a state in the Southeastern United States and the easternmost of the Deep South. It is bordered to the north by North Carolina, to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the southwest by Georgia across the Savannah River.

Number of Scottish Americans

Number of Scottish Americans
YearRef.Population% of the United States population
1980 [11] 10,048,8164.44 4.44
1990 [12] 5,393,5812.2 2.2
2000 [13] 4,890,5811.7 1.7
2010 [14] 5,460,6793.1 3.1
Number of Scotch-Irish Americans
YearRef.Population% of the United States population
1980 [11] 16,4180.007 0.007
1990 [12] 5,617,7732.3 2.3
2000 [13] 4,319,2321.5 1.5
2010 [14] 3,257,1611.9 1.9

Colonial period 1700 - 1775

According to the United States Historical Census Data Base (USHCDB), the ethnic populations in the British American Colonies of 1700, 1755 and 1775 were:

Ethnic composition in the British American Colonies of 1700 1755 1775 [15] [16] [17]
English and Welsh 80.0%English and Welsh52.0%English48.7%
African 11.0%African20.0%African20.0%
Dutch 4.0%German7.0%Scots-Irish7.8%
Scottish 3.0% Scots-Irish 7.0% German 6.9%
Other European2.0% Irish 5.0%Scottish6.6%
Dutch3.0% French 1.4%
Other European2.0% Swedish 0.6%
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Colonies100% Red Ensign of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg Colonies100% Grand Union Flag.svg Thirteen Colonies 100%


The number of Americans of Scottish descent today is estimated to be 20 to 25 million [1] [2] [3] [4] (up to 8.3% of the total US population), and Scotch-Irish 27 to 30 million [5] [6] (up to 10% of the total US population), the subgroups overlapping and not always distinguishable because of their shared ancestral surnames.

A surname, family name, or last name is the portion of a personal name that indicates a person's family. Depending on the culture, all members of a family unit may have identical surnames or there may be variations based on the cultural rules.

The majority of Scotch-Irish Americans originally came from Lowland Scotland and Northern England before migrating to the province of Ulster in Ireland (see Plantation of Ulster ) and thence, beginning about five generations later, to North America in large numbers during the eighteenth century.

Ulster province in Ireland

Ulster is a province in the north of the island of Ireland. It is made up of nine counties, six of which are in Northern Ireland and three of which are in the Republic of Ireland. It is the second largest and second most populous of Ireland's four provinces, with Belfast being its biggest city. Unlike the other provinces, Ulster has a high percentage of Protestants, making up almost half of its population. English is the main language and Ulster English the main dialect. A minority also speak Irish, and there are Gaeltacht in southern Londonderry, the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast and in Donegal, where 25% of the total Gaeltacht population of Ireland is located. Lough Neagh, in the east, is the largest lake in the British Isles, while Lough Erne in the west is one of its largest lake networks. The main mountain ranges are the Mournes, Sperrins, Croaghgorms and Derryveagh Mountains.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

Plantation of Ulster plantation

The Plantation of Ulster was the organised colonisation (plantation) of Ulster – a province of Ireland – by people from Great Britain during the reign of King James VI & I. Most of the colonists came from Scotland, the majority having a different culture to the natives. Small private plantations by wealthy landowners began in 1606, while the official plantation began in 1609. Most of the land colonised was forfeited from the native Gaelic chiefs, several of whom had fled Ireland for mainland Europe in 1607 following the Nine Years' War against English rule. The official plantation comprised an estimated half a million acres (2,000 km²) of arable land in counties Armagh, Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Tyrconnell and Derry/Londonderry. Land in counties Antrim, Down and Monaghan was privately colonised with the king's support.

The table shows the ethnic Scottish population in the United States from 1700 to 2013. In 1700 the total population of the American colonies was 250,888, of whom 223,071 (89%) were white and 3.0% were ethnically Scottish. [15] [18] In the 2000 census, 4.8 million Americans [19] self-reported Scottish ancestry, 1.7% of the total US population. Another 4.3 million self-reported Scotch-Irish ancestry, for a total of 9.2 million Americans self-reporting some kind of Scottish descent.

Self-reported numbers are regarded by demographers as massive under-counts, because Scottish ancestry is known to be disproportionately under-reported among the majority of mixed ancestry, [20] and because areas where people reported "American" ancestry were the places where, historically, Scottish and Scotch-Irish Protestants settled in America (that is: along the North American coast, Appalachia, and the Southeastern United States). Scottish Americans descended from nineteenth-century Scottish emigrants tend to be concentrated in the West, while many in New England are the descendants of emigrants, often Gaelic-speaking, from the Maritime Provinces of Canada, from the 1880s onward. Americans of Scottish descent outnumber the population of Scotland, where 4,459,071 or 88.09% of people identified as ethnic Scottish in the 2001 Census. [21] [22]

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere; it is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

Appalachia Region

Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York to northern Alabama and Georgia. While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Canada to Cheaha Mountain in Alabama, the cultural region of Appalachia typically refers only to the central and southern portions of the range, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, southwesterly to the Great Smoky Mountains. As of the 2010 United States Census, the region was home to approximately 25 million people.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Scottish Americans by state

Comparison between the 1790 and 2000 census
1790 estimates [23] 2000 Census [23]
AncestryNumber% of totalAncestryNumber% of total
African 750,00019.0African36,419,43412.9
German 280,0007.0English24,515,1388.7
Irish 200,0005.0 Mexican 20,640,7117.3
Scottish 160,0004.0 Italian 15,723,5555.6
Dutch 100,0002.5 Hispanic 10,017,2443.6
French 80,0002.0 Polish 8,977,4443.2
Native American 50,0001.0Scottish4,890,5811.7
Spanish 20,0000.5Dutch4,542,4941.6
Swedish or other20,0000.5 Norwegian 4,477,7251.6
British (Total)2,500,00062.5British (Total)
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 3,929,326 [24] 100Flag of the United States.svg  United States 281,421,906100

The states with the largest Scottish populations: [25]

The states with the top percentages of Scottish residents:

Historical contributions


The first Scots in North America came with the Vikings. A Christian bard from the Hebrides accompanied Bjarni Herjolfsson on his voyage around Greenland in 985/6 which sighted the mainland to the west. [26] [27]

The first Scots recorded as having set foot in the New World were a man named Haki and a woman named Hekja, slaves owned by Leif Eiriksson. The Scottish couple were runners who scouted for Thorfinn Karlsefni's expedition in c. 1010, gathering wheat and the grapes for which Vinland was named. [28] [29]

The controversial Zeno letters have been cited in support of a claim that Henry Sinclair, earl of Orkney, visited Nova Scotia in 1398. [30]

In the early years of Spanish colonization of the Americas, a Scot named Tam Blake spent 20 years in Colombia and Mexico. He took part in the conquest of New Granada in 1532 with Alonso de Heredia. He arrived in Mexico in 1534-5, and joined Coronado's 1540 expedition to the American Southwest. [31] [32]

Scottish-American naturalist John Muir is perhaps best known for his exploration of California's Sierra Nevada mountains during the 19th century.


James VI and I, c. 1604 James VI and I.jpg
James VI and I, c. 1604
The Americas in the reign of James VI, 1619 The Americas in the reign of James I.jpg
The Americas in the reign of James VI, 1619

After the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, King James VI, a Scot, promoted joint expeditions overseas, and became the founder of English America. [33] The first permanent English settlement in the Americas, Jamestown, was thus named for a Scot.

The earliest Scottish communities in America were formed by traders and planters rather than farmer settlers. [34] The hub of Scottish commercial activity in the colonial period was Virginia. Regular contacts began with the transportation of indentured servants to the colony from Scotland, including prisoners taken in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. [35]

By the 1670s Glasgow was the main outlet for Virginian tobacco, in open defiance of English restrictions on colonial trade; in return the colony received Scottish manufactured goods, emigrants and ideas. [35] [36] In the 1670s and 1680s Presbyterian Dissenters fled persecution by the Royalist privy council in Edinburgh to settle in South Carolina and New Jersey, where they maintained their distinctive religious culture. [35]

Trade between Scotland and the American colonies was finally regularized by the parliamentary Act of Union of Scotland and England in 1707. Population growth and the commercialization of agriculture in Scotland encouraged mass emigration to America after the French and Indian War, [37] a conflict which had also seen the first use of Scottish Highland regiments as Indian fighters. [35]

More than 50,000 Scots, principally from the west coast, [35] settled in the Thirteen Colonies between 1763 and 1776, the majority of these in their own communities in the South, [37] especially North Carolina, although Scottish individuals and families also began to appear as professionals and artisans in every American town. [35] Scots arriving in Florida and the Gulf Coast traded extensively with Native Americans. [38]


Scottish settlement in colonial America has often been divided by historians into three separate streams--Lowlanders, Highlanders, and Ulster Scots.

Lowland Scots began to migrate to North America in the eighteenth century after the union of England and Scotland. They tended to settle in low-lying coastal areas and cities such as New York and Williamsburg. As they were usually well-educated, lowland Scots found work easily, frequently as doctors or private tutors. Many others were merchants, particularly in the South. As they were active participants in the British empire (to the point of considering themselves to be "North British" rather than "Scottish"), lowland Scots tended to stay loyal in the Revolution.

Highland Scots began to arrive in North America in the 1730s. Unlike their lowland and Ulster counterparts, the Highlanders tended to cluster together in self-contained communities, where they maintained their distinctive cultural features such as the Gaelic language and piobaireachd music. Communities of Highlanders existed in coastal Georgia (mainly immigrants from Inverness-shire) and the Mohawk Valley in New York (from the West Highlands). By far the largest Highland community was centered on the Cape Fear River, which saw a stream of immigrants from Argyllshire. Highland Scots were overwhelmingly loyalist in the Revoluion. [39] Distinctly Highland cultural traits persisted in the region until the 19th century, at which point they were assimilated into Anglo-American culture.

The Ulster Scots, known as the Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish) in North America, were descended from people originally from the Scottish lowlands, as well as the north of England and other regions, who colonized the province of Ulster in Ireland in the seventeenth century. After several generations, their descendants left for America, and struck out for the frontier, in particular the Appalachian mountains, providing an effective "buffer" for attacks from American Indians. Originally, they were simply referred to as "Irish," with the prefix originating when the descendants of the Ulster emigrants wanted to differentiate themselves from the Catholic Irish who were flocking to many American cities in the nineteenth century. Unlike the Highlanders and Lowlanders, the Scots-Irish were usually patriots in the Revolution. They have been noted for their tenacity and their cultural contributions to the United States. [40]

Folk and gospel music

American bluegrass and country music styles have some of their roots in the Appalachian ballad culture of Scotch-Irish Americans (predominantly originating from the "Border Ballad" tradition of southern Scotland and northern England). Fiddle tunes from the Scottish repertoire, as they developed in the eighteenth century, spread rapidly into British colonies. However, in many cases, this occurred through the medium of print rather than aurally, explaining the presence of Highland-origin tunes in regions like Appalachia where there was essentially no Highland settlement. Outside of Gaelic-speaking communities, however, characteristic Highland musical idioms, such as the “Scotch-snap,” [41] were flattened out and assimilated into anglophone musical styles.

Some African American communities were influenced musically by the Scottish American communities in which they were embedded. Psalm-singing and gospel music have become central musical experiences for African American churchgoers and it has been posited that some elements of these styles were introduced, in these communities, by Scots. Psalm-singing, or "precenting the line" as it is technically known, in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response, was a form of musical worship initially developed for non-literate congregations and Africans in America were exposed to this by Scottish Gaelic settlers as well as immigrants of other origins. However, the theory that the African-American practice was influenced mainly by the Gaels has been criticized by ethnomusicologist Terry Miller, who notes that the practice of "lining out" hymns and psalms was common all over Protestant Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that it is far more likely that Gospel music originated with English psalm singing. [42]

The first foreign tongue spoken by some slaves in America was Scottish Gaelic picked up from Gaelic-speaking immigrants from the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles. [43] There are accounts of African Americans singing Gaelic songs and playing Scottish Gaelic music on bagpipes and fiddle.

Patriots and Loyalists

The civic tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment contributed to the intellectual ferment of the American Revolution. [35] In 1740, the Glasgow philosopher Francis Hutcheson argued for a right of colonial resistance to tyranny. [44] Scotland's leading thinkers of the revolutionary age, David Hume and Adam Smith, opposed the use of force against the rebellious colonies. [45] According to the historian Arthur Herman: "Americans built their world around the principles of Adam Smith and Thomas Reid, of individual interest governed by common sense and a limited need for government." [46]

While John Witherspoon was the only Scot to sign the Declaration of Independence, several other signers had ancestors there. Other founding fathers like James Madison had no ancestral connection but were imbued with ideas drawn from Scottish moral philosophy. [47] Scottish Americans who made major contributions to the revolutionary war included Commodore John Paul Jones, the "Father of the American Navy", and Generals Henry Knox and William Alexander. Another person of note was a personal friend of George Washington, General Hugh Mercer, who fought for Charles Edward Stuart at the Battle of Culloden.

The Scotch-Irish, who had already begun to settle beyond the Proclamation Line in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, were drawn into rebellion as war spread to the frontier. [48] Tobacco plantations and independent farms in the backcountry of Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas had been financed with Scottish credit, and indebtedness was an additional incentive for separation. [34]

Most Scottish Americans had commercial ties with the old country or clan allegiances and stayed true to the Crown. [49] The Scottish Highland communities of upstate New York and the Cape Fear valley of North Carolina were centers of Loyalist resistance. [35] A small force of Loyalist Highlanders fell at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in 1776. Scotch-Irish Patriots defeated Scottish American Loyalists in the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. [50] Many Scottish American Loyalists, particularly Highlanders, emigrated to Canada after the war. [35]

Uncle Sam

"Uncle Sam" Wilson was based on Samuel Wilson. Unclesamwantyou.jpg
"Uncle Sam" Wilson was based on Samuel Wilson.

Uncle Sam is the national personification of the United States, and sometimes more specifically of the American government, with the first usage of the term dating from the War of 1812. The American icon Uncle Sam, who embodies the American spirit more than any other figure, was in fact based on a real man. A businessman from Troy, New York, Samuel Wilson, whose parents sailed to America from Greenock, Scotland, has been officially recognized as the original Uncle Sam. He provided the army with beef and pork in barrels during the War of 1812. The barrels were prominently labeled "U.S." for the United States, but it was jokingly said that the letters stood for "Uncle Sam." Soon, Uncle Sam was used as shorthand for the federal government.

Emigrants and free traders

Trade with Scotland continued to flourish after independence. The tobacco trade was overtaken in the nineteenth century by the cotton trade, with Glasgow factories exporting the finished textiles back to the United States on an industrial scale. [51]

Emigration from Scotland peaked in the nineteenth century, when more than a million Scots left for the United States, [52] taking advantage of the regular Atlantic steam-age shipping industry which was itself largely a Scottish creation, [53] contributing to a revolution in transatlantic communication. [35]

Scottish emigration to the United States followed, to a lesser extent, during the twentieth century, when Scottish heavy industry declined. [54] This new wave peaked in the first decade of the twentieth century, contributing to a hard life for many who remained behind. Many qualified workers emigrated overseas, a part of which, established in Canada, later went on to the United States. [55]


In the nineteenth century, American authors and educators adopted Scotland as a model for cultural independence. [35] In the world of letters, Scottish literary icons James Macpherson, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Thomas Carlyle had a mass following in the United States, and Scottish Romanticism exerted a seminal influence on the development of American literature. [35] The works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne bear its powerful impression. Among the most notable Scottish American writers of the nineteenth century were Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. Poet James Mackintosh Kennedy was called to Scotland to deliver the official poem for the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1914.

In the twentieth century, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind exemplified popular literature. William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

There have been a number of notable Scottish Gaelic poets active in the United States since the eighteenth century, [56] [57] including Aonghas MacAoidh [58] and Domhnall Aonghas Stiùbhart. [59] One of the few relics of Gaelic literature composed in the United States is a lullaby composed by an anonymous woman in the Carolinas during the American Revolutionary War. [60] [61] It remains popular to this day in Scotland.

Soldiers and statesmen

More than 160,000 Scottish emigrants migrated to the U.S. American statesmen of Scottish descent in the early Republic included Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and President James Monroe. Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk were what we now call Scotch-Irish presidents and products of the frontier in the period of Westward expansion. Among the most famous Scottish American soldier frontiersmen was Sam Houston, founding father of Texas.

Other Scotch-Irish presidents included James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Chester Alan Arthur, William McKinley and Richard M. Nixon. Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt (through his mother), Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Ronald Reagan were of Scottish descent. [62] By one estimate, 75% of U.S. presidents could claim some Scottish ancestry. [63]

Sam Houston was Scotch-Irish (Ulster Scots) descent, and namesake for the city of Houston, Texas. Samuel houston.jpg
Sam Houston was Scotch-Irish (Ulster Scots) descent, and namesake for the city of Houston, Texas.

Scottish Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and a monument to their memory was erected in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1893. Winfield Scott, Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph E. Johnston, Irvin McDowell, James B. McPherson, Jeb Stuart and John B. Gordon were of Scottish descent, George B. McClellan and Stonewall Jackson Scotch-Irish. [65]

Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall upheld the martial tradition in the twentieth century. Grace Murray Hopper, a rear admiral and computer scientist, was the oldest officer and highest-ranking woman in the U.S. armed forces on her retirement at the age of 80 in 1986. [66] Isabella Cannon, the former Mayor of Raleigh, North Carolina, served as the first female mayor of a U.S. state capital. [67]


The Scottish-born Alexander Winton built one of the first American automobiles in 1896, and specialized in motor racing. He broke the world speed record in 1900. [68] In 1903, he became the first man to drive across the United States. [68] David Dunbar Buick, another Scottish emigrant, founded Buick in 1903. [68] The Scottish-born William Blackie transformed the Caterpillar Tractor Company into a multinational corporation. [68]

Motorcycle manufacturer

Clockwise top left: William S. Harley, William A. Davidson, Walter Davidson, Sr., Arthur Davidson Harley Davidson founders.jpg
Clockwise top left: William S. Harley, William A. Davidson, Walter Davidson, Sr., Arthur Davidson

Harley-Davidson Inc [69] (formerly HDI [70] ), often abbreviated "H-D" or "Harley", is an American motorcycle manufacturer. The Davidson brothers were the sons of William C Davidson (1846-1923) who was born and grew up in Angus, Scotland, and Margaret Adams McFarlane (1843-1933) of Scottish descent from the small Scottish settlement of Cambridge, Wisconsin. They raised five children together: Janet May, William A., Walter, Arthur and Elizabeth. [71]


Scottish Americans have made a major contribution to the US aircraft industry. Alexander Graham Bell, in partnership with Samuel Pierpont Langley, built the first machine capable of flight, the Bell-Langley airplane, in 1903. [72] Lockheed was started by two brothers, Allan and Malcolm Loughead, in 1926. [72] Douglas was founded by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. in 1921; he launched the world's first commercial passenger plane, the DC-3, in 1935. [72] McDonnell Aircraft was founded by James Smith McDonnell, in 1939, and became famous for its military jets. [72] In 1967, McDonnell and Douglas merged and jointly developed jet aircraft, missiles and spacecraft. [72]


Scottish Americans were pioneers in human spaceflight. The Mercury and Gemini capsules were built by McDonnell. [72] The first American in space, Alan Shepard, the first American in orbit, John Glenn, and the first man to fly free in space, Bruce McCandless II, were Scottish Americans. [72]

The first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, were also of Scottish descent; Armstrong wore a kilt in a parade through his ancestral home of Langholm in the Scottish Borders in 1972. [72] Other Scottish American moonwalkers were the fourth, Alan Bean, the fifth, Alan Shepard, the seventh, David Scott (also the first to drive on the moon), and the eighth, James Irwin. [72]


Scottish Americans have also been leaders in computing and information technology.

Scottish Americans Howard Aiken and Grace Murray Hopper created the first automatic sequence computer in 1939. [66] Hopper was also the co-inventor of the computer language COBOL. [66]

Ross Perot, another Scottish American entrepreneur, made his fortune from Electronic Data Systems, an outsourcing company he established in 1962. [66]

Software giant Microsoft was co-founded in 1975 by Bill Gates, who owed his start in part to his mother, the Scottish American businesswoman Mary Maxwell Gates, who helped her son to get his first software contract with IBM. [66] Glasgow-born Microsoft employee Richard Tait helped develop the Encarta encyclopedia and co-created the popular board game Cranium. [66]


Scottish Americans have helped to define the modern American diet by introducing many distinctive foods.

Philip Danforth Armour founded Armour Meats in 1867, revolutionizing the American meatpacking industry and becoming famous for hot dogs. Campbell Soups was founded in 1869 by Joseph A. Campbell and rapidly grew into a major manufacturer of canned soups. W. K. Kellogg transformed American eating habits from 1906 by popularizing breakfast cereal. Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell in 1962, introduced Tex-Mex food to a mainstream audience. [73] [74] Marketing executive Arch West, born to Scottish emigrant parents, developed Doritos. [75]

Community activities

Some of the following aspects of Scottish culture can still be found in some parts of the US.

Tartan Day

Tartan Day parade in New York City MHPB New York.jpg
Tartan Day parade in New York City

National Tartan Day, held each year on April 6 in the United States and Canada, celebrates the historical links between Scotland and North America and the contributions Scottish Americans and Canadians have made to US and Canadian democracy, industry and society. The date of April 6 was chosen as "the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320—the inspirational document, according to U.S. Senate Resolution 155, 1999, upon which the American Declaration of Independence was modeled". [77]

The Annual Tartan Week celebrations come to life every April with the largest celebration taking place in New York City. Thousands descend onto the streets of the Big Apple to celebrate their heritage, culture and the impact of the Scottish Americans in America today.

Hundreds of pipers, drummers, Highland dancers, Scottie Dogs and celebrities march down the streets drowned in their family tartans and Saltire flags whilst interacting with the thousands of onlookers.

NYC is not the only large city to celebrate Tartan Day. Large events also take place in Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, California, Chicago, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Québec, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Australia, and New Zealand.

Scottish Heritage Month is also promoted by community groups around the United States and Canada. [78]

Scottish Festivals

Massed bands at the 2005 Pacific Northwest Highland Games Massed Bands, 2005 Pacific Northwest Highland Games.jpg
Massed bands at the 2005 Pacific Northwest Highland Games

Scottish culture, food, and athletics are celebrated at Highland Games and Scottish festivals throughout North America. The largest of these occurs yearly at Pleasanton, California, Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina and Estes Park, Colorado. There are also other notable Scottish Festivals in cities like Tulsa, Oklahoma, Atlanta, Georgia (at Stone Mountain Park), San Antonio, Texas and St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to traditional Scottish sports such as tossing the caber and the hammer throw, there are whisky tastings, traditional foods such as haggis, Bagpipes and Drums competitions, Celtic rock musical acts and traditional Scottish dance.

Scottish Gaelic language in the United States

Although Scottish Gaelic had been spoken in most of Scotland at one time or another, by the time of large-scale migrations to North America – the eighteenth century – it had only managed to survive in the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. Unlike other ethnic groups in Scotland, Scottish Highlanders preferred to migrate in communities, and remaining in larger, denser concentrations aided in the maintenance of their language and culture. The first communities of Scottish Gaels began migrating in the 1730s to Georgia, New York and the Carolinas. Only in the Carolinas were these settlements enduring. Although their numbers were small, the immigrants formed a beach-head for later migrations, which accelerated in the 1760s. [80]

The American Revolutionary War effectively stopped direct migration to the newly-formed United States, most people going instead to British North America (now Canada). The Canadian Maritimes were a favored destination from the 1770s to the 1840s. Sizable concentrations of Gaelic communities existed in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, with smaller clusters in Newfoundland, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Those who left these communities for opportunities in the United States, especially in New England, were usually fluent Gaelic speakers into the mid-twentieth century. [81]

Of the many communities founded by Scottish Highland immigrants, the language and culture only survives at a community level in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. According to the 2000 census, 1,199 people speak Scottish Gaelic at home. [82]

The direct descendants of Scottish Highlanders were not the only people in the United States to speak the language, however. Gaelic was one of the languages spoken by fur traders in many parts of North America. In some parts of the Carolinas and Alabama, African-American communities spoke Scots Gaelic, particularly (but not solely) due to the influence of Gaelic-speaking slave-owners. [83] According to musicologist Willie Ruff, jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie spoke often of the Gaelic speaking African-Americans. [84]

Notable people

Presidents of Scottish or Scotch-Irish descent

Several presidents of the United States have had some Scottish or Scotch-Irish ancestry, although the extent of this varies. For example, Donald Trump's mother was Scottish and Woodrow Wilson's maternal grandparents were both Scottish. To a lesser degree Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Chester A. Arthur and William McKinley have less direct Scottish or Scotch-Irish ancestry.

James Monroe (Scottish and Welsh)
5th President 1817-1825: His paternal great-great-grandfather, Andrew Monroe, emigrated to America from Ross-shire, Scotland in the mid-17th century.
Andrew Jackson (Scotch-Irish)
7th President 1829-1837: : He was born in the predominantly Ulster-Scots Waxhaws area of South Carolina two years after his parents left Boneybefore, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim. [85]
James Knox Polk (Scottish and Scotch-Irish)
11th President, 1845-1849: His Scottish paternal great x 5 grandfather, Robert Pollock, emigrated to Ireland in the 17th century. The family's surname was later changed from Pollock to Polk. [86]
James Buchanan (Scottish and Scotch-Irish)
15th President, 1857-1861: His paternal great-grandmother, Katherine Blair, was born in Stirlingshire. [86]
Andrew Johnson (Scotch-Irish and English)
17th President, 1865-1869: His grandfather left Mounthill, near Larne in County Antrim around 1750 and settled in North Carolina. [86]
Ulysses S. Grant (Scottish, Scotch-Irish and English)
18th President, 1869-1877: His maternal great-grandfather, John Simpson, was born in Dergenagh, County Tyrone. [87]
Rutherford Hayes (Scottish and English)
19th President, 1877-1881: His ancestor, George Hayes, emigrated from Scotland to Connecticut in 1680.
Chester A. Arthur (Scotch-Irish, Scottish and English)
21st President, 1881-1885: His paternal great-grandmother, Jane Campbell, emigrated from Scotland to County Antrim, Ireland. [86] [88]
Grover Cleveland (Scotch-Irish and English)
22nd and 24th President, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897: Born in New Jersey, he was the maternal grandson of merchant Abner Neal, who emigrated from County Antrim in the 1790s. He is the only president to have served non-consecutive terms. [86]
Benjamin Harrison (Scottish, Scotch-Irish and English)
23rd President, 1889-1893: Through his mother, Elizabeth Irwin, his great x 5 grandfather, David Irvine, was born in Aberdeenshire, and emigrated to Ireland. [86] [89]
William McKinley (Scottish and Scotch-Irish)
25th President, 1897-1901: His Scottish paternal great-great-great-great-grandfather, James McKinley, settled in Ireland in 1690. [86] [90]
Theodore Roosevelt (Scottish, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, English & French)
26th President, 1901-1909: His maternal great-great-great-grandmother, Jean Stobo, emigrated to America from Scotland with her parents in 1699.
William Howard Taft (Scotch-Irish and English)
27th President 1909-1913 [91] [92]
Woodrow Wilson (Scottish and Scotch-Irish)
28th President, 1913-1921: His Scottish maternal grandparents, Rev. Dr Thomas Woodrow and Marion Williamson, emigrated to America in the 1830s. Throughout his career he reflected on the influence of his ancestral values on his constant quest for knowledge and fulfillment. [86]
Warren G. Harding (Scottish and English)
29th President 1921-1923: His paternal great-great grandmother, Lydia Crawford, was born in Midlothian. [93]
Harry S. Truman (Scottish, English and German)
33rd President 1945-1953: His paternal great-great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Monteith, was a merchant from Glasgow. [94] [95]
Lyndon B. Johnson (English, German and Scotch-Irish)
36th President, 1963-1969:[ citation needed ]:
Richard Nixon (Scotch-Irish, Irish, English and German)
37th President, 1969-1974: The Nixon ancestors left Ulster in the mid-18th century; the Quaker Milhous family ties were with County Antrim and County Kildare. [86]
Gerald Ford (Scottish and English)
38th President 1974-1977: His maternal great-grandfather, Alexander Gardner, emigrated to Quebec from Kilmacolm in 1820.
Jimmy Carter (Scottish, Scotch-Irish and English)
39th President 1977-1981: His paternal great x 6 grandfather, Adam Clinkskaill, was Scottish.
Ronald Reagan (Irish, Scottish and English)
40th President 1981-1989: His great-grandfather, John Wilson, emigrated to North America from Paisley in 1832. [96]
George H. W. Bush (Scottish, Irish and English)
41st President 1989-1993: His maternal great-great-great-grandmother, Catherine Walker (née McLelland), was Scottish.
George W. Bush (Scottish, Irish and English)
43rd President 2001-2009: His great-great-great-great-grandmother, Catherine Walker (née McLelland), was Scottish.
Barack Obama (Scotch-Irish, English and Kenyan)
44th President 2009-2017: The ancestry of his mother's family is partially Scotch-Irish.
Donald Trump (Scottish and German)
45th President: His mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was born in the village of Tong, Isle of Lewis, and emigrated to the USA in 1930. [97]

Vice Presidents of Scottish or Scotch-Irish descent

John C. Calhoun (Scotch-Irish)
10th Vice President 1825-32; staunch advocate of states' rights
George M. Dallas (Scottish)
15th Vice President 1845-49; former Secretary of War
Walter Mondale (Scottish)
42nd Vice President 1977-1981: His maternal great-grandparents, Walter Cowan and Agnes Phorson, were Scottish.

Other American presidents of Scottish or Scotch-Irish descent

Sam Houston (Scotch-Irish)
President of Texas, 1836-38 and 1841-44 [64]
Jefferson Davis (Scotch-Irish)
President of Confederate States of America 1861-1865
Arthur St. Clair (Scottish)
President under the Articles of Confederation 1788

Scottish placenames

Edinburgh. View from Calton Hill.jpg
Dunedin, Florida (left) was founded in 1882 by two Scottish merchants, J.O. Douglas and James Somerville and is named after Dùn Èideann , Scottish Gaelic for "Edinburgh" (right). [98]

Some Scottish placenames in the US include:

See also

Related Research Articles

The Goidelic or Gaelic languages form one of the two groups of Insular Celtic languages, the other being the Brittonic languages.

Scottish Highlands Place

The Highlands is a historic region of Scotland. Culturally, the Highlands and the Lowlands diverged from the later Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands. The term is also used for the area north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, although the exact boundaries are not clearly defined, particularly to the east. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands. The Scottish Gaelic name of A' Ghàidhealtachd literally means "the place of the Gaels" and traditionally, from a Gaelic-speaking point of view, includes both the Western Isles and the Highlands.

Languages of the United Kingdom languages of a geographic region

English, in various dialects, is the most widely spoken language of the United Kingdom, however there are a number of regional languages also spoken. There are 14 indigenous languages used across the British Isles: 5 Celtic, 3 Germanic, 3 Romance, and 3 sign languages. There are also many immigrant languages spoken in the British Isles, mainly within inner city areas; these languages are mainly from South Asia and Eastern Europe.

The Ulster Scots, also called Ulster Scots people or, outside the British Isles, Scots-Irish (Scotch-Airisch), are an ethnic group in Ireland, found mostly in the province of Ulster and to a lesser extent in the rest of Ireland. Their ancestors were mostly Protestant Presbyterians Lowland Scottish migrants, the largest numbers coming from Galloway, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and the Scottish Borders, with others coming from further north in the Scottish Lowlands and, to a much lesser extent, from the Highlands.

Irish people Ethnic group with Celtic and other roots, native to the island of Ireland, with shared history and culture

The Irish are a Celtic nation and ethnic group native to the island of Ireland, who share a common Irish ancestry, identity and culture. Ireland has been inhabited for about 12,500 years according to archaeological studies. For most of Ireland's recorded history, the Irish have been primarily a Gaelic people. Viking invasions of Ireland during the 8th to 11th centuries established the cities of Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. Anglo-Normans conquered parts of Ireland in the 12th century, while England's 16th/17th-century (re)conquest and colonisation of Ireland brought a large number of English and Lowland Scots people to parts of the island, especially the north. Today, Ireland is made up of the Republic of Ireland and the smaller Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland hold various national identities including British, Irish, Northern Irish or some combination thereof.

British American usually refers to Americans whose ancestral origin originates wholly or partly in the United Kingdom. In the 2017 American Community Survey 1,891,234 individuals or 0.6% of the responses self-identified as British. It is primarily a demographic or historical research category for people who have at least partial descent from peoples of Great Britain and the modern United Kingdom, i.e. English, Scottish, Welsh, Scotch-Irish, Manx and Cornish Americans. There has been a significant drop overall, especially from the 1980 census where 49.59 million people reported English ancestry.

Clan MacNeil

Clan MacNeil, also known in Scotland as Clan Niall, is a highland Scottish clan, particularly associated with the Outer Hebridean island of Barra. The early history of Clan MacNeil is obscure, however despite this the clan claims to descend from the legendary Irish King Niall of the nine hostages. The clan itself takes its name from a Niall who lived in the 13th or early 14th century, and who belonged to the same dynastic family of Cowal and Knapdale as the ancestors of the Lamonts, MacEwens of Otter, Maclachlans, and the MacSweens. While the clan is centred in Barra in the Outer Hebrides, there is a branch of the clan in Argyll (McNeill/MacNeill) that some historians have speculated was more senior in line, or possibly even unrelated. However, according to Scots law the current chief of Clan Macneil is the chief of all MacNeil(l)s.

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The Scottish diaspora consists of Scottish people who emigrated from Scotland and their descendants. The diaspora is concentrated in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand, Ireland and to a lesser extent Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

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Scotch most commonly refers to:

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Gaels Ethnic group

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Scottish people ethnic inhabitants of Scotland

The Scottish people or Scots, are a nation and Celtic ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically, they emerged from an amalgamation of two Celtic-speaking peoples, the Picts and Gaels, who founded the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. Later, the neighbouring Celtic-speaking Cumbrians, as well as Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons and Norse, were incorporated into the Scottish nation.

Ulster Protestants are an ethnoreligious group in the Irish province of Ulster, where they make up about 43% of the population. Many Ulster Protestants are descendants of settlers who arrived in the early 17th century Ulster Plantation. This was the colonisation of the Gaelic, Catholic province of Ulster by English-speaking Protestants from Great Britain, mostly from the Scottish Lowlands and Northern England. Many more Scottish Protestant migrants arrived in Ulster in the late 17th century. Those who came from Scotland were mostly Presbyterians, while those from England were mostly Anglicans. There is also a small Methodist community and the Methodist Church in Ireland dates John Wesley's first visit to Ulster as 1752. Since then, sectarian and political divisions between Ulster Protestants and Catholics have played a major role in the history of Ulster, and of Ireland as a whole. Ulster Protestants descend from a variety of lineages, including Lowland Scots, English, Irish, and Huguenots.

Irish Americans are an ethnic group comprising Americans who have full or partial ancestry from Ireland, especially those who identify with that ancestry, along with their cultural characteristics. About 33 million Americans — 10.5% of the total population — reported Irish ancestry in the 2013 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. This compares with a population of 6.7 million on the island of Ireland. Three million people separately identified as Scotch-Irish, whose ancestors were Ulster Protestants who emigrated from Ireland to the United States beginning in the 18th century. However, whether the Scotch-Irish should be considered Irish is disputed.

The Gaels of Scotland or, simply Gaels, are an ethnolinguistic group found in Scotland – including the land of their origins, the Scottish Highlands – and in the diaspora of Scotland within the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Gaels as an ethno-linguistic group can also be found in Ireland and the Isle of Mann.


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Further reading