Highland immigration prior to the American Revolution.
Until the 18th century, most Highlanders lived isolated from the rest of Britain's inhabitants. They viewed the Anglo-Saxons outwith the Highlands with suspicion, sentiment which was reciprocated. Some writers of the time were to compare Highlanders to Native Americans: both seen as tribal, primitive, warlike and mysterious. When the Jacobite army invaded England during the 1745-46 Jacobite Rebellion (known as "The '45") many English believed the Highlanders ate children.
The first Highlanders in North America were involuntarily transported; i.e. "rebels" exiled by the Republican "Commonwealth" government in 1650 having fought for the crown against Cromwell at the battle of Dunbar. More exiled rebels were banished after the abortive Argyll rising (which involved Alexander Macmillan of Dunmore in 1685); and yet more after the 1715 Jacobite Rising. Some of these involuntary immigrants survived and prospered in America, encouraging relatives to come and join them voluntarily.
Highland emigration accelerating after the "The '45", peaking at the outbreak of the American Revolution. Regarding the Highland migration Samuel Johnson was quoted: "epidemick desire of wandering which spreads its contagion from valley to valley". There is no way to determine how many Highlanders immigrated to the American Colonies. Records of the time were incomplete and sketchy at both sides of the Atlantic. There was little agreement among historians regarding that and a variety of issues. John Knox wrote in 1784 that 20,000 Highlanders emigrated between 1763 and 1773. Thomas Garrett in 1800 suggested that 30,000 left between 1773 and 1775. If nothing more, these two figures reinforce the belief that Highland immigration to the American colonies dramatically accelerated as the American Revolution approached, at which point it slowed to a trickle. See a map illustrating Pre-Revolutionary Highland migration routes and settlements.
Motives for immigration.
As with all immigrant groups, Highlanders had a wide variety of motives for emigrating including religious, political and economic issues. Unique to the Highlanders, the clan system under which they had lived for centuries (already distressed by the 18th century), quickly disintegrated after the last Jacobite Rebellion in 1746 under economic and political pressure. Emigrating clan groups were often organized and led by the now-redundant tacksmen, the middle-management of the clans when they functioned as such. Some reasons for emigration:
1. Rents rose dramatically, clan chiefs being more concerned with their bottom line than the welfare of their clanspeople.
2. In the 18th century Highlands, improved agricultural methods produced a surplus, reducing the mortality rate due to famine and disease (one source stated a 65% infant mortality rate in prior centuries). In turn, this dramatically increased population growth resulting in surplus population and high unemployment. - The much more profitable Lowland sheep replaced Highland cattle. With the sheep came Lowland shepherds displacing the local Highland population who had tended the cattle, an additional factor in increased unemployment.
3. Religion was an issue for both Catholics and Episcopalian Highlanders who supported the '15 and '45. After 1746 the government passed new laws to curtail the influence of Catholic and Episcopalian clergy. Those among the clergy unwilling to swear allegiance to the Crown were forbidden to preach or hold meetings.
4. While the upper echelon of immigrant Highland society spoke English, a large proportion of the other Highlanders spoke only Gaelic, an added incentive to live among others of their kind.
"The '45" and its aftermath.
Clan sympathies during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 often weren't consistent or clearcut. The MacMillans were, like many clans, divided during "The '45". The Knapdale branch were probably sympathetic to the Hanoverians (though we don’t conclusively know that any actually fought for the government), while the Lochaber branch fought for the Jacobites. There is little recorded specifically addressing Clan MacMillan's participation in "The '45" though three MacMillans are recorded as having been in the MacMillan company in Lochiel's Jacobite regiment, all close relatives of the Murlagan chieftain. Murlagan's son Captain Ewen M'Ghillemhaoil commanded the company.
Immediately after the Jacobite defeat in 1746, transportation was an alternative punishment for defeated Highlanders to imprisonment or execution. Historians of the 18th century believed large numbers of defeated Jacobites were transported though there is little data to support this. It was certainly a method that met approval among some in the British government. Duncan Forbes, president of Court of Session in Scotland recommended transporting Jacobite clans en masse. The Duke of Cumberland, victor at the Battle of Culloden, proposed to the Privy Council that clans Donald and Cameron should be transported in their entirety. Neither came to pass.
Seven Years War (1756 - 1763), Highlanders fight for the Crown.
Following a decade after "The '45" was the Seven Years War, known in North America as the French and Indian War. Arthur Young, an English agricultural expert, wrote: "It has been observed, that the (Seven Years) War carried off between 50,000 and 60,000 of the ablest men of the north and west of Scotland, which, for a time, distressed every branch of demand, yet, in a very few years the numbers were greater than ever, and hands for every demand so plentiful, that many wanted work..." Enlistment in Highland regiments provided incentive for Highland men to escape poverty and unemployment. It also allowed them to carry the weapons and wear the tartan which had been proscribed after the rebellion. These regiments were to become the elite of the British army. See a map illustrating Canadian immigration routes and settlements which notes battles and those Highland regiments that were involved.
Highlanders settle in Upstate New York after the French and Indian War.
The “Scottish Grant” in New York’s Mohawk Valley was awarded to discharged veterans of Highland regiments that participated in the French and Indian War. The Crown feared these veteran warriors might return to the Highlands, (at that time in the grip of overpopulation as well as economic depression and political oppression) and revisit the rebellious tendencies of the Jacobite Wars. Nearby Johnstown also had a settlement of Highlanders sponsored by Sir William Johnson.
Cape Fear, North America's largest Highland colony.
The Cape Fear region of North Carolina was to be the largest concentration of Highlanders in North America at the outbreak of the American Revolution. Governor Gabriel Johnston arrived in North Carolina in 1734. He encouraged Highlanders to immigrate by exempting them from taxation for their first ten years. The overwhelming majority of these immigrants would become farmers.
The American Revolution and its aftermath.
Initially sympathetic to the tenets of the Patriot cause, even sending representatives to Patriots' state congresses, the Highland immigrants’ sympathies eventually swung toward neutrality or loyalism. They were courted and coerced by both the Patriots' and the Crown’s representatives. In both upstate New York and North Carolina they were surrounded and outnumbered by dominant Patriot populations, often Scots-Irish. Both Crown representatives and those of the Patriots demanded oaths of loyalty.
At a glance it is curious that Highland immigrants would take up the cause of the government which had persecuted Highlanders so ruthlessly just 30 years prior. Some factors which contributed to Loyalist sympathies:
1. As a gross generality, the less time an immigrant had lived in the colonies the less likely they were to sympathize with the rebellion. A large proportion of the Cape Fear immigrants had been recent arrivals, as noted above.
2. These immigrants would have vivid memories of the brutality with which the Jacobite rebellion was suppressed and its equally brutal aftermath, a treatment they assumed defeated Patriots would receive.
3. In 1775 the Crown's representative, Governor Martin, offered incoming Highlanders free land grants in exchange for signing a loyalty oath.
4. Highlanders believed in monarchy and patriarchal rule, not in democracy; so the revolutionary tendencies that so appealed to the Scots-Irish tended to alienate many Highlanders.
In 1775 Highland immigrants included a number of high ranking military officers who aggressively recruited expatriate Highlanders to their Loyalist units. Ironically, some of these officers had served in the upper echelons of clans that had joined the rebellion during "The ‘45" but had since enlisted in the Crown’s army.
The British high command initially believed they would raise at least 3,000 recruits from the Cape Fear Colony. Only 1,300 marched south to join British forces of which 600 to 800 engaged in the battle to follow. The defeat of these poorly armed Cape Fear Highlanders at the battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776 dampened the Cape Fear colonists’ enthusiasm for war. Fifty Highlanders died and 880 were captured. Briefly imprisoned, they were eventually given the choice of taking an oath of fealty to the Patriot cause or be banished with their possessions confiscated. Of those who did leave Cape Fear, many went by ship to New York City then on to Canada and Great Britain, with a few emigrating to the West Indies or Florida. There are no figures detailing how many stayed or left.
Many of the New York Highlanders fled Patriot wrath, the King’s Royal Regiment of New York being raised from their ranks in Canada, which was to return to fight for the Crown during the Revolution. The Mohawk Valley would be contested throughout the Revolution, but the advantage swung to the Patriots with their victory at Saratoga in 1777.
An instance illustrating the predicament of many Highland immigrants during and after the American Revolution is that of John McMillan. He was believed to have been born in Lochaber, Scotland, enlisting in the 78th Fraser Highlanders Regiment in 1757 serving with Gen. Wolfe’s British Army in Canada during the French & Indian War. In 1773 John and many of his extended family, the “Corriebuigh McMillans” emigrated to the Mohawk Valley of New York. Remaining loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution they were driven from their land by the Patriot Corps of Sequestration and were interned for the duration of the war. After being repatriated in 1783, John immigrated to Northern Ireland. In 1792 he re-immigrated to Canada.