For the BBC Civilisations Festival we have some special guest posts. This one is written by Eric Schnitzer from Saratoga National Historical Park, Stillwater, NY.
A correspondent…with the officers of the Highland regiments at present serving in America, informs us, that nothing displeases the common men of that corps so much as to hear the provincials called Rebels. On a former occasion [the 1745 Jacobite Rising] many of themselves were dignified with that appellation. They then fought bravely, in what they thought was a just cause. The Americans will scarce fight at all, though they pretend their cause is equally just. The Highlanders, therefore, conceive themselves highly affronted, when the designation of Rebel is applied to an American. They think it involves in it a tacit reflection against themselves, as if they were cowards as well as the rebels. Of this they can by no means admit, and consequently will allow the Americans no other title than that of cowardly rascals.
—Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, 1 January 1777
Considering the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Scottish support at home and abroad for the Georgian monarchy against the rebellion in North America may seem counterintuitive. Although Scottish emigration to North America throughout the 18th century constituted perhaps as many as 70,000 people, Scottish support for the American Revolution was not fueled by Jacobean animus for the House of Hanover. In fact, Scottish immigrants and their descendants were more likely to side with government on this matter than against it. This is exemplified in the 1777 Battles of Saratoga, fought in upstate New York during the American War for Independence.
Many Scottish Americans supported the revolution, and many served it in key leadership roles. But the American revolutionaries who fought at Saratoga under the command of General Horatio Gates (an Englishman) were, categorically, from New England and New York’s Hudson Valley, neither of which were known for being heavily settled by Scotsmen. At Saratoga, the highest percentage of revolutionary Scotsmen served in a corps of 400 elite riflemen led by Colonel Daniel Morgan, the son of Welsh immigrants. This unit’s personnel were drawn from men who hailed from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, places more widely settled by Scottish immigrants. This was the most elite battalion that Gates had at his disposal.
But it was General John Burgoyne’s British Army at Saratoga which benefited more from the services of Scotsmen. Hundreds of the soldiers in his redcoat ranks were from Scotland, and Scottish officers in Burgoyne’s army held important leadership positions, such as the Earl Balcarres, who commanded the elite British light infantry battalion, and John Anstruther of Balcaskie, who commanded the 62nd Regiment of Foot. One of the regiments in Burgoyne’s army was the fusilier regiment representing Scotland, the 21st or Royal North British Fusiliers, whose officers and men were, predominantly, Scottish. But Scottish support for Georgian Britain didn’t end there, as substantial numbers of men loyal to the crown resided in upstate New York’s Lake Champlain and Hoosic River Valleys. The entire region was pocketed with lands granted to veterans whose battalions were downsized or disbanded after the Seven Years’ War. A high percentage of these men were from Scotland—in fact, the property owned by the author is surrounded by plots given to veteran Scottish officers named Grant, Campbell, Gregor, Bain, Gordon, and Monro. Most of these former British soldiers and their families flocked to the British banner and joined Samuel MacKay’s “Loyal Volunteers,” Daniel McAlpin’s “American Volunteers,” or Allan Maclean’s “Royal Highland Emigrants,” amongst others. Nowhere in the Army of the United States was Scottish patriotism likewise manifested.
Reflecting upon the Caledonian Mercury article above, overwhelming support for the crown as expressed by Scottish people becomes understandable. Supporters of the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745 believed they were restoring the British Constitution, not destroying it. But as the 18th century wore on, and the Glorious Revolution and 1706/07 Acts of Union surpassed living memory, Jacobean sentiments were generally subsumed by British nationalism and loyalty to the Georgian monarchy. This generational shift is exemplified by the Frasers. Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, was executed in 1747 for his support of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. However, his son, General Simon Fraser of Lovat, raised a highland regiment which was deployed to America to combat the “cowardly rascals” in 1776. A cousin, General Simon Fraser of Balnain, commanded Burgoyne’s most elite troops and was mortally wounded in the 2nd Battle of Saratoga (7 October) whilst fighting to restore British governance in America. As to that, no one knows which American rifleman fired the shot, but stories point to Timothy Murphy (an Irishman), William Critchlow (an Englishman), or one Thomas Scott—a Scotsman.
By Eric Schnitzer, Saratoga National Historical Park