Silicon Glen, Scotland > Scottish FAQ > Scottish History
View the Silicon Glen Blog. Contact Us about advertising rates.

Scots emigration/immigration to the US

Want to move jobs?. New free social marketing tool for job seekers
Sign up now at

When did the Scottish come to the US?

The first Scots began coming to the New World in the early 1600's, Emigration picked up during the Cromwellian Civil War in Britain, as many Scots from both sides were transported to the American Colonies in the mid-1600's. The Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 also saw numbers of Scotsmen transported to America, as did the Highland Clearances which came somewhat later. Scottish emigrants who had gone to northern Ireland as colonists of the Ulster plantations in the first half of the 16th century also emigrated to America in the early 1700's. These people, who were referred to as the "Scotch-Irish" were by far the most numerous group of Scottish Colonists to come to America. Between 1715 and 1776 some 250,000 of them arrived, mainly in the Chesapeake Bay region, and settled all along the east coast, particularly in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North and South Carolina and later in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and beyond. A second wave of Scottish immigration came during the late 1800's and most of these Scots settled in the northeastern U.S. in the larger industrial cities, and included such worthies as Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell.

Why did the come?

Some were transported, they had no choice other than prison or execution, the reasons ranging from political prisoners of rebellions, to paupers, to petty thieves and criminals. Others came because of poverty. They had no hope of ever breaking out of their set place in the Class-system which existed in Britain, but in America, a man could make something of himself, regardless of his background. Mst of these came as bonded-servants and would be given passage to America, paid by the person who brought them over and would have to work off their passage upon their arrival as per their contract, a period which often lasted for seven years. At the end of that time, they were on their own and it was up to themselves to make something of their life in the New World.

How were the Scots treated?

The Scots were looked down upon by the English, Dutch and Germans, who saw them as being less civilized, orderly and less interested in bettering themselves materially through hard work. They were thought to be good fighters and in that capacity they were often set out on the frontier to act as a first line of defence against Indian attacks. The Scots quickly disproved the sterotypical views of the English and other colonists by becoming enormously successful in the New World. Among those who signed the Declaration of Independence were a number of Scotsmen, and the names of such political giants as Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe, James Buchanan, John K. Polk, William Drummond, Hugh Mercer,and many other Scotsmen echo throughout the pages of American history.

Where did the Scots settle? Why?

The early Scots colonists who arrived in the first half of the 1600's tended to prefer Virginia over New England and a preference for those colonies south of the New England states continued through the time leading up to the Revolutionary War, though numbers of both Scots and Scots-Irish could be found in New York, New Hampshire, Massassachusets, Conneticut and elsewhere. Primarily though, the main concentration of Scottish settlement was from Pennsylvania southward to Georgia.

How did the Scots make a living in the US?

Any way they could, as farmers, soldiers, blacksmiths, cattle-ranchers, lumber men, factory workers, whatever way they could succeed.

What were the roles of different family members?

This was the same as with other ethnic groups, the husband was generally the main provider, the wife the home-maker, mother, nurse, and the children usually did their share to help the family out, whether it was in farming, or working in the factories, or the streets as labourers.

What traditions did they bring to the US?

They brought their language, which influenced American English to some extent, particularly in Appalachia, but more than anything else, they brought their music, especially fiddle-music, which became what we know today as American "bluegrass" music.

Was the US really the "promised land" for them?

Definately. Most of the Scots who came to America turned out to be far more successful than they would have if they stayed at home. At the worst, they were no worse off than they would have been had they not immigrated. America is the land of opportunity, Britain was a land of privilege, status and class-systems that were carved in stone.

What is the status of the Scots in the US today?

The Scots in America today are your typical Americans. They are the hard working, materialists who generally try to conform to the Norman Rockwell image of America. They are the backbone of the American economy and political system, the very foundation upon which America was built. If it were not for the Scots, America would probably still be a British colony.

Compared to other immigrant groups?

Here's a good reference of how the Scots stack up against other ethnic groups. This is from an Associated Press newspaper article which appeared in 1980:

"Americans of Scottish descent tend to be better educated and have higher incomes than other European based ethnic groups, according to a new Census Bureau study.

"Based on a survey taken in late 1979, the study said Americans who traced their ancestry to Scotland had median family incomes of $20,018, highest of eight single ancestry groups studied.

"Second in family income were those of German background, at $17,531, while those of Spanish background had the lowest median income at $10,607.

"The Scots were the only group to record no illiteracy in the survey, had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.1%, and the highest rate of high school graduates, 81.2%.

"The study looked at characteristics of Americans of English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Scottish and Spanish descent.

"Among them, those of Spanish descent, 30.3% were most likely to have been born outside the United States. The Italians were a distant second at 13.1%, while only 2.7% of the Irish were born outside the United States.

"Scots recorded the highest proportion of married men, at 79.6%, followed by 75.5% for those of French extraction. The lowest male marriage rate was 62.8% among the Spanish.

Among women, the French were most likely to be wed, at 68.6%, with Germans second at 64.3%. Polish women were the least likely to be married, at 60.6%. The highest divorce rates were 4.8% among Irish men and 6.6% for Spanish women. At 3.5%, Polish men had the fewest divorces, as did Polish women at 4.3%.

Here are how the various groups fared statistically in some other social characteristics:

"Male high school graduates: Scottish, 81.2%; English, 74.6%; German, 72.4%; Irish, 68.8%; French, 67%; Polish, 64.4%; Italian, 62.7%; Spanish, 42.5%.

"Female high school graduates: Scottish, 78.1%; English, 76.7%; German, 72%; Irish, 70%; French, 65.7%; Italian, 60.4%; Polish, 59.1%; Spanish, 40.5%.

"Unemployment: Scottish, 2.1%; German, 3.1%; English, 3.6%; Italian, 4.7%; Irish, 5%; Polish, 5.4%; French, 5.6%; Spanish, 9%.

"Median family income: Scottish, $20.018 ; German, $17,531; Italian, $16,993; Polish, $16,977; English, $16,891; Irish, $16,092; French, $15,571; Spanish, $10,607"

So, you see, we Scots are the richest, best-educated, hardest-working and make the best lovers of all Americans. "Here's tae us! Wha's like us? Damn few, and their all deid! More's the pity."

Steven Akins of that Ilk

Scottish FAQ > FAQ Contents > Scottish History > Scots emigration/immigration to the US > Top

Q-HTML V3.4 by Craig Cockburn created this page on 19-Jun-2012 at 08:06:28