Mitch had a shout-out yesterday recognizing National Tartan Day, the holiday for Americans of Scots descent. Some commenters on Mitch’s post took playful swipes at the manly custom of wearing kilts, to which I quoted The Virginian,: “When you say those words, smile.”
In the book, TV shows and movies the Virginian’s name is never used, but it’s a good bet he was of Scots ancestry. Virginia was a popular destination for the Scots-Irish immigrants of the late 1600s and 1700s and their well-known traits of being independent, quarrelsome and inherently mistrustful of authority played a role in the founding of this country. As recounted in the book The Scots of Virginia by Horace Edward Henderson (also here):
By the time of the Revolution, Virginia had the largest population and it ranked as the most important colony both politically and economically. The largest concentration of Scottish people in America was in Virginia and they played a highly important role in helping Virginia to attain its position of pre-eminence in the new world. But it was not the “aristocratic” planters or gentry in Virginia that lit the first sparks for independence and freedom from Great Britain. It was the Scotch-Irish of Virginia who were the Champions of Liberty and Independence in America. The first calls for individual human rights came not from those who were well-off and prosperous in America but by those who had suffered for centuries from the aggressions, prejudice, harassment and discrimination of the British first, in Scotland, then in Northern Ireland and lastly, in Virginia. And it was not in the privileged sanctity of the Anglican churches or the hallowed halls of the Capitol at Williamsburg where the first cries for freedom rang out in America – but in the roughhewn Presbyterian churches of the Virginia frontier where the earliest calls for freedom were proclaimed.
The fact was that the overwhelming majority of the planter gentry with English blood in Virginia had little sympathy for the initial demands for independence from Britain, much less for any radical ideas about the democratic equality of men. The Scotch-Irish have often been called “the first political radicals in America.” The frontier-spirit of taking justice into one’s own hands, the independent individualism, the competitive spirit to win whatever the obstacles, and their almost ruthless determination to progress that became well-established parts of the American character, are generally considered to have come from Scottish traits. While most Americans of English descent either opposed independence or were non-commital, the majority of the patriotic continental troops were Scotch-Irish. In fact, a Presbyterian loyalist was unheard of.
On the other hand, thirty regiments of English-Americans fought against the patriots with the British forces. Actually, the number of American Loyalists in His Majesty’s army “exceeded in number the troops enlisted (by Congress) to oppose them.” It is estimated that 20,000 Americans fought with the British forces during the Revolution. In fact, George III called it a “Presbyterian war,” many in Britain referred to it as “the Presbyterian revolt,” and the British Prime Minister said, “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it.”
And finally, most of the Scots who had come directly from Scotland to America, either went back to Scotland or fled north to Canada. Conclusively, it was the Virginian patriots of Scottish origin who first articulated the demand for liberty and independence which brought freedom and democracy to the United States of America. They also gave America its distinctive characteristics which have made it the most powerful nation on earth based upon its unparalleled spiritual and economic strength. And nowhere in America were these unique Scottish characteristics more in evidence, and of greater influence, than in Virginia. Truly, the Scots of Virginia were America’s greatest patriots!
National Tartan Day is also a good time to remember the Declaration of Arbroath, i.e., the Scottish Declaration of Independence (1320), which famously contained the words:
“It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”