On this date 270 years ago, the Highland Clans of Scotland met their doom on a boggy, windswept moor near Culloden. Their defeat there at the hands of the Duke of Cumberland marked the end of the Jacobite movement to restore the Stuart dynasty to the British throne, a movement that had flared and guttered repeatedly since James II was run out of England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Jacobite underground created as much intrigue as any cold war, and when it burst into a major Rising in 1745, it led the Highland Clans to destruction.
It’s important to note that the 1745 Rising was not simply another major round in the English/Scottish Wars. It was a civil war pitting Lowlanders vs. Highlanders and some of the ever-feuding Highland Clans against one another. The battle itself is laid out in this Battlefield Britain documentary:
The aftermath of the battle was a brutal harrowing of the Highlanders, the destruction of the Clan system, the banning of the tartan — essentially an outlawing of an entire culture and way of life.The Highland Clearances of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries bear comparison to the Indian Removal actions that are known to lore as The Trail of Tears. Indeed, some Scots who had intermarried into the tribes experienced the Removal directly.
After Culloden, clansmen dispersed in a diaspora that carried some to the Continent and some to North America, where they became key figures in the Fur Trade in Canada and leavened the frontier culture of the United States. Highland regiments — the only place where the ancient warrior tradition could legally be expressed post-Culloden — served in the French & Indian War, where the similarities between the Highlanders and the Eastern Woodland Indians was frequently remarked upon, at the time and later.
The Highlanders, who were, in modern parlance, the victims of colonialism, became in their turn agents of Empire. Again, there are analogies to the Indian experience. I think of the Shawnee, who fought bitterly against the Long Knives for 70 some-odd years to retain their culture and homeland, then became expert scouts and guides for westward-bound military expeditions. Some became scalphunters in the borderlands, waging the most brutal kinds of campaigns against other natives. Such is the messy nature of frontier history.
The esteemed Colin G. Calloway has written a book on the subject, which I must one day read.
From “White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal People and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America”:
This book traces the historical experiences of Highland Scots and American Indians in dealing with colonial powers and with each other. It considers cultural similarities and identifies parallel experiences, and shows how both groups were perceived and treated as tribal peoples. It traces their strategies of resistance and accommodation in dealing with colonialism, cultural assault, and economic transformation; their participation in colonial wars; their involvement and patterns of intermarriage in the fur trade; their dispossession during the era of the Highland Clearances and Indian Removals, and how they responded to new situations and changing attitudes. Highlanders and Indians fought, traded, and lived together. Many Highland Scots were expelled from their lands in the Highland Clearances; children of Highland Scots who had married Indian women were expelled from their lands in the Indian Removals. Highland names are common in Native American and First Nations communities today. In the vast colonial collision of North American history, tribal peoples from different sides of the Atlantic sometimes found much in common and ways to get along. But Highland Scots also settled on Native American lands and participated in empire-building. Their paths diverged as Highland Scots shed their tribal status in the eyes of the dominant society and took their place on the side of history’s winners, a transformation in status denied to Indian people.
While it might seem natural that the Highlanders in America would gladly take up arms in the rebellion against the Crown in 1775, that was generally not the case. Many Highlanders, particularly in North Carolina where many had emigrated after Culloden, were, in fact, Loyalists. There are several reasons for this. They had rebuilt lives after a devastating defeat at the hands of Great Britain. Even if they might have harbored some notion of revenge, they were disinclined to risk a second trauma in another forlorn hope of a rebellion. And, it must be said, that the Highlanders seem to have accepted themselves as a part of Great Britain by the 1770s. Further, many had taken an oath of loyalty, and the culture took oaths very seriously.
The biography of the Reverend David Caldwell, who was a minister of the Cape Fear, which was published in 1842, elaborates a bit more on the reasons that so many Gaels were reluctant to join the insurrection:
While a number of the Scotch were as good whigs as any in the country, the majority of them, although they had sacrificed much to liberty in their own country [ie, Scotland], supported the claims of Great Britain in America. For this many reasons have been assigned; but the most cogent were such as the following: The older part of them had felt the effects of British power so much in the land of their nativity, particularly at and after the battle of Culloden, that they dreaded to encounter that power again; their nation had for some time previous shared, as they thought, quite liberally in the royal favor for which, with their characteristic generosity and sense of gratitude, they felt themselves under obligations on that account, though personally beyond its reach; and then all their chieftains, or prominent and influential men had taken the oath of allegiance to King George before they crossed the Atlantic. A venerable and excellent old man who had borne a pretty high commission in the British service during the war, remarked in the presence of the writer, some years ago, that he had sworn allegiance to the king of England, when in London, about to take shipping for America; and he felt himself bound by that oath. The obligation of an oath is one which a conscientious people, like the Scotch, especially when left without proper instruction as most of them were at that time, cannot be easily induced to violate…
By the 19th Century, the Highland Scots were among the most able and fiercest agents of the very Empire that had destroyed their ancestral way of life. Victoria and Albert were vacationing in the Highlands and wearing a version of Highland dress. Sir Walter Scott was writing romances of the Highlander outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor. The “savages” of 1745 had been rehabilitated, romanticisized and flung into the world to build the empire where the sun never set… Aye, now that’s a tale!