Jacobite, Scottish Highlands, Scots, Scotland

Jacobite Rebellion & Immigration to Colonial America

The following post, “Jacobitism & American Colonial Immigration,” is by renowned author and expert David Dobson. In the following, Mr. Dobson discusses the Jacobite movement, and the impact of its failure in immigration to Colonial America. 

Jacobite Rebellion & Immigration to Colonial America

What was Jacobitism and what relevance did it have for immigration to colonial America? Jacobitism was basically a movement committed to restoring the House of Stuart to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland. It originated when King James II of England, who was simultaneously King James VII of Scotland, abandoned his kingdoms and fled to France in 1689. His hurried departure was prompted by the arrival in England of William of Orange, later to reign with his wife as William and Mary. The dual monarchs were succeeded by Queen Anne and thereafter followed the ruling House of Hanover.

Support for the House of Stuart could be found throughout the three kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland, especially among Catholics and High Anglicans. Hoping to reinstate the Stuart regime, the Jacobites rose in rebellion on a number of occasions, notably in 1715 and in 1745. In 1715 the main centers of revolt were in Scotland and in the north of England, and the revolt’s failure led to many of its supporters being transported in chains to the colonies or taking refuge on the continent. By 1745 Jacobitism had lost some of its appeal, especially in England and the Scottish Lowlands. Instead, the main support came from the Highlands, and the ensuing Jacobite defeat had severe repercussions there. Perhaps a total of 1,500 Jacobite prisoners were exiled to the American Plantations in the aftermath of the rebellions of 1715 and 1745. At the same time other Scots, such as the physician and future Revolutionary War martyr Hugh Mercer, fled to America.

The Scottish movement to America, of course, had begun earlier. In Scotland the Stuart Kings had required the Church of Scotland to follow Episcopalian practices, but William and Mary returned the Church of Scotland to Presbyterianism in 1689.  Consequently, a number of displaced Episcopal ministers emigrated to America to seek employment in the Anglican church there. (James Blair is the best example of this.) So also did a number of schoolmasters who became tutors to colonial families.

The failure of the Jacobite Rebellions had a significant impact on the social structure in the Scottish Highlands, which already was cracking under pressure from the commercial and industrial revolutions underway in the rest of Scotland.  While emigration from Lowland Scotland to America had begun in the 17th century, voluntary emigration from the Highlands began in the 1730s, especially to Georgia and North Carolina. This process was intensified by the failure of the Jacobites and the subsequent collapse of the clan system. The forced transportation of Jacobites to America sparked an interest in emigration among many other Highlanders.

Ten years after the final battle between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians at Culloden in 1746, the British government began, for the first time, to recruit regiments in the Scottish Highlands. These soldiers were sent to America to fight in the French and Indian Wars in regiments such as Fraser’s Highlanders and Montgomery’s Highlanders. In the aftermath many of these soldiers chose to settle in America and in turn encouraged their relatives in Scotland to join them. At the same time certain Catholic families in the Highlands who had supported the Jacobites were emigrating. For example, the McDonells settled initially in up-state New York before moving to Canada after the Revolution. So intense was the level of emigration from Great Britain at one point, especially from the Scottish Highlands, that the government decided to compile what has become known as the “Register of Emigrants 1773-1774,” the only comprehensive list of its kind compiled before the American Revolution.

The failure of the Jacobite movement also had among its consequences a collapse of the traditional social structure in the Highlands and its replacement by more commercial practices. This led to the Highlands being depopulated, with the people either moving south to the growing industrial towns or emigrating to North America.

Image credit: Jacobite broadside – Highland Chace or the Pursuit of the Rebels, via Wikimedia Commons. View this image as part of the collection Jacobite Prints and Broadsides from the National Library of Scotland.

Leave a Reply

Next ArticleUnprecedented Biographical Dictionary of Early Virginia Immigrants