Those Loyal Highland Scots


With the recent Canada Day celebrations, the BBC ran a documentary on the Hector, one of the earliest emigrant ships to bring Scots to Canada. The Hector is often seen as Canada’s Mayflower. 189 Gaelic speaking, Hebridean Scots who had been forced off the lands they had farmed for generations.

The last half of the 18th century was a tumultuous time in the Highlands and Islands. The impetus to this was, of course, the defeat of the Jacobite cause at Culloden in 1746. From here, there was a concerted effort by the English government to put an end to the rebellious Highlanders, and to make them conform to British rule, as was designed by the Union of the Crowns in 1707.

This enforcement and the legislation that was enacted as part of making the Highlanders “tow the line” essentially put an end to the Clan system. And that, in turn, crumbled the Highland way of life.

One such act was the 1746 Highland Dress Proscripton Act

“That from and after the First Day of August 1747, no man or boy within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers of His Majesty’s Forces, shall on any pretext whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes, commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little kilt, Trowes, Shoulder-Belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for Great coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the first said day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garments or any part of them, every person so offending…. shall be liable to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.”

Not only were the Highlanders no longer allowed to wear plaid (tartan) or carry weapons, they were forbidden to speak Gaelic as well. The Irish language (Gaelic) was seen to be the language of rebels and was forbidden. The Highlanders and Islanders (western isles) were predominantly Gaelic speaking. They were predominantly Catholic and had survived under the clan system for centuries.

Hundreds of Highland Scots left their homeland and emigrated to North America. In 1770, 1772 and 1774, merchant ships brought hundreds of Gaelic, Catholic Highlanders to what was then St John’s Island (modern day PEI). The Hector brought Highland and Hebridean Scots to Pictou in 1773. Although these Scots were considered illiterate, they were in fact quite literate – in Gaelic. The Highland and Island way of life placed a strong emphasis on Oral Tradition and so very little was written down. However, the Scots were voracious readers – all being able to read their bibles.

These Scots remained loyal to Great Britain, even after being forced to leave and having their way of life all but eradicated. As such, they took to supporting their government during the American Revolution. The men joined Highland regiments, most notably the 84th and 78th Regiments of Foot.

The 78th Regiment of Foot, known as the Fraser Highlanders, were raised in Inverness by Simon Fraser of Lovat with the intention of fighting in the Seven Years War (the French & Indian Wars). The archival records for the 78th Regiment of Foot are available for consultation but are not available online.

The 84th Regiment of Foot was raised in the USA and initially included men from the 78th who had remained in the US after the Seven Years War. The 84th fought on a number of fronts including action in the 13 Colonies, and then defending Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes from the advances of American troops. The archives for the 84th are available for consultation but again, are not online.

For having stayed loyal to the crown, these soldiers were granted land in Canada. These land grants are available on the Library and Archives Canada website.

To learn more about the Highlanders and Islanders who were cleared, you can consult a number of record sets. Come to CanGen to learn more about accessing these records.

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