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People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Scottish Americans

About the Scottish Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Scottish-Americans and more.

SCOTTISH AMERICANS

Where They Came From: Scottish immigrants arriving in North America during the colonial period came from Scotland's Highlands, the eastern coastal regions, and the Orkney, Shetland, and Hebrides islands. However, at that time, the greatest number of immigrants were Ulster Scots, who left their homes in Northern Ireland, especially the town of Londonderry, to go to America. During the mass migration of the 19th and 20th centuries, the overwhelming majority of Scots came from the central Scottish Lowlands. These Scots were from the urban and industrial areas along or near the Clyde River, most notably Glasgow and Paisley.

Why They Left: In the 18th century, the modernization of Scotland's feudal agricultural system displaced and impoverished Scottish farmers, many of whom immigrated to the British North American colonies. During the same period, agricultural and linen industry depressions drove Scots from Ulster in Northern Ireland to America. In the 19th century, parish relief committees transported Scottish paupers to the New World to get them off the Church of Scotland's welfare rolls. Frequent industrial depressions, particularly in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1920s, swelled the ranks of unemployed Scottish workers and caused waves of immigrants to cross the Atlantic. When American industrialization began after the Civil War, trained factory workers were scarce, and high wages were offered to English-speaking semiskilled and skilled workers. In Scotland, where industrialization had begun much earlier, workers were enticed by America's higher wages, larger job market, and higher standard of living to immigrate to the U.S. Attracted by America's seemingly limitless opportunities and prosperity, ambitious members of the Scottish middle class and even the aristocracy followed the workers across the Atlantic.

Where They Settled: During colonial times, Scots settled in rural areas of North Carolina, New York, and Georgia. During the period of mass migration, most Scottish immigrants settled along the Atlantic seaboard in the urban parts of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and in the Midwestern states of Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Fall River, and Philadelphia have large Scottish-American populations. Later, Scottish immigrants headed for California, which presently has the highest Scottish-American population of all the states in the U.S.

Numbers: Before 1776, an estimated 120,000 Scots and Ulster Scots landed in the 13 American colonies. In the mass migration from 1845 to 1931, some 775,000 Scots immigrated to the U.S. Approximately 18.5 million Americans are of Scottish descent.

Their Story in America: During the American Revolutionary War, Ulster Scots joined the rebel forces, while Scots from Scotland proper remained loyal to the British crown. Of the Scots who came in the 19th and 20th centuries, only 5% were farmers. The rest were textile workers, steelworkers, miners, clerks, merchants, and professional people. Even though Scots brought with them centuries-old antagonisms toward the English, they assimilated easily into the Anglo-American middle and upper classes. As English-speaking Protestants, Lowland Scots arriving in the 19th century were political conservatives supporting the traditional social and economic hierarchy against the waves of Irish and southern and eastern European immigrants. Semiskilled and skilled Scottish industrial workers were instrumental in founding and providing leadership for the early trade unions. However, they opposed unions for the unskilled workers whose ranks were composed of Catholic, non-English-speaking immigrants.

Famous Scottish Americans: Presidents Andrew Jackson, James Polk, and William McKinley; naval hero John Paul Jones; industrialist Andrew Carnegie; inventor Alexander Graham Bell; naturalist John Muir; furniture designer and cabinet maker Duncan Phyfe; detective Allan Pinkerton; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Reston; and Capt. William Kidd.

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