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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Ye Olden Days: Life in Argyll Colony

Between 1707-1775 over 145,000 Scots emigrated to North Carolina. When you think of how far the state's population lagged behind other colonies, this is a staggering number. They chose North Carolina because Gabriel Johnston, a native of Scotland and graduate of St. Andrews University, served as Governor between 1734-1752. He wrote all his friends and invited them to emigrate to North Carolina where they would receive two crops each year, free land grants, and possible exemption from taxation for a period of time.

The temptation must have been compelling when most people had to be born into wealth and nobility in order to own land in Scotland. It was a time when their rents were being raised significantly high, reducing peasants to destitute poverty and starvation. Governor Johnston's offer was better than a pot of gold. Most sailed to the New England states or Virginia and traveled south on the Great Wagon Road. They settled in the Piedmont region, the center of the state. If they were lucky, whole communities traveled under the authority and protection of their Presbyterian pastors. Others were sold or sold themselves as indentured servants for 4 to 7 years.

One exception was the Argyll Colony. In July 1739, at least 350 people sailed The Thisle from Campbeltown of Argyll, Scotland and arrived on the shores of North Carolina, most likely the port of Brunswick, in September. They traveled up the Cape Fear River about 90 miles and settled what is present-day, Fayetteville. Due to the success of Argyll Colony, soon more Scottish families joined them.


The photo above is of Davaar Island, at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch off the eastcoast of Kintyre in Argyll and Bute, Scotland.


The area is filled with pine trees and sand. They farmed corn, rye, peas, sweet potatoes, flax and cotton. They hunted deer, turkey, quail, rabbit, and fished. They raised horses, cattle, sheep and chickens. These Scots set up black smith forges, built tanneries, grist mills on the streams, and saw mills for timber. From the deep pine forests, they produced turpentine, resin, tar (as we're known as the 'Ole Tarheel State), and charcoal.

They spoke and read Gaelic and brought Gaelic Bibles with them. This was the language of choice in the Upper Cape Fear area from the arrival of the Argyll Colony in 1739 until the Civil War in the 1860's. Most families were bilingual, but Gaelic was mostly spoken at home and at church. They had a Gaelic printing press of which many of their publications are now house in the Presbyterian Historical Foundation in Montreat, NC.

Some of this research was used in creating the premise for Highland Crossings, a novella collection by Pamela Griffin, Laurie Alice Eakes, Gina Welborn, and Jennifer Hudson Taylor.

12 comments:

  1. It's really very interesting to see how many different ways and how many different reasons why people came to America.

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  2. So interesting, Jennifer! I wasn't all that acquainted with the Argyll colony, and glad you posted this. Am right in the middle of "Sugarplum Hearts" and heading for the homestretch with "Heart's Inheritance"! Have been struggling with health issues these past few days so am quietly enjoying Highland Crossings-- Thank you, and blessings!

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  3. This makes me want to actually use the Ancestry.com membership I paid for! I would like to track down my NC ancestors and where they came from. One, Dr. Gill, reportedly attended medical school in Scotland. Maybe this weekend I will get on there again. Thanks for the post, Jennifer!

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  4. This post is near and dear to my heart. One of my as yet unpublished novels is set in the NC Piedmont and is peopled by Gaelic speaking Scots. Just to add to all the great information Jennifer posted here, one of the reasons many left Scotland for the Colonies during the mid 18th century was the collapse of the Jacobite Rebellion at Culloden in 1746, and the Highland clearances and starvation that followed.

    I love the old name for Fayetteville before The War. Cross Creek.

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  5. Thanks for this post, Jennifer. My ancestors were from Scotland -- the Forbes clan. We have a really active Robert Burns Society in South Carolina that I belong to as well. Someone asked me once if the Scots continued to wear kilts and tartans when they came to America. I'm not sure. I know that the walking kilt was designed in the 1720s, and setts weren't recorded and formalized until the 1800s, but they were associated with particular families for centuries.

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  6. Pat, I'm sorry you haven't been feeling well. I hope you're better very soon. Hope you enjoy Heart's Inheritance!

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  7. Carrie, I purchased Ancestry.com for a couple of years and found it to be VERY helpful. I don't have the time anymore now that I'm back working full-time, but I plan to continue some of my research one of these days.

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  8. Lori, I was born and raised in the Heart of the Piedmont. I traced my mother's Quaker ancestors in the area back to 1763. Lot's of great historical resources in the area. My Frazier line were Scottish Quakers.

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  9. Susan, They most likely had kilts and plaids, but dressed like others in the colony for daily chores and work. They saved their kilts and plaids for special occasions like weddings, celebrations, and Sunday best. If a Scottish family settled in a community with fewer Scots, they most likely adopted the attire of those around them. The Argyll Colony was a unique exception.

    Also, due to the Jacobite Rebellion many Scots such as my Gregory line from the MacGregor Clan fought as Patriots here in the Piedmont, but the Scots in Argyll Colony were Loyalists to the King.

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  10. Interesting stuff! I have Highland Crossings on my shelf in my "to read" pile. Looking forward to it. :)

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  11. The Scots have such a rich history. I'm continually leaning more about them and you certainly help here, Jennifer! In my upcoming book, my hero is from the heart of Highland Perthshire and his immigration stemmed mostly from the clearances. Lots of tragedy and angst but so wonderful these disposed people could find new life in America. Thanks for such a wonderful post.

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  12. Pegg, Hope you enjoy Highland Crossings!

    Laura, I'm looking forward to reading your new book. If it's the same one I saw earlier today, the cover is beautiful!

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