Immigration from Skye to North Carolina by R. B. McDonald of Leander, Texas.

Highland names are rare in the colonial history of America prior to the Battle of Culloden in 1746. By the time of the Revolution about 30 years later they were common. The attempt of Great Britain to change their way of life, tightening down on them year by year, was the cause of this immigration. Very few from the Hebrides came to North Carolina prior to about 1766, but within the next ten years thousands from the Isle of Skye moved over. Why they moved to the particular part of that colony is the subject here discussed.

A Highlander seldom if ever volunteered for service in the army of Great Britain. William Pitt, the Prime Minister, conceived the plan of enlisting them as regiments, with Highland officers. They liked that and he got enough to fight and win the French and Indian war in America. Now it should be interesting to note how the Hebrideans got in on this.

It began with a love affair down in the lowlands. Old man Hamilton, a wealthy widower, had three most beautiful daughters, and it was his duty to see that they found suitable husbands. He thought it might help in this if the word leaked out that each one would receive on marrying a dowry of ten thousand pounds. That was a lot of money and the young blades swarmed around. Among these was Archibald Montgomery, a younger brother of the Earl of Eglinton. He wanted the oldest. She was the most beautiful. They were very much in love and the time came when Archibald had to have a private talk with the father. He made a serious error by asking Hamilton if be could not give fifteen thousand pounds instead of ten. That made Hamilton mad and then and there the match was broken off. Shortly after the daughter ran away and married the Earl of Crawford, more on this later.

Archibald needed a shoulder to cry on. So he hurried up to his sister, Margaret, on the Isle of Skye. She was the widow of Alexander McDonald, Chief of that Clan, and the mother of James, the next chief. The upshot of that was that Archie would organize a Highland regiment on Skye and take them to America for the French and Indian War. That would take brother Archie’s mind off his own troubles and help the Clan. It was soon done and they were off, 1460 of them, all Highlanders except Archibald, and everybody loved his sister, Lady Margaret.

Shortly after landing, a call for help came from the frontier of the Carolinas. The Cherokees, incited by the French, were invading from the mountains to the West. They went and soon the Cherokees had business back in the mountains. They dared not all leave because the Indians would return if they did. So they arranged for enough Skye men to stay for the duration. They were in the northwest part of what is now Richmond County. The people of the locality went all out to show their appreciation of the Skyemen. There were feasts and parties and whatever else they could think of. Some girls married Highlanders.

The war ended in 1763 and the Highlanders went home. Conditions were worse, and continued that way. They remembered North Carolina. By 1770 all available boats were carrying emigrants to North Carolina – McKinnons, McKenzies, McLeods, McDonalds, McLaurens and the rest; Chieftains, Tacksmen, Gentlemen and all near kin, all for a new life in a new land.

But what about Archibald Montgomery? He returned to the Lowlands. His old sweetheart soon had a daughter of marriageable age. Archie married her. Also the brother, Earl of Eglinton, had a fight and Mongo Campbell shot and killed him. Archie then became Earl of Eglinton and inherited the property too. The young wife was Countess of Eglinton.

“All’s well that ends well.”


Memoirs of an 18th Century Footman 1745-1779 by John McDonald. Last edition by George Routledge & Sons Ltd., Broadway House, Carter Lane, London.

Browne’s History of the Highlands 1838 (probably out of print).

Colonial Records of North Carolina.

Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1774) by Dr Samuel Johnson.

Tour of the Hebrides by James Boswell. Original notes 1773. Pottle and Bennet, The Viking Press, Published 1936.