The Highland Regiments in Relation to the Emigration of Highlanders to America by Robert E. McDonald.

Integration of two peoples of different cultural backgrounds is always a slow and painful process. The people of Southern Britain had always had an urge to integrate those of the north – wild men or red shanks they called them. After the fatal Battle of Culloden Moor in 1746, they set about this in dead earnest.

Trouble was brewing with France about who owned what in that vast wilderness we now call the United States. The Prime Minister, William Pitt, needing manpower for that wilderness and also as a means to speed up integration called for men from the north. Men of influence were given commissions, and it was left to them to appoint subordinate officers and enlist men. Thus the Highlanders went forth led by their own and dressed in kilts which were banned at home. Men were eager to enlist. They liked the idea of the great forests and the adventure. Best of all they were about to be paid to do the very things they liked best, and money was scarce in those parts.

Pitt was elated and said so in no uncertain terms. He attributed the wonderful behaviour of the Highlanders to a change of heart and new loyalty to the central government. My own opinion is that there was little change in that respect.

On reaching America they gave the protection that the colonists sorely needed, and they were welcomed and applauded wherever they went. The Highlanders had never before had such hospitable treatment anywhere away from home.

The 77th or Montgomery’s Regiment was typical and it shows a very definite connection to the emigration from Skye that happened a few years later.

Archibald Montgomery, son of the Earl of Eglinton, was a brother of Lady Margaret McDonald and hence an uncle of Sir James, Chief of the Clan. He had no trouble in obtaining permission to raise a regiment on the estates of Sir James Macdonald. He soon had 1,460 men and arrived via Greenock to Halifax later in 1758. My great, great-grandfather as lieutenant of Grenadiers was one of these and if I may presume to give his itinerary and his subsequent doings, it will shed light on the subject.

The Cherokee Indians, incited by the French in the Ohio Valley, were raiding the western frontier of the Carolinas. A man of that region by name of Charles Robinson reported this and requested troops. Montgomery with 700 Skyemen went down. They found Robinson’s place on Little River in what is now Richmond County, North Carolina. It was a plantation equipped to supply the needs of his army. The Skye boys liked what they found. It was a land of plenty and hospitality very much like that in the Highlands. By the year of 1761 the Cherokees were under control and Montgomery went elsewhere, leaving 200 men for guard duty for the duration, including Donald, my ancestor. The war ended in 1763 and the soldiers were discharged. Donald did not hurry home as he had some personal business to attend to, which was to marry a daughter of their benefactor, Robinson. She went home with him to Skye, and my great grandfather was born there in 1773. But conditions had worsened in Skye and they moved back to the Little River Country in 1774, but not alone. With them were his father, Rorie, the notary of the Totamurick and Knock family, the family of Donald of Knock, and others. About the same time, also moving to the same community were Alexander of Cuidreach, Hugh of Armadale, Allan of Kingsburgh, Somerled (Sorley) of Sartle, and many more.

The next year they were in North Carolina buying land and Charles Robinson was a witness. It was in this neighbourhood that the march was arranged which led to the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in February, 1776. It most probably was at Donald’s place, because his first cousin, General Donald McDonald, and his brother, John, and the General’s son, Sergeant Donald, were there.

There seems no room for doubt that the experience in the French War furnished the Skye McDonalds information they needed to select a new home. It seems a large part of the men in this war were in the regiments from the Highlands. Thus persons doing genealogical research may find it profitable to do further research along this line. Also due to troublous times in America during the Revolution some moved elsewhere and are lost to us. Such a study may help in finding these again. The French and Indian War was manned in large part by the Highland Regiments and the lists of officers are published in Browne’s “History of the Highlands” which can be found in some libraries. Also in a general way this source tells where they were in the colonies.

Editorial Note: Browne’s “History of the Highlands and Clans” published about 1845 is very hard to come by, but a subsequent revision edited by J. S. Keltie, printed by Fullarton & Co., published in eight parts in 1875 is more readily available in bookshops and libraries. – R.M.G.