Monday, April 1, 2013

National Tartan Day - April 6, 2013

In some of my speeches I have often said that, without the influence of Scots in America, there would have been no revolution in 1776. I’m not sure I could prove that and elitist professors in America’s universities would certainly take exception. In college, I majored in history with an emphasis on American history. In all that time, in all those classes, not one professor talked about the Scots who made America. Not once! We were led to believe that the pilgrims and the English made America. But, of course, that is not completely true.

For 50 years prior to the American Revolution thousands of Scots emigrated to America. Primarily they came from Northern Ireland (Ulster) where they had been given free land by the government in London. They were hardened by war. They were familiar with firearms and they knew how to suffer. Their primary ambition was to own land and be free from governmental oppression. When government regulations changed in Northern Ireland and they were no longer free, they moved onto America. “A New England historian, quoted by Whitelaw Reid, counts between 1730 and 1770 at least half a million souls transferred from Ulster to the colonies - more than half of the Presbyterian population of Ulster...” (1).

“It is a reasonable estimate that between 1763 and 1776 more than 50,000 people of Scottish blood, from both Scotland and Ulster, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to settle permanently in the 13 colonies.”(2). However, these Scots didn’t settle in established cities like the Irish would do in the 1840s. Instead, they chose uninhabited land in Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Carolinas, and finally Tennessee and Kentucky. Up and down that frontier were 50 to 70 settlements of Scots-Irish people, who should more properly be called Ulster Scots. As George Fraser Black points out in his book, the Scots in Ulster “preserved their distinctive Scottish characteristics and generally described themselves as the Scottish nation in the north of Ireland.” They did not intermarry with the Irish as some may presume from the name Scots-Irish.

These people would become the fighters in Washington’s army. Forty percent of his army was composed of these tough, hardened men and women who were willing to suffer and die for freedom. (3)  They stayed with Washington at Valley Forge during that cold and awful winter and they never retreated under fire.

“For those Scots who had arrived in America from Northern Ireland, the need for the colonies to become independent from England was manifest. The English-dominated government in Ulster had cheated them out of their farms by raising their rents after their labor had made the land valuable; it had discriminated against their Presbyterianism by allowing only Anglicans to hold civil or military office; and it had prohibited the export of linen, the Ulsterman’s most valuable manufacture. The Scots-Irish had arrived in America bearing a hatred of the Hanoverian government, which drove them into the revolutionary movement with a religious fervor. Perhaps their presence in the colonies was even the revolution’s principal cause.” (4)

But the fighters didn’t all come from Northern Ireland and those who loved freedom were not all called Ulster Scots. There were the Highland clearances that brought strong, rugged men to America who spoke only Gaelic. And, then there were the educated Scots like Patrick Henry and John Witherspoon. “At least 21 of the 56 men who risked their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” in signing the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish ancestry, including two native Scots, John Witherspoon and James Wilson.”

Consider these men of Scottish ancestry and their influence on American history:

Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, James Blair and even George Washington was himself remotely descended from the Scottish king Malcolm II. (5)

In order to counteract some of the misconceptions about the Scots in American and their influence on American history, an invitation was issued in 1995 for Scots to gather in Sarasota, Florida. Another meeting was held in Sarasota in 1996. I had the privilege of attending both meetings and came to represent the St. Andrew’s Societies in America. I first met Alan Bain and many of you, both here and in Scotland, at those meetings.

Joanne Phipps, who lived in Washington, DC at the time, coordinated with the national Scottish Groups and worked closely with the staff of Senator Trent Lott, then Majority Leader of the U. S. Senate and obtained a Senate Resolution recognizing Tartan Day. The Resolution was published in the Congressional Record on April 7, 1997. Under the Senator’s continued leadership, Senate Resolution No. 155 was passed in 1998 which permanently established a National Tartan Day as April 6. The original Resolution was given to the Swem Library and The College of William and Mary on September 25, 1999. We have copy #2, framed and on display in the Scottish American Museum.

I was quoted on that day at William and Mary as having said the following: “As a nation we really do owe a tremendous debt to those early Scots who helped settle this country. Scots knew how to fight. They still do. Scots were willing to die in behalf of their freedom and they had little love for the British in 1776.

I think sometimes the contributions that Scots have made to the establishment of this nation draws little attention. Tartan Day is a way to start reeducating Americans on the contributions that our forefathers have made. It is fitting that we leave this document at William and Mary where in so many ways we are close to the beginnings of our nation. So, on behalf of all the St. Andrew Societies in America, we thank the College and the members of the Scottish Coalition for their work in making Tartan Day a success.”

April 6 was chosen because the Declaration of Arbroath was signed at Arbroath Abbey on April 6, 1320. In it, they declared Scotland to be an independent nation with the right to live free from rule or oppression by other countries. It also claimed that Scottish independence was the right and responsibility of the Scottish people, not the King. It is best known for the passage which reads:

"...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."

Those of us involved in establishing April 6 as National Tartan Day are getting older. I believe the Scottish Coalition no longer meets. JoAnne Phipps is retired and living in Mississippi. On May 5, I will be 86 years old. We leave our work to the next generation. Please, don’t let our Scottish history in the making of America be forgotten, silenced by political correctness or changed by revisionist historians.  

“Who is like us? Naebody!

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

Scotland’s Mark on America by George Fraser Black, page 4
2. How the Scots Made America by Michael Fry, page 23
3. Born Fighting - James Webb, page 10
4. The Mark of The Scots - Duncan A. Bruce, page 27
5. The Mark of The Scots- Duncan A. Bruce, page 31

History Club meets 10 A.M. April 6 (Tartan Day) in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home. No admission but reservations are helpful.

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  1. I note that you mention James Wilson as being one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. In an interview that was the basis of an article in 'The Sunday Post' on November 23, 2008 Professor Mark Hall of George Fox University in Oregon states -

    "Many American scholars now agree he's one of the most important founding fathers of our nation, if not the most important...The constitution created the president and James was hugely important in creating that role. It was James who argued it would be better to have one single executive as opposed to a group, which is what many wanted."

    See also the post "James Wilson - 'We the People' and Sovereignty", on my blog "The 'Sanitization' of Scottish History".

    Immediately before the best known quote from the Declaration of Arbroath is this -

    'But after all, if this prince shall leave these principles he hath so nobly pursued, and consent that we or our kingdom be subjected to the king or people of England, we will immediately endeavour to expel him as our enemy and as the subverter both of his own and our rights and we will make another king, who will defend our liberties:'.

    A more accurate rendition of the final quote in your post would be this -

    "Wha's like us? Damn few - an' they're a' deid!"

  2. From an article in today's issue of 'Scotland on Sunday' -

    'Alex Salmond is to hand back two of George Washington's books to the United States after eight decades in Scotland....The First Minister is to loan the books to a new library dedicated to the US's first president ar a formal ceremony in Washington's former home of Mount Vernon, Virginia, tomorrow.'

  3. There is a photograph on the website of 'The Scotsman' "newspaper" which depicts the Scottish saltire with a swastika instead of the cross of St. Andrew. There is a petition against it. Please sign this petition. The URL is -