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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume I by
R. D. W. Connor

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 11

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
p143
Chapter 10
English and Scotch Highlanders
on the Cape Fear

The first three decades of royal rule in North Carolina were decades of growth and expansion. In 1730, the population was confined to the coastal plain and certainly did not exceed 30,000; in 1760, it stretched all the way to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and numbered probably not less than 130,000. Much of this growth was due to natural increase, for large families were characteristic of the people. Not only did the women marry young, but as Brickell takes pains to record they were "very fruitful, most Houses being full of Little Ones, and many Women from other Places who have been long Married and without Children, have removed to Carolina, and become joyful Mothers."1 But much the greater portion of the increase was from immigration. From South Carolina on the south; from Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the north; from England, Scotland and Ireland; from the mountains of Switzerland and from the valleys of the Rhine and the Danube, thousands of hardy, enterprising pioneers poured into North Carolina, filling up the unoccupied places in the older settlements, moving up the banks of the Roanoke, the Neuse, and the Cape Fear, and spreading out over the plains and through the valleys of the Piedmont section.

Explanation of this extraordinary movement is to be found in a variety of causes, all of which acted and reacted upon each other. Land syndicates exploiting the mildness of the climate, the fertility of the soil, and the cheapness of the land, induced many immigrants to come. A spirit of adventure moved others. Hunters and trappers were attracted by the great variety and number of fur-bearing animals in the West. A lofty missionary zeal to preach the p144Gospel of Christ to their scattered countrymen and to the savages of the wilderness inspired a choice few. Economic conditions in Scotland; economic and religious conditions in Ireland; economic, religious, and political conditions in Germany drove thousands from those countries to seek new homes on the Carolina frontier. To all these causes should be added the activity of the royal governors, Burrington, Johnston, and Dobbs, who showed a laudable zeal to make known to the people of the Old World the boundless resources of the New World.

During the first decade, 1729‑1739, most of the new settlers occupied lands in the section that had been settled during the proprietary period, i.e., the section north and east of Cape Fear River. Into this region immigrants came slowly but steadily. In 1733, Burrington, the first royal governor, wrote: "The Reputation this Government has lately acquired, appears by the number of People that have come from other Places to live in it. Many of them are possessed of good American Estates. I do not exceed in saying a thousand white men have already settled in North Carolina, since my arrival [in 1731], and more are expected." Twenty families had cut their way through the forest to the head of navigation on the Tar River. A hundred families had planted a "thriving" settlement on New River. Others, singly and in groups, had penetrated into the interior as far as the North East River. A small colony of Scotch Highlanders had found homes on the upper Cape Fear. Such was the expansion of settlements, that by 1734 three new precincts were necessary for their convenience. In 1734, the General Assembly finding that New Hanover precinct had "become very populous," erected the New River settlements into a separate precinct called Onslow. Similarly the settlements on Tar and North East rivers were erected into Edgecombe and Bladen precincts. At the close of his administration, Burrington estimated that there had been an increase in the population of more than 5,000 in five years.

None of the new settlements had made such rapid progress as that which Burrington had done so much, when governor for the Lords Proprietors, to plant on the Cape Fear River. The first attempt to plant a settlement on the Cape Fear River was made without success by some New England adventurers in 1660. Four years later a party of royalist refugees from Barbados established a colony near the mouth of the river, where, in 1665, they were joined by other Barbadians under p145Sir John Yeamans who had been appointed governor. The settlement, which contained a population of about 800 and extended for several miles up the river, was erected into the county of Clarendon. Its prospects were not good and Governor Yeamans soon abandoned it, returned to Barbados, and later joined the colony which the Lords Proprietors had planted on the Ashley and Cooper rivers of which he was appointed governor. The Lords Proprietors, who directed all their energies toward building up the rival settlement to the southward, took but little interest in the Cape Fear colony, and the settlers, after suffering many hardships, abandoned it in 1667.

After the failure of the Clarendon colony, the Cape Fear region fell into disrepute and nearly fifty years passed before a permanent settlement was planted there. Four causes contributing to this delay were the character of the coast at the mouth of the river, the pirates who sought refuge there in large numbers, the hostility of the Cape Fear Indians, and the closing of the Carolina land-office by the Lords Proprietors.

The character of the coast, of course, could not be changed, but those who were interested in the development of the Cape Fear section employed pen and tongue to change the reputation which its very name had forever fastened upon it. "It is by most traders in London believed that the coast of this country is very dangerous," wrote Governor Burrington, "but in reality [it is] not so." The fact remains, however, that this sentence stands as a better testimonial of the governor's zeal than of his regard for truth. A different spirit inspired a later son2 of the Cape Fear who, with something of an honest pride in the sturdy ruggedness and picturesque bleakness of that famous point, wrote thus eloquently of it: "Looking then to the cape for the idea and reason of its name, we find that it is the southernmost point of Smith's Island, a naked, bleak elbow of sand, jutting far out into the ocean. Immediately in its front are the Frying Pan Shoals pushing out still farther twenty miles to sea. Together they stand for warning and for woe; and together they catch the long majestic roll of the Atlantic as its sweeps through a thousand miles of grandeur and power from the Arctic towards the Gulf. It is the playground of billows and tempests, the kingdom of silence and awe, disturbed by no sound save the seagull's shriek and the breakers' p146roar. Its whole aspect is suggestive not of repose and beauty, but of desolation and terror. Imagination cannot adorn it. Romance cannot hallow it. Local pride cannot soften it. There it stands today, bleak and threatening and pitiless, as it stood three hundred years ago, when Grenville and White came near unto death upon its sands. And there it will stand, bleak and threatening and pitiless, until the earth and sea give up their dead. And as its nature, so its name, is now, always has been, and always will be the Cape of Fear."

But the very dangers that repelled settlers attracted pirates, and the Cape Fear became one of their chief strongholds on our coast.a As late as 1717, it was estimated that more than 1,500 pirates made their headquarters at New Providence and Cape Fear. Darting in and out of these harbors of refuge for many years they preyed upon French, Spanish, British and American commerce with the utmost impartiality and with impunity. The capture of Bonnet in 1718 was the beginning of the end. The following day several other pirate vessels were taken off Cape Fear, and as a result of these captures a hundred freebooters were hanged at one time on the wharves of Charleston. When the Cape Fear ceased to be the refuge of crime it became the home of law and industry.

The Cape Fear Indians "were reckoned the most barbarous of any in the colony." Their hostility to the English was implacable. They made war on the Clarendon settlers which was one of the reasons for the failure of that colony. In 1711‑13, they joined the Tuscarora; and two years later took an active part in the Yamassee War. Occupying an important strategic position between the two colonies, they made cooperation between them difficult. In the summer of 1715, they cut off a band of friendly Indians whom North Carolina was sending to the aid of South Carolina, but later were in turn defeated by the forces under Col. Maurice Moore. Their power, much weakened by the defeat of the Tuscarora on the north and of the Yamassee on the south, was finally destroyed in 1725, in the battle of Sugar Loaf, opposite the town of Brunswick, by a force under Roger Moore.

But the struggles of the Carolina settlers with the forces of nature, the freebooters of the sea, and the savages of the wilderness would have availed nothing had they yielded obedience to the orders of the Lords Proprietors. In 1712, the Lords Proprietors resolved that no more grants should be issued in North Carolina, but such sales of land only as were made at their office in London were to be good; and two years p147later, the governor and Council ordered that no surveys should be made within twenty miles of the Cape Fear River. But there were men in North Carolina who were not willing that a group of wealthy landowners beyond the sea should prevent their clearing and settling this inviting region, and about the year 1723 the ring of their axes began to break the long silence of the Cape Fear. They laid off their claims, cleared their fields, and built their cabins with utter disregard of the formalities of law. When Governor Burrington saw that they were determined to take up lands without either acquiring titles or paying rents, he decided that the interests of the Lords Proprietors would be served by his giving the one and receiving the other. At his suggestion, therefore, the Assembly petitioned the governor and Council to reopen the land office in Carolina, and the governor and Council finding officially what they already knew personally that "sundry persons are already seated on the vacant lands for which purchase money has not been paid nor any rents," granted the Assembly's prayer.

Good titles thus assured settlers were not wanting. Conspicuous among the leaders, were Governor Burrington and Col. Maurice Moore. Burrington's claims to this credit were repeatedly asserted by himself and acknowledged by contemporaries who bore him no love. The grand jury of the province, in 1731, bore testimony to the "very great expense and personal trouble" with which he "laid the foundation" of the Cape Fear settlement; while the General Assembly, in an address to the king declared that his "indefatigable industry and the hardships he underwent in carrying on the settlement of the Cape Fear deserve our thankful remembrance." Such testimony to His Sacred Majesty was doubtless very flattering and duly appreciated, but Burrington evidently expected something more substantial, for he complained more than once that the only reward he ever received for his losses and hardships "was the thanks of a House of Burgesses." The first permanent settlement on the Cape Fear was made by Maurice Moore, who, while on his campaign against the Yamassee Indians in 1715, had been attracted by the fertility of the lower Cape Fear region and determined to lead a settlement there. This plan he carried into execution sometime prior to the year 1725, accompanied by his brothers, Nathaniel and Roger Moore. Burrington, in a letter to the Board of Trade in 1732, after he had broken with the popular party, refers to these men in the following passage: "About twenty families are p148settled at Cape Fear from South Carolina, among them three brothers of a noted family whose name is Moore. They are all of the set known there as the Goose Creek faction. These people were always troublesome in that government, and will, without doubt, be so in this. Already I have been told they will expend a great sum of money to get me turned out." Burrington's reference to their conduct in South Carolina is evidently to the fact that James Moore, their older brother, in 1719, led the revolt in South Carolina against the Lords Proprietors and after its success was elected governor. A century and a quarter later, George Davis, himself an eminent son of the Cape Fear, paid the following tribute to Maurice and Roger Moore: "These brothers," said he, "were not cast in the common mould of men. They were 'of the breed of noble bloods.' Of kingly descent,3 and proud of their name which brave deeds had made illustrious, they dwelt upon their magnificent estates of Rocky Point and Orton, with much of the dignity, and something of the state of the ancient feudal barons, surrounded by their sons and kinsmen, who looked up to them for counsel, and were devoted to their will. Proud and stately, somewhat haughty and overbearing perhaps, but honorable, brave, high-minded and generous, they lived for many years the fathers of the Cape Fear, dispensing a noble hospitality to the worthy, and a terror to the mean and lawless. * * * They possessed the entire respect and confidence of all; and the early books of the register's office of New Hanover County are full of letters of attorney from all sorts of men, giving them an absolute discretion in managing the varied affairs of their many constituents."

Besides the Moores, conspicuous among the early settlers of the Cape Fear were the Moseleys, the Howes, the Porters, the Lillingtons, the Ashes, the Harnetts, and others whose names are closely identified with the history of North Carolina. Of them, Mr. Davis says: "They were no needy adventurers, driven by necessity — no unlettered boors, ill at ease in the haunts of civilization, and seeking their proper sphere amidst the barbarism of the savages. They were gentlemen of birth and education, bred in the refinements of polished society, and bringing with them ample fortunes, gentle manners, and cultivated minds. Most of them united by the ties of blood, all by those of friendship, they came as one household, sufficient unto themselves, and reared their family altars p149in love and peace."4 After these leaders had cleared the way, they were joined by numerous other families from the Albemarle, from Barbados, and other islands of the West Indies, from New England, from South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and from Europe.

The oldest grant for land on the Cape Fear now extant, is one to Maurice Moore for 1,500 acres on the west bank of the river, dated June 3, 1725. From this grant Maurice Moore, in 1725, laid off, fourteen miles above the mouth of the river, a tract of 320 acres as a site for a town, and his brother Roger, "to make the said town more regular, added another parcel of land." To encourage the growth of the town, Maurice Moore donated sites for a church and graveyard, a courthouse, a market-house and other public buildings, and a commons "for the use of the inhabitants of the town." The town was laid off into building lots of one-half acre each to be sold only to those who would agree to erect on their lots, substantial houses. Moore then made a bid for royal favor by naming his town Brunswick in honor of the reigning family. But the career of Brunswick did not commend it to the favor of crowned heads or their representatives; it never became more than a frontier village, and in the course of a few years, during which, however, it played an important part in the history of the province, it yielded with no good grace to a younger and more vigorous rival sixteen miles farther up the river, which was named in honor of Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington.

The settlement grew rapidly. Writing from the Cape Fear in 1734, Governor Johnston said: "The inhabitants of the southern part of this government, particularly of the two branches of this large river, * * * are a very sober and industrious set of people and have made an amazing progress in their improvement since their first settlement, which was about eight years ago." Large tracts of forest land had been converted into beautiful meadows and cultivated plantations; comfortable, if not elegant, houses dotted the river banks; and two towns had sprung into existence. The forest offered tribute to the lumberman and turpentine distiller; a number of saw mills had been erected while some of the planters were employing their slaves chiefly in "making tar and pitch." A brisk trade in lumber, naval stores, and farm products had been established with the other p150colonies, the West Indies, and even with the mother country, and before the close of the decade the governor was able to declare that the Cape Fear had become "the place of the greatest trade in the whole province." The collector's books at Brunswick showed that during the year 1734 forty-two vessels cleared from that port. At that time the population of the Cape Fear settlement numbered about 1,200; by 1740 it had increased to 3,000.

Life on the Cape Fear was seen at its best not in the towns but on the estates of the planters scattered along the banks of the river and its branches. In the immediate vicinity of Brunswick the most celebrated were, Orton, the finest colonial residence now standing in North Carolina, where lived and reigned "Old King" Roger Moore, "the chief gentleman in all Cape Fear"; Kendal, the home of "Old King" Roger's son, George, whose wives, "with remarkable fidelity and amazing fortitude, presented him every spring with a new baby, until the number reached twenty-eight;5 and Lilliput, adjoining Kendal, first the residence of Chief Justice Eleazer Allen, and later of Sir Thomas Frankland, the great-grandson of Oliver Cromwell. Far up the river came then and later a succession of celebrated plantations. Forty miles above Brunswick on the east bank of North East River stood Lillington Hall, the home of Alexander Lillington, who led the Cape Fear militia at Moore's Creek Bridge in 1776. On the opposite bank were Stag Park, the Cape Fear estate of Governor Burrington; the Neck and Green Hill, the residences of Governor Samuel Ashe and General John Ashe; Moseley Hall, where lived Sampson Moseley, afterwards a delegate to the famous Halifax convention of 1776; and Rocky Point, the estate of Maurice Moore, described by an English visitor in 1734 as "the finest place in all Cape Fear." Across the river farther down came a series of places, the most historic of which were Castle Haynes, owned by Hugh Waddell, who is buried there, and the Hermitage, owned by John Burgwin, for many years clerk of the Council and private secretary to the governor, which was one of the most celebrated homes in the Cape Fear country for a hundred years. "The great majority of these residences were wooden structures, some of them being large, with wide halls and piazzas, but without any pretence to architectural beauty, and some being one story p152buildings, spread out over a considerable space. A few were of brick, but none of stone, as there was no building stone within a hundred miles; but all, whether of brick or wood, were comfortable and the seats of unbounded hospitality."6

(p151)

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Orton

Perhaps the best picture of the Cape Fear settlement at the close of its first decade is a pamphlet written and published in London by an English visitor who arrived at Orton in the afternoon of June 16, 1734. After four pleasant days with "Old King" Roger, his party set out on their trip up the river under the guidance of Nathaniel Moore. The first day's trip carried them past "several pretty plantations on both sides" of the river, which they found "wonderfully pleasant" and the following morning brought them "to a beautiful plantation, belong to Captain Gabriel [Gabourell], who is a great merchant there, where were two ships, two sloops, and a brigantine, loading with lumber." The night was agreeably passed at "another plantation belonging to Mr. Roger Moore, called Blue Banks, where he is going to build another very large brick house." The visitors were astonished at the fertility of the soil. "I am credibly informed," declared their chronicler, "they have very commonly four-score bushels of corn on an acre of their overflowed land. * * * I must confess I saw the finest corn growing there that I ever saw in my life, as likewise wheat and hemp." That night, they "met with good entertainment" at the home of Captain Gibbs, whose plantation adjoined Blue Banks; and the next day dined with John Davis, whose house was "built after the Dutch fashion, and made to front both ways, on the river and on the land." The visitors were delighted with the "beautiful avenue cut through the woods for above two miles, which is a great addition to the house." They left Davis's house in the afternoon and the same evening reached Nathaniel Moore's plantation, which was "a very pleasant place on a bluff upwards of sixty feet high." Three days after their arrival, "there came a sloop of one hundred tons, and upwards, from South Carolina, to be laden with corn, which is sixty miles at least from the bar. * * * There are people settled at least forty miles higher up," that is, in what is now Cumberland County. The visitor's last experience in the Cape Fear section was such a one as was calculated to leave with him a bitter prejudice against the country and its people, but fortunately his mind, recalling the hospitality which he had just p153been enjoying, rose superior to such a feeling. Reaching Brunswick about eight o'clock in the morning of August 11th, on his departure from the colony, he says: "I set out from thence about nine, and about four miles from thence met my landlord of Lockwood Folly, who was in hopes I would stay at his house that night. About two I arrived there with much difficulty, it being a very hot day and himself very faint and weak, when I called for a dram, and to my great sorrow found not one drop of rum, sugar or lime juice in the house (a pretty place to stay all night indeed) * * * which made me resolve never to trust the country again on a long journey."7

Returning to Brunswick from his trip up the river, the English visitor "lay that first night at Newtown, in a small hut." With this slight mention he dismisses the place from his narrative, but had he returned twenty years later he would doubtless have given it as much as a paragraph in a revised edition. Today a visitor describing the Cape Fear section might possibly mention Brunswick for its historic interest, but Newtown, though masquerading under another name, would form the burden of his story. The former, in spite of its name, was not popular with the royal governors who threw their influence to the latter, and the rise of Newtown was followed by the decline of Brunswick. Newtown was laid off just below the confluence of the two branches of Cape Fear River. It consisted originally of two cross streets called Front and Market, names which they still bear, while the town itself for lack of a better name was called Newtown. From the first Brunswick regarded Newtown as an upstart to be suppressed rather than encouraged. Rivalry originating in commercial competition was soon intensified by a struggle for political supremacy. The chief façade in this struggle was Gabriel Johnston, who, in 1734, succeeded George Burrington as governor. The new governor became one of the most ardent champions of Newtown and used not only his personal influence but also his official authority to make it the social, commercial and political center of the rapidly growing province. Encouraged by his favor, Newtown in March, 1735, petitioned the governor and Council for a charter, but the prayer was refused because it required an act of the Assembly to incorporate a town. To the Assembly, therefore, Newtown appealed and as a compliment to the governor asked for incorporation under the name of Wilmington, in honor of Johnston's p154friend and patron, Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, afterwards prime minister of England. The granting of this petition meant death to all the hopes of Brunswick. By it Brunswick would be compelled to surrender to Wilmington the courthouse and jail, the county court, the offices of the county officials, the office of the collector of the port, and the election of assemblymen, vestrymen and other public officials. Brunswick, therefore, stoutly opposed the pretensions of Wilmington and kept up a bitter struggle against them for four years. The end came in the Assembly of February of 1739. Apparently no contest was made in the lower house, for Brunswick evidently looked to the Council for victory. The Council was composed of eight members, four of whom were certainly of the Brunswick party. Accordingly when the Wilmington bill came before the Council four voted for, and four against it. Then to the consternation of the Brunswickers, the president declared that as president he had the right to break the tie which his vote as a member had made, and in face of violent opposition, cast his vote a second time in the affirmative. The Brunswick party entered vigorous protests, but they availed nothing with the governor, who, in the presence of both houses of the Assembly, gave his assent to the bill.

Brunswick did not accept defeat gracefully, nor did Wilmington bear the honors of victory magnanimously. The feelings aroused by the long struggle and the manner in which it was finally brought to a close strained their commercial and political relations and embittered their social and religious intercourse for many years. This hostility made it necessary to divide the county into two parishes — St. James, embracing the territory on the east side of the river, and St. Phillips, embracing that on the west side. But this division did not help matters much at first, as there was only one minister, and he does not seem to have had the inexhaustible amount of tact that was necessary to deal with the situation. Says he: "A missionary in this river has a most difficult part to act, for by obliging one of the towns, he must of course disoblige the other, each of them opposing the other to the utmost of their power. Notwithstanding the majority of the present vestry at Wilmington are professed dissenters and endeavored by all ways and means to provoke me to leave that place, yet they cannot endure my settlement at Brunswick. While I was their minister they were offended at my officiating frequently among them." But Brunswick struggled in vain against the p155Wilmington tide. Nature had given to Wilmington a better and safer harbor, and this was an ally which Brunswick could not overcome. Besides far more important matters than the supremacy of one straggling village over another soon claimed their united consideration, and that found that factional quarrels and jealousies would result only in injury to both. After a short time, therefore, when the actors in the early struggle were all dead, when their animosities had been mellowed by time, and when danger from a common enemy threatened the welfare of both, their differences were buried and forgotten, and the two towns stood side by side in the struggle for independence. This union was never broken, for the ties formed during those days of peril proved stronger than ever their differences had been, and Brunswick abandoning the old site united fortunes with Wilmington.

The people whom the English visitor found on the lower Cape Fear in 1734, were mostly of English origin, but had he continued his voyage up the river as far as the head of navigation, he would have found a small settlement lately made by representatives of another race destined to play no small part in the history of North Carolina. These settlers were the vanguard of that army of Scotch Highlanders which began to pour into North Carolina about the middle of the eighteenth century, as the result of political and economic conditions in Scotland. In 1746 occurred the last of those periodical efforts of the Highland clans to restore the Stuarts to the thrones of Scotland and England, which ended in disaster at Culloden. Thereupon, exasperated at these repeated rebellions, the British government determined upon a course of great severity toward the clans. To overthrow the clan system which fostered this rebellious spirit, the government abolished the authority of the chiefs, confiscated their estates, and under heavy penalties forbade the Highlanders to carry arms and to wear the costumes of their clans. The estates of the Highland chiefs were distributed among the British soldiers who, of course, felt none of those natural ties that held chief and clansmen together and cared nothing for the fate of Highland rebels. These new landlords soon introduced a new economic factor in the Highlands. Finding sheep-raising more profitable than farming, they turned thousands of acres which before had been under cultivation into pasture lands, thus depriving large numbers of people of their homesteads. This complete overthrow of their social and economic systems left p156the people helpless. Rents increased, hundreds of families lost their means of livelihood, and distress became universal.

To enforce these harsh measures, an English army under the Duke of Cumberland, afterwards known in Highland history as "Butcher Cumberland," established headquarters at Inverness, and from that base fell upon the inhabitants and laid waste their country in every direction. Their cattle were driven away or slaughtered; the mansions of the chiefs and the huts of the clansmen were laid in ashes; captured Highland soldiers were put to death with brutal ferocity; women and children, without food, without homes, without husbands and fathers, wandered helplessly among the hills and valleys to die of hunger, cold and want. It became the boast of the English soldiery that neither house nor cottage, man nor beast could be found within fifty miles of Inverness; all was silence, ruin, and desolation.

One ray of light penetrated the darkness. After Culloden, the king offered a pardon to all Highland rebels who would take the oath of allegiance and emigrate to America. Many clansmen hastened to avail themselves of this act of clemency and to the ruined Highlanders America became a haven of refuge. Of all the American colonies North Carolina was perhaps the best known in the Highlands. A few Highlanders had made their way to the upper Cape Fear as early as 1729. Here they found a genial climate, a fertile soil, and a mild and liberal government, and they filled their letters to their friends and relatives in Scotland with praise of the new country. Another influence was introduced in 1734, when Gabriel Johnston, a Scotsman from Dundee, was sent to North Carolina as governor. Johnston is said to have been inordinately fond of his fellow-countrymen, his enemies even charging that he showed favor to Scotch rebels and manifested a woful lack of enthusiasm over the news of "the glorious victory at Culloden." Be that as it may, he certainly took a praiseworthy interest in spreading the fame of North Carolina in the Highlands and was successful in inducing Scotchmen to seek homes in the colony. In the summer of 1739, Neill McNeill, of Kintyre, Scotland, sailed for North Carolina bringing with him a "shipload" of 350 Highlanders who arrived in the Cape Fear River in September of that year. They landed at Wilmington where, it is said, their peculiar costumes and outlandish language so frightened the town officials that they attempted to make the strangers give bond to keep the peace. This indignity McNeill managed to avoid, and taking his countrymen p157up the river found for them a hearty welcome among the Highlanders there. At the next session of the Assembly, a memorial was presented in behalf of these new settlers, accompanied by a statement, "if proper encouragement be given them, that they'll invite the rest of their friends and acquaintances over." The General Assembly hastened to take advantage of this opportunity, exempting the new settlers from all taxation for ten years. A similar exemption "from payment of any Publick or County tax for Ten years" was offered to all Highlanders who should come to North Carolina in groups of forty or more, and the governor was requested "to use his Interest, in such manner, as he shall think most proper, to obtain an Instruction for giving encouragement to Protestants from foreign parts, to settle in Townships within this Province." On the heels of this action came the disaster of Culloden, the rise in rents, and the harsh enactments of the British Parliament; and the liberal offers of the North Carolina Assembly, together with the active exertions of the Highlanders already in the colony, produced in Scotland "a Carolina mania which was not broken until the beginning of the Revolution. The flame of enthusiasm passed like wildfire through the Highland glens and Western Isles. It pervaded all classes, from the poorest crofter to the well-to‑do farmer, and even men of easy competence, who were according to the appropriate song of the day

'Dol a ah 'iarruidh an fhortain do North Carolina.' "8

Shipload after shipload of sturdy Highland settlers sailed for the shores of America, and most of them landing at Charleston and Wilmington found their way to their kinsmen on the Cape Fear. In a few years their settlements were thickly scattered throughout the territory now embraced in the counties of Anson, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Hoke, and Scotland. With a keen appreciation of its commercial advantages, they selected a point of land at the head of navigation on Cape Fear River where they laid out a town, first called Campbellton, then Cross Creek, and finally Fayetteville.

The Highlanders continued to pour into North Carolina right up to the outbreak of the Revolution, but as no official records of their number were kept it is impossible to say how numerous they were. Perhaps, however, from reports in letters, periodicals, and other contemporary documents an p158estimate may be made with some degree of accuracy. In 1736, Alexander Clark, a native of Jura, one of the Hebrides, sailed for North Carolina with a "shipload" of Highlanders, and settled on Cape Fear River where he found "a good many Scotch." Three years later, as we have seen, McNeill brought over a colony of 350 Highlanders. But the real immigration did not set in until after the battle of Culloden. Seven years after that event, colonial officials estimated that there were in Bladen County alone 1,000 Highlanders capable of bearing arms, from which it is reasonable to infer that the total population was not less than 5,000. The Scot's Magazine, in September, 1769, records that the ship Molly had recently sailed from Islay filled with passengers for North Carolina, and that this was the third emigration from that county within six years. The same journal in a later issue tells us that between April and July, 1770, fifty-four vessels sailed from the Western Isles laden with 1,200 Highlanders all bound for North Carolina. In 1771, the Scot's Magazine stated that 500 emigrants from Islay and the adjacent islands were preparing to sail for America, and later in the same year Governor Tryon wrote that "several ship loads of Scotch families" had "landed in this province within three years past from the Isles of Arran, Durah, Islay, and Gigah, but chief of them from Argyle Shire and are mostly settled in Cumberland County." Their number he estimated "at 1,600 men, women, and children." A year later the ship Adventure brought a cargo of 200 emigrants from the Highlands to the Cape Fear, and in March of the same year Governor Martin wrote to Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies: "Near a thousand people have arrived in Cape Fear River from the Scottish Isles since the month of November with a view to settling in this province whose prosperity and strength will receive great augmentation by the accession of such a number of hardy, laborious and thrifty people." In its issue of April 3, 1773, the Courant, another Scottish journal, reports that "the unlucky spirit of emigration" had not diminished, and that many of the inhabitants of Skye, Lewis and other places were arranging to sail for America in the following summer. In subsequent issues, during the same year, that journal records that in June between 700 and 800 emigrants sailed for America from Stornoway; in July, 800 from Skye and 840 from Lewis; in August, another 150 from Lewis; in September, 250 from Sutherlandshire and 425 from Knoydart, Lochabar, p159Appin, Mamore, and Fort William; and in October, 775 from Moray, Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness.

The Highlanders continued to come even after the Revolution was well under way. In June, 1775, the Gentlemen's Magazine records that "four vessels, containing about 700 emigrants," had sailed for America from Glasgow and Greenock, "most of them from the north Highlands." In September of the same year, the ship Jupiter, with 200 emigrants on board, "chiefly from Argyleshire," sailed for North Carolina, and as late as October, 1775, Governor Martin notes the arrival at Wilmington of a shipload of 172 Highlanders. From 1769 to 1775, the Scotch journals mention as many as sixteen different emigrations from the Highlands, besides "several others." Not all of these emigrants came to North Carolina. Georgia, New York, Canada, and other colonies received a small share, but "the earliest, largest and most important settlement of Highlanders in America, prior to the Peace of 1783, was in North Carolina along Cape Fear River."9 In 1775 Governor Martin wrote that he could raise an army of 3,000 Highlanders, from which it is a reasonable conclusion that at that time the Highland population of North Carolina was not less than 20,000. Several of the clans were represented, but at the outbreak of the Revolution the MacDonalds so largely predominated in numbers and in leadership that the campaign of 1776, which ended at Moore's Creek Bridge, was often spoken of at the time as "insurrection of the Clan MacDonald."

Though unfortunate economic conditions lay behind this Highland emigration, it is not therefore to be supposed that the emigrants belonged to an improvident and thriftless class. They were, in fact, among the most substantial and energetic people of Scotland and they left the land of their nativity because it did not offer them an outlet for their activities. "The late great rise of the rents in the Western Islands of Scotland," said Scot's Magazine in 1771, "is said to be the reason of this emigration." "The cause of this emigration," the same journal repeats in 1772, "they [the emigrants] assign to be want of the means of livelihood at home, through the opulent graziers engrossing the farms, and turning them into pastures." Some of the landlords became alarmed and offered better terms to tenants, but the offer came too late to check the movement. Governor Tryon says that many of them were skilled mechanics who "were particularly encouraged to p160settle here by their countrymen who have been settled many years in this province;" and Governor Martin, in the letter quoted above, describes them as a "hardy, laborious, and thrifty people." Nor should it be supposed that they arrived in Carolina empty-handed. The Scot's Magazine in 1771 tells us that a band of five hundred of these emigrants had recently sailed for America "under the conduct of a gentleman of wealth and merit, whose ancestors had resided in Islay for many centuries past." Another colony, according to the same journal, was composed of "the most wealthy and substantial people in Skye" who "intend to make purchases of land in America"; while the Courant, in 1773, declared that five hundred emigrants who had just sailed were "the finest set of fellows in the Highlands," and carried with them "at least £6,000 sterling in ready cash." From the single county of Sutherland, in 1772 and 1773, about fifteen hundred emigrants sailed for America, who, according to the Courant carried with them an average of £4 sterling to the man. "This," comments that journal, "amounts to £7,500 which exceeds a year's rent of the whole county." It is not easy to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to the financial condition of the Highlanders after their arrival in North Carolina. On the whole they were poor when compared with their English neighbors, but their condition was undoubtedly a great improvement over what it had been in Scotland.

From governors and Assembly the Highlanders received numerous evidences of welcome to their adopted country. The governor commissioned several of their leaders justices of the peace. In 1740 the Assembly exempted them from taxation for ten years, and offered a similar exemption to all who should follow them. For the convenience of the new settlers, the region around Campbellton was erected into a county which, with curious irony, was named in honor of "Butcher Cumberland." The first sheriff of the new county was Hector McNeill, but the services of a sheriff seem to have been so little in demand that his fees for the whole year amounted to only ten pounds. Another important event in the development of the Highland settlements, was the passage by the Assembly of an act for the building of a road from the Dan River on the Virginia line through the heart of the province to Cross Creek on the Cape Fear, and another leading to it from Shallow Ford on the Yadkin. These roads threw the trade of all the back country into Cross Creek which soon became one of the chief towns of the province.

p161 The Highlanders desired to reproduce in Carolina the life they had lived in Scotland, but changed conditions, as they soon found, made this impossible. True no law made it illegal for the clans to maintain their tribal organizations, or forbade the chiefs to exercise their hereditary authority, or made it a crime for the clansmen to bear arms or wear tartans. But as the basis of the clan system was military necessity, in the absence of such necessity the system could not flourish. In Scotland the clansmen had obeyed their chief in return for his protection against hostile neighbors; in Carolina there were no hostile neighbors, law reigned supreme, and under its benign sway the humblest craftsman was assured of far more effective protection of life and property than the most powerful chief in the Highlands could possibly have given him. As soon as the clan system became unnecessary it became irksome and irritating, and rapidly disappeared. With its passing passed also the meaning, and therefore, the usefulness, of the Highland costume, which was soon laid aside for the less picturesque but more serviceable dress of their English fellow countrymen. Their language was destined to a similar fate. When preaching in English to the Highlanders at Cross Creek in 1756, Hugh McAden found that many of them "scarcely knew one word" he spoke. The Gaelic made a brave struggle against the English, but a vain and useless one. Entrenched in an impregnable stronghold as the language of all legal, social, political and commercial transactions, the English tongue effected an easy conquest, and the Gaelic soon disappeared as a common medium of expression. Under these circumstances the peculiar institutions and customs of the Highlanders gave way before those of their adopted country, and after the second generation had followed their fathers to the grave nothing remained to distinguish their descendants from their English neighbors save only their Highland names.


The Author's Notes:

1 Grimes, J. Bryan, (ed.): The Natural History of North Carolina, by John Brickell, M. D. (Dublin, 1737), p31.

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2 George Davis.

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3 This is a reference to the tradition that the Moores were descendants of the ancient kings of Leix.

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4 University Address in 1855.

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5 Sprunt, James: Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear, p58.

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6 Waddell, A. M.: Historic Homes in the Cape Fear Country. (North Carolina Booklet, Vol. II, No. 9, p20.)

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7 Georgia Historical Collections, Vol. II, p59.

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8 "Going to seek a fortune in North Carolina." MacLean, J. P.: The Highlanders in America, p108.

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9 MacLean: The Highlanders in America, p102.


Thayer's Note:

a Hugh F. Rankin's 72‑page monograph, The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina, covers the subject well.


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