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Scottish American
Ameireaganaich Albannach
Notable Scottish Americans:
Gilbert Stuart · James Monroe · Washington Irving · Sam Houston · Jack Daniel · David Dunbar Buick · Woodrow Wilson · James Stewart · Ginger Rogers · Johnny Cash · Seth Macfarlane · Reese Witherspoon
Total population
Scottish Americans
5,827,046 (2008)
1.9% of the total U.S. population[1]
Other estimates
20-25 million[2][3][4][5]
Up to 8.3% of the U.S. population
Scots-Irish Americans
27 to 30 million[6][7]
Up to 10% of the U.S. population
Regions with significant populations
Appalachia, New England
Western United States

American English · Scots · Scottish Gaelic


Protestant (Presbyterian)
Some Roman Catholic

Related ethnic groups

British Americans (Scots-Irish Americans · English Americans · Welsh Americans) · Irish Americans

Scottish Americans or Scots Americans (Scottish Gaelic: Ameireaganaich Albannach) are citizens of the United States whose ancestry originates wholly or partly in Scotland. According to American Community Survey in 2008 data, Americans reporting Scottish ancestry made up an estimated 1.9% of the total U.S. population. Scottish and Scotch-Irish ancestry represent 3.1% of the U.S. population in 2008.[8]

Scottish Americans are closely related to Scotch-Irish Americans, descendants of Ulster Scots, and communities emphasize and celebrate a common heritage.[9] The majority of Scotch-Irish originally came from the lowlands and border country of Scotland before migrating to Ulster Province in Ireland (see Plantation of Ulster) and thence, beginning about five generations later, to North America in large numbers during the eighteenth century.

Today, Americans of Scottish descent outnumber the population of Scotland, with 4,459,071 or 88.09% of people identifying as ethnic Scottish in the 2001 Census.[10]


Explorers and traders

The first Scots in America probably came with the Vikings. A Hebridean bard is said to have accompanied Bjarni Herjolfsson on his voyage around Greenland in 985 which sighted the mainland.[11] On the evidence of the sagas, the first Scots to set foot in the New World were slaves, a man named Hake and a woman named Hekja, who scouted for Thorfinn Karlsefni's expedition in 1010, gathering wheat and the grapes for which Vinland was named.[12] The controversial Zeno letters have been cited in support of a claim that Henry Sinclair, earl of Orkney, visited Nova Scotia in 1398.[13] In the early years of Spanish colonization of the Americas, a Scot named Tam Blake spent 20 years in Mexico and Colombia and joined Coronado's 1540 expedition to the American Southwest.[14]

After the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603 James VI promoted joint expeditions overseas.[15] The earliest Scottish communities in America were formed by traders and planters rather than farmer settlers.[16] The hub of Scottish commercial activity in the colonial period was Virginia. Regular contacts began with the transportation of indentured servants to the colony from Scotland, including prisoners taken in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.[17] By the 1670s Glasgow was the main outlet for Virginian tobacco, in open defiance of English restrictions on colonial trade; in return the colony received Scottish manufactured goods, immigrants and ideas.[17][18] In the 1670s and 1680s Presbyterian Dissenters fled persecution by the Royalist privy council in Edinburgh to settle in South Carolina and New Jersey, where they retained their distinctive Scottish culture.[17]

Scottish-American trade was finally regularised by the Act of Union in 1707. Population growth and the commercialization of agriculture in Scotland led to mass emigration to America after the French and Indian War,[19] a conflict which had also seen the first use of Scottish Highland regiments as Indian fighters.[17] More than 50,000 Scots, principally from the west coast,[17] settled in the Thirteen Colonies between 1763 and 1776, the majority of these in their own communities in the South,[19] especially North Carolina, although Scottish individuals and families also began to appear as professionals and artisans in every American town.[17] Scots arriving in Florida and the Gulf Coast traded extensively with Native Americans.[20]

Patriots and Loyalists

The civic tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment contributed to the intellectual ferment of the American Revolution.[17] In 1740 the Glasgow philosopher Francis Hutcheson argued for a right of colonial resistance to tyranny.[21] Scotland's leading thinkers of the revolutionary age, David Hume and Adam Smith, opposed the use of force against the rebellious colonies.[22] According to the historian Arthur Herman: “Americans built their world around the principles of Adam Smith and Thomas Reid, of individual interest governed by common sense and a limited need for government.”[23]

Nineteen of the fifty-six delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence came from Scotland or Ulster or, like the Scottish-tutored Thomas Jefferson, had ancestors there.[24] Other Founding Fathers like James Madison had no ancestral connection but were imbued with ideas drawn from Scottish moral philosophy.[25] Scottish Americans who made major contributions to the revolutionary war included Commodore John Paul Jones, the "Father of the American Navy", and Generals Henry Knox and William Alexander.

The Scotch-Irish, who had already begun to settle beyond the Proclamation Line in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, were drawn into rebellion as war spread to the frontier.[26] Tobacco plantations and independent farms in the backcountry of Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas had been financed with Scottish credit, and indebtedness was an additional incentive for separation.[16]

Most Scottish Americans had commercial ties with the old country or clan allegiances and stayed true to the Crown.[27] The Scottish Highland communities of upstate New York and the Cape Fear valley of North Carolina were centers of Loyalist resistance.[17] A small force of Loyalist Highlanders fell at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in 1776. Scotch-Irish Patriots defeated Scottish American Loyalists in the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780.[28] Many Scottish American Loyalists emigrated to Canada after the war.[17]

Immigrants and free traders

Trade with Scotland continued to flourish after independence. The tobacco trade was overtaken in the nineteenth century by the cotton trade, with Glasgow factories exporting the finished textiles back to the United States on an industrial scale.[29] Immigration from Scotland peaked in the nineteenth century, when more than a million Scots left for the United States,[30] taking advantage of the regular Atlantic steam-age shipping industry which was itself largely a Scottish creation,[31] contributing to a revolution in transatlantic communication.[17]


In the nineteenth century American authors and educators adopted Scotland as a model for cultural independence.[17] In the world of letters, Scottish literary icons James Macpherson, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Thomas Carlyle had a mass following in the United States, and Scottish Romanticism exerted a seminal influence on the development of American literature.[17] The works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne bear its powerful impression. Among the most notable Scottish American writers of the nineteenth century were Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

Soldiers and statesmen

American statesmen of Scottish descent in the early Republic included Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and President James Monroe. Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk were Scotch-Irish presidents and products of the frontier in the period of Westward expansion. Among the most famous Scottish American soldier frontiersmen were Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, founding father of Texas.

Other Scotch-Irish presidents included James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Chester Alan Arthur, William McKinley and Richard M. Nixon. Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt (through his mother), Woodrow Wilson, and Lyndon B. Johnson, were of Scottish descent.[32] By one estimate, 75% of U.S. presidents could claim some Scottish ancestry.[33]

Scottish Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and a monument to their memory was erected in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1893. Winfield Scott, Grant, Joseph E. Johnston, Irvin McDowell and Jeb Stuart John B. Gordon were of Scottish descent, George B. McClellan and Stonewall Jackson Scotch-Irish.[34] Nathan Bedford Forrest's father was an Ulster Scot and his mother was born in Glasgow.

Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall upheld the martial tradition in the twentieth century. Grace Murray Hopper, a rear admiral and computer scientist, was the oldest officer and highest-ranking woman in the U.S. armed forces on her retirement at the age of 80 in 1986.[35]

American icon Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam was based on Samuel Wilson.

Uncle Sam is the national personification of the United States and sometimes more specifically of the American government, with the first usage of the term dating from the War of 1812. The American icon Uncle Sam who embodies the American spirit more than any other figure was in fact based on a real man. A businessman from Troy, New York, Samuel Wilson whose parents sailed to America from Greenock on the Clyde, Scotland, has been officially recognized as the original Uncle Sam. He provided the army with beef and pork in barrels during the War of 1812. The barrels were prominently labeled "U.S." for the United States, but it was jokingly said that the letters stood for "Uncle Sam." Soon, Uncle Sam was used as shorthand for the federal government.


The Scottish-born Alexander Winton built one of the first American automobiles in 1896, and specialized in motor racing. He broke the world speed record in 1900.[36] In 1903 he became the first man to drive across the United States.[36] David Dunbar Buick, another Scottish immigrant, founded Buick in 1903.[36] The Scottish-born William Blackie transformed the Caterpillar Tractor Company into a multinational corporation.[36]


Scottish Americans have made a major contribution to the US aircraft industry. Alexander Graham Bell, in partnership with Samuel Pierpont Langley, built the first machine capable of flight, the Bell-Langley airplane, in 1903.[37] Lockheed was started by two brothers, Allan and Malcolm Loughead, in 1926.[37] Douglas was founded by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. in 1921; he launched the world's first commercial passenger plane, the DC-3, in 1935.[37] McDonnell Aircraft was founded by James Smith McDonnell, in 1939, and became famous for its military jets.[37] In 1967 McDonnell and Douglas merged and jointly developed jet aircraft, missiles and spacecraft.[37]


Scottish Americans were pioneers in human spaceflight. The Mercury and Gemini capsules were built by McDonnell.[37] The first American in space, Alan Shepard, the first American in orbit, John Glenn, and the first man to fly free in space, Bruce McCandless II, were Scottish Americans.[37]

The first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, were also of Scottish descent; Armstrong wore a kilt in a parade through his ancestral home of Langholm in the Scottish Borders in 1972.[37] Other Scottish American moonwalkers were the fourth, Alan Bean, the fifth, Alan Shepard, the seventh, David Scott (also the first to drive on the moon), and the eighth, James Irwin.[37]


Scottish Americans have also been leaders in computing and information technology. The Scottish-born James Johnston and Thomas J. Watson, of Scotch-Irish descent, developed an early tabulating machine in 1916 and founded IBM in 1917.[35]

Scottish Americans Howard Aiken and Grace Murray Hopper created the first automatic sequence computer in 1939.[35] Hopper was also the co-inventor of the computer language Cobol.[35]

Ross Perot, another Scottish American entrepreneur, made his fortune from Electronic Data Systems, an outsourcing company he established in 1962.[35]

Software giant Microsoft was co-founded in 1975 by Bill Gates, who owed his start in part to his mother, the Scottish American businesswoman Mary Maxwell Gates, who helped her son to get his first software contract with IBM.[35] Glasgow-born Microsoft employee Richard Tait helped to develop the Encarta encyclopedia and co-created the popular board game Cranium.[35]


Scottish Americans have helped to define the modern American diet by creating many leading food brands.

Philip Danforth Armour founded Armour Meats in 1867, revolutionizing the American meatpacking industry and becoming famous for hot dogs.

Campbell Soups was founded in 1869 by Joseph A. Campbell and rapidly grew into a major manufacturer of canned soups.

W. K. Kellogg transformed American eating habits from 1906 by popularizing breakfast cereal.

McDonald's restaurant chain was founded in 1940 by Scots-Irish fast food pioneers Dick and Mac McDonald.

Scottish Americans and African Americans

There has been a long tradition of influences between Scottish American and African American communities. The great influx of Scots Presbyterians into the Carolinas introduced the African slaves to Christianity and their way of worship and singing. Even today, psalm singing and gospel music are the backbone of African American churchgoers. It has been long thought by the wider African American community that American Gospel music originated in Africa and was brought to the Americas by slaves. However recent studies by Professor Willie Ruff, a Black American ethno-musicologist at Yale University, concludes that African American Gospel singing was in fact was introduced and encouraged by Scottish Gaelic speaking settlers from North Uist.[38] His study also concludes that the first foreign tongue spoken by slaves in America was not English but Scottish Gaelic taught to them by Gaelic speakers who left the Western Isles because of religious persecution.[38] Traditional Scottish Gaelic psalm singing, or "precenting the line" as it is correctly known, in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response, was the earliest form of congregational singing adopted by Africans in America. Professor Ruff focuses on Scottish settler influences that pre-date all other congregational singing by African Americans in America and found, in a North Carolina newspaper dated about 1740, an advertisement offering a generous reward for the capture and return of a runaway African slave who is described as being easy to identify because he only spoke Gaelic.[39] Such cultural influences have remained until modern times, even a church in Alabama where the African American congregation worshipped in Gaelic as late as 1918, giving a clue to the extent to which the Gaels spread their culture - from North Carolina to Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.[40]

Number of Scottish Americans

Tartan Day parade in New York City.

The number of Americans of Scottish descent today is estimated to be 20 to 25 million[2][3][4][5] (up to 8.3% of the total US population), and Scots-Irish, 27 to 30 million[6][7] (up to 10% of the total US population), the subgroups overlapping and not always distinguishable because of their shared ancestral surnames. In the 2000 Census, 4.8 million Americans self-reported Scottish ancestry, 1.7% of the total US population. Another 4.3 million self-reported Scots-Irish ancestry, for a total of 9.2 million Americans self-reporting some kind of Scottish descent. These self-reported numbers are regarded by demographers as massive under-counts, because Scottish ancestry is known to be disproportionately under-reported among the majority of mixed ancestry,[41] and because areas where people reported "American" ancestry were the places where, historically, Scottish and Scots-Irish Protestants settled in America (that is: along the North American coast and the Southeastern United States). Scottish Americans descended from nineteenth-century Scottish immigrants tend to be concentrated in the West, while others in New England are the descendants of immigrants from the Maritime Provinces of Canada, especially in the 1920s. Given Scotland's population (just over 5 million), there are almost as many self-identified Scottish Americans as there are native Scots living in their home country.[42]

Historical population

1790 U.S Ancestry
Based on Evaluated census figures[43]
2000 U.S Ancestry
from the official U.S census[43]
Ancestry group Number
(1790 estimate)
% of
Ancestry Number
(2000 count)
% of
British (Total) 2,500,000 62.5 British (Total)
36,564,465 12.9
English 1,900,000 47.5 German 42,885,162 15.2
African 750,000 19.0 African 36,419,434 12.9
Scotch-Irish 320,000 8.0 Irish 30,594,130 10.9
German 280,000 7.0 English 24,515,138 8.7
Irish 200,000 5.0 Mexican 20,640,711 7.3
Scottish 160,000 4.0 Italian 15,723,555 5.6
Welsh 120,000 3.0 French 10,846,018 3.9
Dutch 100,000 2.5 Hispanic 10,017,244 3.6
French 80,000 2.0 Polish 8,977,444 3.2
Native American 50,000 1.0 Scottish 4,890,581 1.7
Spanish 20,000 0.5 Dutch 4,542,494 1.6
Swedish or other 20,000 0.5 Norwegian 4,477,725 1.6
Total 3,929,326 [44] 100 Scotch-Irish 4,319,232 1.5

2006 American Community Survey

Scottish Americans by state

The states with the most Scottish & Scots-Irish populations:



The states with the top percentages of Scottish:


'Scottish ancestry' is in Dark red and brown colors which indicate a higher density: highest in the east and west (see also Maps of American ancestries)



US presidents of Scottish and Scots-Irish descent

At least twenty three presidents of the United States have some Scottish or Scots-Irish ancestry, although the extent of this varies. For example, Ronald Reagan's great grandfather was a Scot and Woodrow Wilson’s maternal grandparents were both Scottish. To a lesser degree Bill Clinton, James K. Polk and Richard Nixon have less direct Scottish, Scots-Irish ancestry.

  1. George Washington 1st President.
  2. Thomas Jefferson 3rd President
  3. James Monroe 5th President
  4. Andrew Jackson, 7th President 1829-37
  5. William Henry Harrison, 9th President
  6. James Knox Polk, 11th President 1845-49
  7. James Buchanan, 15th President 1857-61
  8. Andrew Johnson, 17th president 1865-69
  9. Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President 1869-77
  10. Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President 1877-1881
  11. Chester A. Arthur, 21st President 1881-85
  12. Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President 1885-89, 1893-97
  13. Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President 1889-93
  14. William McKinley, 25th President 1897-1901
  15. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president 1901-09
  16. Woodrow Wilson, 28th President 1913-21
  17. Harry S. Truman, 33rd President 1945-53
  18. Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President 1963-69
  19. Ronald Reagan, 40th President 1981-89
  20. George H. W. Bush, 41st President 1989-93
  21. Bill Clinton, 42nd President 1993-2001 (his fathers surname was Blythe)
  22. George W. Bush, 43rd President 2001-2009
  23. Barack Obama,[46] 44th President 2009-present

Other American presidents of Scottish descent

  1. Sam Houston, President of Texas 1836-38 and 1841-44

Scottish Gaelic language in the United States

In the 17th and 18th centuries, tens of thousands of Scots from Scotland, and Scots-Irish from the north of Ireland arrived in the American colonies. Today, an estimated 15 million Americans are of Scottish ancestry. The province of Nova Scotia, Canada was the main concentration of Scottish Gaelic speakers in North America (Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland). According to the 2000 census, 1,610 people speak Scottish Gaelic at home.[47]


Massed bands at the 2005 Pacific Northwest Highland Games

Some of the following aspects of Scottish culture can still be found in some parts of the USA.

National Tartan Day

National Tartan Day, held each year on April 6 in the United States and Canada, celebrates the historical links between Scotland and North America and the contributions Scottish Americans and Canadians have made to US and Canadian democracy, industry and society. The date of April 6 was chosen as "the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320—the inspirational document, according to U.S. Senate Resolution 155, 1999, upon which the American Declaration of Independence was modeled".[49] "Scottish Heritage Month" is also being promoted by community groups around the United States and Canada.[50]

Highland Games

Scottish culture, food, and athletics are celebrated at Highland Games and Scottish festivals throughout North America. One of the largest of these occurs yearly at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. However, in recent years, the games at Pleasanton, California have surpassed them in size. In addition to traditional Scottish sports such as tossing the caber and the hammer throw, there are whisky tastings, traditional foods such as haggis and traditional Scottish dance.

Scottish placenames

Aberdeen, WA, a town with a Scottish name.
Dunedin's Scottish-American Society maintains Dunedin's Scottish heritage.

Some Scottish placenames in USA include:

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, 2008
  2. ^ a b James McCarthy and Euan Hague, 'Race, Nation, and Nature: The Cultural Politics of "Celtic" Identification in the American West', Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Volume 94 Issue 2 (5 Nov 2004), p. 392, citing J. Hewitson, Tam Blake and Co.: The Story of the Scots in America (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 1993).
  3. ^ a b Tartan Day 2007, scotlandnow, Issue 7 (March 2007). Accessed 7 September 2008.
  4. ^ a b Scottish Parliament: Official Report, 11 September 2002, Col. 13525.
  5. ^ a b Scottish Parliament: European and External Relations Committee Agenda, 20th Meeting 2004 (Session 2), 30 November 2004, EU/S2/04/20/1.
  6. ^ a b James Webb, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (New York: Broadway Books, 2004), front flap: 'More than 27 million Americans today can trace their lineage to the Scots, whose bloodline was stained by centuries of continuous warfare along the border between England and Scotland, and later in the bitter settlements of England's Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland.' ISBN 0767916883
  7. ^ a b James Webb, Secret GOP Weapon: The Scots Irish Vote, Wall Street Journal (23 October 2004). Accessed 7 September 2008.
  8. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, 2008
  9. ^ Celeste Ray, 'Introduction', p. 6, id., 'Scottish Immigration and Ethnic Organization in the United States', pp. 48-9, 62, 81, in id. (ed.), The Transatlantic Scots (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2005).
  10. ^ Table 1.1: Scottish population by ethnic group - All People
  11. ^ Michael Fry, How the Scots Made America (New York: Thomas Dunne, 2005), p. 7.
  12. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 8-9.
  13. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 10.
  14. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 11.
  15. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 12.
  16. ^ a b Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 19.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Alex Murdoch, "USA", Michael Lynch (ed), The Oxford Companion to Scottish History (Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 629-633.
  18. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 18, 19.
  19. ^ a b Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 20.
  20. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 41.
  21. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 28-29.
  22. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 29-32.
  23. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 154.
  24. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 32-38.
  25. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 38-40.
  26. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 13, 23.
  27. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 13, 24-26.
  28. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 28.
  29. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 19, 41.
  30. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 193.
  31. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 194.
  32. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 53.
  33. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 60-61.
  34. ^ Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 53, 72.
  35. ^ a b c d e f g Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 219-220.
  36. ^ a b c d Fry, How the Scots Made America, p. 221.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fry, How the Scots Made America, pp. 221-223.
  38. ^ a b The line connecting Gaelic psalm singing & American Music (2007) Line Singing Conference at Yale.
  39. ^ Ben McConville (31 August 2003). "Black music from Scotland? It could be the gospel truth". Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 2007-12-18.  
  40. ^ Ben McConville (4 June 2005). "Black America's musical links to Scotland". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2010-01-09.  
  41. ^ Mary C. Walters, Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 31-6.
  42. ^ QT-P13. Ancestry: 2000
  43. ^ a b The Source: Gen
  44. ^ U.S 1790 Census
  45. ^ 2006 American Community Survey
  46. ^ "Obama receives Scots invitations". BBC News. 2008-11-05. Retrieved 2000-02-21.  
  47. ^ Scottic Gaelic, Modern Language Association, citing Census 2000,, retrieved 2008-02-22  
  48. ^
  49. ^ Edward J. Cowan, "Tartan Day in America", in Celeste Ray (ed.), The Transatlantic Scots (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2005), p. 318.
  50. ^ National Scots, Scots-Irish Heritage Month in the USA,

External links


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