Celebrating Scottish American Heritage Month

By Susan Robertson, IPS Administration

As with many people these days, I’ve been pulled into the genealogy craze. I’ve always known that the surname Robertson is Scottish, but recently I’ve been able to trace that side of my family tree back to Perthshire, Scotland and I’ve been trying to piece together bits of information about my ancestors. This led to a deeper interest in Scotland, specifically the immigration to the United States; and April just happens to be Scottish American Heritage Month.

The earliest Scottish immigration to America dates back to Colonial times. Robert Sproat was a Mayflower Pilgrim who emigrated from Scotland and worked to pay for his passage on the voyage. Scottish men and women who adhered to the Protestant faith were welcome in America and small groups of Scots made their homes in the 13 colonies (Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia).

Scottish immigration to America increased as Scots gained access to America as indentured servants. The cost of the voyage to America was prohibitive and out of the reach of most Scottish men and women. The only way to get to America was to sign a contract as an indentured servant in exchange for transportation and the prospects of employment and a new life in America. Scottish immigration to America in the 1700’s was undertaken by angry Scots following defeat at the hands of the English at the 1746 Battle of Culloden. The Scots settled in all of the 13 colonies, but mainly in South Carolina and Virginia. Strong trade links had already been established between the city of Glasgow in Scotland and Virginia trading in tobacco and many immigrants gained passage on the trade ships.

Immigration increased following the British 1717 Transportation Act. The law established a convict bond service as punishment for various offenses and earned the offenders penal transportation to the colonies in North America. Petty thieves and criminals were sentenced to a seven-year convict bond service in the colonies. Serious crimes received a 14-year bond service in the colonies. Others immigrated to escape poverty or to establish a better life for themselves.

Immigration was restricted by the 1882 Immigration Act, and a head tax of 50 cents was imposed on all immigrants landing at U.S. ports. The Immigration Act regulated the inspection and deportation of immigrants. On January 1, 1892 the Ellis Island immigration center was opened and Scottish immigrants had to pass inspection at Ellis Island (1892 – 1954) before being allowed entry to the United States. Preference was shown to the older immigrants and few Scots were turned away.

I’ve read in some places that my 8th great-grandfather immigrated during Colonial times, however as I’ve found, much of this genealogy information is conflicting, so I’m continuing to discover his true immigration story.

Reference: Henderson, Horace. The Scots of Virginia. Xilbris Corp, July 2001