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Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South

Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South

by Celeste Ray
Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South

Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South

by Celeste Ray

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Each year, tens of thousands of people flock to Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, and to more than two hundred other locations across the country to attend Scottish Highland Games and Gatherings. There, kilt-wearing participants compete in athletics, Highland dancing, and bagpiping, while others join clan societies in celebration of a Scottish heritage. As Celeste Ray notes, however, the Scottish affiliation that Americans claim today is a Highland Gaelic identity that did not come to characterize that nation until long after the ancestors of many Scottish Americans had left Scotland.

Ray explores how Highland Scottish themes and lore merge with southern regional myths and identities to produce a unique style of commemoration and a complex sense of identity for Scottish Americans in the South. Blending the objectivity of the anthropologist with respect for the people she studies, she asks how and why we use memories of our ancestral pasts to provide a sense of identity and community in the present. In so doing, she offers an original and insightful examination of what it means to be Scottish in America.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469625805
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 280
File size: 25 MB
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About the Author

Celeste Ray is associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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Highland Heritage
Scottish Americans in the American South

By Celeste Ray

University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2001 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0807825972


What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage . . .
—Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI

Despite the diverse regional identities of their Scottish ancestors, today's Scottish Americans claim a Highland Scots identity constructed in the nineteenth century through romanticism, militarism, and tourism long after many of their forebears had immigrated from Scotland. Though not perhaps how the celebrated ancestors perceived themselves, their Highland representations have by now become traditional. This book considers the cultural processes that lead to a celebration of one form of identity over others, and the public rituals, symbolic costumes, social organizations, and beliefs that fortify ethnic identities and their revival. I examine an abiding awareness of Scottish heritage in North Carolina's Cape Fear Valley within the larger contexts of Scottish heritage revival at the state and southern regional levels. Through this case study, I wish to engage you in considering, more generally, the cultural construction of memory and the contemporary search for identity and community.

Individually and as groups, we imagine Technicolor pasts that may develop an authenticity of their own and fulfill various needs by doing so. Most of us value gaining or inheriting some conception of "the past," but rarely acknowledge the creative aspects of our recall, or openly consider how our ordering of the past orders our social relations in the present. Heritage and ethnic celebrations are exercises in remembering that remind people to consciously stand together as a group apart. The traditions and perspectives of the past that we select and celebrate as heritage are those that have a moral, instructive, emotional, or intellectual appeal and those we therefore find good to remember.

The Cyclic Popularity of a Scottish-American Identity

Visions of ethnicity and heritage are fluid, appearing more or less important in relation to their temporal and social frames. Contemporary celebrations of Scottish-American heritage have revitalized an ethnic identity that, seemingly forgotten by many contemporary Americans, has nonetheless been prominent in public consciousness for most of American history. A Scottish, especially Highland Scottish, identity carried many negative connotations in early Anglo-America. Political, cultural, linguistic, and social differences distinguished Highlanders from Lowlanders and from Ulster Scots well beyond the American Revolution. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, these discrete groups became more concerned with distancing themselves from Irish immigrants fleeing the famines than from each other. The popular romantic portrayals of Scotland and Scottish identity by Sir Walter Scott assisted a conceptual blending of these three groups in America, in contradistinction to the new immigrants who, for the first time in American history, came predominantly from Catholic and Jewish communities in southern and eastern Europe.

Across the nation in the period immediately preceding the Civil War, and in the North and West prior to World War I, the foundation of Scottish Highland Games and the introduction of new Scottish social fraternities experienced widespread popularity. However, the overwhelming and regionally unifying experience of the Civil War largely eclipsed such celebrations in the South, as the World Wars and Great Depression would generally do for the nation. Patriotism born of war and America's initial years as an emerging superpower temporarily obscured distinctively Scottish identities. The value placed on conformity in response to immigration, war, and economic despair created the absurd misconception of "white America." Regional and ethnic distinctions reemerged shortly after World War II as many Americans experienced renewed interest in "the old countries"; as second- and third-generation immigrants began reasserting identities that distinguished them from "the white norm"; and as the nation began to explore the extension of civil rights to all Americans.

The last decades of the twentieth century witnessed a dramatic surge of interest in Americans' cultural and ancestral ties to Scotland. Beginning with a handful of new heritage societies in the late 1950s and 1960s, the numbers of national Scottish-American clan and heritage societies had grown to the hundreds by the mid-1990s and accompanied an explosion of the Scottish Highland Games scene. Celebration of a Scottish-American identity is quite distinct from other post-World War II, European ethnic revivals among, for example, Italian, Greek, Polish, or Scandinavian Americans. This is especially true in the South, where memory of Scottish ancestral tradition has merged with that of the southern experience, and particularly so in North Carolina, where the earliest and largest groups of Scots settled. Church and sporadic other commemorations in North Carolina nourished a lasting consciousness of Scottish roots. The celebration of Scottish heritage and identity in North Carolina is unique even among Scottish ethnic revivals. The Scottish heritage revival in North Carolina is not a second- or third-generation revival, but the revival of an identity and of a community from over two hundred years ago.

More Scots settled in North Carolina during the Colonial period than in any other state.[1] Many Lowland Scots and Scots-Irish traveled to North Carolina, as they did to other states, down the great wagon road from Pennsylvania. What makes Scottish immigration to North Carolina unique is the direct, large-scale immigration of Scottish Highlanders beginning in the 1730s; their localized settlement in the Cape Fear Valley; and the persistence of a Scottish identity in the area to the present. The memory of this Argyll Colony makes the state a symbolic homeland for many in today's Scottish-American community.

Historical Background

Based on a survey of land grants, historian Duane Meyer dates the first settlement of Highlanders on the Cape Fear to 1732 (1961:72).[2] The most celebrated group of emigrants are the 350 who traveled in 1739 aboard a ship called the Thistle, the Mayflower of the Cape Fear Scots. Most of the passengers aboard the Thistle came from Argyllshire in southwest Scotland. Other immigrants followed, from the northern areas of Ross, Sutherland, and the Isle of Skye (Graham 1956:50). North Carolina became such a desirable destination that historian James Hunter tells us of a Gaelic song that advocated seeking a fortune there: "dol a dh'iarraidh an fhortain an North Carolina" (1994:43). From his infamous tour of the Hebrides, James Boswell reported learning a dance on Skye called "America" in which "each of the couples . . . successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to show how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat" (Rogers 1993:220).

Documentation is lacking to decisively assess the size of Highland immigration to the Upper Cape Fear from the 1730s to 1775. This was a period of social and economic change in the Scottish Highlands that accelerated the evolution and decline of the old clan system. The largest numbers, an estimated 20,000, came in the eight years prior to the American Revolution (Meyer 1961:63-64). They came as families and as individuals, ranging in age from their teens to their eighties. They sometimes came in large groups organized by their tacksmen, retainers of the once powerful clan chiefs.[3]

They also came because of the generous land grants and a ten-year tax exemption ensured by Governor Gabriel Johnston. Johnston, who governed North Carolina from 1734 until his death in 1752, was himself a native of Scotland and promoted the immigration of Highlanders. Similar offers from his successor, Governor Josiah Martin, and letters from settled immigrants further encouraged new arrivals. Martin issued Cape Fear land grants in return for an oath of loyalty to the Crown. By placing new Highland immigrants around the original settlement, he hoped that social pressure would encourage Highlanders to honor their oath in the trouble he knew was coming. Believing their loyalty unshakable, Martin actively sought Scots Highlander immigrants (as opposed to Lowland Scots and Scots-Irish settlers) right up to the beginning of the Revolutionary War. In the immediate period after the war, such inducements ceased. Though small numbers of Highlanders continued to come to the Cape Fear, their primary destination became Canada.

The pre-Revolution Highlanders originally settled in what was Bladen County. In 1754, much of their land became a part of the newly created Cumberland County—ironically named after the duke infamous for hounding and slaughtering Highlanders in Scotland during the lifetime of many Highland immigrants. Today the area of Highland settlement extends into Anson, Bladen, Moore, Cumberland, Richmond, Scotland, and Robeson Counties. Named for two creeks that reputedly intersected without mixing currents, Cross Creek formed the center of the Highland Settlement. The area became incorporated in 1762 with the Scottish name of Campbellton, but by 1783 the Highlanders had become uncomfortably synonymous with loyalism; hence Campbellton acquired its present name of Fayetteville, in honor of the patriots' hero, General Marquis de Lafayette.

Unlike the Scottish Highlanders who settled in Canada, Highlanders in North Carolina do not seem to have maintained strong distinctions between themselves; they shared, or at least had imposed on them at the time and by history, a unified identity in distinction from their Scots-Irish and German neighbors. On Prince Edward Island in Canada, groups that had moved from one area of the Isle of Skye remained distinct in settlement and in Gaelic dialect from communities of immigrants from other parts of Skye. While some groups from the same home areas clustered together in North Carolina, immigrants from across the Highlands mixed in one interdependent Highland settlement.

Despite the settlement's reputation as the Argyll Colony, it became home to settlers from many areas in the Highlands and also to many Scots-Irish and Germans. Meyer notes that Scots-Irish settlements were east and west of the Highlanders, "and in these settlements many names commonly considered as Highland names appeared. For example, the Campbells and McKays were leading families in both the Highlander settlement and the Scotch-Irish" (1961:90). Today's Scottish-American community also involves those of Scots-Irish and Highlander descent, but celebrates a "Scottish identity" through Highland symbols.

Heritage Celebration

In my initial forays to Scottish events, I was intrigued by the way in which Scottish Americans from across the country, of Highland, Lowland, and Scots-Irish ancestry alike, celebrate their ethnic identity with the imagery and material culture of Highland Scots. This gives the Highlanders of the Cape Fear a special preeminence nationally in community lore, yet current visions of Highland identity evolved long after the Cape Fear settlers had left Scotland. Though the form of heritage events and the traditions celebrated are largely creations of "Highlandism," a type of romanticism peculiar to nineteenth-century Scotland, their celebration nonetheless assumes continuity of practice and spirit between participants and their real or presumed Colonial Cape Fear ancestors. Assumed continuity of tradition from a period before Americans were Americans authenticates today's celebratory practices and makes Scottish-American heritage seem both unique and simultaneously more American (despite ancestral Loyalism).

Emotional investment in a heritage contributes to its celebration and therefore maintenance in public memory.[4] Especially when celebration involves solemn commemorations, we are less likely to question its inventiveness. Though a product of, and an impetus to, evolving versions of heritage, celebration often denies the historic dynamism of tradition to claim idealized, static, and ancient precedents that provide common ground in the interpretation of "the past" and a more secure sense of roots. The underlying assumption of celebration is that continuity, and therefore authenticity, of tradition was never completely lost, but, like ethnic identity, may be rekindled, restored, and reclaimed. In the Scottish-American ethnic revival, celebration focuses on the Cape Fear Valley as a hearth of "Scottish" (Highland) culture in America, and on today's descendants of the Highlander settlers as the preservers of a cultural inheritance.

What is the essence of heritage? Heritage is something of a rhapsody on history. The value of heritage lies in its perennial flexibility and the strength of emotions it evokes. Celebratory and commemorative reflections on ancestral experience merge historical incidents, folk memories, selected traditions, and often sheer fantasy to interpret a past in a form meaningful for a particular group or individual at a particular point in time. The bits of the past that seem most significant continuously change relative to the present.

Contemporary visions of Scottish heritage prioritize experiences of eighteenth-century Scots, both in Scotland and in America, as romanticized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. That memory of these experiences is often assumed to be continuous simply supports a heritage constructed around them. Claiming heritage may entail the selection, and often invention, of traditions, but what is most interesting about that process is how such cultural transformations of history become traditional and why. If temporal contexts elicit changing definitions of heritage, celebrations of heritage throughout history have always been, at some level, responses to contemporary social changes. Attempting to cope with transitions in behavioral or ideological standards, or in social status, groups and individuals rewrite their pasts for encouragement, security, glory, or as a critical commentary on their presents.

Contrasts between idealized pasts and the problems of the present are implicit, and often explicit, in Scottish-American heritage celebration. Specifically, celebration of a certain type of family, of patriarchal leadership within the family and Highland society, and of patriotism and the military emphasizes both resistance to current social changes in family structure and gender roles, and models of the past valuable to generations attuned to the Cold War. Generally, celebration focuses on what ancestral immigration and acculturation has culturally denied Americans of Scottish descent in terms of attachment to place, expressive tradition (music, dance, language), and a particular kinship system. Nonetheless, heritage lore also portrays the brief flourish of the Argyll Colony as a transplant of the kilt and bagpipe "lock, stock and barrel" to North Carolina. The objective of celebration is to bridge the gap between the Scottish identity and community in Colonial America with that claimed today. By restoring this link celebrants may somewhat replace both a continuing sense of lost connections with the Scottish homeland, and fresh grievances about social changes in their lifetimes, with celebration of an immutable past.

The presumed continuity of memory and celebration of tradition, rather than the unself-conscious practice of tradition, is what constitutes heritage. However, the point at which tradition ceased to be taken for granted and became celebrated, or entered into folk memory, must be accounted for in all heritage lore. At the core of most heritage revival is a sense of deprivation; a sense that particular historical moments and choices by groups and individuals have stripped a cultural inheritance from those who now highly regard it. North Carolinian Scottish Americans find the source of their loss in the motivations for ancestral emigration and favorably compare them with those of the Pilgrims.

The persecution of Highlanders for their values and way of life figures largely in celebratory addresses and conversation that ascribe Pilgrim-like qualities to early immigrants. Being exiled for political or religious beliefs and thereby deprived of one's native land and heritage seems more noble than to have voluntarily deserted the same for economic reasons (though these were undeniably compelling for many Highlanders). The reclaiming of a heritage denied is perhaps more impassioned than the reclaiming of one purposely shed or just forgotten. Historical perspective is then especially important in a study of ethnic identity formation, not to deconstruct that formation against a backdrop of "historical truths," but to study how perceptions of the past influence the selection of traditions and values in the construction, or synthesis, of identity.

Describing the early Cameron Hill Church of the Cape Fear settlement, local historian Ed Cameron writes (1992:ii):

Cameron Hill stands tall, a place of interest to all who pause to contemplate the imprints of time that has passed. The essence of its history is not to be found in the rendering of facts. . . . In early days it was a wee bit of Scotland removed. A people, often honor-bound, to favor a king that was hated. A people by nature clannish and nostalgic, thus bound to a homeland that had become too harsh to endure, when there was hope in America. Only the brave would come, seeking relief, land, and independence.

His words well summarize many Scottish Americans' view of the original Cape Fear settlers. He incorporates the essential imagery found in Scottish community literature and at heritage events: that of a homesick and exiled, yet honorable clanspeople, nostalgically retaining their treasured customs in a new land. He also praises their pioneer spirit and desire for independence; these traits transform them into "good Americans" and thereby provide a balance between pride in Scottish and American identities—a balance carefully maintained in today's heritage celebration.

While Scottish Americans compare the Highlanders with America's "ideal" immigrants, the Mayflower Pilgrims, they accentuate an all-important difference: that their immigrant ancestors were not Anglo-Saxon and neither, by extension, are they. This emphasis on a Highland/Celtic Scots identity also distinguishes Scottish Americans as ethnic.

Heritage and Ethnic Revival

What we call heritage communicates our sense of self, as groups and as individuals, and often corresponds to what shapes ethnic identity. We mark ourselves off as ethnic through music, dress, foodways, linguistic styles, and particular expressions of religious faith—the same assemblages through which we celebrate heritage. In the United States, we take for granted that generation upon generation has merged intellectual, cultural, and historical legacies in the making of an American heritage, but Americans of the late twentieth century have attempted to sort out and reclaim particular cultural memories that they feel make them unique, and they hyphenate their identity to reflect this belief.

Distinguishing oneself in this fashion relates to, and seems to explain, social and economic realities of our historical moment. The claiming or reclaiming of identity also has the strong emotional appeal of distinctive roots among those with ancestors in the oldest immigrant groups, voluntary and involuntary. As a nation, we seem somewhat confused in that while demanding individualism, we face alienation; we challenge conformity, yet decry our lack of community. We want to embrace difference, but to do so in groups, so that communities based on difference, ease of transportation, the Internet, and so forth fill in for our lack of "good neighbors." Claiming particular dress or food customs as an inheritance provides the feeling of uniqueness, but not aloneness. Inheritors are linked in a group apart with a history and a sense of continuity through time.

The heritage and ethnic revivals of, for example, African, Irish, Hungarian and Portuguese Americans, in the last half-century reflect an awakening to our particular situation in history and the reprioritizing of cultural influences and historical events according to that awareness. Yet these revivals are not an entirely new phenomenon produced by postmodernism; they are the current expression of a continuing process that spans all of human history in oral and literate cultures. Tribal, chiefdom, and state-level societies around the globe have always turned to the ancestors and their presumed values for revitalization in times of rapid cultural change. The Pawnee Ghost Dance of the late nineteenth century was a doctrinal and ceremonial attempt to remember and again practice traditional ways and values that reasserted Pawnee ethnicity in the face of European cultural hegemony (Lesser 1978). In the Romanticism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, northern Europeans embraced native folk cultures and the later arts and crafts movement in reaction to industrialism. Ethnic and cultural revivals of the last half-century reflect those of other centuries, borrow and merge their motifs, and revamp their public rituals. The Scottish-American community of the present further develops themes of cultural celebration that were employed among descendants of Cape Fear Scots in America intermittently since Colonial times and among those romanticizing Scots in late-eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Scotland.

By stressing the impingement of our own time period on perceptions of the heritage, I do not mean to deconstruct the inventiveness of celebration, but rather to examine the current shaping of history and ethnicity as a fascinating process. I also mean to emphasize that Scottish-American ethnicity is not concocted, but that the surge of interest in this identity is a result of persistent folk memories, family and religious traditions, and continuing transnational links with Scotland being again recognized as such and recognized as important. Rather than a twentieth-century innovation, ethnic revivals seem to come in generational waves. With each revival, the heritage acquires new perspectives and emphases, some more enduring than others.

Scottish-American Ethnicity and the Fallacies of Multiculturalism

Is the Scottish-American community an ethnic group? When we speak of communities, we speak of groups that share conceptions of similarity and difference. Yet when we speak of ethnic groups as communities in this sense we must recall that these identities have evolved, not emerged, in America. Some of this community feeling results from the boundaries of hitherto distinct identities blurring in a new context. Though somewhat sharing linguistic or religious cultural attributes, people who thought of themselves as Umbrian, Tuscan, Piedmontese, or Sicilian become simply Italian in America. Not only are regional ethnicities sublimated to national identities, but racialist discussions of ethnicity in America further reduces the importance of such generalized identities to color.

Ethnicity is not race, yet persistent misassociation of these concepts in current academic exchange perpetuates such assumptions in popular culture. Multiculturalism calls for the decentering of European intellectual and cultural viewpoints to better reflect America's cultural diversity, but still frames diversity as "race and ethnicity." The symmetrical use of these terms nonetheless confirms rather than challenges notions of biological dimensions to culture in public consciousness. Recentering projects have reinforced rather than shaken off the deterministic marriage of race/color with culture, euphemized as ethnicity.

By equating race with ethnicity, multiculturalists critique Eurocentrism as a product of a monolithic European culture shared equally by all explicitly non-ethnic "whites." Scottish-American celebrations challenge the notion that so-called "white" ethnicity is race-related or merely a backlash to multiculturalism (as if multiculturalism meant nonracism) and demonstrate transnational links and the persistence of an ethnic identity over two centuries in American residence.

The reductionistic and ethnocentric feel of multiculturalism is both a product of, and an influence upon, social scientists' discussion of Americans as ethnic only because they are in America. Multiculturalism and much contemporary scholarship fails to consider the temporal and spatial dynamism of ethnicity: the fact that American ethnicities were in place in the homeland of origin only to be hyphenated and glossed fairly recently as Italian-American or Chinese-American, and now further reduced to continental descriptives of Euro-American, Afro-American, or Asian-American in a way that diminishes rather than enhances diversity. In current American discourse, ethnicity is reduced to "the big three," in less than coincidental reference to the hardly defunct notion of three races.

Much scholarly discourse ignores the voluntary aspects of ethnic identity and the important role that reclaiming/reasserting an identity plays in its meaning. Ethnic does not mean African-American and it does not mean "black." These terms have become interchangeable in American discourse because both have been thought to describe an ascribed, minority identity within this country. Likewise, Americans of northern European descent are lumped together as "white"—seeming to lack any ethnicity—yet Scottish Americans and Irish Americans explicitly make clear that they are not Anglo-Saxons.

Anthropologist Roger Sanjek has written of his remarkable epiphany that "white ethnic persistence was a hoax," and that he "was delighted with the title of Richard Alba's revisionist paper 'The Twilight of Ethnicity among American Catholics of European Ancestry'" (1994:9). In his book Racial and Ethnic Groups, sociologist Richard Schaefer similarly claims, "The ethnicity of the 1990s embraced by English-speaking whites . . . does not include active involvement in ethnic activities or participation in ethnic-related organizations" (1996:127). The following account of Scottish Americans focuses on Americans of European descent who actively celebrate their ethnic awareness.

Composed of both those with a deep, transgenerational awareness of their heritage and those for whom a Scottish identity is a reclaimed ethnicity, these societies have ethnic events with particular dress, foods, religious services, and music throughout the year. These ethnic organizations maintain transnational links with the Scottish "homeland" by importing Scottish ministers, speakers, educators, and traditions, such as the Highland Games, invented or reinvented in Scotland after their ancestors left.

The ethnic revival of the 1960s and 1970s is not the "last gasp of white ethnicity," as many sociologists forecasted (Steinberg 1981). On nearly every weekend of the summer and early fall a Scottish Highland Games happens somewhere in America. These events may draw thousands of participants; one weekend games event at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina sees over 30,000 participants annually. (Hardly a "gasp.")

North Carolinians, especially those from the Cape Fear Valley area, are unique in the country in that many trace their genealogies back to Colonial times with few exceptions to Scottish and Scots-Irish names in the family tree. In a 1997 proclamation of "Tartan Day," Governor James Hunt even made the grand claim that "North Carolina has the largest number of people of Scottish heritage of any other state or country in the world"—including Scotland!—a claim that many North Carolinians believe. Even elsewhere in the national Scottish-American community where the pattern of ethnic marriages were not so consistent or long-lived, community members stress a continuing sense of Scottish ethnicity by focusing on the Scottish branches of their genealogies. Whether the primacy granted to these ancestors and their customs has itself been a traditional family emphasis and awareness, or whether they have recently rediscovered roots and reclaimed ethnicity, Scottish Americans claim an identity that sets them apart from white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) America. Skeptical sociologists and anthropologists would argue that they do so simply to distinguish themselves from "the monolith of white America." However, is it not this monolith that is a hoax, rather than "white ethnic persistence"? The motivation for claiming and celebrating a heritage lies in a combination of our situation in time and the "swirling mists" and pan-pipe music of emotion where social scientists fear to tread.[5] Ethnic identities evoke emotions about the pasts and experiences that have led to one's present; though this of course has individualistic manifestations, group celebrations of identity operate on certain shared assumptions and feelings not often analyzed through the anthropological lens.

Beyond the emotional side of identity formation, social scientists have yet to comfortably address what genealogists describe as "voices in the blood" (Vandagriff 1993), or "psychic roots" (Jones 1994), though it is these notions, perhaps inelegant, of "genetic suction" to ancestral customs that shape the construction of heritage. Communitas is perhaps the best academic approximate, described by Victor Turner as a feeling of community spirit and an intense sense of togetherness (1974). Gwen Kennedy Neville extends this to "that feeling of well-being generated by participation in ritual" (1987:68). Expanded again, communitas might explain the feeling that my informants say brings them to celebrate their Scottish heritage: a sense of group cohesion through time and space within a community that members consider family. This feeling is strongest at gatherings and during commemorative rituals, but communitas may also be used to describe members' sense of connectedness with Scots of all varieties and time periods when community members are dispersed. Communitas perhaps best labels, in puffed and powdered academic terms, the feeling that has led to the tremendous growth of the Scottish heritage movement and the national appeal of the Scottish-American community.

Community and Clanship

The Scottish-American community at large consists of clan societies and their local branches, and non-clan-based Scottish interest groups (such as the St. Andrew's societies and state/local heritage societies), bagpiper bands, Highland and country dancers, Highland Game attendees, subscribers to Scottish newspapers, and so on—in short, anyone who holds an interest in things Scottish or who has a vague, passive awareness of having Scottish ancestry. The North Carolina Scottish community consists of many organizations and individuals with local, state, national, and international affiliations in addition to those who, more specifically, have attended Scottish-oriented religious gatherings or other events and are thereby actively aware of their Scottish heritage and genealogy. When speaking on the national scale, North Carolinians refer to the Scottish-American community, but may simply refer to those involved in state and local activities as the Scottish community. Unlike many other ethnic revivals, the Scottish-American movement assumes not just common cultural origins, but kinship ties among its members and with specific Scottish landscapes.

Over the last two centuries, "Scottish" heritage has been represented through essentialized Highland material culture, so that the Highland clan system has become the model for re-forming Scottish communities abroad. The clan system, on the way out by the time emigrants left the Highlands for North Carolina, has perhaps more relevance for Scottish Americans today than it did for the Cape Fear settlers of the Colonial period. Though one shares a special affinity with those in one's clan society, all the clans are thought to share more than a cultural kinship. For community members, what anthropologists call communitas arises from the most basic genetic level. The Scottish-American community is often described as a cousinhood. This is especially prominent in the southern states and particularly in North Carolina. North Carolinians emphasize not just Scottish ancestry, but Cape Fear ancestry; not just the cousinhood of the clans, but the genealogical proximity of "cousins."

This familial dimension distinguishes many groupings of Scottish Americans from what social scientists, after Benedict Anderson, have called imagined communities (1983). Ethnic groups, and even nations, are in a sense communities of the imagination in that most members will never meet each other or have, as sociologist Craig Calhoun notes, any "systematic web of interpersonal relationships" (1991:107). Descendants of Scots Highlanders, Scots-Irish, and Lowland Scots have entered into the creation of imagined communities (heritage organizations) on local, state, national, and international levels, although individually members may have little interaction with each other. Their interpersonal relationships may not be day to day, but they are based on more than what Calhoun calls "cultural or other external attributes" (108): they entail a presumption of kinship beyond shared group identity. The dual function of Scottish heritage societies as community and family asserts itself most strongly among those across the country with ancestral connections to the Cape Fear settlers, among whom actual family relationships are easiest to prove and who still gather at the annual homecomings of Presbyterian churches founded by Cape Fear Scots and their descendants.

Outline of the Book

I begin by considering the development of the identity embraced as Scottish by the Scottish-American community. Chapter 2 explores the origins of heritage revival and the unique history and personalities of Scottish heritage in North Carolina. The third chapter describes today's Scottish community and the perceptions of Highland social and kinship patterns upon which it is based. Heritage events are the focus of Chapter 4's discussion considering the process of selecting and innovating tradition. I examine Scottish Highland Games as both performance-based spectacles (standardized, yet responding to transnational developments) and as the physical expression of a dispersed community. Chapter 5 considers how themes in heritage lore direct the path of the heritage tourist in North Carolina and in the "auld sod" of the Scottish clanscapes. Travel and tourism have become pilgrimage in heritage revival as a physical actualization of transgenerational attachment to place. Chapter 6 explores military themes in the development and form of heritage events, and the overwhelming representation of career military people within the community. Drawing upon the themes of the previous chapters, Chapter 7 examines the southern style of Scottish celebrations in North Carolina.


One of the chief ethics in anthropological study is cultural relativism. From the anthropological perspective, I have studied Scottish-American beliefs as valid and valuable parts of my informants' worldviews. I unravel many of these beliefs to examine the ways they developed and why they have become so meaningful to people, not to critique my informants' commitment to them.

Presentism, the intrusion of our present frame onto our interpretation and use of history, is of particular interest in both ethnographic and ethnohistorical analysis, not as something to be debunked, but as a particularly arresting aspect of the continuing renegotiation of history, culture, identity, and meaning. My inquiry is not directed at authenticating or disproving claims of continuity for traditions or identity, but examining the importance that continuity assumes for those who claim it. A diachronic perspective is then essential to my approach, not to explode myths or views of the past operative today, but to appreciate why and how today's understandings developed.

Short exegetical narratives of Scottish and American history appear throughout the text, especially in descriptions of activities at heritage events. There may be "no history" but what L‚vi-Strauss calls "history for"; culture always references some past (1966:257). Recent or removed, imagined or written, however biased—the past supplies precedents and validation. The groups I have studied base their activities, their sense of identity, and their ideas of community on historical moments collectively celebrated as heritage. Heritage is a history told from a certain viewpoint, and told purposefully "for."

In discussing the construction of heritage, I discuss myth and mythologizing processes throughout my analysis. I do not use these terms in the derogative sense of common parlance, or to emphasize the inventiveness of the traditions discussed. I employ myth in the classical anthropological sense as a type of charter for a group or community, or even for individuals' sense of identity. In this study, myths are powerful accounts that effectively and meaningfully explain the customs and beliefs of the Scottish-American community and are set forth as facts—the various arrangements of which may be quite distinct from historical facts, but yield a malleable history for the extraction of heritage.

Later twentieth-century works on tradition have primarily, and somewhat gleefully, deconstructed its contrivance (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Dorst 1989; Hewison 1983). This work instead focuses on the process and uses of fictionalizing history and on community formation through new rituals that are instilled with implied continuity from the past. Rather than invention, I trace the selection and reworking of tradition within the heritage movement—not to critique the validity or falsity of celebration and heritage lore, but to emphasize origins as a way of understanding to what the selection of tradition may be a response.

This work intends to show how the espousal and testimonial commemoration of certain histories fashions memories of far-removed and recent pasts that unite people in complex intellectual and emotional ways. The celebratory creation of such memories involves Americans with a transgenerational or a reclaimed Scottish ethnicity in heritage revival—a much criticized and deconstructed part of the postmodern condition that remains inadequately explored as a pre-postmodern and on-going process with historical precedents.


1. According to Ned Landsman (1985), New Jersey was also a popular destination for Scots, but not predominantly Highland Scots. What Landsman's title (Scotland and Its First American Colony) downplays is that large numbers of Scots were transported to South Carolina earlier in the 1600s and failed to create a successful colony there. Additionally, communities of Scots-Irish settled on the coast of Maryland as early as 1649, and in Darien, Georgia, another less-known Highlander colony briefly flourished from 1735 to 1748. For information on the Darien settlement see Anthony Parker's Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia (1997).

2. William Foote records an earlier 1729 settlement in his 1846 Sketches of North Carolina. Several subsequent works on the Highland Scots and the Scots-Irish repeat his claims. Meyer suggests that, having visited the Highlander settlements, Foote perhaps recorded surviving oral tradition about the early settlements (1961:177), or perhaps Foote had access to documents that are now lost to us.

3. In return for military and other services, chiefs granted the clan gentry pieces of land called tacks. These tacksmen, or daoine uaisle, led their underlings into battle, and occasionally into exile (Hunter 1994:13).

4. Anthropologist Victor Turner defines celebration as vivacity generated within crowds of people sharing common purposes and values (1982:16). I discuss Scottish heritage events, and the heritage movement itself, as celebration. However, I suggest that celebration commemorates and thus involves solemnity and reverence as well as—sometimes in conjunction with—vivacity.

5. For those in cultural studies, confident in their abilities to read cultural events as text, the role of feeling remains detached from thought (though we would hardly have ethnic conflicts if these were discrete in reality).

Excerpted from Highland Heritage by Celeste Ray. Copyright © 2001 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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From the Publisher

[A] combination of resource compendium, exhaustively detailed anthropological study and astute cultural criticism. Extensive research, clear prose and respect for her subjects will win this authoritative work favor among Scottish American enthusiasts and academics alike.—Publishers Weekly

[Ray] recreates in detail the annual Highland games and gathering at Grandfather Mountain, N.C., for those of us who don't know our sporrans from our claymores. Hint: you might be cleaved in two with the second if you insult a Scotsman for wearing the first.—A Nota Bene selection of The Chronicle of Higher Education

Essential reading for anyone interested in the transnational dimensions of Scottishness and the increasingly voluntary nature of cultural identity. Highly recommended.—Scottish Affairs

It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive account of what has gone on in the Scottish American heritage community in recent decades. . . . [Ray] has a sound grasp of Scottish history, and of the actual history of the Highland Scots in Carolina. . . . Fascinating.—Journal of American Studies

The strong pull of the homeland has manifested itself in a surprising number of American southerners. Ray's scholarly and readable examination of that pull offers insight into this fascinating minority group. Ray focuses upon North Carolina's Cape Fear settlement . . . . But she also extends her study to all of the southern states to demonstrate the pride of those whose connection to Scotland goes deep. . . . Just as fascinating as her scholarship are the delightful additions to the book. Numerous photos . . . show how a number of 'ancient' traditions are preserved. If you want to know what they wear under those kilts, this is the text for you.—Bloomsbury Review

[This book] should be of great interest to historians in general as an illustration of the creative ways in which history is interpreted and taught outside academia. It should be of particular interest to students of Appalachia.—Journal of Appalachian Studies

A thoughtful, investigative publication, Highland Heritage will interest both American and Scottish readers.—Scots Magazine

Examines the nature of heritage and the ways in which people reclaim and change a 'past' in order to connect with forebears as well as others in the present. . . . Anthropologists, ethnographers, and students of Southern studies will find Ray's work valuable.—Choice

Ray, attracted by the persistence of ethnic identity that links Scotland with North Carolina, offers a fascinating portrayal of the Scottish American manifestation of this heritage movement. . . . Richly informative about the power of heritage in postmodern society. . . . Readers interested in the creation and power of heritage, whether Scottish or not, will find this a stimulating book.—Journal of Southern History

Ray has produced a fascinating account of a comparatively modern (post WWII) movement amongst Scottish Americans to construct a heritage. . . . As a textbook, this would be a thought-provoking and enjoyable addition to local history, oral history, and ethnic history syllabi, as well as those in anthropology and sociology.—H-Net Book Review

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