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Scottish American
Ameireaganaich Albannach
Reese Witherspoon
Total population
Scottish Americans
20-25 million[1][2][3][4]
Up to 8.3% of the U.S. population
Scotch-Irish Americans
27 to 30 million[5][6]
Up to 10% of the U.S. population
5,827,046 (Self-reported only, 2008)
1.9% of the total U.S. population[7]
Regions with significant populations
Appalachia, New England
Southern United States
American English
Presbyterianism, Baptist, Pentecostalism, Methodist and Roman Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
British Americans (Cornish Americans · Scotch-Irish Americans · English Americans · Welsh Americans· Irish Americans[8]

Scottish Americans or Scots Americans (Scottish Gaelic: Ameireaganaich Albannach) are citizens of the United States whose ancestry originates wholly or partly in Scotland. 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 the province of Ulster in Ireland (see Plantation of Ulster) and thence, beginning about five generations later, to North America in large numbers during the eighteenth century.

In the 2009 US Community Census Survey, approximately 6.85 million Americans self-identified as having Scottish ancestry only however, approximately 27.5 million Americans have reported Scottish ancestry either alone, or in combination with another nationality. Although the northern states have a healthy population of Scottish-Americans, the vast majority of those claiming Scottish descent reside in southern states such as North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Historical population

Explorers and traders

The first Scots in North 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.[10] 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.[11] The controversial Zeno letters have been cited in support of a claim that Henry Sinclair, earl of Orkney, visited Nova Scotia in 1398.[12] 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.[13]

After the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, James VI promoted joint expeditions overseas.[14] The earliest Scottish communities in America were formed by traders and planters rather than farmer settlers.[15] 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.[16] 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.[16][17] 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.[16]

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,[18] a conflict which had also seen the first use of Scottish Highland regiments as Indian fighters.[16] More than 50,000 Scots, principally from the west coast,[16] settled in the Thirteen Colonies between 1763 and 1776, the majority of these in their own communities in the South,[18] especially North Carolina, although Scottish individuals and families also began to appear as professionals and artisans in every American town.[16] Scots arriving in Florida and the Gulf Coast traded extensively with Native Americans.[19]

Patriots and Loyalists

The civic tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment contributed to the intellectual ferment of the American Revolution.[16] In 1740, the Glasgow philosopher Francis Hutcheson argued for a right of colonial resistance to tyranny.[20] Scotland's leading thinkers of the revolutionary age, David Hume and Adam Smith, opposed the use of force against the rebellious colonies.[21] 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.”[22]

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.[23] Other Founding Fathers like James Madison had no ancestral connection but were imbued with ideas drawn from Scottish moral philosophy.[24] 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. Another person of note was personal friend of George Washington, General Hugh Mercer, who fought for Charles Edward Stuart at the Battle of Culloden.

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.[25] 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.[15]

Most Scottish Americans had commercial ties with the old country or clan allegiances and stayed true to the Crown.[26] The Scottish Highland communities of upstate New York and the Cape Fear valley of North Carolina were centers of Loyalist resistance.[16] 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.[27] Many Scottish American Loyalists emigrated to Canada after the war.[16]

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.[28] Immigration from Scotland peaked in the nineteenth century, when more than a million Scots left for the United States,[29] taking advantage of the regular Atlantic steam-age shipping industry which was itself largely a Scottish creation,[30] contributing to a revolution in transatlantic communication.[16] Scottish Emigration in the United States followed, to a lesser extent, during the twentieth century, when the Scottish economy declined.[31] This peaked in the first decade of the twentieth century, causing a hard life for the country's population. So many qualified workers Irish - Scots emigrated overseas, a part of which, established in Canada, would go the United States.[32]

Tartan Day

Main article: Tartan Day

The Annual Tartan Week celebrations come to life every April with the largest celebration taking place in New York City. Thousands descend onto the streets of the Big Apple to celebrate their heritage, culture and the impact of the Scottish Americans in America today.

Hundreds of pipers, drummers, Highland dancers, Scottie Dogs and celebrities march down the streets drowned in their family tartans and Saltire flags whilst interacting with the thousands of onlookers.

NYC is not the only large city to celebrate Tartan Day, there is also large events that take place in Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, California, Chicago, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Québec, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and throughout Europe.


In the nineteenth century, American authors and educators adopted Scotland as a model for cultural independence.[16] 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.[16] 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.[33] By one estimate, 75% of U.S. presidents could claim some Scottish ancestry.[34]

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, James B. McPherson, Jeb Stuart and John B. Gordon were of Scottish descent, George B. McClellan and Stonewall Jackson Scotch-Irish.[35]

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.[36] Isabella Cannon, the former Mayor of Raleigh, North Carolina, served as the first female mayor of a U.S. state capital.[37]

American icon Uncle Sam

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, 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.[38] In 1903, he became the first man to drive across the United States.[38] David Dunbar Buick, another Scottish immigrant, founded Buick in 1903.[38] The Scottish-born William Blackie transformed the Caterpillar Tractor Company into a multinational corporation.[38]


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.[39] Lockheed was started by two brothers, Allan and Malcolm Loughead, in 1926.[39] Douglas was founded by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. in 1921; he launched the world's first commercial passenger plane, the DC-3, in 1935.[39] McDonnell Aircraft was founded by James Smith McDonnell, in 1939, and became famous for its military jets.[39] In 1967, McDonnell and Douglas merged and jointly developed jet aircraft, missiles and spacecraft.[39]


Scottish Americans were pioneers in human spaceflight. The Mercury and Gemini capsules were built by McDonnell.[39] 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.[39]

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.[39] 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.[39]


Scottish Americans have also been leaders in computing and information technology. The Galashiels-born James Graham Johnston and Thomas J. Watson, of Scotch-Irish descent, developed an early tabulating machine in 1916 and founded IBM in 1917.[40][36]

Scottish Americans Howard Aiken and Grace Murray Hopper created the first automatic sequence computer in 1939.[36] Hopper was also the co-inventor of the computer language COBOL.[36]

Ross Perot, another Scottish American entrepreneur, made his fortune from Electronic Data Systems, an outsourcing company he established in 1962.[36]

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.[36] Glasgow-born Microsoft employee Richard Tait helped to develop the Encarta encyclopedia and co-created the popular board game Cranium.[36]


Scottish Americans have helped to define the modern American diet by introducing many distinctive foods.

Fried chicken was introduced into the Southern Colonies by Scottish settlers. 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.Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell in 1962, introduced Tex-Mex food to a mainstream audience.[41][42] Marketing executive Arch West, born to Scottish immigrant parents, developed Doritos.[43]

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 introduced and encouraged by Scottish Gaelic speaking settlers from North Uist.[44] 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.[44] 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.[45] 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.[46]

Number of Scottish Americans

The number of Americans of Scottish descent today is estimated to be 20 to 25 million[1][2][3][4] (up to 8.3% of the total US population), and Scotch-Irish, 27 to 30 million[5][6] (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,

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,[47] and because areas where people reported "American" ancestry were the places where, historically, Scottish and Scotch-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.

Americans of Scottish descent outnumber the population of Scotland, where 4,459,071 or 88.09% of people identified as ethnic Scottish in the 2001 Census.[47][48]

1790 U.S Ancestry
Based on Evaluated census figures[49]
2000 U.S Ancestry
Self-reported only, from the U.S census[49]
Ancestry group Number
(1790 estimate)
% of
Ancestry Number
(2000 count)
% of
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[50] 100 Scotch-Irish 4,319,232 1.5
British (Total) 2,500,000 62.5 British (Total)
36,564,465 12.9

2006 American Community Survey

Scottish Americans by state

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



The states with the top percentages of Scottish:



Presidents of Scottish or Scots-Irish descent

At least twenty three presidents of the United States have some Scottish or Scotch-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, Scotch-Irish ancestry.

James Monroe (Scottish & Welsh)
5th President 1817-25: His paternal 2nd great-grandfather, Andrew Monroe, emigrated to America from Ross-shire, Scotland in the mid-17th century.
Andrew Jackson (Scotch-Irish)
7th President 1829-37: : He was born in the predominantly Ulster-Scots Waxhaws area of South Carolina two years after his parents left Boneybefore, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim. A heritage centre in the village pays tribute to the legacy of 'Old Hickory', the People's President. Andrew Jackson then moved to Tennessee, where he served as Governor[52]
James Knox Polk (Scotch-Irish)
11th President, 1845-49: His ancestors were among the first Ulster-Scots settlers, emigrating from Coleraine in 1680 to become a powerful political family in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He moved to Tennessee and became its governor before winning the presidency.[53]
James Buchanan (Scotch-Irish)
15th President, 1857-61: Born in a log cabin (which has been relocated to his old school in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania), 'Old Buck' cherished his origins: "My Ulster blood is a priceless heritage". The Buchanans were originally from Deroran, near Omagh in County Tyrone where the ancestral home still stands.[53]
Andrew Johnson (Scotch-Irish & English)
17th President, 1865-69: His grandfather left Mounthill, near Larne in County Antrim around 1750 and settled in North Carolina. Andrew worked there as a tailor and ran a successful business in Greeneville, Tennessee, before being elected Vice-President. He became President following Abraham Lincoln's assassination.[53]
Ulysses S. Grant (Scottish, Scotch-Irish & English)
18th President, 1869-77: The home of his maternal great-grandfather, John Simpson, at Dergenagh, County Tyrone, is the location for an exhibition on the eventful life of the victorious Civil War commander who served two terms as President. Grant visited his ancestral homeland in 1878.[7]
Chester A. Arthur (Scotch-Irish & English)
21st President, 1881-85: His election was the start of a quarter-century in which the White House was occupied by men of Ulster-Scots origins. His family left Dreen, near Cullybackey, County Antrim, in 1815. There is now an interpretive centre, alongside the Arthur Ancestral Home, devoted to his life and times.[53][54]
Grover Cleveland (Scotch-Irish & English)
22nd and 24th President, 1885-89 and 1893-97: Born in New Jersey, he was the maternal grandson of merchant Abner Neal, who emigrated from County Antrim in the 1790s. He is the only president to have served non-consecutive terms.[53]
Benjamin Harrison (Scotch-Irish & English)
23rd President, 1889-93: His mother, Elizabeth Irwin, had Ulster-Scots roots through her two great-grandfathers, James Irwin and William McDowell. Harrison was born in Ohio and served as a brigadier general in the Union Army before embarking on a career in Indiana politics which led to the White House.[53][55]
William McKinley (Scotch-Irish & English)
25th President, 1897-1901: Born in Ohio, the descendant of a farmer from Conagher, near Ballymoney, County Antrim, he was proud of his ancestry and addressed one of the national Scotch-Irish congresses held in the late 19th century. His second term as president was cut short by an assassin's bullet.[53][56]
Theodore Roosevelt (Scottish, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, English & French)
26th President, 1901-09: His maternal great-great-great grandmother, Jean Stobo, emigrated to America from Scotland with her parents in 1699.
William Howard Taft (Scotch-Irish & English)
27th President 1909-13[57][58]
Woodrow Wilson (Scottish & Scotch-Irish)
28th President, 1913-21: His Scottish maternal grandparents, Rev. Dr Thomas Woodrow and Marion Williamson, emigrated to America in the 1830s. Throughout his career he reflected on the influence of his ancestral values on his constant quest for knowledge and fulfillment.[53]
Warren G. Harding (Scotch-Irish & English)
29th President 1921-23[59]
Harry S. Truman (Scotch-Irish, English & German)
33rd President 1945-53[60][61]
Richard Nixon (Scotch-Irish, Irish, English & German)
37th President, 1969-74: The Nixon ancestors left Ulster in the mid-18th century; the Quaker Milhous family ties were with County Antrim and County Kildare.[53]
Jimmy Carter (Scotch-Irish & English)
39th President 1977-1981 (County Antrim)[7]
Ronald Reagan (Irish, Scottish, Scotch-Irish & English)
40th President 1981-89: His great grandfather, John Wilson, emigrated to North America from Paisley in 1832.[62]
George H. W. Bush (Scottish, Irish, Scotch-Irish & English)
41st President 1989-93: His great-great-great grandmother, Catherine Walker (nee McLelland), was Scottish.
Bill Clinton (Scotch-Irish & English)
42nd President 1993-2001 (County Fermanagh)[53][63]
George W. Bush (Scottish, Scotch-Irish & English)
43rd President 2001-09: His great-great-great-great grandmother, Catherine Walker (nee McLelland), was Scottish.
Barack Obama (Kenyan & English, with others including Scottish)
44th President 2009-present[64]

Vice Presidents of Scottish or Scotch-Irish descent

John C. Calhoun (Scotch-Irish)
10th Vice President 1825-32: Staunch advocate of states rights
George M. Dallas (Scottish)
15th Vice President 1845-49: Former Secretary of War

Other American presidents of Scottish or Scotch-Irish descent

Sam Houston (Scotch-Irish)
President of Texas 1836-38 and 1841-44 [65]
Jefferson Davis (Scotch-Irish)
President of Confederate States of America 1861-1865
Arthur Saint Clair (Scottish)
President under the Articles of Confederation 1788

Scottish Gaelic language in the United States

In the 17th and 18th centuries, tens of thousands of Scots from Scotland, and Scotch-Irish from the north of Ireland arrived in the American colonies. Today, an estimated 20 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.[66]


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".[68] "Scottish Heritage Month" is also being promoted by community groups around the United States and Canada.[69]

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

Dunedin, Florida (left) was founded in 1882 by two Scottish merchants, J.O. Douglas and James Somerville and is named after Dùn Èideann, Scottish Gaelic for "Edinburgh" (right).[70]

Some Scottish placenames in USA include:

See also


External links

  • Scottish Americans
  • Scotland's Mark on America, by George Fraser Black, Ph.D. at Project Gutenberg
  • Scottish Emigration Database
  • Scotlands People - Official government source for Scottish roots
  • US Scots: includes extensive listing of Highland games events

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