Data on the number of Scottish migrants arriving in North America for the period before the American Revolution is sparse. Estimates suggest that, prior to the mid-seventeenth century, around 200 Scottish settlers had made their way to English plantations. Several early ventures, for instance to South Carolina, ended in tragedy, and, overall, the number of Scots emigrating was decreasing. While the Union of 1707 officially opened the now British Empire for Scots, numbers were still low, approximately 30,000 Scots arriving in North America in the period 1700–60. Although many of them were attracted by the availability of land, there was also a strong pull to the emerging urban centres. By the time the first census was taken in the United States in 1790, the distribution of those who considered themselves ‘Scotch’ followed the broader settlement patterns of the expanding United States, with centres of settlement traceable in particular in Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York.. The figures should be seen as a minimum of Scots resident in the early Republic as a number of factors, including the placing of Ulster-Scots in categorizations, does, in all likelihood, provide some distortions.
Later on in the nineteenth century census statistics offer a more detailed view on those migrants who had still been born in Scotland. While this does not reveal the overall number of people with Scottish ancestry in the US in that period, it documents the settlement patterns of recent arrivals. New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts had remained main centres for Scots, but westward expansion in the course of the nineteenth century had had a clear effect, with Illinois, Michigan and California also boasting strong numbers.
In the aftermath of the American Revolution, a significant number of so-called Loyalists made it north of the border, and many of them were Scots. Prior to that internal North American migration, Scots were prominent among the many fur traders and trappers, at times only spending a sojourn in Canada, working for the Hudson’s Bay Company or the Northwest Company. Overall, however, the number of Scots coming to Canada (initially British North America) was characterized by a constant, but at first comparatively small, flow of new arrivals from Scotland, certainly until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Lowlanders made up the majority of arrivals after 1880, while the migration of Highlanders, despite a number of distinct settlements thereafter, largely took place prior to 1880. Census statistics after Canadian Confederation provide us with more detailed insights into the number of arrivals who were born in Scotland. Overall, statistics indicate a rate of somewhere between 12 per cent and 16.5 per cent of Scots arriving in British North America in the mid- to late eighteenth century. The year 1881 saw the first post-Confederation coast-to-coast census, revealing a particularly strong Scottish cluster in Prince Edward Island (44.9 per cent Scots). Other centres of Scottish settlement were Nova Scotia with over 30 per cent, and Ontario with 20 per cent. As a result of westward expansion the prairie states also became an increasingly attractive destination for Scots, with 16.7 per cent settled in Manitoba in 1881. Overall, and by 1911, 21 per cent of Canada’s British-born population had Scottish roots. Between 1919 and 1930 alone, nearly 200,000 Scottish immigrants arrived in Canada.
Image: Registering emigrants, Castle Garden, New York, 1866, Library of Congress