In North America St Andrew’s societies were at the heart of Scottish club culture. These societies were not simply set up, however, to offer migrants a means to interact socially, or to celebrate Scottish culture. At the core of the activities of St Andrew’s societies lay the provision of charity for fellow Scottish migrants in distress.
The first North American St Andrew’s Society was founded in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1729, with Philadelphia (1749), Savannah, Georgia (1750) and New York (1756) following suit. The setting up of the New York Society provides more detailed insights into how and why St Andrew’s societies were founded. It was on 19 November 1756 that ‘a number of gentlemen, natives of Scotland or of direct Scottish descent’, came together in New York City ‘and agreed to form themselves into a Scotch Society’. The argument was brought forward that, after Charleston, Philadelphia and Savannah, New York too needed an organization concerned with the welfare of Scots in the city. The declared purpose of the new society, therefore, was ‘the charitable relief of those fellow-Scotsmen, resident in New York, who might be in want or distress’. And thus the activities of the Society began. Amongst those involved in the early years were Philip Livingston, the Society’s first president and signatory of the Declaration of Independence; Malcolm Campbell, a merchant and the Society’s first treasurer; the Hon. Richard Morris, the first secretary and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New York; and Adam Thomson, M.D., who became vice-president in 1756.
Activities came to a halt—as those of many other ethnic associations—during the American War of Independence. Some feared that their loyal expression to the ‘motherland’—even if this was designated Scotland rather than Britain—might be ill-received, while others simply thought it inappropriate to continue associational pursuits at a time of crisis. In New York, where ‘many of the Revolutionary patriots had taken an active interest and part’ in the St Andrew’s Society prior to the revolution, the Society was ‘immediately reorganized’ after the war, and its constitution was adapted to work within the new political set up of the American Republic. From that new 1794 constitution of the Society we can also gain further insight into the motivation behind its establishment:
When people fall into misfortune and distress in any part of the world, remote from the place of their nativity, they are ever ready to apply for relief to those originally from the same country, on the supposition that they may possibly have connections by blood with some of them, or at least know something of their relations. For these reasons, the natives of Scotland, and those descended of Scotch Parentage, in the State of New York, have formed themselves into a Charitable Society, the principal design of which is to raise and keep a sum of money in readiness for the above laudable purpose.
The New York Society was led by a president, two vice-presidents, six managers, two chaplains, a physician, a treasurer, a secretary and an assistant secretary—an organizational breakdown common for most St Andrew’s societies. Membership was restricted to ‘Scotsmen and the children and grandchildren of a native of Scotland’, with the payment of a $12 entrance fee, and an annual subscription of $2.50, securing membership.
The relief provided by St Andrew’s societies in North America came in diverse forms, and ranged from the handing out of cash to the provision of meal tickets, but also included the arrangement of onward rail tickets to other cities, or even return passages to Britain. The type of aid provided was also dependent on the recipient: while widows or old people were often given cash in support, those who could work—and were thus considered able to actively improve their lives themselves, tended to receive other forms of support, including help with relocation expenses to places where workers were needed. In any case the applications of those looking for aid were carefully scrutinized, with detailed investigations taking place. The responsibility for these investigations was often shared amongst Society managers, but was also one of the few more active ethnic associational domains for Scottish women keen to become more involved. The St Andrew’s Society of New York, for example, appointed a Scottish woman to visits those who were too old, or otherwise incapacitated, to establish their needs, reporting her findings to the St Andrew’s Society’s Board of Managers.
History of the Society at archive.org
Roster of members at archive.org
Collection of St Andrew’s Society menus, What’s on the menu collection, NYPL
Relevant articles from the New York Times Archive