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Prominent Scottish Americans

Lord Bacon expressed his regret that the lives of eminent men were not more frequently written, and added that, "though kings, princes, and great personages be few, yet there are many excellent men who deserve better fate than vague reports and barren elegies." Of no country is this more true than the United States. An examination of the innumerable early biographical dictionaries with which the shelves of our public libraries are cumbered, will show that the bulk of the life sketches of the individuals therein commemorated are vague and unsatisfactory. In nearly every case little or no information is given of the parentage or origin of the subject, and indeed one work goes so far as to say that such information is unnecessary, the mere fact of American birth being sufficient. However pleasing such statements may be from an ultra patriotic viewpoint it is very unsatisfactory from the biological or historical side of the question, which is undoubtedly the most important to be considered. The neglect of these items of origin, etc., makes the task of positively identifying certain individuals as of Scottish origin or descent a very difficult one. One may feel morally certain that a particular individual from his name or features (if there be a portrait) is of Scottish origin, but without a definite statement to that effect the matter must in most cases be left an open question. One other cause of uncertainty, and it is a very annoying one, is the careless method of many biographers in putting down a man's origin as "Irish," "from Ireland," "from the north of Ireland," etc., where they clearly mean to state that the individual concerned is descended from one of the many thousands of Scots who settled in Ulster in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Notwithstanding this uncertainty the proportion of men of undoubted Scottish origin who have reached high distinction, and whose influence has had such far reaching scope in the United States, is phenomenal. "Let anyone," says Dinsmore, "scrutinize the list of names of distinguished men in our annals; names of men eminent in public life from President down; men distinguished in the Church, in the Army, in the Navy, at the Bar, on the Bench, in Medicine and Surgery, in Education, trade, commerce, invention, discovery—in any and all of the arts which add to the freedom, enlightenment, and wealth of the world, and the convenience and comfort of mankind; names which have won luster in every honorable calling—let him scrutinize the list" and he will be astonished to find how large a proportion of these names represent men of Scottish birth or Scottish descent. In these pages it is obviously impossible to mention every Scot who has achieved distinction—to do so would require a large biographical dictionary. We can here only select a few names in each class from early colonial times to the present day.

The most famous family of Colonial times was that of the Livingstons of Livingston Manor, famed alike for their ability and their patriotism. The first of the family in America was Robert Livingston (1654-1725), born at Ancrum, Roxburghshire, who came to America about 1672. He married Alida (Schuyler) Van Rensselaer. His eldest son, Philip (1686-1749), second Lord of the Manor, succeeded him and added greatly to the family wealth and lands by his business enterprise. Peter Van Brugh Livingston (1710-92), second son of Philip, was President of the first Provincial Congress. Another son, Philip (1716-78), was Member of the General Assembly for the City of New York, Member of Congress in 1774 and 1776, and one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. A third son was William (1723-90), Governor of New Jersey. Other prominent members of this family were Robert R. Livingston (1746-1813), and Edward (1764-1836). The former was Member of the Continental Congress, Chancellor of the State of New York (1777-1801), Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1781-83), Minister to France (1801-05), and Negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase (1803). He administered the oath of office to George Washington on his assuming the office of President. Edward was Member of Congress from New York (1795-1801), Mayor of New York City (1801-03), Member of Congress from Louisiana (1823-29), United States Senator (1829-31), Secretary of State (1831-33), and Minister to France (1833-35). Robert Fulton, the inventor, married a daughter of the Livingstons and thus got the necessary financial backing to make the Clermont a success. A sister of Edward was married to General Montgomery of Quebec fame, another to Secretary of War Armstrong, and a third to General Morgan Lewis.

The Bells of New Hampshire descended from John Bell, the Londonderry settler of 1718, gave three governors to New Hampshire and one to Vermont. Luther V. Bell, formerly Superintendent of the McLean Asylum, Somerville, Massachusetts, was another of his descendants. The McNutts of Londonderry, New Hampshire, are descended from William McNaught, who settled there in 1718. The McNaughts came originally from Kilquhanite in Galloway. The Bean family, descended from John Bean who came to America in 1660, were pioneers in new settlements in New Hampshire and Maine, and bore the burden of such a life and profited by it. About one hundred of them were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. The Macdonough family of Delaware is also of Scottish descent. Thomas Macdonough, the famous naval officer, was of the third generation in this country. The Corbit family of Delaware are descended from Daniel Corbit, a Quaker born in Scotland in 1682. The Forsyths of Georgia are descended from Robert Forsyth, born in Scotland about 1754, who entered the Congressional Army and became a Captain of Lee's Light Horse in 1776. The Forsyths of New York State trace their descent to two brothers from Aberdeenshire (John and Alexander). The bulk of the Virginia Gordons appear to have been from Galloway.

Alexander Breckenridge, a Scot, came to America about 1728, settling in Pennsylvania and later in Virginia. One of his sons, Robert, was an energetic Captain of Rangers during the Indian wars, and died before the close of the Revolutionary War. By his second wife, also of Scottish descent, he had several sons who achieved fame and success. One of these sons, John Breckenridge (1760-1808), became Attorney-General of Kentucky in 1795; served in the state legislature 1797-1800; drafted the famous Kentucky resolutions in 1798; was United States Senator from Kentucky (1801-05) and Attorney-General in Jefferson's Cabinet from 1805 till his death. Among the sons of John Breckenridge were Robert Jefferson Breckenridge (1800-71), clergyman and author, and Joseph Cabell Breckenridge. John Cabell Breckenridge, son of Joseph C. Breckenridge, was Vice-President of the United States (1857-61), candidate of the Southern Democrats for President in 1860, General in the Confederate Armies (1862-64), Confederate Secretary of War till 1865. Joseph Cabell Breckenridge (b. 1840), son of Robert J. Breckenridge, also served with distinction in the Civil War, and took an active part in the Santiago campaign during the Spanish-American War. Henry Breckenridge (b. 1886), son of Joseph C. Breckenridge, was Assistant Secretary of War, and served with the American Expeditionary Forces in the Argonne. William Campbell Preston Breckenridge (1837-1904), son of Robert J. Breckenridge, was Member of the Forty-ninth Congress.

The descendants of James McClellan, kin of the McClellans of Galloway, Scotland, who was appointed Constable at the town meeting held in Worcester in March, 1724, have written their name large in the medical and military annals of this country. Some of his descendants are noticed under Physicians. The most famous of the family was General George Brinton MacClellan (1826-85), Major-General in the United States Army during the Civil War, unsuccessful candidate of the Democratic Party for President in 1864, and Governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881. The General's son, George B. McClellan (b. 1865), was Mayor of New York (1903 and 1905) and is now a Professor in Princeton. James Bulloch, born in Scotland c. 1701, emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, c. 1728. In the following year he married Jean Stobo, daughter of the Rev. Archibald Stobo, and was the first ancestor of the late President Roosevelt's mother. His son, Archibald Bulloch (d. 1777), was Colonial Governor of Georgia and Commander of the State's forces in 1776-77, and signed the first Constitution of Georgia as President. He would have been one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence had not official duties called him, home. A descendant of his, James Dunwoody Bulloch, uncle of the late President Roosevelt, was Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy and Confederate States Naval Agent abroad. Irvine S. Bulloch, another uncle of Roosevelt's, was Sailing Master of the Alabama when in battle with the U.S.S. Kearsarge. Another of this family was William B. Bulloch (1776-1852), lawyer and State Senator of Georgia. The Chambers family of Trenton, New Jersey, are descended from two brothers, John and Robert Chambers, who came over in the ship Henry and Francis in 1685.

In the eighteenth century many natives of Dumfriesshire emigrated to the American colonies, and of these perhaps the most prominent were those descended from John Johnston of Stapleton, Dumfriesshire, an officer in a Scottish regiment in the French service. His second son, Gabriel, became Governor of North Carolina. In the house of the Governor's brother, Gilbert, it is stated that General Marion signed the commission for the celebrated band known as "Marion's Men." Among the more prominent descendants of Gilbert Johnston are: (1) James, who became a Colonel on the staff of General Rutherford during the Revolution and served in several engagements; (2) William, M.D., who married a daughter of General Peter Forney, and died in 1855. This William had five sons: (1) James, a Captain in the Confederate Army; (2) Robert, a Brigadier-General; (3) William, a Colonel; (4) Joseph Forney, born in 1843, Captain in the Confederate Army, Governor of Alabama from 1896 to 1900, and United States Senator for Alabama in 1907; (5) Bartlett, an officer in the Confederate Navy. Samuel Johnston, a nephew of Gilbert's, was the Naval Officer of North Carolina in 1775, Treasurer during the Revolution, and Governor of North Carolina from 1787 to 1789, President of the Convention that finally adopted the State Constitution, and first Senator elected by his state in the United States Congress in 1789. His son, James, was the largest planter in the United States on his death in 1865. Gilbert's brother Robert, was an attorney and civil engineer. His son, Peter, served as Lieutenant in the legion which Colonel Henry Lee recruited in Virginia, and after the war became Judge of the South-Western Circuit in Virginia, and Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. He married Mary Wood, a niece of Patrick Henry. Their eighth son, Joseph Eccleston Johnston, born in 1807, graduated from West Point in 1829, served in the Federal Army in all its campaigns, up to the time of the Civil War. Although holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and Quarter-Master-General, he resigned and joined the Confederate Army, and rendered brilliant service in its ranks. Another eminent individual of this name was General Albert Sydney Johnston, the son of a physician, John Johnston, the descendant of a Scottish family long settled in Connecticut. Christopher Johnston (1822-1891), a descendant of the Poldean branch of the Annandale Johnstons, was professor of surgery in the University of Maryland. His son, also named Christopher (d. 1914), graduated M.D., practised for eight years, studied ancient and modern languages, and eventually became Professor of Oriental History and Archaeology in Johns Hopkins University. He was one of the most distinguished Oriental scholars this country has produced.

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), one of the founders of the Republic, served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, but it was as a Statesman of the highest ability that he acquired his great fame. He was one of the most prominent Members of the Continental Congress (1782-83), of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and Secretary of the Treasury (1789-95). He was born in the West Indies, the son of a Scots father and a French mother.

Thomas Leiper (1745-1825), born in Strathaven, Lanarkshire, emigrated to Maryland in 1763, was one of the first to favor separation from the mother country, and raised a fund for open resistance to the Crown.

Robert Stuart (1785-1848), pioneer and fur-trader, born at Callander, Perthshire, a grandson of Rob Roy's bitterest enemy. In 1810, in company with his uncle, John Jacob Astor, and several others, he founded the fur-trading colony of Astoria. His share in this undertaking is fully described in Washington Irving's Astoria. In 1817 Stuart settled at Mackinac as agent of the American Fur Company, and also served as Commissioner for the Indian tribes. General George Bartram, of Scottish parentage, was one of the "Committee of Correspondence" appointed to take action on the "Chesapeake Affair" in 1807, when war with Britain seemed imminent, and was active in military affairs during the war of 1812. Allan Pinkerton (1819-84), born in the Gorbals, Glasgow, organized the United States Secret Service Division of the United States Army in 1861, discovered the plot to assassinate President Lincoln on his way to his inauguration in 1861, and also broke up the "Molly Maguires," etc. William Walker (1824-60), the filibuster, was born in Tennessee of Scots parentage.

Rev. George Keith, a native of Aberdeen, became Surveyor-General of New Jersey in 1684. He founded the town of Freehold and marked out the dividing line between East and West Jersey. In 1693 he issued the first printed protest against human slavery, "An Exhortation & Caution to Friends concerning Buying and Keeping of Negroes," New York, 1693. James Alexander (1690-1756), a Scot, was disbarred for attempting the defense of John Peter Zenger, the printer, in 1735. Along with Benjamin Franklin he was one of the founders of the American Philosophical Society. Andrew Hamilton (1676-1741), the most eminent lawyer of his time, Attorney-General of Pennsylvania, and chief Commissioner for building Independence Hall in Philadelphia, was born in Scotland. For his championship of the freedom of the press and his successful defense of Zenger he was hailed by Governor Morris as "the day-star of the Revolution." His son James Hamilton, was the first native-born Governor of Pennsylvania and Mayor of Philadelphia. James Breghin or Brechin, Missionary, born in Scotland, took a prominent part in the affairs of Virginia (1705-19) and was an active supporter of Commissary Blair. Charles Anderson, another Missionary, probably a graduate of Aberdeen, served in Virginia from 1700 to 1719, was also a supporter of Blair. James Graham, first Recorder of the city of New York (1683-1700) and Speaker of Assembly (1691-99) was born in Scotland. Thomas Gordon (d. Perth Amboy, 1722), born in Pitlochrie, was Attorney-General of the Eastern District (1698), Chief Secretary and Registrar in 1702, later Speaker of Assembly, and in 1709 Chief Justice and Receiver-General and Treasurer of the province. Alexander Skene, who previously held office in Barbadoes, settled in North Carolina about 1696. In 1717 he was Member of Council and Assistant to the Judge of Admiralty to try a number of pirates. In 1719 he was elected Member of the New House of Assembly and became leader of the movement for the Proprietary Government. He was "looked upon as a man that understood public affairs very well." Major Richard Stobo (1727-c. 1770), a native of Glasgow, served in the Canadian campaign against the French. It was he who guided the Fraser Highlanders up the Heights of Abraham. Archibald Kennedy (c. 1687-1763), a relative of the Earl of Cassilis, was Collector of Customs of the Port of New York and Member of the Provincial Council. In his letters to headquarters and in his reports he urged the importance of the American Colonies to the mother country and advocated measures which, if carried out, would undoubtedly have strengthened their loyalty and added to their wealth and prosperity. Alexander Barclay, grandson of the Apologist of the Quakers, was Comptroller of the Customs under the Crown in Philadelphia from 1762 till his death in 1771. William Ronald, a native of Scotland, was a delegate in the Virginia Convention of 1788. His brother, General Andrew Ronald, was one of the Counsel representing the British merchants in the so-called British Debts Case. William Houston, son of Sir Patrick Houston, was a Delegate to the Continental Congress (1784-87) and a Depute from Georgia to the Convention for revising the Federal Constitution. His portrait, as well as that of his brother's, was destroyed by fire during the Civil War. Sir William Dunbar (c. 1740-1810), a pioneer of Louisiana, held important trusts under the Federal government and was a correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. Rev. Henry Patillo (1736-1801), born in Scotland, advocated separation from the mother country on every possible occasion, and was a Member of the Provincial Council in 1775. John Dickinson (1732-1808), Member of the Continental Congress of 1765, of the Federal Convention of 1787, and President of Pennsylvania (1782-85), was also the founder of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Dickinsons came from Dundee in early colonial times. John Ross, purchasing agent for the Continental Army, was born in Tain, Ross-shire. He lost about one hundred thousand dollars by his services to his adopted country, but managed to avoid financial shipwreck. John Harvie, born at Gargunnock, died 1807, was Member of the Continental Congress (1777), signer of the Articles of Confederation the following year, and in 1788 was appointed Secretary of the Commonwealth. John McDonnell (1779-1846), born in Scotland, was in business in Detroit in 1812, and "thoroughly Americanized." He opposed the British commander's orders after the surrender of Hull, and redeemed many captives from the Indians. Became Member of State Constitutional Convention (1835), State Senator (1835-37), and Collector of the Port of Detroit (1839-41). John Johnstone Adair (b. 1807), graduate of Glasgow University, settled in Michigan, filled several important positions and became State Treasurer, State Senator, and Auditor General. Colonel James Burd (1726-93), born at Ormiston, Midlothian, took part with General Forbes in the expedition to redeem the failure of Braddock. General John Forbes (1710-59), born in Pittencrieff, Fifeshire, was founder of Pittsburgh. He was noted for his obstinacy and strength of character, and may have been the prototype of the Scotsman of the prayer: "Grant, O Lord, that the Scotchman may be right; for, if wrong, he is eternally wrong." Captain William Bean was the first white man to bring his family to Tennessee. His son, Russell Bean, was the first white child born in the state. His descendant, Dr. James Bean, died in a snowstorm on Mont Blanc while collecting specimens for the Smithsonian Institution.

George Rogers Clark (1752-1818), to whose prowess is due the possession of the territory Northwest of the Ohio, secured by the peace of 1783, was of Scottish descent. David Crockett (1786-1836), was most probably of the same origin, though vaguely said to be "son of an Irishman." The name is distinctly Scottish (Dumfriesshire). Samuel McDowell (1735-1817), took an active part in the movement leading to the War of Independence and was President of the first State Constitutional Convention of Kentucky (1792). Colonel James Innes, born in Canisbay, Caithness, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of all the forces in the expedition to the Ohio in 1754 by Governor Dinwiddie.

Isaac Magoon, a Scot, was the first settler of the town of Scotland (c. 1700), and gave it the name of his native country. Dr. John Stevenson, a Scot, pioneer merchant and developer of Baltimore, if not indeed its actual founder, was known as the "American Romulus." George Walker, a native of Clackmannanshire, pointed out the advantages of the present site of the Capital of the United States, and George Buchanan, another Scot, laid out Baltimore town in 1730. John Kinzie (1763-1828), the founder of Chicago, was born in Canada of Scottish parentage, the son of John MacKenzie. It is not known why he dropped the "Mac." Samuel Wilkeson (1781-1848), the man who developed Buffalo from a village to a city, was of Scottish descent. Alexander White (1814-72), born in Elgin, Scotland, was one of the earliest settlers of Chicago and did much to develop the city. Major Hugh McAlister, who served in the Revolutionary War, later founded the town of McAlisterville, Pennsylvania, was of Scots parentage. James Robertson (1742-1814), founder of Nashville, Tennessee, was of Scottish origin. His services are ranked next to Sevier's in the history of his adopted state. Walter Scott Gordon (1848-86), founder of Sheffield, Alabama, was the great-grandson of a Scot. The town of Paterson, in Putnam county, New York, was settled by Matthew Paterson, a Scottish stone-mason, in the middle of the eighteenth century, and was named after him. Lairdsville, in New York state, was named from Samuel Laird, son of a Scottish immigrant, in beginning of the eighteenth century. Paris Gibson (b. 1830), grandson of a Scot, founded and developed the town of Great Falls.

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