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Scottish Settlers

by Robert J. Cain, 2006
Additional research provided by Lloyd Johnson, David A. Norris, and George W. Troxler.

Scots—as individuals and in families—have been in North Carolina since the beginning of permanent settlement. The first Proprietary governor of Albemarle, William Drummond, was born in Scotland, and later Scots-such as the Glaswegian Thomas Pollock, who came to North Carolina in 1683-achieved prominence in the mercantile and political life of the colony. The earliest surviving court and land grant records reveal modest numbers of distinctively Scottish names.

The first sizable group of Scots to arrive in North Carolina in a body was the so-called Argyll Colony of 1739, which came from the Highland county of Argyll and settled on the Cape Fear River between Cross Creek and the Lower Little River. Numbering some 350 men, women, and children, the group was led by Highland gentry who provided much of the financing for the venture and received the largest grants of land. Gabriel Johnston, a Lowland Scot and North Carolina governor from 1734 to 1752, was accused of showing favoritism to his compatriots, and the General Assembly exempted the newcomers from taxation for ten years after their arrival.

The second large wave of Highland immigrants began in the late 1760s and reached its peak in 1774. It is not known exactly how many Highlanders came to North Carolina, but in 1784 James Knox estimated that 20,000 Highlanders migrated to America during this second wave. Most of the Highlanders who came as part of the second wave settled in the Upper Cape Fear region that includes modern-day Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, and Moore Counties. Many Highlanders lived in the rural areas on the roads leading to the town of Cross Creek (later Fayetteville), which was chartered by the General Assembly in 1760. The abundance of pine trees in the Sandhills enabled these settlers to make their living in naval stores, extracting the sap and processing it into tar, pitch, and turpentine, which they sent down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington on flatboats made of logs. Many Highlanders were also small farmers growing crops and raising horses, cattle, and hogs.

Other individuals and families found their way directly from the Scottish Highlands to North Carolina during the remainder of the colonial era, mainly through the ports of Brunswick and Wilmington. The colony, in fact, came to be extolled as "the best poor man's country" as promotional tracts and letters home praised its climate and soil and the ease with which land could be acquired. Lowland Scots also immigrated individually or in small groups to North Carolina and other colonies throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because Lowland Scots were widely dispersed and more readily assimilated in the colonies, their story is less easily told than that of their Highland compatriots. While there were far fewer Lowland Scots than Highland Scots in North Carolina, some Lowlanders filled important roles as merchants, high-ranking officials, or military officers. Others ranged from poor immigrants and indentured servants to well-educated teachers, physicians, and clergymen.

The migration of Scotch-Irish settlers to America began in the 1680s but did not occur in large numbers until the 1720s. Pennsylvania was the most popular destination, but Scotch-Irish immigrants also settled in South Carolina, New Jersey, and Maryland. The Scotch-Irish, or Ulster Scots, were descendants of the Lowland Scots, whom James I of England had settled in Ulster, the northern and most isolated and conservative part of Ireland. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the native aristocracy of Ulster had rebelled against the English government and its newly established Anglican Church. The earliest concentrated settlement of Scotch-Irish immigrants in North Carolina was in Duplin and New Hanover Counties around 1740. The Scotch-Irish were also the largest ethnic group among the settlers in the Carolina backcountry in the eighteenth century, and they were the largest group among the pioneers who crossed the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains and settled in southwestern North Carolina in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Although the Scottish emigrants, in coming to America, were assured freedom to exercise their Presbyterian religion at a time when the Stuart monarchy favored spreading the Anglican Church throughout the British Isles, the most important motivation for Scottish emigration was economic. Profound changes in agricultural organization following the Jacobite insurrection of 1745 raised rents to unprecedented heights and resulted in large numbers of evictions. Entire communities often emigrated, with the enterprise many times being organized by "tacksmen"-leaseholders who traditionally held long leases from the landowner and in turn rented to tenants.

Several North Carolina Scots gained prominence in the colony, with Governor Johnston, Royal Council member John Rutherfurd, and official and planter James Murray being examples. Scots were also important in the religious life of the colony, being well represented among both Presbyterian and Anglican clergy. A Scottish immigrant, James Innes, was a notable military leader in the French and Indian War (1754-63). The military prowess of North Carolina Loyalist Scots was put to the test at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in February 1776. Although they suffered a bloody defeat in that contest, Scots constituted the backbone of North Carolina Loyalism throughout the war, and with the establishment of independence many of them sought refuge in the British colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

After the Revolutionary War, Scottish immigration to North Carolina gradually resumed and continued until the War of 1812. The number of immigrants who came to the state during this period is unknown, but Scottish port records of the 1790s and the opening years of the nineteenth century list several dozen emigrant vessels clearing for North Carolina, mainly Wilmington. After the War of 1812, at least a trickle of immigration resumed: in 1820, for example, a ship carrying migrants was cleared from Campbelltown to Wilmington. The U.S. Census of 1850 listed some 1,200 Scottish-born citizens in North Carolina, most of them residing in the counties of Cumberland, Moore, Robeson, and Richmond. In the census of 1880 the number was down to some 400. A Scottish corporation in the 1880s purchased land in Madison and Haywood Counties with a view to bringing in Scottish settlers. The venture was unsuccessful, as was the effort to bring Highland crofters (tenant farmers) to the Sandhills at about the same time. A similar attempt of the early 1890s to attract Scots to the lands of J. Bryan Grimes in Pitt County fared little better.

Immigrants from the Scottish Highlands often retained distinctive elements of their culture. The Gaelic language was spoken by some to at least a limited extent until the mid-nineteenth century. Presbyterianism continues to flourish in the areas of Scottish settlement, and Scottish music influenced the development of local musical forms. Clan societies and the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain and elsewhere in North Carolina continue to help keep alive a sense of the importance of the state's Scottish heritage.


Tyler Blethen and Curtis Wood Jr., From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina (1986).

David Dobson, Scottish Emigration to America, 1607-1785 (1994).

Ian C. C. Graham, Colonists from Scotland: Emigration to Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (1956).

Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina, 1732-1776 (1961).

Additional Resources:

Murdoch, Alexander. “Two Scottish Documents Concerning Emigration to North Carolina in 1754.” The North Carolina Historical Review 93, no. 4 (2016): 361–85.

Saint Andrews Scottish Heritage Center: #

Explanation of the terms in the Scottish Dialect. Some eighteenth century tracts concerning North Carolina, 1927; by Boyd, William Kenneth, 1879-1938. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Digital Collections.

Colonial Record Project, NC Office of Archives & History, James Murray and John Rutherford:

James Innes, NC Historical Marker D-90, NC Office of Archives and History.

Flora MacDonald, NC Historical Marker K-38, NC Office of Archives and History.

List of Land Grants to Scottish Settlers: Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, Documenting the American South, UNC Libraries.

Highland Heritage Scottish Americans in the American South, by Celeste Ray, UNC Press.

MacQueens of Queensdale: a biography of Col. James MacQueen and his descendants with an introduction containing a history of the origin of the clan MacQueen by Hon. A.W. Maclean, and the proceedings of the first Clan MacQueen meeting, at Maxton, N.C., June 3 to 5, 1913, by MacElyea, Annabella Bunting, 1916. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Digital Collections.

Expanding to the west: Settlement of the Piedmont region, 1730 to 1775  By J. Edwin Hendricks and Christopher E. Hendricks, LearnNC.

Scottish heritage at Linville By Celeste Ray, LearnNC.

MacPherson Church, NC Historical Marker I-13, NC Office of Archives & History.

Image Credit:

Flora McDonald College, May Day Scotch Dancers doing the Scottish Fling, dated between 1910-1916. From the Barden Collection, North Carolina State Archives, call #:  N.53.16.3780. Available from (accessed August 14, 2012).




Information that was shared is that we cannot specifically help with looking for parents and suggest looking through wills, estate, court minutes, deeds. I also said that in their particular case, I suggest they look to see if there is an estate record for Archibald. Also, because they know his siblings, it would be good to also look through the deed and court records of all of them. If you can prove that person A and person B are siblings and also prove that person B is the son of someone through county records, you can indirectly find your ancestors parent(s) since they are siblings, or at least step-siblings.

Hope that helps!

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library 


My research includes any plantation acres willed to a former slave.


I’m researching Scottish immigrants from the McInnis Family name. Any information would be greatly appreciated
Thank you


I am stuck at my 3rd gr-grandparents, Elizabeth Searcy (1785? Rutherford County, NC; father Richard Searcy, 1766 Albemarle, VA-abt. 1831 Rutherford County, NC) and a "McDaniel". Any assistance would be most appreciated.


My ancestor, Neill McNeill came to Bladen (later Cumberland) in the 1740s. He located on Cape Fear River area. His son Roger had Rogers Meeting House before the Bluff Church was organized. Neill left a will dated May, 1764 and mentioned children Catherine, Margaret, Flora, Mary, Ann, Roger, and Henry. I have tried for quite some time to obtain information on his family. i am a descendant of Roger's son Hector born 12/12/1785. i welcome with much interest any and all information on my family from the Cape Fear region. Many thanks in advance, I am grateful for your assistance.


I am researching my genealogy from the Western NC Counties. I was born in Avery County, which was composed of parts of surrounding counties in 1911. I have many questions, but I will ask for input on just my paternal side at this time. My DNA and some things that I gathered when I was young indicate that my father’s family was German, centered somewhat near Bavaria, but that could not necessarily be directly from the ancestors’ origins that I am looking for. Someone had told my father that an ancestral name could have originally have been Zimmerman, but that doesn’t necessarily make it correct. Another account from ‘Avery County Heritage, Volume 2’related by Elias’ youngest son, Clare, that an unusual accent and manner of speech in the family was thought by linguists to be directly related to early Elizabethan English. My paternal grandmother was born a Stamey. She married my biological grandfather William Carpenter, who died and then she married Schyler Anderson Carpenter. I know the Stamey family history in what is now Avery County back to Ephraim Alexander Stamey, who was born near Morganton (Burke Co.) about 1805. He married Nancy Howard. One of his sons, Rev. Elias Stamey settled in what was then Mitchell County. That exact area in what is now called Stamey Branch or Pyatte in Avery County. Elias married several times, but his marriage to his second wife, Mahalia Dellinger Stamey produced Charles (Charlie) 1871-1938, who married Suzy McKinney. They are the parents of my grandmother, Bertie Stamey who married my biological grandfather, William (Will) Carpenter. Will and Bertie are the parents of my late father, William Arnold Carpenter who was born on August 18, 1925. My father married Anna Belle Riddle from the Beech Mountain area of Avery County that was once in Watauga County. I have hit a wall, so to speak, and would be grateful for any information about the origins of the branch of my father’s Carpenter family and/or my grandmother’s Stamey family. I have been able to obtain volumes II and III of Avery County Heritage, and The Heritage of Watauga County, NC Volume II, but I have been looking for the first volume of either for a long time without success. I got the other Avery County books by going to the history museum in Newland, but they didn’t have the first volume. Please let me know if anyone knows how I might find the first volume of either County. I would be very grateful for that and for any information via this forum. Thank you.


I am an Irish descendant of Robert Moore, Robert Mayfield Moores that settled somewhere in Caswell County, North Carolina. Late 1700's they packed up and moved to what was then Robertson County, Tennessee. They were early tobacco farmers as well as educators in the "New Land" of that day. Do you know of or have records of what I understand is an extinct county from that area of the state? Family records document at least three 50 acre properties being sold after deaths of family members. This info is in a family Bible of kinfolks in Texas. By my records, all members of the immediate family had passed or moved to the Nashville area by the end or early beginning of the 1800's because of the failures of the soils to grow the dark fire tobacco. Your help would very much be appreciated. Sincerely, Paul Wayne Moore.


I am trying to find information on a Lovick Pierce McLean. Born 1805. Father possibly is Daniel Donald McLean Sr. Born 1769. In Scotland. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you


Thank you so very much for your question! Getting started with genealogy can seem really challenging but we have resources to help you get started with your quest to find the Mode family! 

Here is a link to our getting started page:

Here are a few additional resources: and a video series on how to get started: 

Please feel free to contact us at if you have questions about getting started or would like a one on one consultation through our Book a Librarian service: 

Best Wishes, 

Kelly Eubank, Government and Heritage Library


Looking for my family's ancestry in NC, any help would be much appreciated!

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