The Scottish Settlement
(1830 to 1870)

"It has been said of the modern Scottish race by some of its enthusiastic sons that, in proportion to its numbers, that race has produced more men who have taken a prominent part in the affairs of the English speaking world than has any other. Whether this be true or not, there are two facts bearing upon that phase of Scottish race-history to which attention may properly be called. The first and most important fact is, that nearly all the men of Scottish birth or descent who are renowned in history trace their family origin back to the western Lowlands of Scotland. That is to say, the district comprising the counties of Lanark, Renfrew, Ayr, Dumfries, Wigtown, Kirk-Cudbright, and Dumbarton--in area about the same as Connecticut, and the most of which was formerly included in the Celto-British kingdom of Strathclyde,--has produced a very large proportion of the men and families who have made the name of Scotland famous in the world's history." (Hanna, 1902)
From about 1830 to 1870, a group of Scottish families departed their homeland and started a new life in the wilderness of southeastern Michigan. They were primarily from the western lowlands of Scotland, an area that comprised the northern half of the county of Ayrshire (Ayr), and the county of Renfrewshire (Renfrew), primarily Glasgow and it’s suburbs. Some of the earliest Scottish pioneers, especially in Macomb County were Americans of Scottish descent; they had been born in the eastern states and had moved westward with the great American migration that would eventually fill the entire continental United States. Some came from outside Ayr and Renfrewshire. But most of the pioneering Scottish families lived in northern Ayrshire or further north in and around Glasgow.

If you examine a map of the locations where these families lived in Scotland and overlay it with a map of where they lived in Michigan, the geographical size is about the same. From a central reference location, you need travel only about thirty miles in any direction to reach all the families whether in Scotland or in Michigan. Essentially, a group of related Scottish neighbors packed up and moved, as a loosely affiliated group, and relocated as neighbors in Michigan.

In 1837, Congress declared a section of land 490 miles long and 240 miles wide, as a new state in the union. The new state was shaped like a mitten, with a thumb sticking off to the right side as you studied the map. They called it "Michigan", from the Indian name "Michigama", meaning "big lake". In the year 1800, there were essentially no white men settled in Michigan outside of the small settlement in Detroit and the fort at Mackinaw. Most of Michigan was populated by Chippewa indians (also called Ojibway), members of a large nation of tribes called the Algonquians. For a while, Michigan was part of Upper Canada, which is now the Province of Ontario. Later, when the United States ruled the area, the land was called the Northwest Territories. Michigan was carved out of the Northwest Territories.

In the southeastern part of the new state of Michigan was a county called Lapeer, and in the southeastern part of Lapeer was a small township called Almont. Between 1830 and 1870, a remarkable thing happened in and within a thirty mile circumference of Almont. Roughly two hundred Scotsman (centered around about 25 prominent families) "suddenly" showed up, built farms, and settled in as American citizens. The settlement knew no boundaries, so it spread over three Michigan counties: St. Clair (Berlin Township); Macomb (Bruce and Armada townships); and Lapeer (Almont and Metamora Townships).

This "sudden" appearance of Scottish families was part of a population expansion in Michigan; between 1830 and 1870, Michigan's population increased from about 175,000 to about 750,000 (Forrester, 2003). Foreign born residents of Michigan in 1860 numbered about 149,000 of which close to 4% were from Scotland. (Forrester, 2003)

The creation of our Scottish Settlement is not unusual in early America; ethnic communities popped up all over the landscape during the pioneering migration years in the United States. There were other Scottish settlements even in Michigan, a few not far from our research group. In the northern thumb region, for example, in Huron County there evolved a primarily highland Scottish community. In Greenfield village in Detroit there exists old buildings from another Scottish settlement south of Lapeer.

My personal interest in this research stems from genealogy studies of four branches of my family: the Wallaces; the Rutherfords; the McEwans; and the Mairs. All four of these surnames are represented in the Scottish Settlement. My gg grandparents, David Wallace (son of John Wallace and Margaret Mair) and Catharine McEwan (Daughter of John McEwan) left Scotland and were in Berlin Township, St. Clair County by the 1860 census. David and Catharine's first child Sarah was born in the Scottish Settlement. Sarah married Robert Rutherford who had moved down from the Northumberland region of Ontario, Canada and was working in the Scottish Settlement. Robert's family was also from the lowland area of Scotland, the Borders. Sarah and Robert had a daughter, Mable Rutherford, and Mable's third son was Douglas Wallace Baldwin, my father.

On the back porch of my sister Peggy's home in Fenton, Michigan in the summer of 2002, my father casually mentioned that his mother Mable had Scottish parents. "No kidding!" I said. "Where were they from in Scotland?" Nobody knew, and that began a long and wonderful journey back into my history. A detective story unfolded clue by clue, slowly as two years passed, until, in 2004 I hit a brick wall. There were no more records, no letters, no family alive who could tell me more. It looked like I was never going to figure out where my relatives came from in Scotland.

After some reflection, it seemed that the only way I was going to get over that brick wall was to study the entire history and development of the Scottish Settlement. I knew that when Scottish clans left their farms and traveled to other countries they almost always regrouped in the same location of the new land. Sometimes, entire Scottish communities left together and reformed their extended families in other parts of the world. Letters would slowly pass over the oceans and entice new emigrants to join their families in the new land. As transportation improved in the late 1800s, travelers went back and forth between family in Scotland and family in Michigan. It was a good guess then that the Scottish families knew each other before they got to Michigan. We would expect that the families came at least from the same region of Scotland. Somehow, there was a social meshwork, a communications network, and complex family ties that linked every single inhabitant of the Scotch Settlement. The question was how, and the task was to map the social meshwork.

In the summer of 2005, my wife Katherine and I went to Scotland on a vacation. I didn't know at the time that I would end up writing an entire book! As we made our way across Ayrshire and the Borders region of southern Scotland, and as we drove past the ocean, stunning lochs, and the glorious mountains of the highlands, I began to get a very strong emotion. I turned to Katherine, as we passed through the Glencoe Valley in the highlands and asked with great wonderment "Why would anyone in their right mind leave a country so beautiful?"

So I began the research. I wrote many an email and spend days in Almont, Bruce, Armada, Metamora, and Berlin Townships talking to people. Over time, I got more and more fascinated with the entire community of Scottish families. I met fellow genealogists on a similar quest and together we began a long and thrilling walk back into history.

A few dedicated people helped create this book. Family genealogists and history buffs joined the fun, mailed me documents, sent me emails with attached pictures, shared treasured family letters. The Almont Historical Society (Lapeer County, Michigan) helped with the journey. Members of the New Church in Berlin Township (St. Clair County) were a wellspring of inspiration and research support. I made a list of these fellow genealogists and history detectives. There is an appendix in the back of the book with their names.

This is the story then of 200 Scottish families, how they got to southeast Michigan, why they left Scotland, their journey to North America, and struggles in the new country. It is a personal story for me and for many living relatives; we are here because of the strength and spirit of these pioneers.

In "A Short History of Almont" (I copied the entire document for this book; it’s in the section on the Hamiltons), Dr. William B. Hamilton tells us that:

"In 1833 there was a notable increase in the number of actual settlers. David Taylor, John Hopkins, James Thompson and William Robertson commenced the Scotch Settlement in the southwest (i.e. in Macomb County)."
Records from Bruce Township in Macomb County suggest an even earlier start for the Scottish Settlement:

"In the year 1830 or 1831, the portion of the township known as the "Scotch Settlement" began to be occupied. One or two families--Crawford and Wylie, also David Taylor--were there previously."
It is fairly clear then that the Scottish Settlement had it's beginnings between 1830 and 1835. The very notion of a "settlement" was new to south central Michigan in 1830, if we accept the definition set forth by Fuller in 1912:

". . . I would call your attention to a definition of settlement which . . . distinguishes this period essentially from any that precedes it . . . settlement is the process of establishing permanent homes, under civil government, with the purpose of developing those resources of the new country which are necessary to the maintenance of civil society." (Fuller, 1912)
The establishment of permanent farms, under the protection of government, was in the early stages of development in the counties of Macomb, Lapeer, and St. Clair. Settlements were just being formed by the pioneers of these counties.
"In 1810, after five years of the history of Michigan as a separate Territory of the Union, there was not a farm cultivated by a white man five miles from the territorial boundary; and fourteen years after that, a year only before the opening of the Erie Canal, there were besides Detroit but nine villages in the whole Territory." (Fuller, 1912)
While doing research for this book in the Newberry Library in Chicago, I had the good fortune to find Mary True Dooley's doctoral dissertation, called "The Andrews Bailiwick". Dr. Dooley was a Michigan State University doctoral student in Geography. She took as part of her thesis challenge, the geography of northern Macomb County, from 1830 to 1850. This was the exact location and time frame for the earliest Scottish Settlement pioneers. Her particular focus was on the transformation of a wilderness into usable farm land. Mary writes in the introduction to her book:

"The change from wilderness to farmland was a drastic alteration of the landscape, and I have reconstructed the geography of the area at the beginning and again at the end of that period of change. Dates of purchase of land and time of settlement were rather easily determined, and they establish the beginning of the period. I have accepted as the end the judgement of the settlers themselves. Recorded comments indicate that the area seemed "settled" about sixteen to eighteen years after the first clearings were made; thus the reconstructions are for either end of this span--the early 1830s and 1850. (Dooley, 2007)
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the land in Lapeer, Macomb, and St. Clair counties was occupied by Chippewa Indian families. Archeological records date the earliest Indian people in Michigan to about 5,000 BC, although apparent knife marks were observed on mastodon bones found in Michigan as early as 8,775 BC. Clearly, the pioneers were moving into land that had long been the home of others (11,000 years ago, Michigan was under two miles of glacial ice, so the Indians came into the region after the ice melted).

The Chippewa were peaceful and nomadic, following herds and wild harvests as the seasons changed. The settlers were farmers who believed in private property and lasting settlements. The Indians did not understand ownership of land; they simply moved around the settlers. They had familiar seasonal village sites and hunting grounds, but there was more flexibility in the nomadic life.

The Chippewa slowly gave way to change as they moved northward in Michigan and eventually into Canada. The wild harvests in the Lapeer region were less bountiful over time so the Indians moved to follow better food prospects and, presumably to “get away” from the settlers. The Lapeer area was thick with woods and swamps. So, the number of Indians in the region in 1828 when James Deenen, the first white settler in Lapeer County, arrived were much reduced from earlier times.

The last Indian war recorded east of the Mississippi River was fought in 1832. By the time the Scottish Settlement families began arriving in Lapeer County, the Indians were neither hostile nor plentiful. They lived peacefully, "side by side" from 1828 until 1856, at which time the U.S. government set up the reservation in Isabella County and moved the remaining Indians to that location. Indians lived in reservation poverty until the casinos arrived; they are now (I speculate) richer than the white men who drove them out 175 years ago!

There were undoubtedly many personal reasons why individuals left the beauty of Scotland and came to Canada and America (also New Zealand and Australia). But there are enough common reasons to make a strong case that most of the Scottish who left really had no choice, especially if they wanted to live prosperous and free lives. To understand why they left in such great numbers requires an understanding of what life was like in Scotland in the mid 1800s. If you were not a member of the aristocracy or a leader in the church community, if you were a commoner, a farmer, a laborer, a poor individual from a large family, your life was hard, unrewarding, and the future looked bleak against the backdrop of the blue sea and the majestic highland hills. Economics, politics, and religion (as is usual in human affairs), were the chief forces that drove the Scots from Scotland.

Most of the pioneers who populated the Scottish Settlement came from East Ayrshire, especially the Parishes of Craigie, Kilmarnock, Galston, Tarbolton, Mauchline, Riccarton, and Loudon. But their families spread to many neighboring Parishes. The Swedenborgian Scots came from Renfrewshire, which includes Glasgow and Paisley. The Patons can be traced to Fenwick Parish and then Galston. The Grays originated in Stewarton Parish and spread to Glasgow. The Wallaces, Mortons, and Borlands came from Craigie. Some of the Mairs were concentrated in Loudon.