Cape Fear River Cross Creek Diana Gabaldon Outlander North Carolina Pre-Revolutionary War Period Scottish Immigration

From Scotland to North Carolina~Part 2:Why North Carolina?

July 3, 2019

guest post from Traci Thompson

In past blog posts, we’ve looked at the circumstances that led to many Highland Scots emigrating from Scotland. Our next question is, why did they immigrate to North Carolina? 

A major impetus appears to be Gabriel Johnston, a Lowland Scot who served as Governor of North Carolina from 1734 to 1752. “He felt it would be good for the future of the Cape Fear Valley for it to be settled by large numbers of Protestant Highland Scots, so he began writing enthusiastic letters to friends in Scotland, inviting them to come to a land where there were two crops each year…land grants and possible exemption from taxation for time.” [Douglas F. Kelly, Carolina Scots (Dillon, SC: 1739 Publications, 1998), p.82-83.] 

Gabriel Johnston’s Coat of Arms bookplate

Not everyone was enthusiastic about Governor Johnston’s partiality, however. “Among other charges brought against the Governor [in 1748] was his inordinate fondness for his brother Scotchmen, even Scotch rebels. His partiality for this latter class of Scotchmen, it was said, was so great, and his lack of joy at the king’s ‘glorious victory at Culloden’ was so conspicuous, that he was accused of a want of fealty to the House of Hanover…” Nevertheless, “…like other Scotchmen, he was fond of the people of his native country, and sought to better their condition by inducing them to emigrate to North Carolina…” [William L. Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, Volume IV, 1734-1752 (Raleigh, NC: P.M. Hale, 1886), prefatory notes, p. ix-x.] 

There were some Scots living in the colony earlier; before 1700, several Lowland Scots were present, and it is believed that Highlanders were living in the Cape Fear area as early as 1725. After Governor Johnston began to promote immigration into the colony, the first large group of Highlanders disembarked in September 1739. A party of 350 from Argyllshire, they made their way up the Cape Fear to settle in the Cross Creek area; the Cape Fear was convenient due to the ports of Brunswick and Wilmington, and the river for transportation farther upstream. In February 1740, two of the leaders of the Argyllshire colony appeared before the Colonial Legislature asking for special consideration for ”themselves and several other Scotch Gentlemen and several poor people brought into this province” and for “substantial encouragement, that they might be able to induce the rest of their friends and acquaintances to come over.” The Upper House responded favorably with tax exemptions and land grants, and the immigration to North Carolina continued. [Saunders, p. viii-ix; Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina (Raleigh, NC: Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission, 1963), chapter III, “Settlement”; R.D.W. Connor, History of North Carolina, Vol. I (Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919); digital transcription, ts/CBHHNC/1/10*.html : accessed 2018.] 

Names associated with the 1739 party include McNeil, Forbes, Hamilton, Jones, and Campbel. “At a meeting of the council held at Wilmington, June 4, 1740, there were presented petitions for patents of lands, by the following persons, giving acres and location, as granted.” Note the prevalence of Highland names – do you recognize any from Outlander? 

Name. Acres. County.
Thos Clarks 320 N. Hanover
James McLachlan 160 Bladen
Hector McNeil 300
Duncan Campbell 150
James McAlister 640
James McDugald 640
Duncan Campbell 75
Hugh McCraine 500
Duncan Campbell 320
Gilbert Pattison 640
Rich Lovett 855 Tyrrel
Rd Earl 108 N. Hanover
Jno McFerson 320 Bladen
Duncan Campbell 300
Neil McNeil 150
Duncan Campbell 140
Jno Clark 320
Malcolm McNeil 320
Neil McNeil 400
Arch Bug 320
Duncan Campbel 640 Bladen
Jas McLachlen 320
Murdock McBraine 320
Jas Campbel 640
Patric Stewart 320
Arch Campley 320
Dan McNeil 105; 400
Neil McNeil 400
Duncan Campbel 320
Jno Martileer 160
Daniel McNeil 320
Wm Stevens 300
Dan McNeil 400
Jas McLachlen 320
Wm Speir ? Edgecombe
Jno Clayton 100 Bladen
Sam Portevint 640 N. Hanover
Charles Harrison 320
Robt Walker 640
Jas Smalwood 640
Wm Faris 400; 640
Richd Canton 180 Craven
Duncan Campbel 150 Bladen
Neil McNeil 321
Alex McKey 320
Henry Skibley 320
Jno Owen 200
Duncan Campbel 400
Dougal Stewart 640
Arch Douglass 200 N. Hanover
James Murray 320
Robt Clark 200
Duncan Campbel 148 Bladen
James McLachlen 320
Arch McGill 500
Jno Speir 100 Edgecombe
James Fergus 640
Rufus Marsden 640
Hugh Blaning 320 (surplus land) Bladen
Robt Hardy 400 Beaufort
Wm Jones 354; 350

“Occasionally, a list of emigrants has been preserved in the minutes of the official proceedings. Hence it may be read that on November 4, 1767, there landed at Brunswick, from the Isle of Jura, Argyle-shire, Scotland, the following names of families and persons, to whom were allotted vacant lands, clear of all fees, to be taken up in Cumberland or Mecklenburgh counties, at their option: 

Names of land grantees

These names show they were from Argyleshire, and probably from the Isle of Mull, and the immediate vicinity of the present city of Oban.” 

Those who came to Carolina and prospered wrote letters home, and thus word of mouth became a catalyst for emigration. “There was in fact a Carolina mania which was not broken until the beginning of the Revolution. The flame of enthusiasm passed like wildfire through the Highland glens and Western Isles.” [J.P. MacLean, An Historical Account of the Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America… (Glasgow, Scotland: John McKay, 1900), Chapter 5, “Highlanders in North Carolina”; digital transcription, Electric Scotland ( : accessed 2018]. 

Drawing of the port at Charleston, SC, where many Scots first
set foot in the New Land.

As a result, “Shipload after shipload of sturdy Highland settlers sailed for the shores of America, and most of them landing at Charleston and Wilmington found their way to their kinsmen on the Cape Fear. In a few years their settlements were thickly scattered throughout the territory now embraced in the counties of Anson, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Hoke, and Scotland…The Scot’s Magazine, in September, 1769, records that the ship Molly had recently sailed from Islay filled with passengers for North Carolina, and that this was the third emigration from that county within six years. The same journal in a later issue tells us that between April and July, 1770, fifty-four vessels sailed from the Western Isles laden with 1,200 Highlanders all bound for North Carolina. In 1771, the Scot’s Magazine stated that 500 emigrants from Islay and the adjacent islands were preparing to sail for America, and later in the same year Governor Tryon wrote that ‘several ship loads of Scotch families’ had ‘landed in this province within three years past from the Isles of Arran, Durah, Islay, and Gigah, but chief of them from Argyle Shire and are mostly settled in Cumberland County.’ Their number he estimated ‘at 1,600 men, women, and children.’ A year later the ship Adventure brought a cargo of 200 emigrants from the Highlands to the Cape Fear, and in March of the same year Governor Martin wrote to Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies: ‘Near a thousand people have arrived in Cape Fear River from the Scottish Isles since the month of November with a view to settling in this province whose prosperity and strength will receive great augmentation by the accession of such a number of hardy, laborious and thrifty people.’” [Connor, ts/CBHHNC/1/10*.html: accessed 2018]. 

Such massive immigration to North Carolina has led to claims that the state now has more descendants of Scots than has present-day Scotland. In summary, favorable reports, support of the crown and governor, and financial incentives all conspired to make the ship route of Scotland to the Cape Fear a major migration pattern. As MacLean poetically described the aftermath of Culloden, 

“Left without chief, or protector, clanship broken up, homes destroyed and kindred murdered, dispirited, outlawed, insulted and without hope of palliation or redress, the only ray of light pointed across the Atlantic where peace and rest were to be found in the unbroken forests of North Carolina.”

Traci, thank you so much for this history lesson! Traci is our resident historian and genealogist! Learn more about the Scots heading inland along the Cape Fear River! Do you have ancestors that began in the Cape Fear Region? Tell us about it!

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  • Reply Alysen July 3, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    So Interesting! And can’t forget the Scottish prisoners sent over. Or is that part in the book ‘fiction’?

  • Reply Susan Jackson July 3, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Not fiction at all, Alysen! Many Americans, including myself, are descended from Scottish POW’s–check out this website:

  • Reply Stephanie Brown July 4, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Patrick Stewart cousin to the Bonnie Prince Charlie even though a Jacobite got his family out of the country first.
    Family records show that he didn’t trust that side of the family. The Albany Stewarts still live to this day!!
    I’m one of his Grandchildren.

  • Reply George T. Elliot July 4, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    The original George Elliot came over in the 1730’s, built his home on the banks of the Lower Little River north of Cross Creek in 1741 and had a successful timber mill and farm. Added on to the house in 1780 in the Greek Revival style (very classic plantation home). We are still living there to this day, still farming and we were named the National Bicentennial Tree Farm in 1976. We sold the land that is present day Fort Bragg to the US Government in the early 1900’s. Our Scots roots are never taken for granted and I’ve enjoyed several trips to the mother country.

    • Reply Traci July 5, 2019 at 4:07 pm

      George, that is too awesome. Thank you for sharing your history!

  • Reply Susan Jackson July 5, 2019 at 8:00 am

    You are so blessed, George, to know and live your family history!

  • Reply M Fleming November 21, 2019 at 1:39 am

    I see the name “Arch Bug” on your list of 1740 settlers, which nicely fits with the Outlander series. I have never seen a list of Argyll Colonists with the surname Bug. There were, however, Buies, which was often spelled “Buy” at that time. Historian Malcolm Fowler includes Archie Buie in his list of Argyll colonists, and I believe tells stories of Archie Buie being a piper in his book, “They Passed This Way”. I suspect “Bug” is a misreading of the “y” in “Buy”.

  • Reply Karen Campbell March 1, 2021 at 1:35 pm

    I am from the line of John and Duncan Campbell, born and raised in Bladen County. Very cool to hear references made in the show. And, on film, Ulysses was born in Bladen County.

  • Reply Will Lipford March 15, 2022 at 11:21 am

    captain freeman was the ancestor of todays “freeman park” – at one point the freeman’s owned large parcel of estates. it is now a beach front park and one of the last east coast beaches to allow camping and driving.

    This parcel of land butted up against “river run” in the cape fear basin before snows cut bridge was dredged 200 years later.

  • Reply Tina Bradley Byrd July 20, 2022 at 10:38 pm

    My ancestors, the McGilvray family left Isle of Skye in 1802/1803 for America to find relief of famine and highland clearances. I am looking for the name of the ship which might have brought them over. I’m not sure where they landed initially, but they finally received a land grant in Greene County, MS (now Perry County). I have found those first brave ancestors of mine in their beautiful cemetery. I would love to discover the ship’s names that John McGilvray and Alexander McGilvray travelled with a few family members over to America. If you have resources to help me, I would be indebted to you.

    • Reply Jaime McLeod June 14, 2023 at 2:14 pm

      Hi Tina, If it was 1802, then the ship was likely the Duke of Kent, which sailed from Loch Bracadale on Skye to Wilmington, North Carolina. I’ve read it was the “only ship to sail from the Scottish Highlands to North Carolina that year,” and North Carolina would have been the most common place for Scots immigrants to land dring that period. My great-great-great grandfather, Angus MacLeod, was one of 600 passengers on that three-month voyage. There are some interesting paragraphs about that journey in this book:

  • Reply Greg Lee February 9, 2023 at 7:39 pm

    I just discovered 2 weeks ago my great,great,great grandmother was from Scotland. The last name was Buchanan. I am African American,69 years old and family secrets were held for a long time. Maybe I can get some help from you all. They settled in Harnett County NC.

    • Reply Susan Jackson February 10, 2023 at 9:09 am

      Hi Greg! My paternal ancestry is in the Harnett/Johnston County area and include Lees–we might be related! I don’t know if you have ever been there before, but I love the area so much! Through my own family research, I am finding that we are all connected in one way or another, and I simply am not surprised at who I find in my family tree anymore. I don’t know how much research you’ve done, but there’s a Harnett County Genweb site here you an click around and find some information: And on Facebook, there is a group for Harnett County and surrounding areas, and there are several African-American researchers in that group and can likely help you. If not, reply here and I’ll find their emails and get them to you. Here is the group address:

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