Scotlands History\|Scots and Canada

Scots soldiers, transported convicts and Jacobites

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The American Revolutionary War began in 1775. When the British were defeated, in 1783, tens of thousands of refugees fled north, seeking safety and peace in Canada.

Among the refugees were Scots soldiers that had fought for the British Crown against George Washington and the American Revolutionaries.

Highland Scots settlers from the Mohawk valley in New York formed a regiment. The Scots were noted as fierce guerrilla fighters. After the war they took their families and headed north, forging the Glengarry Settlement, in Upper Canada, in what is now Ontario. The Glengarry Settlement later attracted Scots immigrants from across the Highlands. By 1832 the population of the Glengarry Settlement had grown to 8500.

Most of the men of 'The King's First American Regiment' were Highland Scots who fought in kilts to the skirl of the bagpipes. The regiment famously defeated Washington's troops at the Battle of Brandywine. After 1783, the regiment was disbanded, and the Scots settled in Canada with their wives and children.


Transported convicts were among the Scots that stayed loyal to the British crown.

British prisons were overcrowded. Keeping prisoners locked up was expensive and transporting them overseas was seen as a good solution to the problem.

Since 1615, British criminals had been transported to the New World. This cut the cost of dealing with prisoners and also sent criminals across the ocean to the far side of the world.

Many condemned prisoners were offered the choice between execution and transportation. Most transported criminals were sent to the American colonies. After the British defeat in 1783, convicts were transported to Australia and New Zealand.

With the Transportation Act of 1718, the British Government arranged to pay merchant companies a fixed amount to ship convicts. The conditions of transport were harsh and prisoners were allowed little freedom.

Upon arrival in the New World, each prisoner would be sold as an indentured servant to a local patron. Convicts rarely had a say in their futures, being little more than slaves for the period of their contract. Most were employed as unskilled labourers on plantations.

Most Scots convicts chose to stay in the New World after they had completed their sentences. Many fought for the British during the American Revolution, then travelled north to Canada to escape persecution after the war.

Fleeing Jacobites

From 1715 to about 1759, many Scots that emigrated to Canada were Jacobites, fleeing Scotland after the failed Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745. Many Jacobites were captured and sentenced, as traitors, to transportation to the American colonies.

After the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and bloody defeat at the Battle of Culloden, Highland Jacobites were hunted men. Lands were confiscated and the 1746 Act of Proscription made it illegal for Highlanders to carry or own weapons, own or wear articles of Highland dress, including bagpipes, or teach Gaelic. A first offender could be sentenced to six months in prison, but a person caught a second time would be transported to the colonies to spend seven years as an indentured labourer or in the service of the British military.

The Jacobite Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fraser, eldest son of 'Old Inverallochy', led the Frasers of Lovett at the Battle of Culloden. As Fraser lay wounded after the battle, the Duke of Cumberland ordered he be shot dead. Fraser's younger brother, Captain Simon Fraser, fought in Canada, in Fraser’s Highlanders, and died of his wounds after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. The surrender of New France after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham opened up the Canadian colonies for settlement.

Many Scots chose to leave for the New World to escape the brutal repression of their way of life. They took with them the prohibited articles of Highland dress and culture. In 1773, the Highlanders that sailed on the 'Hector' from Loch Broom landed on Nova Scotia wearing their proscribed Highland dress.