Scots Highlanders: Mercenary Soldiers of the American Revolution

British Allies:  Scots Highlanders from Argyllshire and Inverness.  3,000 men

In 1776, over 3,000 Scots Highlanders were recruited for British regiments.  They boarded ships and  sailed from Greenock Scotland, landing in Boston MA.  They formed parts of several regiments and marched to assigned theaters of war.

500 were taken prisoner in Boston and dispersed through Massachusetts towns to be billeted and watched

217 were taken prisoner in Virginia and dispersed through Virginia counties especially those on the Southside where other Scots had already settled

300 were taken prisoner in New York and dispersed through the Hudson Valley counties, where Scottish troops had served during the French and Indian wars

Others were taken prisoner at the Battle of Moore’s Creek in North Carolina and dispersed through North Carolina counties

Scots had settled  in clusters in many American Colonies.  The British hoped that these prisoners of war would be billeted in places where they had no relatives.  George Washington, Commander of Chief of the American forces, deliberately selected places to house and guard these prisoners where they already had family members and  relatives from the same Scottish locations.  For example, the Scots who settled the Cape Fear River in North Carolina from 1735-1755 included many families from Argyll.  With the same surnames as the captured soldiers carried.  For those troops who were not captured, General Washington hoped they would desert the British Army, lay down their arms, and apply for the generous bounty lands he offered anywhere land had not already been filed on.

  1. Did your Scottish ancestor come from the Highlands?
  2. Did your Scottish ancestor come to America as a mercenary to fight in a British regiment?
  3. Did your Scottish ancestor give his parole and settle in Massachusetts towns, Virginia and North Carolina counties where he already had family members?
  4. Did your Scotsman receive bounty land in northern Pennsylvania or central Georgia?

You won’t know until you look. Here’s  where you look for evidences that your Scottish ancestor was a mercenary:

  • Church records–especially marriages.  Church clerks often identified the groom as a soldier or a prisoner.
  • Tax rolls–they got the land as a bounty for laying down their weapons. Mercenaries usually were not tax free.
  • Local town minutes–homes and areas for billetting the prisoners were often assigned specifically.
  • County court records–especially with references to women with children living alone.
  • Probate records–watch for references to prisoners in wills, probate minutes, estate divisions and settlements.
  • Private account books–payments made for prisoners assigned to make musket balls and cannon, forge iron bars for the war effort.

Evidence of origins and migrations can be found, many times, in the “fine print” of the sources you are already searching.  Be sure you read the whole document.  And if there is an introduction, always read it.  The author may know additional details from careful study of the record category, the specific event, or the period of time.k  You want the benefit of knowing the same stuff. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  When you pop into and out of records and sources without studying them, it is easy to miss this “fine print” as I call it.

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