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 Celtic AmericaThe Story of the Celtic Americans -the Scots, Irish and Welsh in America

People of Celtic descent (Scots, Irish and Welsh) played a huge part in shaping the United States of America. Some say that Celtic American influence has wielded too much power. However this was not always so – there was a time when the Scottish Americans and fellow Celts were considered by the English elite as outcasts, with the native Indians and African slaves. 

A series on Scottish Television in 2003 explored the history of Celts in America. The story begins in the first half of the 18th century when thousands fled the Hanoverian regime , and when  Scottish, Irish and Welsh prisoners of war were sent across the Atlantic to an American destiny. 

Some interesting facts*

  • Many Highland Scots – with names like Ross and Macdonald – became part and parcel of the Indian nations of the southeast. For generations the principal chiefs of the Creek were called either MacIntosh or McGillivray. However, it is a sad irony that the Native Americans also had no more bitter enemies than the Scots-Irish and lowland Scots. 

  • Highland Jacobites were some of King George’s most loyal Americans. Even Flora Macdonald, saviour of "Bonnie Prince Charlie" turned loyalist when she immigrated to the Carolinas. 

  • The great names of the western frontier – Davie Crockett, Jim Bowie, Daniel Boone, Jeremiah Johnston – were of Scots-Irish stock. 

  • The Scots-Irish, the Lowland Scots and the Welsh were the  backbone of George Washington’s army. The Scots almost exclusively fought one of the key battles in the War of Independence – on both sides. 

  • Many of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence of 1776 were Welsh, Scots and Irish-Scots. 

  • Those of Celtic descent played a significant role in expanding the boundaries of the USA. The Welsh largely built up America’s iron and steel industry. 

  • The mass emigration of the (mainly) Catholic Irish during the potato famine in the early 19th century became one of the defining moments of American history. 

  • Modern historians calculate that when the civil war broke out about 75% of the South’s population was Celtic. The Confederate flag was a transatlantic version of the saltires of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, celebrated as ‘the bonnie blue flag’. 

  • The end of the civil war saw the manifestation of the most unpleasant Celtic institution, the Ku Klux Klan, and of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the forerunner to the IRA. 

  • The economic plight of post-war USA presented big opportunities for Scots businessmen – investment trusts were set up which ploughed a huge amount of Scots money into railways, cattle ranches, mines, forestry and land. 

  • The Scots-Irish provided the USA with an extraordinary number of presidents – Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

  • As well as providing fine politicians, inventors and businessmen, the darker side of the Celtic Americans was never far away. There was a revival in the Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and the Welsh, for some reason, proved adept urban gangsters. 

  • In the 50 years between 1880 and 1930 around 760,000 Scots, Irish and Welsh immigrated to the USA. Those of Celtic descent continue to make a massive contribution to the USA, and more and more they like to express something of their culture – with Highland Games and St. Patrick’s Day parades popular  across the country. 

  • Today, there are more people of Celtic descent in North America than in all the European based Celtic countries put together.

* Scottish Television (STV) series began on 12th June and ended on 17th July 2003 



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