The Loss it Sustain'd by the Immense Drain of Men: The Imperial Politics of Scottish Emigration to Revolutionary America, 1756-1803

Ambuske, James, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores how the resettlement of as many as 40,000 Scottish individuals in the American colonies forced British officials, common and elite Scots, and American colonists to reassess the purpose of Great Britain’s empire amidst a broader crisis concerning the imperial constitution. In the 1760s and 1770s, this exodus gave rise to fears in Great Britain that the depopulation of Scotland threatened to transfer economic and military strength to the colonies in the form of industrious Scottish Lowlanders and militaristic Highlanders. As a result, competing visions of Scotland's and the empire's future emerged amidst American resistance to British authority that culminated in the Revolution. Supporters of emigration believed that the colonies offered Scots the opportunity to own land and contribute to the imperial economy in ways that would benefit Scotland and the whole empire. Yet, leading Scottish politicians and members of the landed elite argued that emigration could depopulate and deprive Scotland of vital economic and military human resources. They believed that continued emigration to America would embolden the colonies and weaken their attachment to Britain. These concerns led to two policies after the outbreak of the American Revolution. First, Scottish political leaders instituted a ban on further emigration, a reflection of fears that disloyal Scots might support the American rebels. Second, the British government authorized the recruitment of Scottish emigrants already in the colonies as a means to supplement the army in the rebellion’s early days. After the United States achieved its independence, the British government and supporters in Scotland implemented new policies that heavily regulated Scottish emigration to North America so as to deprive the former colonies of a competitive edge in a transformed Atlantic economy.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Scotland, American Revolution, Emigration, Depopulation
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