Migration from Scotland before 1700

Morvern French
Friday 13 November 2015

Virtually all of the material posted on this blog to date has focussed on the migration to Scotland of people thought to have Flemish roots and their subsequent influence on the country. In this posting David Dobson explains why there was also migration from Scotland before 1700. Among the emigrants were some people carrying the name Fleming (other family names will be examined in due course).

Migration to Continental Europe

Emigration from Scotland has been a feature of Scottish demography since the medieval period. In the nineteenth century Scotland had one of the highest levels of emigration in Europe relative to its population, only exceeded by Ireland and Norway. Scottish emigration to European destinations began to become significant in the seventeenth century and was caused by a number of factors. Scotland was then a poor country on the fringe of Europe and many of those settling abroad were economic migrants heading for opportunities in the burgeoning cities of the continent. A significant number were soldiers of fortune – mercenaries attracted by opportunities in continental armies. Some were political or religious refugees seeking sanctuary, while others were scholars advancing their education in continental universities. Scots merchants, factors, and pedlars could be found throughout north-west Europe by 1700.

The Scottish Reformation of 1560 turned Scotland into a Protestant country and contributed to an exodus of Catholics, albeit on a small scale, to locations which remained loyal to Rome, such as Poland or France. In the seventeenth century the religious policies of the Stuart kings led to the Covenanter risings and subsequent emigration of Presbyterians to Ireland, the Netherlands, and America. On the Continent the Thirty Years War, which was mainly fought in Germany, attracted thousands of Scottish soldiers, mainly to enrol in the service of Sweden, and many of whom later settled in Germany as well as in Scandinavia and the Baltic lands. Similarly the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule led to substantial numbers of Scottish soldiers being recruited to aid their Calvinist brethren in their struggle. These soldiers were mostly formed into the Scotch Brigade in the service of the United Provinces which existed for nearly two hundred years. Many of these soldiers later settled in the Netherlands. A similar situation could be found in France where Scots had formed elite corps such as Les Gardes de Corps Écossaises or Les Gens d’Armes Écossaises, which formed the king’s bodyguard. The Hundred Years War between France and England brought many Scots soldiers to France to oppose the English. In the aftermath a number of Scots were granted lands and titles and settled there. The French universities and seminaries also attracted young Catholic Scotsmen. Considerable trade developed between France and Scotland that resulted in Scots merchants and factors settling in French ports, such as Bordeaux, as well as in Paris.

One of the most important destinations for Scottish emigrants in the early modern period was Poland, which by the middle of the seventeenth century was the home of around 30,000 Scots. Some had arrived as Catholic refugees, many others as economic migrants attracted by opportunities offered there by the existing social system. Society was divided between the aristocracy and the peasantry, with the gap between them filled by merchants and craftsmen from the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland. Some of the Scots that settled in centres such as Gdańsk/Danzig or Kraków were former soldiers in the service of Sweden and Poland, who became wandering merchants or cramers. The shipping links that existed between Danzig and east coast Scottish ports such as Aberdeen facilitated emigration. Emigration to Poland and the southern Baltic began to decline from around 1650 in favour of locations to the west of Scotland.

Scottish emigration to the Scandinavian lands of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland was largely, though not completely, by soldiers of fortune seeking employment generally under Gustavus Adolphus but also under the Danish kings. Those who survived the campaigns of the Thirty Years War were often granted land and encouraged to settle. As well as soldiers, the Scandinavian kings also recruited seafarers. Merchants and craftsmen, mainly from burghs in eastern Scotland and the Northern Isles, moved to Scandinavia attracted by economic opportunities there.

The emigration of Scottish merchants to the German lands was relatively small scale and they tended to concentrate in seaports such as Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck. However the Thirty Years War did bring thousands of Scots soldiers to Germany and a number settled there and in other neighbouring lands in Central Europe. Scottish Catholic families often sent their sons for education to locations such as Würzburg and Ratisbon (modern Regensburg), some of whom were ordained as priests.

Scotland has had strong economic and social links with the Low Countries since the medieval period. Scottish merchants and craftsmen could be found in centres such as Veere, Bruges, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Middelburg. After the Reformation the links concentrated on the United Provinces, especially Holland and Zealand. Scots soldiers and sailors served in the armies of the Netherlands and in their fleets, as well as those of the Dutch East India Company and of the Dutch West India Company in the Early Modern Period. The universities of the Netherlands, such as Leiden, attracted students from Scotland. Holland was a place of refuge for many Presbyterians escaping the religious policies of the Stuart kings of the seventeenth century. Probably Rotterdam had the greatest concentration of Scots, where by 1700 around one thousand Scots were resident.

Migration to Ireland and the Americas

During the seventeenth century the emphasis of emigration from Scotland gradually changed from east to west. Increasingly Ireland and the Americas became the preferred destinations.

While there had been some movement of people between Scotland and Ireland for centuries, it only became substantial in the seventeenth century. In the late sixteenth century there had been an influx of Highlanders into Ulster to support the native Irish in their struggle with the Tudor English, but it was the Union of the Crowns in 1603 that led to mass migration from Scotland to Ireland. In 1606 two Ayrshire lairds, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, began to settle thousands of Lowland Scots in County Down and County Antrim. The success of this venture persuaded King James VI of Scotland, now King James I of England, to commence the Plantation of Ulster mainly by Lowland Scots. By the end of the seventeenth century around 100,000 Scots or people of Scottish descent had settled in Ireland, a considerable figure when compared to the estimated population of contemporary Scotland of one million.

The final destination for emigrants from Scotland was the Americas. Links can be traced back to 1600 and the voyage of the Grace of God of Dundee to Newfoundland in 1600. However, settlement did not occur until the 1620s and the foundation of Nova Scotia. A settlement was established at Port Royal on the Bay of Fundy and existed until King Charles I ordered that it be abandoned and returned it to the French in 1632. Another settlement on Cape Breton had a very brief existence, basically as there was a prior claim to the territory by the French. Scots, however, were able to settle within the English settlements along the east coast of America, from New England south to the Carolinas. Many of the Scots arrived there in chains, mostly as prisoners of war but also some petty felons taken from the tollbooths of Edinburgh. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, 1638-1651, resulted in prisoners captured at Dunbar and Worcester being transported to the colonies for sale to the planters there. Prisoners were also taken with the Scottish Quakers who moved to East New Jersey to avoid persecution in the 1680s. Around the same time a group of Presbyterians established a settlement south of Charleston, South Carolina, to avoid persecution but also to trade. However, this colony was overrun by the Spanish within a few years.

Scotland had trading links with the West Indies from 1611 and this too led to settlement by factors, merchants and planters. Here also was where prisoners were transported to and sold off. The ill-fated Scots colony at Darien was designed as a trading settlement with access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However, it was located in territory long claimed by Spain and in the face of a Spanish siege and lack of support from England it was abandoned in 1700. Around 3,000 emigrants left Scotland bound for Darien and only a handful returned. Many died on the Darien Expedition, but some survived and settled within English colonies in the West Indies, such as Jamaica, and along the American coast as far north of New York. By the end of the seventeenth century it is reckoned that 7,000 Scots had settled in the Americas.

Fleming Family Emigration

Thousands of Scots clearly emigrated to European and American destinations in the years prior to 1700. Some of them must be, at least in part, of Flemish origin. Unfortunately there is no comprehensive list identifying Scots abroad. However, a number can be identified from their surnames. Take the basic surname of Fleming, for example. Henry Fleming was a Scot and a Colonel of the Swedish Army fighting in Germany during the 1630s. Among the Scots in Königsberg, East Prussia, was a ‘J. Flehman’ in 1648. In Germany a P. Fleming from Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, entered the Monastery at Ratisbon in 1669. In the Netherlands there were a considerable number of Scots including two ministers, father and son: Robert Fleming, who was minister of the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam from 1677 until his death in 1694, and his son also named Robert Fleming, minister of the Scots Kirk in Leiden from 1692 to 1695, then in Rotterdam from 1695 to 1698. Sir Alexander Fleming, an Ensign, married in Holland during 1637. A John Fleming was a merchant in Rotterdam in 1692. A Charles Fleming studied at the Scots Colleges in Paris and Douai in the 1680s. The surname Fleming appears in the early records of Virginia, mostly in the 1650s, which suggests that they may be some of the prisoners-of-war transported there around 1650. One such is a Patrick Fleming who by 1662 was a planter there. Among the Covenanter prisoners taken to Carolina in 1684 was a John Fleming from Stirlingshire. The Register of Testament of the Commissariat of Edinburgh has the testaments of a couple of seafarers, Alexander Fleming and George Fleming, who died on the Darien Expedition of 1698-1699. Several Flemings are recorded in Irish records of the seventeenth century, most of whom had settled in County Donegal, some from before 1630. James and Richard Fleming were among the defenders at the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. A James Fleming, described as Scotch-Irish, studied at Glasgow University in 1636, while several Flemings studied at Trinity College, Dublin, in the late seventeenth century.

The above list is but the tip of the iceberg as many more Flemings who settled abroad are as yet not identified. Much more work is required, especially regarding those Scots who settled on the Continent in the early modern period.

David Dobson

November 2015

Dr Dobson is currently a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews. His research interests are focused mainly on the Scottish diaspora as well as Scottish history in the early modern period. His publications include Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1683-1783 (Georgia, 1994, 2004); Scottish Trade with Colonial Charleston, 1683-1783 (Glasgow, 2009), and over 125 historical and genealogical source books (Baltimore, 1983- 2013).


The material set out in this blog posting was based on the following books authored by Dr Dobson:

[1] Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1607-1783 (University of Georgia Press, 1994)
[2] Scottish German Links, 1550-1850, 2nd ed. (Baltimore 2011)
[3] Scots in Poland, Russia, and the Baltic States, 1550-1850, 2 vols. (Baltimore, 2000, 2008)
[4] Scots-French Links in Europe and America, 1550-1850 (Baltimore, 2011)
[5] Scots-Dutch Links in Europe and America, 1575-1825, 2 vols. )Baltimore 2004, 2011)
[6] Scots-Scandinavian Links in Europe and America, 1550-1850 (Baltimore, 2005)
[7] Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725, 9 vols. (Baltimore 1994-2012)

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