TO many Americans, the name of Hugh Mercer is sacred because of what they consider to be his martyrdom for the American Revolution. Most Scots probably haven’t heard of him, which is yet another indictment of the poor teaching of Scottish history down the decades that is only now being put right.

Mercer was one of a number of Scots who made their mark on the foundation of the United States of America. In this second of a three-part series looking at Scots in America, we will be looking at the events and characters immediately involved in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, and the American Revolutionary War that successfully freed the USA from British rule.

Many Scots have the curious idea that Scotland massively welcomed the American Revolution, all Scots fought to gain freedom from the Crown and “we” were all on the side of rebels. That just isn’t true.

Yes, there was Scottish influence on philosophy and events, and yes, soldiers like Hugh Mercer fought and died under George Washington, but it is a fact that possibly the majority of the Scots in America in the 1770s either sided with the Crown or moved away – some to Canada, some home to Scotland – or stayed out of the conflict and waited to see who would win.

It is important to know that most people at that time, and many historians since, did not make much distinction between those people of purely Scottish birth or descent and the Ulster-Scots. They were all in the main Presbyterians, and denoted into one class of immigrants, known to Americans as the Scotch-Irish. The Ulster-Scots were the descendants of the Presbyterians moved into Ulster by the 17th-century Plantations, and people of such background were to have an influence on the USA way beyond their numbers – more than one-third of all American presidents have claimed Scotch-Irish ancestry.

There were differences, however, even among the Scots-born, and particularly because of religion. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, many Highlanders who were either Catholic or Episcopalian came to the USA even before the failure of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, which saw a big increase in immigration from the north of Scotland.

Economic conditions were a bigger driver of immigration from central and southern Scotland, and it is interesting to know that diverse communities were established up and down the east coast of North America, with Gaelic-speaking Highlanders in some and farmers and artisans from the Central Belt in others.

One such “colony” was Ryegate, which is now in Caledonian County in Vermont, where half the town’s land was bought in 1774 by the Scots American Company of Farmers based in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire. This company was like many similar organisations at the time, formed to promote and assist Scots to emigrate to the USA – it is estimated that 40,000 Scots arrived in the USA in the years 1760 to 1775. Many were fleeing the early Clearances, caused by the raising of rents that made life economically unviable.

Thousands of Scots arrived into a form of white slavery, becoming indentured servants, while many others were able to export their trades and learn new ones to take their places in growing communities. Many more simply arrived and immediately went west to find fresh land for themselves.

Some of the immigrants were former soldiers who had signed up for the King’s shilling in the years after the ’45. Many of those men had served in regiments like the Black Watch in the war against France in North America and had returned to Scotland to tell their compatriots of the better life awaiting them abroad.

So why did these tens of thousands of Scots not join the fight against the distant, uncaring Crown? For many, such as former soldiers, it was a question of having taken a loyal oath to the King, and they simply would not break that oath under any circumstances. Some just got caught in the dilemma of accepting the new nation or holding on to the old one – some, indeed, even went back home to Scotland.

The most famous of these returnees was Flora MacDonald, the woman who famously helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from the clutches of the Duke of Cumberland’s army, for which she was arrested. After a brief spell in the Tower of London, she was eventually released from house arrest under the Act of Indemnity in 1747. Three years later she married Allan MacDonald, a captain in the army, and went with him to the USA, where he joined the 84th Regiment of Foot, otherwise known as the Royal Highland Emigrants.

They fought fiercely against the army that the Americans call the Patriots – they and their colleagues in the Revolution went by several names but for convenience we will call them the Patriots – and Allan MacDonald was taken prisoner at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in North Carolina. He and Flora later went home to Kingsburgh on Skye and raised their extensive family there.

Their experience was not unique, but it was Scots of a different persuasion who helped the foundation of the USA in the 1770s.

Alexander MacDougall was in on the Revolution from the start. A sailor turned merchant and a member of secret society the Sons of Liberty, he was almost single-handedly responsible for turning New York City to the cause of the Patriots, or Rebels as the British now termed them.

His great friend and fellow agitator was Alexander Hamilton, the illegitimate son of the fourth son of a Scottish laird. Hamilton is recognised as one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, and as well as signing the Declaration of Independence, Hamilton went on to be the senior aide to General George Washington and founder of the American financial system as well as the US Coast Guard and the New York Post newspaper now owned by the grandson of a Scottish Presbyterian minister, Rupert Murdoch.

MacDougall and Hamilton both fought in the War of Independence in which Scots fought on both sides and quite often Scot killed Scot. The Battle of King’s Mountain in October, 1780 saw men of Scottish ancestry such as James Johnston lead the Patriots to victory over the Loyalist militia led by Major Patrick Ferguson, born in Pitfour, Aberdeenshire, who was killed in the battle.

MacDougall’s finest hour was actually in defeat. A fellow Scot, Lord Stirling, whose father had fled Scotland after the 1715 Jacobite rising, organised the Patriots’ defence of New York for George Washington’s Continental Army, and after the Regular Army beat the Patriots at the Battle of Long Island, also known as Brooklyn Heights, it was MacDougall who organised the evacuation by boat of the remaining elements of Washington’s force in a Dunkirk-style achievement.

MacDougall would go on to become the first president of the Bank of New York, and Washington would always call him a “pillar of the revolution.”.

Hugh Mercer was a friend of Washington who had been born as one of the manse in Pitsligo in Aberdeenshire in 1726. He had trained as a doctor and was an assistant surgeon in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeated forces at Culloden, before fleeing afterwards to America.

In the Seven Years’ War, Mercer joined the army that had once tried to kill him and by dint of courage and leadership he rose through the ranks to serve alongside another young Colonel, one George Washington.

He at one time commanded Fort Pitt, the settlement which began modern-day Pittsburgh, before moving to Fredericksburg in Virginia to practise medicine – his premises there is now a museum in his honour.

Washington and his army having escaped from New York, they confounded the Crown forces with a midwinter campaign and on January 3, 1777 Mercer, by now a Brigadier General, was leading his men from the scene of the Patriots’ victory at the Second Battle of Trenton (or Assunpink Creek) when he was surrounded by a much larger force of redcoats and was eventually overcome by bayonet thrusts, standing against a white oak tree and fighting until he collapsed. Mercer was removed to a nearby house and was attended to by the leading physician Benjamin Rush but succumbed to his wounds nine days later. General Mercer was immediately acclaimed as a Martyr for the Revolution and his sacrifice inspired many to enlist in Washington’s army. Mercer County in New Jersey is named after the Scottish hero, and the “Mercer Oak” is used for the County Seal today.

The aforementioned Benjamin Rush was key to the involvement in the Revolution of a Scotsman who is generally credited with being one of the great intellects behind the American drive for independence.

Rush had been sent to Scotland to persuade John Knox Witherspoon, born in Gifford in East Lothian in 1723, to become the head of the Presbyterian College of New Jersey at Princeton. Witherspoon, who was minister at Laigh Kirk in Paisley, was already famed for his espousal of the Scottish common-sense school of philosophy then being framed within the Scottish Enlightenment.

He emigrated with his family in 1768 and as head of Princeton he quickly transformed the school into a powerhouse of intellect. He himself was soon involved in supporting the American Revolution.

His Thoughts on American Liberty was a key text in the ferment of 1770s America, and he was hugely concerned at the interference of the government in London in what had previously been essentially devolved matters – what would he have made of the current Supreme Court case in London? His incredible energy and keen intelligence were brought to bear on dozens of issues and he not only signed the American Declaration of Independence but might well have been responsible for its echoes of Scotland’s own Declaration of Independence at Arbroath in 1320.

Another campaigning text by a Scottish signatory of the 1776 Declaration was James Wilson, born in Fife in 1742. His work, Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament, published in 1774, put into words the American Revolution’s precept that power derives from the people – a most Scottish concept. A lawyer by profession, he was one of the chief framers of the American Constitution and was one of the first six justices of the American Supreme Court.

MacDougall, Hamilton, Mercer, Witherspoon, Wilson – incredibly, they all knew each other. Clannish Scots, or what?

There were many, many more Scots in at the beginning of the USA, and emigration from here to there has been a feature of American and Scottish life ever since, as president-elect Donald Trump’s mother most certainly demonstrates.

Next week we’ll complete this series by showing how one Scotsman emigrated from Dunfermline to become the richest man in America and change the lives of millions. His name was Andrew Carnegie.