Lawrence E. Bethune's
M.U.S.I.C.s Project

Musical UniqueScottish Identifiable Characteristic


Home Dissertation Outline Introduction Scots to North Carolina Into the Crucible The Rules of MUSICs The Rules Applied Bibliography

Scotunes: Into the Crucible

Scotunes Migrate to the Crucible

What Scotunes survived the journey from Scotland to Colonial North Carolina and were established and took root in the new land? We must remember that a primary objective of further study is to eventually arrive at identifying those musical elements that are recognized by the modern listener as being “Scottish.” Ergo, it is less important that we absolutely prove that the elements existed in Scotunes in Scotland, since elements may sound Scottish or be recognized as and pronounced “Scottish,” yet have originated in Ireland, England, Scandinavia, or even Phoenicia. Nonetheless, by determining what Scotunes came from Scotland—at least were established enough in Scotland to be considered Scottish by the Scots of the 18th Century—and survived the journey to

Colonial North Carolina to take root there, we may be able to track the elements of the Scotunes that evolved into Early American music and eventually up to contemporary popular music.

Before we begin to establish the rules for the Scotunes of Colonial North Carolina, we will follow the path of direct transmission of these Scotunes from the people of Scotland to the new colonists in North Carolina.

Having firmly established that Highland, Lowland, and Ulster Scots migrated from 18th Century Scotland to Colonial North Carolina, and that they became established as one of the largest, if not the largest, populations of Colonial North Carolina, we next turn our attention to establishing whether or not they carried with them the popular Scotunes of Scotland and whether these tunes took root in their new “ground.”

As we have established, just as all of Colonial America quickly became a mixed garden of European cultures, along with African and Native American cultures, this Cape Fear Valley area became a virtual crucible for the mixing and transformation of cultures and, therefore, the music of these cultures. As we have seen, some cultures mixed more than others, some resisted assimilation, and some dominated. Perhaps their musics followed similar paths and dynamics.

Scotunes Widely Known in 18th Century Scotland

What were the Scotunes that were likely in the popular music of the areas of Scotland from which came the immigrant Scots of Cape Fear? Was the music of each area, including the Highland and island areas from which many Cape Fear folks emigrated, isolated and common only to those folks or did music travel the from one area to another? In other words, if a Gael came to Cape Fear, would he have had Lowland and Irish tunes in his repertoire? Did Highlanders sing Lowlander songs, and vice versa? Irish songs? Not to mention German songs, Spanish songs, Arabic songs.

While the writer will not delve into the fascinating genealogy of tunes that were in existence in 18th Century Scotland, he has no doubt that some or many of those elements we consider so characteristic of those Scotunes in fact originated in some other culture and were adopted over the centuries by the Scottish tunesmiths. Just as the Scottish nation itself is made up of several intermingled peoples such as Scots, Picts, Irish, Norwegians, French, Flemish, Italians, and so on (Bond 1993), so too the music is formed and reformed by the influences of the music from these peoples. Further, Scotland, though perhaps more isolated inland and in the Highlands than around the ports, was always involved in trade with far off distant lands as well as her neighbors of England, Wales, and Ireland. Even in Prehistoric and Biblical times, such international commerce has been noted.

One can find a plethora of references to the travels among the peoples of Scotland and the British Isles and beyond. Even though literature often paints pictures of isolated clans and peoples of Scotland, the truth is that, while perhaps not nomadic, there is ample evidence of trade and discourse as well as relocation all over what is now called Scotland. In the period we are exploring, Scots carried tunes from place to place within Scotland and between Scotland and Ireland, England and Wales. Certainly, there must have been Scotunes that were local and did not travel and were perhaps not even popular, but there is evidence that the tunes did travel. From the “Songs of Craig and Ben by Arthur Geddes (1951), one finds the following representative example of such movement around the country:

This great tradition of song revolutionized the poetry and music of Europe from the publication, a few years after 1745, of James MacPherson’s free prose renderings of the lays of Ossian, the legendary Homer of the Gael. As a lad, MacPherson had heard these traditionally sung in his native Strath Spey where his Chief was hiding among his clan folk with a price upon his head…Later, he listened to these in the Hebrides, where you may still hear them magnificently chanted by unwritten tradition. (Geddes, 1951, p. viii)

The Lowlanders also borrowed many tunes from the Highlanders, as is evidenced in this passage from Brown (1877):

The Highlanders borrowed none of their melodies from the Lowlanders, but the Lowlanders borrowed so many from the Highlanders that perhaps as many as one half of the Scottish tunes now current in the world had their origins among the Gael. (p.iv)

Examination of ships’ logs (Tepper 1979) shows that many of the Highlanders who migrated from Argyll Scotland to the Cape Fear area of North Carolina came from Kintyre, just north of Kintyre, and the islands in close proximity of Kintyre (Jura et al.). The peninsula of Kintyre is just across from County Antrim in Ireland. This seaway has been in heavy use between Kintyre and Antrim since prehistoric times (Henderson 1979). The writer feels one can assume that the tunes must have traveled this seaway as well.

While we are mainly exploring a music that the “folk” performed, as compared to professional tunesmiths, singers and musicians, there were trained or highly skilled poets and tunesmiths who came to Carolina from Scotland, as well. To be sure, most songs were passed from common folk to common folk—weavers, farmers, and so on—but there were extant in the Carolina Scottish population well-respected and well-known quasi-professional poets, singers, and musicians. One such songwriter is John MacRae (1719-1782), who was a bard of considerable merit and great popularity before he emigrated from Kintail (Argyll) to North Carolina in 1774. MacRae wrote several songs while in America (MacDonell 1982).

In Songs of the Charter Colonists (Hudson 1962), Arthur Palmer Hudson sets out to ascertain what songs the Carolina Colonists may have sung. He finds some evidence in the printed records of the times and in collections of folksongs extant. His research concludes:

The existence of a song in Scotland or England during 1663-1763 may be taken as establishing the possibility that some of the colonists could have known and sung it. The fact that a song originating in the century or earlier is still sung in the Carolinas may suggest that it was known to people who brought it to America and handed it down to their posterity.(p. vii)

Ergo, as the Scottish population of Colonial North Carolina included thousands of Highlanders and Lowlanders as well as Scots-Irish, the writer’s assumption is that many tunes present in Carolina would have included both the widely popular tunes of 18th Century Scotland and the locally popular tunes of each area. Further, it seems reasonable to assume that, to a lesser or greater, each influenced the other. As the writer shall document later in this work, there is evidence of complete tunes and variants of tunes directly linked to the same tunes in18th Century Scotland that were to be found in the same period in Carolina.

Which Scotunes Journeyed to the Crucible?

In order to begin to develop a catalog of tunes from Scotland that could be found in Colonial Carolina, one may use four excellent sources: Bertrand Harris Bronson’s The Ballad as Song (1969), Francis James Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads(2001), and Arthur Palmer Hudson’s The Songs of the Charter Colonists 1663-1763 (1962), Newman Ivey White’s (Ed.) The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore Volumes II, IV, and V (1952, 1957,1962), and Arthur Palmer Hudson’s The Songs of the Charter Colonists 1663-1763 (1962).

Childs collection contains 305 distinct ballads and about 50 tunes. Hudson discerns that, of the 305 ballads, 125 were definitely in America. North Carolina, Maine, and Virginia each had over 50 of the collection in oral tradition, and Child’s collection, all 55 from North Carolina existed before 1663. Frank C. Brown’s various collections have more than 300 British songs and more than 800 songs; some from British background but most newly composed in America with some or many (yet to be determined) based on Scottish or English songs and tunes.

From these songs, the writer chose XXXX to be included in this study, all of which either are proven to have existed in Scotland during this period or before or can be reasonably assumed to have existed and emigrated to Colonial North Carolina. In both cases, fact or assumption will be so noted.


Scotunes: Beyond the Crucible

Scotunes Migrate throughout America

The focus of this particularly phase of the study is on the “crucible” of the Scottish areas of Colonial North Carolina during the 18th century. However, it may be enlightening to take a short diversion to note the spread of Scotunes through the rest of 18th century Colonial America and get a brief glimpse of Scotunes’ impact on contemporary songwriters.

While Scotunes may have entered through the east coast ports of Colonial America, many of the tune carriers traveled west in search of new lands. Some, who were English supporters–and many Highlanders did support and fight for the King during the American Revolution (Meyer 1957)–went west and north to escape ridicule and persecution from their new “American” neighbors. This migration spread Scotunes throughout those territories west and north of Carolina, Philadelphia, and New York where the Scots first landed.

While the Scotunes’ musical influence on the music of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in Canada and on the “Country” music of areas such as Nashville, Tennessee has been well documented, there have been far fewer studies of the influence on the music of the “Wild West” known as Cowboy music. This genre is the traditional music of the American and Canadian west. In the Early American period, just after the Revolutionary War, Scottish-Americans moved westward from North Carolina to all the states between Carolina and the Texas Territory. Cowboys began singing new songs around the campfires of the western plains combining Gaelic melodies with new English words and stories about the cowboy life (Gibson 1993). Irish and Scottish tunes evolved into popular songs, many of which are still sung today. One of the most popular cowboy songs “The Streets of Laredo,” written by a cowboy and still sung in the United States is based on the melody of an old Irish ballad called “The Bard of Armagh” also known as 'The Unfortunate Rake” (Gibson 1993). The Aberdeenshire whaling ballad “Fareweel tae Tarwathie” became “The Railroad Coral” (Gibson 1993). As late as 1910, cowboy songs based on Scotunes were being composed, even in Gaelic. The song “Mo shoraidh leis aiCo’gach” (Farewell to Coigach) was written in 1910 by a Scots emigrant to Montana, Murdoch MacLean.

As stated earlier, the influence of Scotunes into the genre known as Country music in America has been well documented in several studies (Campbell & Collinson 1977, Gilmore 1999, Lomax 1998, MacDonnell 1982, Sawyer 1994). This genre is still current and vibrant in America. Even to listeners of today, the influence of Scotunes may be heard. When asked if he observed any connections between Scotunes and Country music, Dougie MacLean, a currently popular Scottish songwriter, states:
Yes, there are connections; because so many Scottish and Irish people went to America, the older country music has many origins in Scottish and Irish music. They naturally took their music with them and mixed it with the music of all the people there; so country music is a mixture of everything. …when you look…at the old kind of country music, Hank Williams, the origins of country music you recognise more the Scottish and Irish ballad… it’s the same song that keeps singing and singing. [MacLean 2001]
Many contemporary Country, Western, and “Folk” singers have Scottish roots and influences. Johnny Cash, one of the most recognized Country songwriters and singers is of Scottish background (O’Toole 2001). In an interview of Billy Bragg, Bragg talks about Woody Guthrie, one of the pioneers of twentieth century folk and protest songs:

I came across something that (Guthrie) wrote in the 1940s about songs that he’d learned when he was a child from his mother and his grandmother, who had come out of Scottish stock, apparently. And one of the songs that he’d learned was a song called Gypsy Davy, which he later recorded. [Slater 1998]

Contemporary songwriter Rita Coolidge’s father was of Cherokee Indian descent and her mother was Scottish. Both had influences on her music.

…from those two streams comes ethereal voices floating above gospel, folk, traditional Cherokee, contemporary sound and other influences. …[her] version of “Amazing Grace," for instance, gives home to both Cherokee lyrics and the wail of Scottish pipes. [McGreevy 2001]

One of the most popular and well-known American folk singers of the late twentieth century, Joan Baez, has displayed a rich multiethnic tradition in her music which she gained from her Scottish mother and her Mexican father [Baez 2001].

In the 1940s, a new kind of music called “Bluegrass” emerged from the Celtic and English fiddle music and songs that were nurtured from Colonial Carolina up through the twentieth century.

Many of the musicians associated with bluegrass music in its beginnings came from or formed their musical careers in... the Piedmont. ...the Piedmont lies on the plateau east of the Appalachians and includes portions of the states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina [Rosenberg 1985]