Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Red Sticks and Jacobites

I've recently become interested in what I've decided to christen the "things that make you go 'hmmm'" school of historical study: the way certain events - often barely noticed ones - from history can conspire odd and unexpected ways; ways that nobody could have predicted and which seem so incongruous and fitting as to have almost been planned by a fiction writer.

An example of this is the curious link between the Jacobite Rebellion of the Scottish Highlands and the Red Stick War of the Creeks against the United States government.

From the late 17th century to the mid-18th, Scottish independence from England took its last throw of the dice, when James VII and later Bonnie Prince Charlie launched insurgencies, with the aid of Highland Scottish clans, against the London government. A century of massacres, battle and guerilla warfare resulted, in which ancient Highland clan rivalries played as much a part as the question of independence, before finally the rebellion was ended at the 1746 Battle of Culloden. (My own genes played something of a role in the story: my grandmother was a member of Clan Campbell, a large and powerful Highland clan which sided with the government in the rebellion in order to settle long-held grudges against Clans Lohan, MacDonald and MacGregor.)

After the Jacobite Rebellion had been stamped out, the British government proceeded with a policy of ethnic cleansing (an anachronistic but appropriate term) in which Scottish Highland society and culture were effectively destroyed and in which large numbers of disposessed clansmen found themselves on ships bound for the New World. It's hard to imagine, these days, the situation of these men, plucked from an insular world of high, wet moorland, narrow valleys and deep dark lochs to the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean; our own experience of overseas travel is utterly alien to it. It must have been terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time.

The place they found themselves in, on the opposite side of the planet, would, I think, have been surprisingly familiar. Native American society, with its tribalism, its clan bonds, and its endemic violence, wouldn't have been dissimilar to Highlands life; it's natural that the Scots would have made their ways to the frontiers, where they were often the vanguard of expansion.

Three of their descendants were to become a coterie of young leaders at the heart of the Creek nation at the turn of the 19th century: Menawa, William Weatherford (Red Eagle) and Peter McQueen, each half-Scottish, born to frontiersmen and Creek women, versed in both cultures, and often posessing startlingly incongruous eccentricities - like the regular playing of bagpipes before a battle. They came to prominence as the central force of the Red Stick movement - a group of young Creeks who believed in violent resistance to white expansion - which in 1812 began an insurgency against settlers, government forces and "civilized Creeks" in the Southern states. Massacre and guerilla warfare continued for some years before the rebellion reached its bloody conclusion at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and its aftermath.

The parallels are obvious - both rebellions were categorised by slaughter of civilians (the Massacre at Glencoe and The Fort Mims Massacre); both were considerably more complicated than "native against government" (some Highlanders, like the men of Clan Campbell, fought for the British, and many Lower Creeks and Cherokees joined the US government against the Red Sticks - not to mention another Scots/Creek, William McIntosh); and, most sadly, both ended in the destruction of a way of life and an ancient culture. How interesting, though, and how like the plot of a novel, that it should be the very descendants of the Jacobites who should go on to be the driving force of the Red Sticks, in a land thousands of miles away and as ostensibly far removed as possible, and that their experience should be so similar.

Makes you go 'hmmm', see?


knicksgrl0917 said...
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zero_zero_one said...

Hmm indeed, very interesting...