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Early American colonies: Stuart's Town and East New Jersey

In the history of the Scottish colonies in America, the settlements of Stuart's Town, South Carolina and that of East New Jersey stand as polar opposites in terms of their success. In considering why this was the case there are a number of factors to be considered in the history of both settlements.

With a survival period of only two years, the Scottish settlement of Stuart's Town, Port Royal, South Carolina, in many histories of America, does not get mentioned at all or is simply given a passing reference. Meinig's history simply states, 'The Spanish destroyed the Port Royal Scottish settlement two years after its founding' (The Shaping of America, p. 175).

Stuart's Town lay in territory which was the subject of dispute with Spain and not surprisingly due to its geographical location of some significance. As George Pratt Insh states, 'The strategic importance of the Florida coast had from early times been recognised by the Spaniards. It lay conveniently near the Bahama Channel through which the galleons, laden with the riches of Mexico and Peru, worked there way out of the Carribean Sea to the Atlantic' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 186).

The settlement at Port Royal was an exclusively Presbyterian one. The Earl of Shaftesbury, a proprietor of Carolina, was a champion of the Covenanters who had, 'decried the persecution occurring in Scotland under the rule of the Earl of Lauderdale' (Scottish Emigrants to Colonial America 1607 - 1789, p. 63). It was not therefore surprising that these Covenanters chose this area in which to settle, building on the earlier plans of Sir George Lockhart for a Scottish Presbyterian settlement.

The Carolina Charters, amongst other things, 'permitted the Lords Proprietors to grant freedom of conscience to colonists' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 188). Such a place would no doubt look attractive to the persecuted Presbyterians.

The strategic position of the colony was also an important one to the proprietors of the already established English settlement at Charles Town to the north. 'The proprietors welcomed the proposal for a settlement that would protect the southern flank of their colony against Spanish attack, and were prepared to grant freedom of worship to the intending colonists' (Scotus Americanus, p. 5). Despite the reservations of the colonists themselves at Charles Town, the Governor was directed by the proprietors to assist the new colonists at Stuart's Town. From the point of view of the Government it also meant the removal of a number of those who were a source of political unrest from the British mainland.

Against this background plans were made to send one thousand men and one thousand cows. The initial party was in fact much smaller. The aptly named Carolina Merchant sailed from Gourock in July 1684 carrying only around 140 passengers to begin the settlement at Stuart's Town. The original plan had been severely hampered by the involvement of Shaftesbury and others in the 'Rye House Plot'. As George Pratt Insh states, 'the English authorities pronounced decidedly on the motives that had induced the Scots connected with the Carolina scheme to visit London' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 192).

The two main leaders of the project, William Dunlop, later Principal of Glasgow University, and Henry Erskine, 3rd Lord Cardross, were however not involved in any of the intrigue. The latter led this first party of settlers to Stuart's Town. Despite their small number and the obvious need for support from Charles Town, 'Cardross announced, on arrival, that he was not subject to the Governor' (Scotus Americanus, p. 5). This isolationist standpoint was one which did the colony no favours and, as will be seen, contributed to its failure, leaving it stranded between the English and the Spanish.

Relations were not to improve between Stuart's Town and Charles Town. Indeed there was a preoccupation by the Governor at the latter to try and exert some measure of control over the Scots. 'From the first, animosity existed between the Scots and the English authorities. As a result defence was neglected' (The Scottish Covenanters 1660 - 1688, p. 155).

This was also a period of strained relations between England and Spain over the issue of the Florida / Carolina border. The importance of the buffer of the Stuart's town colony should be viewed in this light. 'There was desultory skirmishing between the English and the Spaniards, each aided by Indian allies' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 205). Yet this buffer would not be defended when the crisis came.

Relations with the native population are also important. 'In the Scots the Yamasees found settlers with which it was less difficult to enter into friendship' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 210). The use which the Scots made of these allies was however one which would provoke a reaction from the Spanish which would result in the end of their settlement.

George Pratt Insh cites several Yamasees who, 'testified that, 'the Scots at Port Royal sent an emissary to persuade them to go to war with some neighbouring Indians who had a Chapel and a Spanish Friar, and gave them arms for the purpose. They did so, and brought back twenty prisoners as slaves to the Scots, and a manuscript of prayers produced' The Scots' Indian allies had, in fact, raided the Spanish Mission of Santa Catalina' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 210).

To a colony of Presbyterians at that time, a Roman Catholic mission might have been seen as a legitimate target, especially to those of a devout Covenanting persuasion, but nevertheless the action put them in an extremely precarious position. It was as a result of this action that Stuart's town was finally destroyed. The Spanish, not surprisingly, retaliated, sending in a force of 210 against only 25 fit Scotsmen, and the settlement was eliminated (Scotus Americanus, p. 6).

The colony at East New Jersey could not have been more different to Stuart's Town in terms of its success. Pioneered by Robert Barclay of Urie, himself another victim of religious persecution, the colony itself sat, as Stuart's Town had, alongside an English colony, in this case, West New Jersey. Barclay's had the support of chief proprietor, the Earl of Perth, and, 'it was presented as a national enterprise' (Scotus Americanus, p. 6).

Unlike Stuart's Town, the colony at East New Jersey was not on previously unsettled land. It had originally been granted by the then future James II and VII to two English gentlemen and it had passed from them into largely Quaker hands who took on, amongst others, six Scots Quakers as proprietors. 'The Scots proprietors quickly became the most active members of the proprietary group' (Scotland and its First American Colony 1683 - 1765, p. 103). Of these, Robert Barclay of Urie was to become a leader.

As a Quaker, Barclay was not the subject of national persecution because of his religious beliefs, but he was aware of the, 'vindictive and unremitting persecution to which the Quakers in and around the town of Aberdeen were subjected by the local authorities' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 149). The idea of a colony of refuge most likely came from this experience.

This was not however an isolated colony of Quakers and there is no evidence that Barclay ever envisioned it as such. 'Immigration to New Jersey, however, was not limited to Quakers; in response to requests from Robert Barclay of Urie, George Scott of Pitlochie, and Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, a substantial number of Covenanter prisoners and criminals were allocated by the Privy Council' (Scottish Emigrants to Colonial America 1607 - 1789, p. 49). These settlers were both numerous and varied.

The inclusive and non sectarian nature of the colony also meant an avoidance of conflict with its neighbours as had been the case for Stuart's Town. As George Pratt Insh states, 'There is nothing to show.....that in West Jersey, the neighbouring colony, any jealousy was aroused by the fact that the proprietors were all Quakers' (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 151).

Promotion of the venture aroused widespread interest, and the corresponding activity in Scottish port towns showed this. The contrast with Stuart's Town is stark and it was even the case that, 'Observers in Scotland reported that the East Jersey promotion was attracting so much attention during the 1680's that it hindered the prospects of the Covenanters' colony in Carolina' (Scotland and its First American Colony 1683 - 1765, p. 114). This evidence shows a direct comparison of how East New Jersey attracted settlers while Stuart's Town only managed an initial 140.

What was also starkly different was the type of settler that was being attracted to East New Jersey. Landsman identifies the sizeable number of families who came, suggesting a permanence to the colony, 'The whole Scottish settlement was family oriented; at least forty percent of the early immigrants arrived in family units, and a majority came with relatives of some sort' (Scotland and its First American Colony 1683 - 1765, p. 114).

George Pratt Insh points to the quality of the land, in agricultural terms, and the suitability of the climate, relating a number of contemporaries' accounts (Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686, p. 168). The land was very fertile and productive, an improvement to some Scots, but still recognisable in terms of the approach to cultivation. Unlike the hotter Carolinas, the climate had similarities to Scotland. Overall there was a sense of familiarity in their new home and an environment not unlike what they were accustomed to.

The relationship between the colony at East New Jersey and other colonies, as well as with Scotland also stands to its success and their outwardness. The 'way Scots sustained their position in New Jersey affairs was to maintain ties with other prominent Scotsmen both in Scotland and in the other colonies, especially amongst those Scottish merchant families who continued to visit East Jersey' (Scotland and its First American Colony 1683 - 1765, p. 114). The continual presence of these merchants is itself an indication of the prosperity deriving from the colony.

After the flight of James VII and I in 1688, emigration patterns from Scotland altered. 'The level of emigration from Scotland to East New Jersey and elsewhere in America diminished' (Scottish Emigrants to Colonial America 1607 - 1789, p. 53). Nevertheless the colony was well established and while a number did return to Scotland most remained.

Overall the two settlements show the clear differences in effective and ineffective methods of settlement. To summarise, New Jersey was not the 'virgin' territory that Stuart's Town was. The settlers who arrived did not have to hack their settlement out of a wilderness and the methods of cultivation and the type of land they were cultivating was familiar to them and in a suitable climate. The settlers who came to Stuart's Town were very isolated and inward looking whereas those at East New Jersey showed a diversity which was beneficial to the colony.

There are certainly problems with source material for South Carolina. 'Official records of the South Carolina grant were retained by the English Privy Council, but sources dealing with the plans, personal motives and experience in Carolina are very slight' (Scotus Americanus, p. 9). While this does limit our knowledge to some extent, it could be argued that very lack of material lies in the failure and destruction of the colony itself. A 'life' of only two years duration is itself indicative.


D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America (Yale, 1986)

George Pratt Insh, Scottish Colonial Schemes 1620 - 1686 ( Maclehose, Jackson & Co., 1922)

David Dobson, Scottish Emigrants to Colonial America 1607 - 1789 (University of Georgia Press, 1994)

William R. Brock, Scotus Americanus (Edinburgh University Press, 1982)

Ian B. Cowan, The Scottish Covenanters 1660 - 1688 (Victor Gollancz, 1976)

Ned Landsman, Scotland and its First American Colony 1683 - 1765 (Princeton University Press, 1985)

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