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Henderson Diaspora

(Diaspora: a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time or in which their ancestors lived)


Why Henderson’s Left Scotland

 (From the speech given at the National Scottish Immigrants Memorial, Philadelphia, PA, Dec 2013)

Scottish Immigrant memorial-1

There is a great book entitled “How the Scots invented the Modern World”, by Arthur Herman.  In the book, Herman talks of how Scots fanned out across the globe and were hugely influential in shaping the Modern, western world we know today.  As Herman postulates the true story of the Scots is “How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It.”

We Henderson’s are one of the Highland’s oldest clans.  Our ancestors, the MacEanruig’s, have roots dating back to Pictish Kings.  With this pedigree, we have to ask, why were Scots, and especially our Henderson ancestors, leaving Scotland?

     First and foremost, in 1700, before unification with England, Scotland was the poorest INDEPENDENT country in Europe.  Abject poverty, high unemployment and little hope for improving one’s future were key instigators in the great migration that has created the Scottish Diaspora of today.


     As Scots began to look for a chance to improve their circumstances, some of the first to leave were Henderson immigrants, who came from the Highlands of Scotland, specifically the regions of Caithness and Glencoe.  Later, a great many Henderson’s left from the Scottish Lowlands, and the border counties between Scotland and England.  Henderson’s emigrated to North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  The initial waves of immigrants often included a stopover of several decades in Northern Ireland, as part of an English exportation of citizens program called the Ulster Plantations.  Again, Henderson’s were involved in all these phases of history.

Scottish Immigrant memorial-2


     But leaving Scotland was no simple matter for our Henderson ancestors.  The sea journey across the Atlantic was a fearsome ordeal. The trip typically took one to two months, sometimes longer. The ships that carried them were crowded and cleanliness, hygiene, and decent living quarters were luxuries not afforded the common people. Hunger, thirst, boredom, anxiety, fear, sickness and, all too often, death were frequent occurrences. Children were especially vulnerable to shipboard sicknesses.   The food was terrible and conditions on board the ships of the day were wet and miserable.  To add to these miseries, scarcely a day went by without a fight or a robbery among the crew and passengers.

     So, again, the question: why did they come? The answer lies in the politics of England and the economy of Scotland. During the early 17th century, Scotland and Northern Ireland were plagued with weak and unfavorable economic conditions. Rents escalated throughout the century resulting in dispossessions from the land. Wages were low, unemployment high, and commodities scarce. At the same time, new worlds had been discovered and opportunity arose beyond Scotland’s shores.

     For some of our Henderson ancestors, the trip to America gave them religious opportunity to worship God as they desired. Our Scots-Irish and Lowland Henderson’s were Presbyterian while our Highland Henderson’s were a mixture; some Catholic, some Anglican (Church of Scotland), and some Covenanter Presbyterians.

      Scots were also valued for their military prowess and England’s empire expansion meant soldiers were in demand.  Unable to find other work, many Scots joined the ranks.  Their duties took them to far-off lands and many remained in the new colonies.

      Finally, great famines in the 18th and 19th centuries led to Scots seeking new lands and better chances for their families to survive.

Scottish Immigrant memorial-3

     But whatever, their reasons for leaving, the fact is Scots can be found across the globe.  Here today, we honor those Scots who arrived on the shores of the American colonies. And, as we stand here today, honoring our Scottish Heritage, and as we look at we look at a beautiful, inspiring sculpture—reminding us of that heritage, I ask that we reflect on something else.  Not just the bronze effigies before us—which alone are a fine tribute to our ancestors.  But there is more.  There is a deep, strong vein running thru us all, a vein so remarkable, so profound, so deeply rooted that it binds this bronze statue to our ancestors, and in turn, to those standing here today.  It forges us into one entity—a people of Scots heritage—a proud people—for ultimately, that is what we are honoring today—the binding flesh of Scots, past, present and future.  I close with another line from Arthur’s Herman’s book…. “If you want a true monument to the Scots…just look around you.”