I used to like to brag that I was half- Scottish. My grandfather’s name was Spurlock and it sure sounded Scottish to me. Later on, when I actually did some research, it turned out to be just a plain old vanilla English surname.
But it was too late. I was already emotionally bound to my Scottish “heritage,” which mostly took shape in my desire to wear a kilt, play the pipes and go hunting Nessie in the lochs of the Highlands.
When I moved my young family to New Hampshire, it never occurred to me to question why there was a huge Scottish festival here. Seemed like something any self-respecting state would have. When we spent a crisp September day at the NH Highland Games amidst the pageantry and the wonderful music and fun, I was suitably impressed and somehow felt more at home.
The French/Acadian “Broussard” side of my family had its own colorful elements, of course, but what kid fully appreciates the charms of the world they inherit? The squawking Cajun accordion and shuffling fais dodo didn’t possess the magic of the bright Highland pipes and the elegant cèilidh. Or so it seemed at the time. If we’re lucky, we each discover the beauty of our own heritage somewhere along the path to adulthood.
I lucked into this job (literally lucked into it — remind me to tell you sometime) shortly after moving here and quickly learned why Scottish heritage was so important to our state. The official story in a nutshell (or, in this case, Nutfield) is that 300 years ago, this year, the first North American potato was planted in the town of Nutfield — now Londonderry, Derry and Windham — by its first Old World settlers: a group of Scots and Irish led by Rev. James MacGregor. Friendly natives (who had actually “settled” the land centuries earlier) pointed MacGregor and his band to a great fishing spot at the Amoskeag Falls that later became the heart of our Queen City.
Such hardscrabble agriculture and the Manchester textile mills that popped up to draw power from the Amoskeag Falls became the foundations of the New Hampshire economy for centuries.
I recently learned of another debt we owe to those plucky immigrants in an article by the New England Historical Society winningly titled “How the Londonderry Scots-Irish Saved New Hampshire from Massachusetts.”
I know you’re thinking, “How can we ever repay them?” You might start by just reading the whole wonderful article online (Google the title) but I’ll happily summarize.
In the 1600s and 1700s, much as now, Massachusetts considered New Hampshire to be a kind of backyard, theirs to enjoy and exploit. One use for our abundant wilderness was as a place to cast out undesirables.
The New Hampshire portion of the Massachusetts colony had only four towns — Portsmouth, Dover, Exeter and Hampton — but lots of untamed forest along the undefined border north of Haverhill. The Massachusetts Puritans, who had troubles of their own, told the Scottish Presbyterian immigrants to get lost, so they moved north, established farms and got busy populating their little slice of heaven. By the time Colonial governor Jonathan Belcher (boo, hiss) decided to stake his claim to the region, there were simply too many of the fertile and industrious Scots-Irish to bully.
Border struggles ensued, ultimately ending with Massachusetts settling for an east-west-running border rather than the north-south one they had in mind, which would have deeded them waterfront property on Lake Winnipesaukee.
So think about that as you drive to the NH Highland Games at Loon Mountain on September 20-22 to don a kilt, toss a caber and wash down your haggis with a fine Scotch whisky.
Oh, and you can toot your horn victoriously at any cars with Massachusetts plates who pass you driving north on I-93.