(Webmaster's note: Here is a sketch of the Darien Highlander project submitted by Michael Higgins. This project cronicles and important part of Clan Mackay history.)
The coastal community of Darien, Georgia, has a proud Scottish heritage. Two hundred and sixty-four years ago, on 19 January 1736, one hundred and seventy-seven Highlanders - mostly MacKays from the Strathnaver region; and members of Clan Chattan - mostly MacIntoshes from Inverness; arrived at the southern outpost of the Georgia Colony. Each Highlander was granted fifty acres for himself and each member of his family. Their primary mission after settling the land was to protect the colony from the French to the west, the Spanish to the south, and fend off attacks from Indians hostile to the British Crown. Originally named "New Inverness" the name was later changed to "Darien" to recall the Darien Isthmus colony of Panama which came to grief in 1698. Darien was the only Gaelic-speaking community in the Georgia Colony.
The argument can be made and easily defended that Darien is the "Plymouth Rock" of Georgia and the touchstone for Scottish heritage in the Southeastern United States. In 1739 the Scots of Darien petitioned the Trustees of Georgia that no slavery be allowed in their colony, and so it remained until 1749, when that clause in their Charter was removed despite the strong protests of the Scots. The Scots of Darien made a re-statement of this anti-slavery position on the eve of the American Revolution in 1775. This petition, together with that of the Ebenezer Salzburghers was the earliest anti-slavery petition in the South. The early Scots had a strong sense of family, integrity, and a proud work ethic which contributed greatly to their success. Descended from the legendary fierce Norse-Gael warriors they had a well-earned reputation in combat - and were frequently employed as mercenaries. The Highlander's military prowess and reputation in combat was Oglethorpe's prime reason in chosing them to defend "his" colony.
In many ways these people were unique - especially from the viewpoint of the Native American. Most Scots did not wear boots like most other Europeans - they wore a soft leather footwear similar to a moccasin, they did not wear pants -- they wore a philbeg, or great tartan, they (for the most part) spoke Gaelic - not English, their family structure was similar to the Native American's - tribal, or clan. The Scots enjoyed the best relationship with Native Americans, especially the Creeks. The Scottish women had rights under the law and were allowed to own property. Women in the Darien community were trained in the "Manual of Arms" for rifles and were capable of manning the battery of cannons at Fort Darien when the men were on patrol or fighting the Spanish.
In an effort to recall the many contributions of those "First" Scots, a non-profit group has been formed calling itself "The Highlanders of New Inverness, Ltd.," or, HONI. The group in conjunction with the staff at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Fort King George, at Darien, presented the "return" of the Highlanders to Darien during the "Scottish Heritage Weekend" program. The event took place on Friday the 24th, and Saturday the 25th March 2000, at Fort King George, Darien, Georgia amidst the Spanish mos festooned Live Oak trees, blooming dogwoods and azaleas, under cloudless skies and temperatures ranging between 78 and 81 degrees F. The event was a homecoming for those Clans represented by the original settlers of Darien. The Scottish Heritage event was an opportunity to step back in time to see how and where the original Scots lived. There was a Ceilidh with traditional 18th Century music, dance and food. Re-enactors from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina came to interpret this time period.
At 1:00PM there was a re-enactment of the 22 February 1736, arrival at Darien of then Colonel Lord James Oglethorpe from Fort Frederica by cutter longboat. Oglethorpe came to inspect the Highlander's progress at Darien. He was well-pleased.
At 2:00PM there was a re-enactment of the Battle of Bloody Marsh which took place on 7 July 1742. General Oglethorpe's English, Scottish Highlander, and Indian forces numbered (approximately) 650 men. Spanish Governor Montiano's invasion forces numbered 52 ships and over 2000 men. Realizing he was greatly outnumbered and no prospect of being reinforced from the Carolina Colony, Oglethorpe planned an ambush of the Spanish troops along the Military road from Fort St. Simons to Fort Frederica. At a point where the road crossed the marsh, he posted a company of English regulars, H.M. 42nd Regiment of Foot, under Capt. Raymond Demere (numbering about 60 men), on the left side of the road, forming the Left flank. He then posted three platoons of Highlanders, The Darien Highland Independent Company, under Lt Charles MacKay; and a platoon of Highland Rangers and their Indian allies (numbering about 60 men) on the right side of the road, forming the Right Flank. Captain Don Antonio Barba and three companys of Spanish Grenadiers (numbering about 200 men) set out for Fort Frederica. As Barba's troops approached the "bottle neck" in the marsh road, Lt. MacKay raised his tam on his sword as the signal for the battle to begin. The Highlanders and English troops cut-down Barba and his men as they attempted to traverse a marshy section of the Military road. At one point in the battle, three entire platoons of English troops fearing they were outnumbered, retreated, leaving the left flank to Lt. Patrick Sutherland and one platoon of regulars; and the remainder of the field in the hands of one company of now overwhelmingly outnumbered Highlanders and their Indian allies. The battle lasted less than an hour, at which point Capt Barba, his troops out of ammunition and himself mortally wounded, directed his troops in an orderly retreat to Fort St.Simons. The battle gave Gov. Montiano pause to reconsider his attack. Three days later, he withdrew his forces to St. Augustine, Florida. The tenacity of the Highlanders settled forever the question of Spanish and British claim to "The Disputed" Georgia lands. To honor the Darien Highlanders tenacity, HONI has adopted "Buadhaich Tre Dhicheall", or Prevail Through Perseverance, as its motto.
The Highlanders of New Inverness, Ltd., have a website at www.darienhighlanders.org which will post information about the annual March event as well as ongoing projects. While the main annual event will take place in March, HONI plans to have at least one event per quarter, including a Robert Burns Dinner by candlelight in the barracks at Fort King George on 25 January each year. HONI is also involved with establishing a sister or twin-city relationship with Durness; the establishment of cultural and educational exchanges on the University, Secondary school, and Primary school levels. We have contacted university professors in America and Scotland who have expressed a keen interest in the project. Dr Gary Mckay and Donald MacLeod have visited schools in the Strathnaver and spoke with educators Michael Thornton and Jim Johnston. Programs such as educational and cultural exchanges between the Darien local high school, McIntosh County Academy; and Kinlochbervie, and Farr High School have begun. Programs such as a student exchange have been discussed, but will require funding...our next area of focus.
To paraphrase Dr. Charles Peery: "The ability to understand history is predicated on the ability to understand, in detail, those things that define the relationships that existed between people, objects, locations, and events. While no one can say with any certainty what will fire the imagination of a youngster to embrace a love of his or her heritage and the history of his or her people; and no one knows with any certainty what permits the adult to make the long-sought after connection between people and events otherwise seemingly unrelated, the Highlanders of New Inverness, Ltd., together with our kindred spirits in Scotland, will attempt to provide for all age groups the inspiration and information to understand. This can only be done with information in all formats, not merely some, formats. We welcome the participation of all interested parties in this ambitious undertaking.
While the major thrust of the project is education, the group hopes to establish a bridge over time and distance to re-unite the people of the Strathnaver and Inverness regions of Scotland with their American relatives and ancestors in Darien and vicinity. Together, each group might explore their common interests and open dialogs relating to the challenges of economic development faced by each.
We welcome you to participate in this endeavor. Please visit our website: www.darienhighlanders.org for updates. Failte!
(Webmaster's note: At present the link above does not function. I do not know the present status of this project but will keep this page up in the event it is still on-going.)
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