Link to our Past, Bridge to our Future

Scottish-American Heritage Month is one of the many month-long celebrations observed in April. It began as National Tartan Day celebrated on April 6 to honor Scottish-Americans’ contributions to American History, and the anniversary of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath (Scottish Independence), a model for the Declaration of Independence.

On April 4, 2008, President George Bush proclaimed April 6 would be Tartan Day in the USA. Many states, such as Texas, Massachusetts, and Alaska honor Scottish-Americans, though there is yet to be a national Scottish-American Heritage Month declaration.


Catherine Wolfe Bruce (January 22, 1816, New York – March 13, 1900, New York) was a noted American philanthropist and patroness of astronomy. She became interested with astronomy as a child, and over her lifetime gave over $200,000 to institutions and causes related to astronomy.

In 1877, Bruce donated $50,000 for a library and books to establish the George Bruce Library in her father’s memory. It was completed in 1888 and located on 42nd St. When it was sold in 1913, proceeds went to creating the library located on 125th St.

She donated money to construct three telescopes, one for Harvard Observatory, completed in 1895, the second for the Heidelberg Observatory, completed in 1900, and the last for the Yerkes Observatory, completed in 1904. The Bruce photographic telescope at Harvard was used when Professor Pickering discovered Phoebe one of Saturn’s moons, on in August, 1898. On September 11, 1898, Max Wolf, special professor of astrophysics and at the University of Heidelberg and director of the Königsstruhl Observatory, the first astronomer to use photographs to find asteroids, discovered his first asteroid, which he named Brucia in her honor.

Bruce also established the Bruce Gold Medal, presented annually to an astronomer for his or her lifetime achievements.

In 1897, Bruce established a fund within the Astronomical Society of the Pacific to award a gold medal annually for distinguished achievements in astronomy. The Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific is one of the most prestigious and well known awards in the astrophysics community. It has been awarded to scientists worldwide.


Ranald MacDonald (February 3, 1824 – August 24, 1894) was the first native English-speaker to teach the English in Japan. MacDonald was born in Fort George, the primary fur trading post for John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company (PFC). His father Archibald (who spelled his name McDonald, while his children kept the original Scots spelling MacDonald), was an officer in the Hudson Bay Company. His mother Koale’xoa was the youngest daughter of Concomly (Comcomly), a leader of the Clatsop Chinook who lived on the lower Columbia River. Koale’xoa died soon after MacDonald was born and his father married Jane Klyne, a German and Swiss woman within two years.

Eva Emery Dye’s historical fiction and other stories created the myth that MacDonald met the three Japanese shipwrecked Japanese sailors, Iwakichi, Otokichi, and Kyūkichi, known as “the three kichis,” at Fort Vancouver in 1832. In reality, MacDonald spent the winter of 1833-4 there and left in March, around six weeks before the three sailors arrived.

At eighteen, he was apprenticed to Edward Ermatinger, a fur-trade banker, but soon decided to study Japanese. While he explained in his autobiography that he wanted to “instruct them of us,” it may have also been his belief that Japanese were the ancestors of Native Americans that compelled him. MacDonald left his bank job in 1945 and spent three years as a navigator and harpooner on a New England whaling vessel. In a prearranged plan with the captain of the whaler Plymouth, he left on a small boat and arrived on Rishiri Island, Hokkaido, in northern Japan. There the Ainu (the indigenous people of Japan) rescued him on July 1, 1848. He was eventually transported to a thousand miles to Nagasaki, the seat of the government.

In Nagasaki, MacDonald explained that he had been shipwrecked and that his intentions were peaceful, he was placed under house arrest instead of executed for entering the country illegally. For ten months, MacDonald taught English conversation and pronunciation to fourteen Japanese men who had been acting as interpreters between the Japanese and Dutch while they taught him Japanese. One of his students was Murayama Yeannoske (Einosuke Moriyama) who was a chief interpreter for the Japanese when Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan to demand that the Shogunate open its door to America in 1854.

MacDonald was not the only American in Japan at the time. In June 1848, around the time MacDonald arrived in Hokkaido, thirteen seamen from the Lagoda had also arrived and had been arrested. All fourteen left Japan aboard the Preble.

For several years, MacDonald worked as a gold miner and rancher in Australia and Canada before returning to the United States. He wrote an account of his time in Japan: Japan: Story of Adventure of Ranald MacDonald, first teacher of English in Japan, A.D. 1848–49, published posthumously in 1923.

MacDonald died on August 24, 1894, and was buried in the Ranald MacDonald Cemetery in Ferry County, Washington. There are also monuments to him in Nagasaki (1964), Rishiri Island (1987), and Astoria (1988).


Alexander Murray Palmer Haley (August 11, 1921 – February 10, 1992) was an American writer and the author of the 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. ABC adapted the book as a television miniseries of the same name and aired it in 1977, which raised the public awareness of African American history and inspired a broad interest in genealogy and family history.

Haley was born in Ithaca, New York and enlisted in the US Coast Guard in 1939 where he became its first Chief Journalist. He won many awards, and was the first and only person to receive an honorary degree from the Coast Guard Academy. He retired in 1959 and became a magazine writer and interviewer.

His first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965 and sold over six million copies by 1977. Time later named it one of the ten most important nonfiction books of the twentieth century.

After this success, Haley’s next project was to tell the story of his ancestors’ journey from Africa to America as slaves and their eventual freedom. Haley spent a decade researching across three continents, examining slave ship records in the United States, and England, and traveling to his ancestors’ home in Gambia, West Africa. His efforts culminated in Roots, loosely based on his family history published in 1976. It won the 1977 National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize and translated into thirty-seven languages. It was eventually adapted into a TV series.

After Roots, he began working on Queen: The Story of an American Family but died before it was finished. David Stevens completed the novel. Queen begins in 1841 and continues through the post-Civil War era, tracing the story of Haley’s ancestors. His grandmother, Queen Haley, was the daughter of Esther, a slave and James Jackson, Jr., the son of her master, who lived on a plantation in Florence, Alabama. Jackson planned to inherit his father’s plantation but has a crisis when he falls in love with Esther and conceives a child. Another ancestor’s story came down through the generations in family legend. In the 1840s, a Kentucky horse trader named Green Monroe Haley moved to Alabama and established a plantation in Marion County. Haley hired a man named William Baugh (pronounced “baff” in the Scottish dialect) who was a Scottish descent. Baugh had a son with a female slave named Viney, who was of Cherokee and African descent. Alec Baugh, born around 1850, took the Haley name and became Alec Haley, Alex Haley’s great-grandfather. After slavery was outlawed in 1865, Alec Haley moved to Tennessee where he married another former slave named Queen. Like Roots, Queen was also adapted into a TV miniseries, starring Hallie Berry.

Though Haley did not live to see it, in 2007, the family legend was confirmed. Haley’s nephew Chris Haley found that he was distantly related to a woman from south Wales who traced her lineage back to seventeenth-century Scotland.

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