EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in April 2001. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.
Back on March 17, someone pinched me because I wasn’t wearing green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
My defense was “I’m not Irish, I’m a Scot and with a name like Duncan, how could you have thought otherwise?”
Well, last Tuesday I wore green — the Duncan clan tartan, a pattern of dark and light greens interwoven and criss-crossed with threads of whites and reds. I’m wearing my tartan today not as a belated honor to St. Patrick, but because it is National Tartan Day, a day set aside by Congress in 1998 as a national celebration, copying an earlier tradition in Canada to honor that country’s Scottish roots.
President Woodrow Wilson, a Scot himself, once said of the Scots, “Every line of strength in American history is a line colored with Scottish blood.”
The Scottish influence on America has been awesome. Scots have played a part in the political history of this country, both in the pre-Revolutionary colonies and in the post Revolutionary United States. Scots immigrated to the colonies as early as 1683.
General George Washington appointed James Craik, a Scot, as surgeon of the army. It was Craik who treated President Washington up to the time of his death. Washington remembered him in his will, calling him “my compatriot in arms, an old and intimate friend.”
Of the 56 signators of the Declaration of Independence, nine were Scots.
Eleven U.S. presidents have been Scots. Nearly half of the secretaries of the U.S. Treasury and one third of the secretaries of state have been Scots. Thirty-five U.S. Supreme Court justices have been Scots.
When the 13 colonies were established, 9 of the 13 governors were Scots.
Scots can even claim the first U.S. saint canonized by the Catholic Church, Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, who founded the Sisters of Charity in 1809 in Baltimore.
Even an apple bears the name of a Scot — John Mackintosh, the developer of the Mackintosh red apple. The computer I am writing this column on is a Mackintosh, a name selected by the Apple Computer Co. to honor the old Scot.
Henry Wallace, the secretary of agriculture in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration, was the grandson of a Scottish Presbyterian minister. Wallace developed a hybrid corn that increased agricultural production of corn.
Harvard Medical School was founded by three doctors, one of them Benjamin Waterhouse, was a graduate of the medical school at Edinburgh University. Medical schools in Scotland were leaders in the field of medicine and the best in Europe during the 17th century. Many Scottish trained doctors immigrated to the United States, such as Samuel Guthrie, who pioneered vaccinations against disease and was the discoverer of chloroform. William Morton, a dentist of Scottish descent, developed the use of anesthesia.
There is hardly a state in the U.S. that doesn’t have a city or a county that isn’t of Scottish origin — including the county in which I live — Douglas. The most common Scottish names are attached to the suffix Mac or Mc, but the suffix in Gaelic simply meant son. The original Mac an Toisich meant son of Toisich, which became Anglicized as Macintosh.
There are some Scots who say you’re not of a major clan unless your surname is attached to a Mac or a Mc.
Don’t believe that blarney. The good Scots range from Abercromby to Wallace, with a lot of clans that have no suffix to hold up their name. Think about it. Consider the famous bard Bobbie Burns, the most celebrated man of letters in the world. He is not MacBurns, is he?
My sister, Frances, visited the old sod last year and brought me back a paperweight emblazoned with the Duncan seal — a brigantine under full sail. The seal has the Duncan clan motto in Latin: Disce Pati.
Translation: Learn to Suffer.
You got that right, Sis.