Scottish Diaspora

The idea was to take advantage of the stranglehold on global trade conveniently provided by this thin strip of land between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific.

The whole experience ended in disaster and death as we know and was one of the factors that led to the end of Scotland´s independence and the Act of Union of 1707.

From then on Scots set about establishing the British and not the Scottish Empire.

Ironically one of the factors that led many Scots to return to the idea of regaining their sovereignty was the ending of the British Empire in the second half of the 20th century.

Central and South America have only ever had a handful of English-speaking colonies or territories such as British Honduras, now Belize, British Guiana, now Guyana, and the Falkland islands.

Scots have been active in all these places – and the Caribbean in particular – but it was in larger countries in South America like Brazil, Argentina and Chile that they made their mark.

The first reference to Scots in South America I have come upon was in John Hemming´s book “Red Gold; the conquest of the Brazilian Indians” where he quotes from a work by a French historian who refers to three Scottish soldiers who contracted the pox from Indian women while serving with French forces in the Guanabara region of Rio de Janeiro in 1555-60.

They were bodyguards of the French governor of the colony France was trying to set up at that time. Incidentally, they later executed some plotters who tried to overthrow the governor because he wanted to stop the settlers fraternising with the local Indians.

No doubt there were earlier contacts as the French had tried to consolidate their hold on Brazil for many years.

The Dutch also employed large numbers of Scottish mercenaries during the 40 or so years they held part of northeast Brazil near Recife in the 17th century, according to the English historian Charles Boxer.

English and French pirates were active across South America and the Caribbean, raiding coastal towns and trading posts and harrying ships of all nations and we can be sure there were Scots on board vessels of both nations.

One we do know about was Alexander Selkirk who was on board a ship captained by the English privateer Dampier off the coast of Chile in 1704.

Selkirk, who came from Largo in Fife, claimed the ship was not seaworthy and was left on the deserted Juan Fernandez island where he spent four years in solitude.

Selkirk became the inspiration for Defoe´s famous novel Robinson Crusoe.

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