New-York Historical Society

From Kilted Soldiers to Scottish Poets–The New York Caledonian Club

This post was written by N-YHS intern Alison Shore Dundy.

The recently acquired New York Caledonian Club Records (MS 2923) are a gateway to gemstones from the history of Scottish immigrants in New York City.  The records of the Caledonian Club document the work, activities, and membership of this society dedicated to the preservation of Scottish heritage, from its founding in 1856 through 2007.

Studio Portait of Thomas Fyffe, 1870.

Officially chartered by the City of New York in 1861, the Caledonian Club formed a voluntary regiment that same year—the 79thNew York Highlanders–in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers for the Union Army.

The membership books in the collection offer “eureka” moments for historians and family genealogists alike. Tucked inside the Register of Veterans of the “Seventy-ninth,” is the June 28, 1865 Special Order appointing the Regiment’s Quartermaster, signed by a Caledonian Club member, Samuel Elliott, later promoted to Brigadier General by Lincoln.

June 28, 1865 Order

 

Photographs in the collection show the only kilted soldiers in the Civil War, just moments before departing New York to defend the nation’s capital.

Other photographs give viewers an opportunity to ponder an earlier life of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Before glass and steel skyscrapers overtook the natural landscape, the Caledonian Club hosted the popular annual Highland Games in Jones Woods. Young men competed in traditional Scottish sports, such as curling and hammer throws, before large assemblies of fans.

Labor Day, 1910: New York Caledonian Club on parade.

Today, hundreds of New Yorkers and tourists stroll past the statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns on Central Park’s Literary Walk. The history of the statue, commissioned by the Caledonian Club and sculpted by a Scottish artist, can be studied in this collection. Other records, such as minutes of meetings during World War I, show Club members reaching their hands across the sea in solidarity with Scottish citizens and American soldiers in the trenches, as well as their support to Scottish-American families on the home front.

 

 

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This is a blog created by staff members in the library to draw attention to the richness and diversity of our collections.

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