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Scots 'alive and well' in Missouri: Celebrating the contributions of Scottish culture

Mark Sutherland and Thomas Richardson are two local Scots who were involved in organizing the upcoming St. Louis Scottish Games & Culture Festival.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Mark Sutherland and Thomas Richardson are two local Scots who were involved in organizing the upcoming St. Louis Scottish Games & Culture Festival.

The sound of bagpipes playing and the smell of haggis will fill the air in Chesterfield this weekend as the St. Louis Scottish Games & Culture Festival will convene for its 15th annual event.

Since the 1700s, Scots settled across the United States, and pockets of Scottish communities can be found in Missouri, such as the Ozarks. Thomas Richardson, communications director for the Scottish St. Andrew Society of Greater STL, estimates that around half a million people that claim Scottish heritage in their lineage reside in the state.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh spoke with two of them: Richardson and Mark Sutherland, a board member for the St. Louis Scottish Games. Both men have been involved in the organization of the event.

“Scottish Americans are alive and well in the state of Missouri,” Richardson said.

So just what kind of contributions have the Scots made in the United States? Contributions “from the very beginning,” Sutherland said, referencing the influence of the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath (independence) on this country’s Declaration of Independence.

“Many of the Founding Fathers themselves actually had tutors from Scotland,” Richardson added. “Thomas Jefferson is one great example of having a string of tutors from Scotland that shaped his political ideology.”

Transformation of the clans

Clans originally were systems of close-knit families in the Scottish Highlands, often distinguished by the crisscrossed, horizontal and vertical bands on their kilts – also known as the tartan or plaid pattern. Each family line is associated with a particular color combination on their kilts that lets others know what family they come from.

During the festival in Chesterfield this weekend, attendees will see a variety of tartans displayed on Scots.

“For those that know their tartans, they will know the last name of the person they’re walking up to,” Sutherland said.

Due to new laws introduced in Scotland in the 1740s, the clan system was broken up. Today, many clan organizations instead teach about the history of the various clans.

“A lot of these modern clan organizations that we see today started organizing in the late 19th and early 20th century as these social and educational groups,” Richardson said. “[It’s] a way of educating a lot of these Scottish Americans about these clans that used to exist.”

Tracing Scottish ancestry

Those attending the festival will also get a chance to visit various tents set up to represent the different clans. Sutherland explained that those of Scottish ancestry will be able to talk about genealogy, family history, look up surnames, see which tartan belongs to a family name and all the various symbols that go along with it.

But Richardson said that a common misconception he comes across is the assumption that a person’s last name alone means the person is of Scottish descent.

“You have to do the historical research behind it because sometimes the names can change [across] generations, whether or not you have that background,” he explained. For those that want a deeper look into their family history, “take that genealogical path.”

“There are three types of people in the world: There are those of Scottish descent, there are those who are born in Scotland and those who want to be Scottish,” Sutherland joked. “We accommodate all three [at the St. Louis Scottish Games & Cultural Festival].”

Related Event
St. Louis Scottish Games & Cultural Festival
When: 4-10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018
Where: Spirit Airpark West Drive, Chesterfield, MO 63005

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara HamdanCaitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
Caitlin Lally is thrilled to join St. Louis Public Radio as the summer production intern for "St. Louis on the Air." With a bachelor's degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Caitlin also freelances for area publications like Sauce Magazine and the Belleville News-Democrat. In her career, she's covered topics such as Trump's travel ban, political protests and community activism. When she's not producing audio segments or transcribing interviews, Caitlin enjoys practicing yoga, seeing live music, and cooking plant-based meals.
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