Baltic Scots
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Baltic Scots
Quote:Writer Bill Kay on the Baltic-Scots

In Short

Between the 15th and the late 19th century a prosperous community of Scottish people existed across the shores of the Baltic sea. According to the Polish historian Anna Bieganska, the total Scottish population living in the area was between 100.000 and 150.000. According to Bill Kay, more Scots went to Eastland, as the region was known at the time, than to Ulster. There were several reasons why the Scots emigrated to the Continent: poverty, periods of famine in their country, religious persecution either by the Roman Catholics or the Presbyterians, civil disorders, and lack of good prospects in their native country for the younger sons of noble families. Sometimes the stimulus for going abroad was the Scottish propensity to seek a life of adventure in the world at large.

Regions of Origin

From the documents scattered in the archives of Polish towns we get to know many interesting things such as, for instance, that almost all Scottish immigrants arrived in Poland from the eastern part of Scotland. We come across the names of such Scottish towns as: Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Perth, St Andrews, Culross, Crail, Cupar, Cupar Angus, Brechin, Montrose, Auchtermuchty , Berwick and others.

Althoug the immigration from East Scotlad was predominant, people from other parts of Scotland were also present in the Baltics. Cities such as Lamington in Lanarshire, Glasgow and Paisley in Renfrewshire, Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, and even Highland cities such as Inverness, Stornoway and Oban, appear in the records of Scots who settled in cities such as Gdansk, Cracow, Poznan, Lwów and Vilnius.

It is also worth mentioning that not all the people referred as Szkots in Poland-Lithuania were actual Scots. Many Irish, Welsh and English also moved to the country with their Scottish countrymen, however, since Scots were the most numerous group, anyone from the British Isles was referred simply as "Scot".

The Scots of Roman Catholic faith arrived mostly from the region of Aberdeen and many such Scottish Catholics lived in the Polish province of Warmia (Ermland) where there was a well known Jesuit College, in Braniewo (Braunsberg) .One should add here that all Scots in Poland, with very few exceptions, were strongly attached to their religion. They stood fast, even when, because of the form of their faith, Protestant Scots suffered some indignities from intolerant Catholics in the seventeenth century, for instance in Cracow or Lublin; which, however, happened only sporadically.


Amongst the many surnames of Scots who lived in Poland in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find: Abercrombie, Allen, Auchleck, Barclay, Black, Bonar, Brown, Buchan, Burnet, Carmichael, Chalmers, CoUtS, Cruikshank, Davidson, Dawson, Dickson, Drummond, Dumfries, Duncan, Farquar, Ferguson, Forbes, Fraser, Gordon, Henderson, Horne, Innes, Johnstone, Kyth, Keith, Leslie, Lindsay, More, Ogilvie, Porteous, Reid, Robertson, Ross, Skene, Smart, Stuart, Smith, Thomson, Watson, Young, to cite only some of them.

Some Scots acclimatized themselves to the conditions of life in their adopted countries to such an extent that they were elected town councillors, presidents of guilds and even burgomasters, as Alexander Chalmers (Czamer), four times burgomaster of Warsaw, and for some time secretary to the king. The Scots were also town councillors and burgomasters in the town of Bydgoszcz.

The Scottish surnames were often changed not only phonetically but also formally, for instance: McLoud-Machleid; Andersonas-Anderson; Benetas-Bennett; Diksonas-Dickson; Gordonas-Gordon; Argyle-Argiel; Brown-Brun, Bran; Chalmers-Czamer, Czemar; Cochrane-Czochran, Czochranek; Dawson-Dasson; Drew-Drews, Driowski; Forbes-Frybes; Gavin-Gawin; Gordon-Gordon- oW ski, Gordanowicz; Gore- Gorski ; Hepburn- Hebron ; Jackson -Dziaksen ; Lawson-Loson; Lindsay-Lendze, Lenze; Macleod-Machlajd; Macaulay or Maclean-Makalienski; Ramsay-Ramze; Reid-Ridt, Rydt, Ryd, Ryt; Ross-Rossek, Rusek; Sinclair-Szynkler; Smith-Szmid; Taylor- Tailorowicz; Thomson-Tamson; Weir-Wajer.


Scots immigrants were well settled in towns, prospering as merchants or following a trade, as well as being part of the political life of their new countries. We hear also of itinerant 'Scots cramers', who once were popular in old Poland. No doubt some of the successful merchants made their start in Poland as pedlars. 'A Scots pedlar's pack in Poland' was an expression which became almost proverbial in seventeenth-century England.

The itinerant Scots, with goods for sale on their shoulders or on the back of their horses, went from village to village, from burgh to burgh through the various districts of the country. Welcomed by the inhabitants of provincial places, they sold various woollen and linen goods, kerchiefs, iron ware, knives, scissors, spoons, cups, beads, articles of food, blankets, and even shot guns. They were accused of buying in Prussia things protected by monopoly, such as the furs of beavers and martens, as well as amber, in order to sell them at a good profit in Poland. Sometimes they also bought grain, silver and copper. It is interesting that even up to this day in Poland, in the dialect of the Pomeranian Kashubs, the word 'Szot'-in German 'Schotte' - means a commercial traveller. This word, with the same meaning, appears in Polish literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

There were also Scottish mercenary soldiers who served in various continental armies were also known in Poland and Russia and distinguished themselves by their loyalty and bravery in the wars waged against their enemies.

Relations with their homeland

Even though living overseas, the Scots were still in contact with their homeland. When in the second half of the seventeenth century the academic authorities of Marischal College in Aberdeen appealed to the Scots abroad for material support for the restoration of the dilapidated buildings of the institution they received a good response, and Patrick Forbes brought a substantial sum to Scotland. This sum comprised various contributions. Among the contributors were John Turner from Danzig with £600, the post-master Low from the same town with £290, and Patrick Forbes with £280. From Warsaw twenty-five Scots participated in this collection.

Robert Gordon, a former student at Marischal College and a prosperous merchant of Danzig gave a large sum of money for the founding in Aberdeen of a school which became known as Gordon's Hospital, but this name was later changed into Gordon's College.

Another interesting example is that of Wanda Machlejd. A descendant of McLouds who settled in Poland, she was a runner during the Warsaw Uprising during the World War II. Her Baltic-Scot ancestry was originally from the Isle of Skye.

Before World War II, Wanda's uncle Jerzy Machlejd, his wife and cousin travelled by car from Warsaw to Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland with the hope of finding out more about the MacLeod's connection.

Their arrival in Dunvegan must have been memorable because after the war, when Wanda Machlejd was left as one of the millions of displaced people in Poland, her uncle's visit played a huge part in her future.

A British official, J R Stuart MacLeod, had read of the trip to Dunvegan so when he read her name on a list he made enquiries about her. Stuart MacLeod discovered Wanda's whereabouts and arranged for her to be provided with the documentation required to enter Britain.

When she arrived in Britain, Wanda Machlejd was invited to stay at Dunvegan Castle as a guest of the castle's owner, and Clan MacLeod's chief, Flora MacLeod.

Marriage Patterns

Unlikely other immigration movements from the British Isles to the continent, not only Scottish men settled in the Baltic, but also women and children.

The subject of Scottish women immigrants is one of the least researched facets of Scottish immigration to Poland-Lithuania and Russia. At first sight, the available data suggest that very few came. Yet, genealogies of a number of Scottish immigrant families, which can be reconstructed using parochial documents, provide contradictory evidence.

The records show that in the Baltic states, many marriages were conducted amongst Scots, not only in the first, but also in the second, third, fourth and further generations, showing that Scots were a very endogamic group. An interesting and well-documented example is that of Thomas Orem, a Scottish burgher and merchant resident in Cracow, and Susanne Hewitt (polonized to Zuzanna Heidówna), who married in Wielkanoc in the 17th century. Their eldest daughter Susanne (Zuzanna) was married in Lucianowice to a Scots countryman by the name of William Torrie, also resident in Cracow. Orem’s second daughter, Elizabeth, also married in Cracow is a Scots by the name of James Chambers. Of their children, Anna Chambers married in Lucianowice a first-generation Baltic Scots called Peter Forbes, originally from Aberdeen. Their child, Thomas Orem’s great-grand-daughter, Anna Forbes, married yet another Scot, Robert Low.

Many Scots also married with local men and women, both in Lithuania and Poland. That however did not mean a loss of their distict Scottish identity. One notable example is that of Alexander Nisbet. Despite being married to Sybilla Langkabel, daughter of an Elblag councillor, he held tight to his Scottish identity, decorating the gable of his town-house with the figure of a lion, a heraldic charge of the Kingdom of Scotland.

Another important fact to me mentioned, is that the children born in Poland-Lithuania to Scottish parents were also counted as Scots, even if one of the parents was not Scottish.


Like many parts of eastern Europe, Lithuania's first associations with Scotland date to the arrival of Scottish mercenaries and merchants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Scottish merchants, either Catholics or Protestants, established profitable communities in Lithuania, and as they did in neighbouring Poland, many reached high status. During the eighteenth century the trend began to decline, and the sense of distinct Scottish identity amongst those who remained in Lithuania began to fade. By the end of the nineteenth century the Scottish population that once made more of 50% of some towns was already almost entirely gone.

The Scots arrived mostly in Kedainiai in the late 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, serving in the army and Personal Guard of Prince Radziwill. Encouraged by the conversion of his wife Anna to Protestantism, the community exerted considerable influence in the city and persisted until the mid-19th century. The historian Kaminskas recorded: The Scots are still arriving, And settle near the Big Market, They settle for a long timne, as walls of a house, Are thick, strong and smell of stability. Eleven of the main market square's nineteen grand properties were once owned by Scots merchants.

Scots reached exalted positions, including mayor, court members, clergymen and academics. At the Academy of Vilnius, John Hay was the master of rhetoric and Scots contributed to collections of published poetry. In Kaunas, a Scotsman by the name of Augustyn Middleton was named guardian of the town. By the 18th century the ascendancy of Catholics in the Counter-Reformation in the area led many Protestant Scots back to their traditional strongholds in ports such as Prussia's Königsberg.


Scotland and Russia have close connections, not least in their shared reverence of Saint Andrew. In the days before the discovery of the New World, and for a long time afterwards, Russia was often seen as a vast land of opportunity and adventure. It was therefore an appealing destination for vigorous and ambitious Scotsmen, and as was often the case it was in war that they made their most obvious early contributions to the Russian state. Scottish soldiers were noted in the Grand Duchy of Muscovy in the 1300s, but it was the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which saw Russia emerge as a major player in world affairs, expanding considerably in size, influence, and ambition.

Just as soldiers like Alexander Leslie thrived in Swedish service, many Scottish officers served Russia, and a number gained prominent rank: in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries fifteen Scots became Russian generals whilst James Bruce and George Ogilvie made it to Field Marshall! A Robert Bruce was St Petersburg's first military governor in the early 1700s. Such men were held in great esteem. Patrick Gordon (1635-99) from Aberdeenshire, in recognition of his services to the state, was granted permission to build the region's first Catholic church and school, something he could never have achieved in Scotland at the time.

Nor was it only on land that Scottish soldiers performed well for Russia: the Imperial Navy - which flew an ensign which must have warmed a Scots heart - was also well served by Scots, including Admiral Samuel Greig (1735-88) from Inverkeithing in Fife. His sons also held successful naval careers, and a grandson became the tsar's Minister of Finance. Scottish architects, doctors (such as James Wylie from Tulliallan), and diplomats could all be found close to the Russian court in this period.

Scotland's contribution to Russia's history was not just martial, of course. Merchants and industrialists played their part too. In 1815, Russia's first steamship was the work of Charles Baird's company, a vast industrial empire based around St Petersburg which employed both Russian serfs and Scottish engineers. Baird was just one of the prominent Scottish industrialists working in nineteenth century Russia. Some Scots integrated into their communities, but others banded together in what one English writer in 1805 called a "Caledonian Phalanx"!


Scotland and Poland have a long and established relationship, very similar to some of the Scots connections to Germany. In the middle ages Poland's main connection with the west was through the port of Danzig (Gdansk), and Scottish merchant ships were frequent visitors: in the two years from 1474 there are twenty-four vessels recorded as arriving there from Scotland, for example. As would be expected, much of the traffic was from the east coast of Scotland, and the comparative religious tolerance of Poland may have contributed to the migration of some of eastern Scotland's Episcopalian or Catholic families.

Merchants and traders established bases and communities in Poland as their trade flourished, and cities such as Krakow, Warsaw and Lublin saw considerable Scottish settlement. Many Scots communities became highly organised, with their own civil courts, and prosperous traders often also sought the protection of powerful patrons. They were clearly not universally popular! The numbers, organisation, and prosperity of some Scots communities in Poland was such that Charles II (in exile after the Civil Wars) sent an agent to Poland in 1651 to raise funds for the Royalist cause. Although the cunning agent, James Cochrane, only ever delivered £800 to the king, over £10,000 had been raised - an enormous sum for the time. By then there may have been 30-40,000 Scots living in the country. Many applied for full Polish citizenship, conditions for which could range from payment of a fee to a promise to marry.

As well as traders there were soldiers: the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries attracted large numbers of Scots into military service overseas, and Poland was no exception. In 1656, a highland regiment entered Polish service rather than lived under the new Commonwealth to which Scotland was subject after defeat at the Battle of Dunbar. Scottish soldiers regularly earned praise for their vigour and courage, and they fought in wars against the Russians, the Turks, the Swedes, and others.

Aside from merchants and mercenaries, there was another class of Scottish immigrant operating in Poland: the pedlar. The Scots pedlar became something of a stereotype in Poland and parts of Germany, and these travelling salesmen wandered the landscape selling all manner of goods, from cloth to kettles. They were not always popular characters, and even fellow Scots in Poland complained that too many of their countrymen migrated without proper means or contacts to establish themselves, thereby earning them all a poor reputation. After complaints from Danzig in 1624, King James VI issued a proclamation restricting migration to those who showed evidence that they had been invited by sponsors or could make their own way on arrival.

Another Stuart king, albeit one in exile, married the grand-daughter of the Polish king John Sobieski. Their son was the famous Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), who may even have been painted in Polish dress as a youth .


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First: Scottish merchant Jacob Gray's house, Kedainiai, Lithuania. Second: house of one of the first mayors of Kedainiai, the Scottish merchant Jurgis Andersonas (George Anderson)

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Scottish Café in Lviv, Ukraine

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Scottish influence in Gdańsk

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Alexander Chalmers, four times mayor of Warsaw
2015 Jan 03 13:47
The following 3 users Like Godyfa's post:
Aemma (03-01-2015), Aptrgangr (04-01-2015), Dussander (03-01-2015)


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Post: #2
RE: Baltic Scots
An absolutely fascinating bit of history!!! I wonder how many more such migrations exist within Europe. One of course hears of all the migrations from European countries to the New World (re: during the 17th century especially), but rarely does one hear about substantial migrations within Europe during that time.

In reading this piece I found it incredibly fascinating how the Scots assimilated into their adopted country yet did not entirely abandon their ethnic group by intermarrying. Reading this I could not help but be reminded of some modern-day parallels of course.

This was an absolutely delightful and fascinating bit of history to read up on as far as I'm concerned. I wonder how many more such stories exist that we're not totally cognisant of.

~Be the Virtuous Man or Woman you are meant to be.~
2015 Jan 03 17:24

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