Saturday, March 9, 2013

Romantic Inns Point to Georgia’s Scottish Heritage Honored in Savannah Scottish Games

SAVANNAH Georgia (Updated April 2015) -- Scottish lineage has seeped and soaked into the Georgia populace the way the Ogeechee River saturates the Low Country swamps and sloughs.

Scottish Savannah wedding photo by James Byous Savannah photographer
Piper Dana Wells leading Scottish wedding processional to
Lafayette Square in the National Landmark Historic District.
Photo (c) James Byous.

When you visit Savannah watch for Scots – diaspora that is, maybe a few directly from Old Scotland.  A kilted Scot here, bagpipes playing there. Scottish families have been in Georgia since the colony’s beginning years and made up a large percentage of the population even at that time. 

The innkeepers of Romantic Inns of Savannah issue a special invitation to ‘stay romantic’ when arriving for the Savannah Scottish Games (May 2, 2015) and Kirkin of the Tartan (May 3, 2015) at Independent Presbyterian Church. Lodge in one of a dozen of the history-rich charming inns, all located in the National Landmark Historic District.

Even the founder of the state, James Edward Oglethorpe has plaited lines of Scottish ancestry.  His father, General Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe was English… “to the bone” one might say.  But, his mother, Eleanor Wall, was Irish.  Her family has been touted by Georgia historians throughout the state’s history as being “related by marriage” to the house of Argyle in Scotland.  Eleanor’s maternal grandfather, Lord LaRoche of Tipperary, was more than just associated by marriage. 

Kirkin of the Tartan at Independent Presbyterian Church.
Photo (c) James Byous.

Today by a study on the website one can connect the family of the titled heirs, Lords LaRoche along a weaving, genealogical line that zigs and zags across the Erin landscape and over the Irish Sea to Scotland.  There it winds through Western Scottish Highlands and down through the Ayrshire Lowland’s, through grandfathers and grandmothers of historic mark, members of the clans of Campbell, Kennedy, Carrick and Stewart.  It then reveals that Eleanor and her Georgia founding son, James Edward Oglethorpe are direct descendants of Scottish hero-king, Robert the Bruce. 

Bruce, you may remember, was immortalized by Scottish poet Robert Burns over a century ago.  But more recently he was highlighted in Mel Gibson’s movie, Braveheart, when Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen punctuated the warrior-king’s historic call, “You have bled with Wallace! Now bleed with me!”  That’s Robert I, the Bruce.  He’s purported to have enunciated those words…, or at least something similar. Many of his descendants, Oglethorpe’s distant cousins, can be found living in and around Savannah, Georgia today -- seeped, soaked, saturated.

In 1733 the year of Georgia’s founding Oglethorpe created a defensive position a few miles upriver from Savannah.  In 1736 Patrick MacKay, John Cuthbert and George Dunbar, all Scottish Highland officers, made their homes in the swath of wilderness that was then called Joseph’s Town.  The location became Mulberry Grove Plantation.  Many years later it was there that Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin and changed the face of the South. Those Lowland Scot gentry, wanting an occasion to commemorate and the libation thus associated, created the “Scotch Club.”  St.Andrew’s Day, 1735 was their first time to celebrate. It is still celebrated annually. Always with a wee dram.

A few miles south, other Highland Scots settled New Inverness, the coastal city that is now called Darien, Georgia. John Mohr McIntosh was their Clan Chief. His family included son, General Lachlan McIntosh, nephew and Cherokee Chief William McIntosh and nephew George Troup who became Governor of the State of Georgia.  Oglethorpe accompanied the Scots on their voyage from Inverness, Scotland and upon arriving donned a kilt when he stepped from the boat.

Scottish Games at Fort Jackson.
Photo (c) James Byous.
Savannah has its own Scottish Games each May, always on the same weekend as Mother’s Day. 

Appropriate, one would suppose, since old Scottish lineage was passed equally from either the father or the mother’s ancestry. The games have changed locations over the years but now meet at the historic site of the Bethesda Academy (formerly known as Bethesda Home for Boys) a few miles outside of Savannah. The tree-lined green has ample room for caber tossing and rock chucking.
Scottish games were once a test for personal fitness and endurance, “for king and chief, for skill and strength,” it was said.  As did the Greeks in ancient times, the clans of Scotland gathered the best and strongest through competition.  The winning honor was to be selected as warrior protector of their region – so states tradition. 

Today, in Savannah and across North America, games are for fun, friends and family.  On Games Day everyone is Scottish.  If you’re in town, stop in and watch the big guys toss telephone poles.  Bring your mom.  She may want to chuck the Clachneart [“Stone of Strength”].

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Romantic Inns of Savannah wish to thank our guest blogger James Byous. A Savannah, Georgia resident, Jim holds a BA in Journalism and an MA in History. He is a photographer and writer who resides on the Internet at and at Specializing in the history of his home city, he is currently working on a series of GPS history tours to bring Savannah history to life by taking history lovers to the exact Google Earth locations where history was made.


  1. Seeped, soaked and saturated here in Savannah! Love it! I'm like Oglethorpe, half Scottish and transplanted in Savannah.

  2. Love Jim Byous's colorful way with words and history!