EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
It's not news to anyone that American visitors make up a significant percentage of those travelling from overseas to explore Edinburgh and Scotland.
From walking the footsteps of their (historically) distant relatives to simply exploring the wealth of history and culture on offer, and from self-drive excursions around the country to one day stops on a longer cruise itinerary, visitors from the US make up around 14% of all visitors to Scotland every year.
So let's look at some of the historical connections between Scotland and America - and maybe you'll find some Edinburgh features to put on your 'must see' list during your trip!
SEEING STARS (AND STRIPES)
Within Edinburgh Castle is a feature considered to be one of the earliest known representations of the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States. It's worth seeking out if you're going to take the time and trouble to visit the castle, but is not easy to find!
Look for the Prisons of War exhibition, which is one of the highlights of the castle itself, a recreation of the former prisons beneath the Great Hall where military prisoners were detained. From French naval offenders in the Seven Years' War of the 1750s to some of the original pirates of the Caribbean, these dank vaults have hosted enemies of Scotland from all around the globe.
When American sailors were captured during the American War of Independence, many of them found themselves held in Edinburgh Castle, and it was during this period that one prisoner took a penknife and carved carved an intriguing depiction of a flag into one of the heavy wooden doors of the prison complex.
The doors themselves are now on display with graphic representations alongside highlighting the names, initials, emblems and graffiti that was carved into them over the years, and amongst all these scratches and scrapes you will find (if you look closely) the unmistakable image of a striped flag, just waiting to have stars added to the corner panel...
HONEST ABE (HONESTLY!)
It may seem a strange place to find a statue of the sixteenth president of the United States, but in the Old Calton Burial ground is the imposing figure of Abraham Lincoln, looking down from an ornate marble monument.
The monument itself is a grave of six men who had travelled from Scotland to fight alongside Lincoln in the American Civil War. Like the Irish (with whom many Americans also find associations) the Scots could often be relied upon to provide vital firepower in military conflicts, which is one of the reasons why the Scottish army has connections to many historical battles all around the world.
After their deaths, the bodies of these Scots soldiers were returned to Edinburgh for burial, and it was the widow of one of them - a Sergeant Major John McEwan - who later wrote to the American consul in Edinburgh suggesting a formal commemoration of their deaths may be appropriate.
The consul himself wasn't initially persuaded, until (it is said) his wife came to hear of the request and made the case that the surviving wives and families of the dead men were entitled to an official acknowledgement of their sacrifice.
And so it was that funds were raised to pay for the commemoration, unveiled in 1893, featuring Lincoln along with a representation of an emancipated slave, embodying the cause for which these men fought and died.
The monument is the only American Civil War Memorial outside of the United States, and was the first statue of an American president to be erected outside of North America.
(And did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on precisely the same day?)
LIGHTING THE WAY
Edinburgh's Central Library is the best-used public library in the city, and it was a gift to Edinburgh from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose fortune was built in America. At the time of his death, Carnegie had given away over $350,000,000 to charities and causes around the globe, including establishing over 3,000 libraries.
Libraries were a great cause in Carnegie's mind. He wrote in his autobiography: "The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves. There is no escape from this." He saw the provision of raw information for the consumption of a public, eager to better their understanding and knowledge, as a great and important thing. It was no coincidence that his own father had helped to establish the first public library in Dunfermline, the town north of Edinburgh where Carnegie was born.
In the 1890s, Edinburgh was offered £25,000 from Carnegie to establish the city's first public lending library. That would constitute 'seed funding' to set up the library, on the understanding that the city itself would pay the balance of funds needed to finish the project.
At that time Edinburgh had no public library and - to Carnegie's horror - did not want a public library. They certainly did not want to have to pay for one! Carnegie's benevolence in establishing the fund was rejected, and he was told to give his money to another city, who would be more willing to supplement it with their own cash.
Carnegie was so determined that Edinburgh should have a public library facility that he doubled his endowment to £50,000.
Today Carnegie's library can be found on George IV Bridge, and above its entrance the motto 'Let there be light', reflecting Carnegie's original intention to enlighten and inform the world through his gifts.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
A text that remains oft-quoted even in today's era is the Constitution of the United States of America, a document detailing the principles and rights of the nation and its inhabitants. But much of that text was drawn from writings that had originally been composed here in Edinburgh over a century and a half earlier...
In 1638, the National Covenant was a declaration from the people of Scotland to protect the Scottish church from interference by the king, Charles I.
It was drawn up in Edinburgh and signed at the Greyfriars Kirk, and if we compare some of the phraseology of the National Convenant with some of the text of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, drawn up in 1787, we find some surprising similiarities...
It's not word-for-word, but it's not difficult to see that there was a influence on the wording of the later US Constitution from the earlier National Covenant. Which may not be entirely surprising given the over 50,000 Scots who emigrated to the American colonies between 1763 and 1776!
This mass migration is partly why the Scottish diaspora in North America is so strong, and why (in genealogical terms) more than 30 US presidents have documented Scottish heritage.
Four copies of the National Covenant document (which were originally distributed across Scotland) can be found in Edinburgh, including one on display in St Giles' Cathedral.
A GIFT FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
In Princes Street Gardens stands a statue by the sculptor Robert Tait McKenzie, a Canadian with many connections to America. He was linked to the University of Pennsylvania, and involved in the American Scouting movement.
In the 1920s, following the First World War, McKenzie created a sculpture called The Call 1914, showing a Scottish soldier in front of a frieze representing the transition of ordinary working men from industries like farming, fishing and mining into soldiers.
The sculpture took four years to create, and was cast in bronze at a New York foundry. The £10,000 cost of creating and importing the statue was met by American donors.
The statue stands facing Edinburgh Castle, and McKenzie had asked that on his death he would be buried in front of the statue. Alas, Edinburgh's laws on burials and public places made this impossible, so instead McKenzie's heart is interred in nearby St Cuthbert's graveyard, where a small decorative plaque marks its location.
FRANKLIN, MY DEAR...
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and was known as the First American, who travelled to the UK between the 1750s and 1770s. He spent much of his time in London, but also visited Edinburgh to meet notable figures like David Hume, with whom he lodged for three weeks in 1771.
Franklin was also granted an honourary doctorate from the University of St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university.
One of the places Franklin stayed during his visits to Edinburgh was Prestonfield House, which operates today as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Why not take afternoon tea in the plush surrounds of this incredible former estate property, and see a little of old Edinburgh the way that Franklin might have seen it during his time here.
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