From the Highlands to a Low Country: Assimilation of Scottish Highland Settlers to Local Vernacular Building Traditions in North and South Carolina

Bridget Jean O'Brien, Clemson University


In recent years several early Scottish dwellings in North and South Carolina have been lost by fire, neglect, or dismantlement. Several buildings of this nature were saved by local preservation groups and private citizens and have since been stabilized and restored. Eight early farm dwellings of Scottish settlers in North and South Carolina were chosen to be studied and analyzed to determine if Scottish vernacular building types were brought to the American colonies in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Before looking at Scottish dwellings in North and South Carolina a study of traditional Highland architecture is necessary to determine whether Highland settlers were continuing traditions of Scotland. A look at several different ‘types’ of buildings across the Highlands established a basis for the local traditions. This information is applied to eight early Scottish homes in North and South Carolina built between 1760 and 1828 to determine whether the Scottish vernacular influenced the design of these dwellings.

Analysis completed of the overall plans of these buildings, as well as several architectural elements shows that in fact, the Scottish settlers that built these farm houses had assimilated into local vernacular traditions of the Mid-Atlantic and Lowland South. One building in particular resembles a structure seen in the Highlands, though insofar as the author is aware it is the only one of its kind. This building represents what were most likely the temporary dwellings of settlers upon arrival to the colonies, though most have been lost over the centuries.

Never before has a study been completed exclusively of Scottish farm dwellings this region of the United States. Generally, studies of this type cover a wide range of building types and ethnicities from which building types develop. Using these previously completed studies analysis has been done to determine where the early Scottish buildings fit in with local vernacular traditions. Highland settlers, used to hilly, cold, wet, and tree-less landscapes, arrived in North and South Carolina to hot, dry, flat land full of untouched forests. As in Scotland, they used what local materials could be spared for building, creating lasting structures that have survived over 200 years.