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A Highlander, 1859

By Ron Field 

Scottish immigrants to the U.S. during the 19th century brought with them a rich military tradition. Wearing full Highland uniforms, militia companies of Scottish origin formed in northern and southern cities in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, South Carolina, and elsewhere. This unidentified Highlander wears a uniform based on the famed British Black Watch, or 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot.

Ninth-plate ambrotype by an unknown photographer. Author’s collection.
Ninth-plate ambrotype by an unknown photographer. Author’s collection.

His ostrich-feather bonnet has a red and white-diced wool band, and faintly colored red hackle or plume at its top. The white braid across the chest of his scarlet doublet indicates he was a drummer, and the inverted chevrons on his sleeves likely denote the rank of corporal. A cartridge box is attached to one of his white buff leather shoulder belts and a seated “Goddess of Liberty” is indicated on his shoulder belt plate. This device may also have been repeated on the cantle, or metal plate, attached to his white horse-hair sporran with three black plumes. A small piece of paper inside the case behind the image bearing “April 15, 1859” likely records the date this image was made.

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