‘Scots Wha Hae’

Turmoil in eighteenth-century Scotland changed Canada and the world

On May 31, 1821, the sheriff and a dozen men entered Ascoilemore, a hamlet in the valley of Strathbrora in the county of Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, to enforce eviction orders against its residents. At the home of Jessie Ross, the sheriff ordered her young daughters, Elizabeth and Katherine Ross, into the shivering cold. When Jessie refused to budge, one of the men, William Stevenson, still drunk from a night’s carousing, banged two-month-old Roberta’s cradle against a door frame as he moved her outside. The baby howled in the freezing wind until a neighbour, who was a new mother, nursed her back to sleep. Elizabeth, whose face was injured when Stevenson flung a piece of wood at her, wept for fifteen minutes.

They were a relatively well-off family before being forced from their home. Jessie Ross was born in 1793, a daughter of George Sutherland, one of the county’s most prosperous farmers. Her...