Between Daylight and Hell, Scots who left a stain on American history
There is a long tradition of books about the Scottish diaspora across the world. From Thomas Fischer’s books on the Scots in Germany and Prussia to Arthur Herman’s How the Scots Invented the Modern World, many of them adopt a reverential tone, what might be described as the Wha’s Like Us school of thought. In his informative and entertaining book, Iain Lundy takes a very different approach: rather than the Great Man approach, he takes what could be called the Terrible Man (and Woman) approach.
Lundy, a journalist by trade, has spent years investigating the dark side of the Scottish-American story – researching Scots behaving badly. So whereas Fischer and others wrote about the excellent service provided by Scottish soldiers abroad, Lundy opens his book with an account of the misdeeds of Adam Stephen, who was court-martialled and cashiered out of Washington’s Continental Army whose drunken incompetence and disobedience resulted in an early friendly-fire incident at the Battle of Germantown.
The Roll of Dishonour continues throughout the book: Charles Forbes embezzled millions of dollars from the Veterans Bureau after World War One. There are also killers: Thomas Cream, a notorious poisoner originally from Glasgow; William Stewart, one of the leading figures in the notorious Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Sport also gets a mention: Robert Millar, originally from Paisley, was a professional footballer renowned for his Cantona-like temperament. In one game, he punched a fan to the ground, and in 1921 he was suspended for punching fellow Paisley-born Scot Neil Clarke at halftime. In athletics, Jock Semple, organiser of the Boston Marathon merits a mention for the notorious incident when in 1967 Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially enter the race, through an administrative error. Switzer’s boyfriend knocked Semple to the ground when he attempted to stop her running. (Switzer ran the Boston Marathon again earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of her first race).
The rest of the chapters discuss fraudsters, libellous journalists, ungrateful divas, cruel slave owners and bumbling military officers. As you would expect of a journalist of many years standing, the author is a talented storyteller, and has clearly done his genealogical research (Scotland’s People gets an acknowledgement). The book itself is entertaining, and a useful antidote to much of the often self-congratulatory tone of much of the popular writing on the Scottish diaspora. Clearly well researched, it provides a very interesting alternative perspective on the Scottish diaspora in the USA.
Between Daylight and Hell is published by Whittles Publishing and costs £18.99
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