Highland clearances, American style

Two hundred years ago, when Britain was pretending to oppose tyranny at Waterloo, at home the army was used to drive crofters off their land to be replaced with sheep. (See https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n10/david-craig/a-useless-body) as the Countess of Sutherland wrote in 1799, tenants who refused to enlist in ‘her’ regiment, the 93rd, ‘need no longer be considered a credit to Sutherland, or any advantage over sheep or any useful animal’.

That would be the 19th countess. Breeding tells. I suppose the immorality of the market has never been more clearly expressed.

The “Highland clearances” are still a bitter memory among Scots at home and abroad, but few Americans know about our own clearances in the Southern highlands. At about the same time that the famous Scottish evictions began (which were in their turn a late extension of the robbery of the common land from the common people that had been going on in England for 200 years), the colonists in South Carolina were systematically driving the farmers out of the uplands.

Year after year, the militia would march out of Charleston in the fall, up the valley of the French Broad and other rivers and burn the crops in the Cherokee towns. (An ancestor of mine, Capt. Robert Heriot, took part in two of these genocidal raids, in 1759 and 1760.) In the spring, white settlers would occupy the empty lands.

This campaign continued in the national period, even after the admission of Tennessee in 1792.

Highland clearances continue to this day. In 1987, the Scottish poet Angus Calder wrote:

Eric Richards’s History of the Highland Clearances (1982), (is) the work of an Australian who is bound to see them in wide geographical perspective. ‘The changes experienced in the Scottish Highland were in no sense unique,’ Richards writes. ‘The modern world economy is full of parallels.’ He finds such parallels in the Philippines and in Mexico.

He could have found them as well in west Papua, in the Kurdish districts of Iraq and Turkey, in Guatemala and Nicaragua, in Tibet, in Burma. The United States is implicated in the clearances in Turkey, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and America and her army did the work themselves in the Zippo raids in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.

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