Falkirk men who helped to shape the USA

Carronades - made at Carron Iron Works - were used in the Alamo
Carronades - made at Carron Iron Works - were used in the Alamo

Tartan Week in the USA had a Falkirk flavour this year with the models of the Kelpies attracting huge interest in Chicago and several events in New York at which the delights of the district were presented to potential visitors and investors.

Let’s hope they are successful and that Falkirk’s historic links with our cousins across the pond are exploited for the benefit of both sides.

Now I don’t say this just because my father was born in New Jersey, of a Falkirk ironworker dad on a contract in the Big Apple, and that I am therefore a Yankee Doodle Dandie myself. It is because folk from our area have played important roles in the USA from the start.

Take the Livingstons of Callendar House. In 1673, Robert Livingstone left for New York and before long the family were leading lights in the colony. Before the Roosevelts or Kennedys, the Livingstons were the aristocracy of the US.

They were bankers, lawyers and politicians, with Philip Livingstone signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, another relative responsible for swearing in George Washington as first President and yet another negotiating the greatest land sale in history, the ‘Louisiana Purchase’, when 800,000 square miles of the Mississippi Valley was sold by Napoleon to the USA in 1803.

Then there was the Alamo in 1836 where cannons from Carron Company helped Davy Crocket and his pals against the Mexicans.

Years earlier John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, of Pineapple fame, was governor of the colonies of New York and Virginia. During the War of Independence he made the famous ‘Dunmore Proclamation’ offering freedom to any slave prepared to leave his master and join the British Army. This is still seen as a major step along the road to emancipation. Many children born to slave women were named ‘Dunmore’, though he did have 56 slaves of his own in Virginia!

Two leading men in Falkirk’s iron industry, James Smith and Stephen Wellstood, worked in America and brought back stoves which were more efficient than British models. They copied these and sold them under their own name. Other Falkirk firms pinched the patterns and exported American stoves to every corner of the globe – including to the United States. Smith had worked for 20 years in Jackson, Mississippi and was a friend of Jefferson Davis, the ‘President’ of the Confederate states. His brother Robert fought in the army of the south and was killed in Kentucky in 1862.

Philanthropist Robert Dollar was born in Falkirk but moved to Canada and then the USA where he developed an export trade in lumber to the far-east through Pacific ports. To save costs he began to operate his own ships and soon the Dollar Line was dominating trade out of San Francisco to China. Dollar became one of the richest men in the USA and moved to California where he was nicknamed ‘The Grand Old Man of the Pacific’.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Falkirk was the site of the greatest cattle fairs in Europe. Many of the drovers and dealers who ran this complex operation found their way to the United States where they dominated the great cattle trails. In other words – those darned cowpokes learned their skills in Stenhousemuir!