By Margaret Townsend
Alexandria, VA – Alexandrian Ellen Hamilton, author of A Scottish Migration to Alexandria, and wife of a native Scotsman, never planned on writing a book. But because of her love for her husband’s hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, and after reading Renfrewshire, a Scottish County’s Hidden Past by archeologist Derek Alexander, an idea sparked about the reasons so many Scottish people migrated to America.
“This all started after I served on the Alexandria Archaeology commission,” says Hamilton, “after finding an [American] Indian stone scraper in my backyard. On the commission, I learned a lot about Alexandria’s history. Then a Scottish friend gave me an archaeology book on my husband’s region near Glasgow.”
Hamilton began research on the project in 2016, spending over a year diving into Alexander’s book, his citations, and other archival sources related to the migration of Scots to America. Her research revealed that the majority of the Scots who immigrated to America came from the Lowlands.
“After reading that for a year,” says Hamilton, “I made some realizations and felt I had to tell the story of how our ancestors were modernized in the Scottish Lowlands because of the many rivers there. Those rivers enabled fabric production and the cotton revolution, which came about when slave-picked American cotton started flowing into Scotland.”
She then discovered an article in the “Out of the Attic” history section of the Alexandria Times about William Gregory, who owned a textile business during the Scottish cotton revolution and migrated to Alexandria, Virginia, from Kilmarnock, Scotland. As Hamilton continued her research, she discovered descendants of and letters that the Gregory family had written. Hamilton took this information and pursued the makings of a documentary.
In 2017, she reached out to archaeologist Alexander and asked if they might meet. He suggested they interview in Scotland at the 400 hundred-year-old Newark Castle on the Clyde River. Hamilton traveled to Scotland, hired a Scottish film crew, and interviewed Dr. Alexander.
She soon recognized that without a not-for-profit organization behind her, production costs would be prohibitive. So she put the movie on hold, but Gregory and his story stayed with her and she decided to continue the project as a book.
The book went to print in September 2021 and was ready for sale in October 2021. Places featured include Alexandria; New York City; Enfield, Connecticut; Paterson, New Jersey; and in Scotland, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Greenock, and the Clyde River Valley.
Hamilton will be the featured author at the Queen Street Library on December 8. You can watch her talk at alexlibraryva.org. Her book is for sale at the Old Town North Farmer’s Market, and she is happy to sign copies. For more information or to order A Scottish Migration to Alexandria, contact Ellen Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.