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How did Carmichaels end up all over?

Scotland's greatest export was for many years her people. Major events in Scottish history led to the mass exodus of Scots from their homeland, seeking liberty and opportunity elsewhere. 


Historically, Carmichael emigrants came from both Highland and Lowland Scotland (for an excellent resource specific to Highland Carmichaels, please see The Scottish Highlander Carmichaels of the Carolinas by Roderick L. Carmichael). Many Lowland emigrant Carmichaels can be traced back to Lanarkshire through Ulster, Ireland, although often the genealogical thread unravels before crossing back over the Irish Sea.

During the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, some Carmichaels journeyed to Galloway, where they became kinsmen of the Stewarts there; and then further north, settling in Lismore and Appin as kinsmen of the Stewarts of Appin and the McDougals. Some Carmichaels even went to Holland where Robert Carmichael the armourer still has descendants known today as Carmiggelts. (1)


The first major exodus of families from traditional Carmichael territory in Lanarkshire happened as part of the Plantation of Ulster (c. 1610-1690), an effort by King James I to "civilize" Ireland by colonizing troublesome regions with loyal, Protestant, English-speaking Britons (2). 


These settlers were primarily from Lowland Scotland and the Scottish Borders. They became known as Ulster Scots, or the Scots-Irish. Contrary to popular belief, the term "Scots-Irish" does not refer to intermarriage of Scots and Irish (although that certainly occurred) but to Ireland's inhabitants of Scottish descent. Several generations later, the descendants of these mostly Presbyterian Ulster Scots migrated to the American colonies, particularly settling in the Carolinas and Virginia, as pressure mounted against them from the Anglican Church (2).


Later, the sad events of the Highland Clearances forced another surge of (often destitute) Scots out of their ancestral communities. The Clearances (c. 1750-1860) were an effort by land owners--sometimes hereditary clan chiefs, themselves--to increase profitability of their holdings by clearing out small tenant-farmers in favor of pasturing sheep or other large-scale agriculture (4). The loss of the Battle of Culloden and the end of the Jacobite Rebellion also had the interesting effect of creating new "Carmichaels," as many MacGhilliemichels (Gaelic for "sons of the servant of St. Michael") changed their name to something less identifiably Gaelic (1). 


Over the centuries, Carmichaels, like other Scots, spread across the world: early emigrants headed for England, Canada, the United States, and even Australia and New Zealand (3). Today, roughly half of those with Carmichael surnames can be found in the United States, with another quarter in the UK, and 10% in Canada. Australasia, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, South Africa, and Italy have statistically significant Carmichael populations, as well (1).


Evidence of Carmichael migration can be found in place-names like Carmichael, California; Carmichael, Saskatchewan, and the Carmichael House, in southern Georgia. In the American South, Carmichaels also include the descendants of survivors of slavery, who took the name of their Scottish plantation owner when finally free. 


Carmichaels, Carmicals, Carmiggelts, and Carmickles come in all colors and live all over the world. They include not only families who can trace their bloodlines back to Scotland, but also individuals who bear the name through marriage, adoption, and the results of slavery.


sources and continued reading:

1. "The Origins of the Name." Clan Carmichael International. 

2. Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Jim Webb. New York: Broadway Books. 2004. 

3. An Unstoppable Force: The Scottish Exodus to Canada. Lucille Campey. Toronto: Natural Heritage. 2008.

4. The Highland Scots of North Carolina, 1732-1776. Duane Meyer. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 1987.

The Scottish Highlander Carmichaels of the Carolinas. Roderick L. Carmichael. 1935.

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It. Arthur Herman. 2002.

A History of Scotland: Look Behind the Mist and Myth of Scottish History. Neil Oliver. 2011.

Global Migrations: The Scottish Diaspora since 1600. Angela McCarthy and John MacKenzie. 2016. 

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