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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The rage for emigration

This month is the tercentenary of Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Johnson, the son of a Lichfield bookseller, had an immense sympathy and understanding with the common man. He endured grinding poverty for many years, but his profound intellect and writing ability won him a lasting literary reputation. His masterly Dictionary of the English Language (1755) alone would have secured him an honourable place in literary history. But of course, Johnson’s meeting in 1763 with an impressionable young Scot, James Boswell, led to a lasting friendship and a ground-breaking literary biography: Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1791).

During the late summer and autumn of 1773, this intrepid duo travelled to the Hebrides. Their journey took place when many Scottish folk were taking ship for the Americas in search of a new life. Johnson described how ordinary Scots lived and immortalised a now long-lost way of life in his Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland in 1775; Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides appeared ten years later.

Was one of your ancestors one of those who left their native land forever? You can discover more about their way of life, and tips for exploring your family history, in ‘The rage for emigration,’ my latest feature for Discover My Past magazine.

Images: ‘Johnson on a Highland Sheltie,’ and ‘Johnson and Highland children.' Boswell spotted one pretty girl, but commented the other villagers were ‘black and wild in their appearance.’ Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, (National Illustrated Library, circa 1852.)

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