In the second half of the 19th century there were some strong political disagreements within Richmond County. An area commonly called “Lower Richmond” wanted to secede and form their own county. Finally, in February 1899, the North Carolina State Legislature gave approval to the formation of Scotland County with Laurinburg as the county seat.
At that time many of the Scottish settlers were as far removed from the customs and traditions of their ancestral homeland as the subtropical sandhills climate is from the cooler and wetter climate of the Highlands of Scotland. The connections were mostly limited to the surnames that began with “Mac” or others as the Stewart’s and Carmichaels — all which remain prominent in the 21st century.
Actually, Laurinburg was named after a mid-1800s local school: “Laurinburgh High School” which was named after the MacLaren family, of which the spelling and pronunciation was changed to “McLaurin” and also Edinburgh, Scotland.
It is easy to see that old-world customs, spelling and dialect did not survive in the newly settled rural wilderness of southeastern North Carolina, but in some small way the personal connections with the “old country” lived on in family history and folklore.
Jura — an island on Scotland’s west coast — was the first proposed name for lower Richmond County, but in fairness to all who came mostly from the entire west coast and highlands, “Scotland” became the final selected name.
The private Laurinburgh High School had ceased by the 1890s and later a public high school — known simply as Laurinburg High School — was built on East Church Street. “Fighting Scots” was the nickname for the athletic teams, and by the mid 1950s the Royal Stewart tartan was adopted for the kilts and plaids of the Laurinburg High School concert and marching band.
Old Scotland and its perceived visions of grandeur maintained a mental grip on local minds.
In 1967 a consolidated high school was opened for the entire county, and it was given the name of “Scotland High School.” As at Laurinburg High School, the athletic teams were nicknamed the “Fighting Scots.” The marching band remained attired in the Royal Stewart tartan.
Just over 20 years later a staff member at St. Andrews University visited Scotland with an idea to renew and reconnect Laurinburg with a borough in Scotland. His choice was a community in the western Highlands known also as the “Gateway to the Hebrides” — or the many islands off of the western coast of Scotland. It was Oban.
In 1993, Oban and Laurinburg became “Sister Cities” as recognized by Sister Cities International. That year Scotland High School and Oban High School also began the first of a unique program: a student exchange. As it happens today — as preparations are being made for the 27th “fortnight” or two-week exchange between the two communities and high schools – 12 student applicants are selected to travel to Oban in June where they will live with local families and experience the best of Scottish hospitality, and in October they will — in return — host their former Scottish student host with our pure southern hospitality.
The Laurinburg Sister Cities Association is the official and fully volunteer operated sponsor of the student exchange, and they rely upon sponsorships, contributions, and fund raising events to insure that any selected student will benefit from “the best four weeks of my life” (as shared by hundreds of participants) as a guest and host in the exchange.
On Saturday morning, Aug. 25, canoes and kayaks will enter the Lumbee River at the Chalk Banks above Wagram by 11 a.m. and paddle down the the Lumbee as recalled in John Charles McNeill’s poem, “Sunburnt Boys:”
“Down on the Lumbee river
Where the eddies ripple cool
Your boat, I know, glides stealthily
About some shady pool.
The summer’s heats have lulled asleep
The fish-hawk’s chattering noise,
And all the swamp lies hushed about
You sunburnt boys.”
The fourth annual “Sunburnt Boys/Sunburnt Girls Lumbee River Experience” will depart on the 3-mile journey to the U.S. 401 Landing and return to the Chalk Banks for a pig-pickin’ lunch. Donations to the exchange scholarships for any amount are requested, but no one pre-registering will be turned away. A limited number of experienced canoe guide are available along with canoes, kayaks, paddles and life-jackets.
Sponsorship levels are: Bagpipe $100; Thistle $250; Tartan $500; and Highlander $501-plus.
Sponsorships, contributions or even registrations to insure canoe/kayak availability should be mailed to Gus Purcell, 708 W. Church St., Laurinburg, N.C. 28352.
Regardless of one’s race, or national origins, all rising juniors and seniors for the 2018-19 school years are eligible to apply for the exchange. Applications for the 2019 will be available beginning October 1 from the office at Scotland High School. 12 student participants will be selected, and as in the past — perhaps half will require financial assistance that is largely raised at the Sunburnt Boys/Sunburnt Girls Lumbee River Experience.
Some 280 years after the first Argyll, Scotland, settlers arrived in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina, enduring links and friendships with special, and new-found friends in Scotland have never been stronger than today.
Beacham McDougald is a Laurinburg resident, Rotary Club member and local historian.