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Caledonians of the Heartland

Celebrating St. Andrew's Day (November 30) is not uncommon among Scots, especially in the English-speaking world, but the widespread commemoration of the birthday of the poet Robert Burns (January 25), even by non-Scots or "Scots for a day," sets this national group apart from all others. No other national heritage rests so heavily on the memory of a literary figure. The English do not honor Shakespeare in similar fashion, nor the Italians Dante.

There are many clan organizations and St. Andrew's and Caledonian societies in the United States today, and one of the oldest still functioning, founded in 1858, is the Robert Burns Club of Rockford, Illinois. There were two groups of Scots settling near the Rock River in northern Illinois in the 1840's. One centered around the agricultural community of Caledonia, where the Willow Creek Presbyterian Church still maintains the memory of the early settlers, most of them farmers from the peninsula of Kintyre in Argyllshire. The other included the mixed group of farmers, merchants, and craftsmen who settled in the growing town of Rockford. There were few Highlanders among them. They came from a variety of Lowland communities and were not acquainted before coming to America. It was these "invisible immigrants," living among many others of European ancestry, who took the opportunity of the forthcoming Robert Burns centennial in 1859 to found the Rockford Burns Club...

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