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New York Caledonian Club
 MS 2923

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Dundy

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 09, 2012
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical note

The New York Caledonian Club was founded in 1856 to provide a social community for Scottish immigrants and their descendents and to support the preservation of Scottish history, language, and culture. The club’s activities were as varied as its membership. Laborers and skilled tradesmen gathered with wealthy individuals to promote Scottish heritage through literary evenings, athletic events, traditional Scottish celebrations, education, and philanthropy.

The club’s direct antecedent was an early Caledonian Club founded in 1830 by members of the Highland Guard after the war of 1812. In 1857, the New York Caledonian Club inaugurated the annual “Highland Games” (also known as the “Scotch Games”).The games were a major amateur athletic competition in traditional Scottish sporting events, such as curling and hammer throwing. The games took place in Jones Wood, a stretch of farmland along the East River that predated urban Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

The New York Caledonian Club was officially chartered and incorporated in the City of New York in 1861. The club's purpose, as expressed in its founding charter, included establishing a library. Club member and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated three thousand volumes. (The library was later given to the Second Presbyterian Church, where many New York Caledonian Club members worshipped.)

In 1861, the club formed the 79th New York Highland Regiment in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s urgent appeal for volunteers for the Union Army. The “Seventy-Ninth” was the only kilted Civil War regiment. The Regiment fought in numerous battles, including the first battle of Bull Run, served under General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, and assisted Admiral Dupont in capturing Port Royal.

In 1873, the club formed a committee to erect a statue of the legendary Scottish poet Robert Burns on Central Park’s “literary walk.” A Scottish sculptor, Mr. John Steell, R.S.A., was commissioned to create the artwork, which was officially unveiled on October 1, 1880.

The New York Caledonian Club became inactive after World War II. It was revived on June 24, 1981 on Bannockburn Night, which commemorates the 1314 battle in which Robert the Bruce led the Scots to victory over the English forces. On July 1, 1982, the New York Caledonian Club won recognition for Scottish culture with the official proclamation of “Tartan Day” by New York Governor Hugh Carey and New York City Mayor Edward Koch. Tartan Day commemorated the 200th anniversary of the repeal of the 1747 Act of Proscription, a law that forbade Scots to wear the tartan, the national Scottish highland dress.

The New York Caledonian Club continues to promote the study of Scottish literature and practice of cultural traditions. Their signature event is the annual Robert Burns supper. The club's Scottish Studies Program focuses on the writings of Robert Burns, as well as Scottish Gaelic language studies, musical instruction in playing the bagpipes, and Highland dancing.