After each meeting with his thesis advisor, Bill Caudill walks out of the folklore department and starts the trip back to Scotland County. It’s a two-hour drive through the countryside, and Caudill has done it so often that he barely notices the houses with caving front porches, the boarded-up and abandoned convenience stores, the fields with tremendous rolls of bound hay. Toward Laurinburg he passes Glasgow Street, Scotch Grove, and the Scotland Inn. This is an area marked by the influence of immigrants from Scotland, and Caudill’s own Scottish bloodlines may have quietly drawn him here, ensuring that the stories of his ancestors don’t fade like sea smoke under a morning sun.

Caudill is the director of the Scottish Heritage Center and instructor of the College Pipe Band at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, where he also did his undergraduate work in history.

When I came down here as a student to St. Andrews, it was sort of like coming home again,” says Caudill, a Waxhaw, N.C., native. “I have a lot of family roots here that I have been removed from for several generations.”

Caudill’s master’s thesis at Carolina focuses on the last major immigration of Highlanders into the Cape Fear River Basin area. In 1884, roughly 170 crofters-farmers who rent the land they work-voyaged from the Isles of Skye and Lewis. Nearly all of them returned home penniless in a matter of months.

What went wrong? The answer, Caudill says, begins with sheep. The introduction of the black-faced sheep into Scotland changed the way the land was used. Landowners, who had previously collected rent from citizens, now found that it was more profitable to tend sheep on this land instead. So they forced the people off during a period of Scotland’s history known as the Highland Clearances.

On Skye and Lewis, the landlords and emigration organizers worked together to persuade the people to leave, promising land and opportunity in the States.

At the same time, Scottish Americans in North Carolina were aware of the Highlanders’ plight and were reaching out to them, coaxing them over with tales of plenty. It seemed like a good solution. But as Caudill has learned, the motives behind this recruitment weren’t so altruistic.

The recruitment was fueled by a desire for an ethnically attractive labor force. If the area needed laborers, the thinking was, then let’s get people of similar appearance and background-“Scots, like us.” Soon, however, the Scottish Americans realized they weren’t getting the crack labor force they had envisioned, and they became intolerant of the very people they’d been so anxious to recruit.

The Scots didn’t have the work skills,” Caudill says. “These people had no idea about working in cotton or corn. These people were fishermen in Scotland. We now know that the women didn’t speak any English at all. And a fair amount of the men as well were Gaelic speakers.”

The semi-benevolent, romantic gesture Scottish Americans had made toward the living roots of their history wasn’t blossoming as they had hoped, and soon the disgruntlement found its way into the papers.

The press printed statements like, ‘If the drunken Skyemen don’t like it here, they can go back home,’” Caudill says. “‘There are no fish to be had here, 100 miles from the sea.’”

The disillusionment cut both ways.

The Highlanders were evidently sold down the river, so to speak,” Caudill says. “They were enticed under false pretenses about what they were going to find when they got here.”

Caudill has found accounts of immigrants sharecropping and being housed in former slave cabins-evidence of the lack of both work and accommodations for the new arrivals. “Many of the people that came here were quite dissatisfied with what they found and made their way back, one way or another,” he says.

How is it possible to research this, when the people have come and gone, record keeping wasn’t as thorough as historians would like, and the events took place generations ago?

That was part of my challenge,” Caudill says. “So I was going from basically two newspaper articles that list all the immigrants by name, and going back and trying to find their families. I was able to find some of these people who, in turn, could lead me to another one.”

He did it the Scottish way-by telling stories. He received a grant and went to Scotland for a month to search for these descendants, to ask them questions and to listen. It wasn’t easy to extract this knowledge, even when he found the people he was looking for.

Here I was, Caudill from North Carolina, knocking on your door, wanting to find out the deep, dark secrets about your past,” Caudill says. “It was quite an embarrassing thing for these people. Returned emigrants were not a usual thing.” Occasionally, he got close to what he needed only to discover that the path ended.

I found the last daughter of one of the emigrants. She was 96 years old.” Here Caudill pauses to put on a realistic Scottish accent. “She said, ‘All I know is, they all went to Carolina, and they all came back.’”

But other times his searching paid off, as when he met the preeminent Gaelic poet of the time, Sorley MacLean, known as the Bard of the Highlands. Caudill found him in Peinichorran-a small township on the Isle of Skye-and heard the three-hour version of the originally two-night tale of a Highlander who traveled to North Carolina and left it unhappy. Through one mishap after another, the man eventually bumbled his way back to the Highlands via New York, a steamer, and finally a herring boat. He earned 50 pounds on the fishing boat, used the money to build a house, and thus became a hero.

That was quite an experience,” Caudill says. “With MacLean, I’m dealing with the last of his kind.” MacLean died shortly afterward, making Caudill the last American to see him.

Caudill is still writing the final product. But he’s pleased with what he has collected.

It’s a fascinating story,” Caudill says. “It says a lot about immigration, obviously, in the American South. It tells a lot about what was going on in the state at the time, about the state’s efforts to invigorate their economy and bring in new labor. The Scottish Americans were interested enough to sponsor this immigration, and yet they’d become Americanized enough and affluent enough to perhaps look down on these people.”

Brady Huggett was a student who formerly contributed to Endeavors.