Emigrants and Explorers

The Highlands of Scotland had strong trading links across the North Sea with the continent of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, and the east coast ports of Inverness, Cromarty, and Dingwall had flourishing communities of merchants, many of whom were members of local clans like the MacKenzies. In the 16th and 17th centuries, MacKenzies also served as soldiers in Europe - the progenitor of one notable family (the MacKenzies of Sandilands) is said to have been in both the Dutch & Russian armies - and thousands of Highlanders fought for their faith all over Europe in the Thirty Years War.   
        The Wars of the Three Kingdoms brought many Scottish soldiers back to the British Isles to fight on one side or the other, and it was during these civil wars that the first MacKenzies we are aware of arrived in North America. They were royalists captured at the battles of Worcester and Dunbar and banished by the Commonwealth government to the colonies of New England and Virginia. They were followed later in the century and into the next by captured Jacobites, many of whom were sent to work alongside slaves on plantations in the southern mainland colonies and in the West Indies. Following the Union of the Crowns in 1707 the hitherto English colonies and their trade became open to the involvement of Scots, and some well-connected MacKenzies took advantage of the new circumstances to become plantation owners and merchants trading in human flesh. In 1800 the clan chief, Lord Seaforth, invested in estates in Berbice in British Guyana, where Colin MacKenzie of Mountgerald and a grandson of MacKenzie of Redcastle were also plantation owners.
        Seaforth's father William MacKenzie had once been a Colonel in the Russian army, and his second cousin Thomas MacKenzie, a younger son of Colin of Kildun - who had been given extensive estates on the Isle of Lewis by his cousin Seaforth - was a Rear Admiral in the Russian Navy. Thomas's son, another Thomas, was also a Rear Admiral in the Russian Navy, and is remembered particularly as the founder of the Crimean port of Sevastapol - and the laird of nearby estates in Mekenzievy Gory ("The MacKenzie Hills").
        Three years before the death in 1786 of Rear Admiral Thomas MacKenzie Jr, a 30 year old Colin MacKenzie, who was also from the Isle of Lewis, arrived in Madras to begin a career in the East India Company that would eventually see him appointed the first Surveyor General of India.
        A third member of the clan from Lewis - Alexander MacKenzie - was taken by his father to America in 1774, and a few years later entered the fur trade in Montreal. In 1789 he travelled to the Arctic Ocean down the river later named for him, and in 1793 he and Alexander Mackay became the first Europeans to cross the continent of North America. MacKenzie was knighted in 1802, and a year later President Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark across the United States - to forestall any British attempts to take the west coast - equipped with a copy of MacKenzie's journal of his voyage to the Pacific which had become an international bestseller (Napoleon read it and wondered about invading Canada up the Mississippi from Louisiana which was, until 1803, a French colony).
        Many MacKenzies followed Colonel Colin into the East India Company, some of whom made enough money to return to Scotland as "nabobs" (those wealthy enough to buy huge estates back home). Three of the sons of Henry Mackenzie, the author of "The Man of Feeling" - who wrote satirical essays about nabobs - entered the EIC. The youngest of them, Henry Holt Mackenzie, rose to be Secretary to the Governor General of India in 1826. 
        The clan name can be found in New Zealand too, where the "MacKenzie Country" is an area on the South Island which was opened up for Europeans in the 1850s by a shepherd - who was also accused of being a rustler of sheep - called James MacKenzie.
        MacKenzies and their descendants now live all over the world, and many come together regularly in clan societies in different parts of Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries as well - in addition to the home society which also has members in other countries. See Societies.

History Page                             Home Page                            Site Index