Archive for the St. Andrews Day/ Tartan Day Category

Hearken All Ye New York Scots, It’s St. Andrews Tomorrow and This is The Only Place to Spend It

Posted in FOOD & DRINK CULTURE, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS, St. Andrews Day/ Tartan Day with tags , , on November 29, 2016 by travsd


For Tartan Week: 1200 Years of Stewarts

Posted in ME, My Family History, St. Andrews Day/ Tartan Day with tags , , , on April 4, 2016 by travsd


It’s Tartan Week here in New York. This year there are a surprising number of Scottish-American friendship events planned: concerts, talks, parties, all culminating with the big Tartan Day Parade on Saturday, April 9 at 2pm.

A fitting day, I thought to close out some unfinished business with regard to the Scots in my background. We weren’t feeling very Scottish back on St. Andrews Day, but much has changed on that score. And having worked out our Stewart background in America, now we thought we’d fill it out from the very beginning. (I have five or six different ancestral Stewart/Stuart lines in my background, BTW, including the patrilinal line that leads all the way to my sons. All of them eventually lead to the same place.)


This is something I had been curious about since childhood. We had books about Stewart genealogy in the house when I was growing up (such as they were back then). They generally told that all Stewarts and Stewards and Stuarts were related (apart from those whose surnames were changed to that, of course, i.e. people like Jon Stewart, or Sylvester Stewart of Sly and the Family Stone). And this would mean that we are also somehow related to the Royal House of Stuart. But how? Well, I have a much better idea now.


The family that became the Stewarts were originally Britons, the Celtic peoples who inhabited England prior to the Medieval invasions. When Anglo-Saxons conquered the Eastern part of England in the 5th-7th centuries A.D. my ancestors were among those who fled to France and settled the area which became known as Brittany, becoming known as the Bretons. My family tree, if accurate, begins to pick them up there in the 800s, but they may have been there earlier.

Henry I

Henry I

At a certain point the family rose to be hereditary administrators (called “seneschals”) to the Bishops of the town of Dol-De-Bretagne. One of these, Flaad Fitz Alan (ca. 1050-1084), and his son Alan Fitz Flaad, a knight, came to the attention of King Henry I, who had them brought over to England to serve him. This is an interesting dynamic. Henry was the son of William the Conqueror; thus this was part of the process of the consolidation of power following the Norman invasion. Alan fitz Flaad was given the task of supervising the Welsh border and was rewarded with huge estates all over England.

When Henry died there was a war of succession in England. Amidst the chaos, Alan’s son, Walter fitz Alan fled to Scotland. The Scottish monarch David I gave him the position and title of Royal High Steward of Scotland, and thus Walter is the first “Stewart”. The name comes from the Old English word “stiward” or “stigweard”, which literally means “guardian of the hall or house or estate” or “housekeeper.” Thus in modern times, the word is usually used to mean something roughly equivalent to “waiter”. Except when we remember that King David I’s “house or hall or estate” was THE COUNTRY OF SCOTLAND. And then we realize that the job was something more on the order of governor, perhaps something roughly but not exactly equivalent to the U.S. President’s Chief of Staff, with several cabinet positions mixed in.


There were several generations of these hereditary High Stewards. Walter the 6th (c. 1296-1397) married a daughter of Robert the Bruce, which makes me descended from him, so contrary to my previous post, I now feel very Scottish indeed. Their son ascended the throne of Scotland as Robert II (1316-1390), and this was the foundation of the Royal House of Stuart. Robert II is the only actual Stuart king I am directly descended from in my patrilineal line.

However, in another line, I am part of the royal Scottish lineage as late as my (13th) great grandfather James V (1513-1542). He was the father of Mary Queen of Scots, but I am descended from her illegitimate half-brother James Stewart, First Earl of Moray, who later became regent to James VI (who was to become James I of England).


To return to the main line, however: my ancestor Robert Stewart (son of Robert II) was named the first Duke of Albany by his older brother, the monarch Robert III (actually named John Stewart, but he took his father’s name). Albany was roughly the area of Scotland formerly inhabited by the ancient Picts. The next couple of generations of my ancestors, Murdoch Stewart and “James the Fat” led all sorts of intrigues against the royal branch; Murdock was executed and James exiled to Ireland. The latter’s son James “Beg” Stewart was pardoned, and returned to Scotland to become the 1st Laird of Baldorran, circa 1440s. (His son Andrew was Lord Chancellor of Scotland, a leading advisor to King James III of Scotland)

We then have another couple of centuries of Stewarts in my line who were lairds and bailies and such of various territories until we get to Walter Stuart, the 7th Laird of Gartnafuaran (1625-1668). Tradition has it that his son Robert Stewart fought as a Covenanter (Presbyterian partisan) against the mostly Catholic Scottish Royalists and here is where fancy titles leave my branch of the family. Robert’s son John Stewart immigrated to America and here is where the next phase picks up. read about that here.


That’s the main line, which leads all the way to my sons. But as I said there are others. Interestingly, yet another one leads to Robert the Covenanter. Robert had another son named Alexander who emigrated to Pennsylvania. This line moves on to Georgia, North Carolina and finally to Tennessee, ending at my (6th) great grandmother Mary Stuart, who married into the Gray family, which finally finds its way back to the Stewarts through my paternal grandfather.

I am also descended from another branch which leads back to James “the Fat”. After about three centuries, one Andrew Stuart (1672-1715) moves to Tyrone, Ireland. His son moves to Virginia. This line leads also to Tennessee, ending at my (3rd) great grandmother Jane. C. Stuart who married into the Knight family which finds its way to my paternal grandmother and back to the Stewarts through my father.

I have found some other stray Stewarts elsewhere in the family tree but they are dead ends so far, I can’t yet trace them back to the family founders. One of them is actually on my mom’s side and in England. She has the unprepossessing name 0f “Mary Ann Stewart” and for some reason I can’t help thinking of the hapless maid in Alice in Wonderland who gets scolded by the White Rabbit. (Actually it’s Alice who gets yelled at, the White Rabbit only thinks she’s Mary Ann)


Henry I

But that’s a digression, though, I’m sure a welcome one. For all the details on Tartan Week go here.

Happy St. Andrews Day to All You Scotsmen

Posted in HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, ME, My Family History, St. Andrews Day/ Tartan Day with tags , , on November 30, 2015 by travsd


I’m wishing all YOU Scotsmen a happy St. Andrew’s Day because, well, after a lifetime of thinking myself pretty darn Scottish, I have learned otherwise. The “S” in “S.D.” stands for “Stewart”, my actual surname, among other things. That, and reading that my father’s part of the country, the Appalachian Southeast, was largely settled by Scots and Scots Irish immigrants, had me thinking that this was a larger part of my ethnic make-up than it actually is.

But research into my background has uncovered otherwise.  While my patrilineal line is as Scottish as you can get, it got rapidly diluted in the United States. Of my 32 theoretical great-great-great grandparents, two might be full Scots, one is half Scot, one is 1/8 Scot and so on. All told, you might round it up to three. And since I really only have 30 great-great-great grandparents (two of my great-greats were first cousins), I figure I am about 10% Scottish (3 out of 30). This includes no less than 5 separate lines of Stewarts or Stuarts thus far (all but the main one ending several generations back), as well as Campbells, Crawfords, Rosses, Douglasses, Gilmours, McClures, Hamiltons, McTavishes, McKenzies, Stronachs, Frasers, etc etc etc. Several of these lines spent a few generations in Ireland as part of the Plantations prior to immigrating to America.

Come to think of it, 10% isn’t so bad. I wouldn’t want to lose 10% of my arm, for example!

At any rate, unless you intend to go to a bar and drink Grenlivet, I’m not quite sure how one celebrates St. Andrew’s Day in America. There is a Scottish parade in New York, but it happens on “Tartan Day” — the next one will be held on April 9, 2016. Read all about it here. 




A St. Andrew’s Day Post

Posted in HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Silent Film, St. Andrews Day/ Tartan Day, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2011 by travsd

Alreet, shet yer yap!

Maybe St. Andrew’s Day isn’t near as popular as St. Patrick’s, but somewhere under all this greasepaint there lies a card-carryin’, kilt-wearin’ member of the Stewart clan and ye ought to knaw where his fealty lies! In honor of the day of our patron Saint, some tributes to a few favorite Scotsmen:

Sir Harry Lauder

Believe it or not, one of the top five vaudeville acts of all time, up there with Houdini and Eva Tanguay, was this token Scotsman with bushy eyebrows, who came on stage in full kilt regalia and sang sentimental songs in a thick burr. His biggest hit was a song called “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’”. To modern eyes and ears he seems a Warner Brothers cartoon’s idea of a Scotsman. Ah, but perhaps we have it backwards—maybe Warner Bros. got their idea of a “Scotsman” from him.

He was born in Edinburgh in 1870 and got his first working experience in a coal mine. But a coal mine is no place for canaries. He made his debut 1882, in Arbroath. Today Arbroath, tomorrow the world! He debuted in London in 1900, and quickly became one of the most sought after entertainers in music hall, touring also Australia and South Africa before reaching American shores in 1907. His debut at the New York Theater was so successful, the audience held him over an hour.

Americans loved Lauder so much he toured the country 25 times. (His last was 1934). In an era when 17 minutes was a long time for an act to be on a vaudeville stage, Lauder usually did an hour fifteen, slaughtering the throngs with songs like “Wee Hoose ‘Mang the Heather” and “It’s a’ Roon the Toon”. His success extended to a very lucrative recording career (1902-1933) and numerous films, including several early talkie experiments. He was knighted in 1919 for his work entertaining troops. His last radio broadcast was in 1942, but  retired officially in 1949. He died the following year.

Will Fyffe

American vaudeville’s second favorite Scotsman was Will Fyffe (1885-1947), who broke into English music hall around 1916, and made numerous appearances at New York’s Palace Theatre in the late 1920s. His last appearance in the States was in Earl Carroll’s Vanitiesin 1932 (the last edition). He appeared in numerous talkies from 1930 until his death (reportedly by falling out a window) in 1947.

Jimmy Finlayson

I’ll be writing much more about Jimmy Finlayson (1887-1953) in the coming months, both here and in my new book Chain of Fools. Finlayson (known as “Fin” to the fans who revere him) is best known today as the comic foil to Laurel and Hardy, although he appeared in many other films, often as the star. His career spanned both the silent and sound eras. He got his start at Mack Sennett’s Keystone, but enjoyed greater success on the Hal Roach lot. He is best loved for his highly individualistic double-take, which involved the squinting of one eye in a suspicious manner while his head perked up in surprise. His influence is strongly felt today on The Simpsons, both in the person of “Groundskeeper Willie”, but also in Homer’s famous exclamation  “D’Oh!” — another borrowing from Fin. He is seldom identified as the Scotman he is in his pictures — he simply speaks in that unmistakable burr, just another matter-of-fact immigrant to American shores.

Dingus McDollar

Patron and star of the American Vaudeville Theatre 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza last August. (a.k.a Josh Hartung).  Stripped of all other ethnic stereotypes, we were forced to resort to “Scotch-face”.

Happy St. Andrew’s Day!

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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