It Was Never Much of a Marriage
By Gordon Duffgordo, Senior Editor
(photos: Gordon and Carol Duff)
I only know Scotland from vacations, those drives up from London. I always stop at Hadrian’s Wall, Roman ruins, walking trails, delineating the oldest traditional border between Britain, the Romanized colony, and Scotland, the land of blue painted folks that toss boulders like pebbles. To locals, those of us from Canada and the US, from New Zealand or Australia are interlopers.
As a MacDuff, son of Lockhart Duff, son of James Buchan Duff, son of Lockhart Duff, we have now entered the 18th century, I am a stranger in my own country. Contemporary records go back to the 15th century, the “enhanced” versions to the 10th.
Sometimes, on a whim, I look online for a cheap flight to Dublin out of Manchester, that other lost bit of Empire, more family there. Duffs, like other Scots, like the Irish as well, have spent the centuries fighting wars of others, or in almost eternal flight. This is why the idea of a homeland is so important.
Were this a history lesson, and we may want to do that sometime, the roots of European Christianity are Irish and Scottish, not Roman at all. Ireland was the first Christian nation in Europe followed by Scotland. The abbey on the Scottish island of Iona was the center of the Christian world with monks spreading across Europe, Christianizing France, Italy and Germany.
Tracing family history in Scotland and Ireland is easy but tracing family is something else. There is a reason for thus, a long history of unsatisfactory relationships with Britain, populations starved, lands seized, entire villages loaded on ships and sent to the Americas.
Family histories are intact for centuries, church records, tax documents, land records or as in our case, a nearly 2000 page family history, The Book of the Duffs, written in 1914, a tale of piracy, debauchery and war.
Most Scots are Americans and Canadians. There are millions of us here, you can tell from the maps the names of cities and towns. Few can travel to Scotland when they want. What they would find would amaze them. We settled in homes that look so much like Scotland, were it not for driving on the wrong side of the road, something I would like the New Scotland to redress if possible. “If the British and Japanese do it, it must be wrong.”
We have a family chapel in Edinburgh and family homes, keeps, castles, across Aberdeenshire from Inverness to Cullen, Dufftown, Banff to Hatton and Aberdeen. The church yards tell a curious tale. Names on the stones are the names we still give our children, the names of our parents and grandparents, as though they were somehow instilled in our blood. As “Gordon Duff,” I carry two surnames, a common practice in Scotland and a common name. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a “Gordon Duff.”
We were a family of traders, vineyards on Portugal, distilleries in Dufftown and across the Highlands. We farmed, raised salmon and followed the British into the colonies, set up the fur trading post, the British one at least, in Detroit, established the city of Windsor, Ontario and its trading post, Duff House, Ontario’s oldest home. General William Henry Harrison used it as a headquarters when he ventured into Canada after Tecumseh.
In Scotland, however, we are strangers and very much treated as such. Scotland isn’t perfect but neither are we. If Scotland is the nation of the taciturn, then we are much a part of that tradition. To see what Scotland is about, look at the last two hundred years of British military history. The names that dominate are always Scottish. Whatever can be said about Scotland, there has always been greatness there.
When Scots vote for independence from the United Kingdom on September 18, I will not cast a ballot. You see, in 1746, our clan, that’s what they call them in Scotland, the MacDuffs, sat divided on two sides of the battlefield at Culloden. I visit there sometimes, there and Hastings and Bastogne, dozens of others. These pieces of land, Culloden is often mud and grass, depending on which of the 12 cold and rainy months of the year in Scotland you choose to visit, define us.
Those unfamiliar with Culloden yet wear the tartan, once outlawed, need a history lesson. Mel Gibson as William Wallace in “Braveheart” is a beginning but there is much more, mostly suffering, oppression and injustice.
I grew up in Detroit, son of an auto worker and, strangely enough, a Scottish baron. Like others, spread across the world when Scotland was put under the sword after the Battle of Culloden, the “Duffs” fled to Ireland, Canada and then the United States. Others remained, the “high born” married into the Germanic royalty of England, but mostly we are spread across the planet. Family titles were peddled on Ebay, family land, once 30 percent of Scotland, now no longer the great estates.
We, around the world, the teeming millions of unseen, unheard and uncounted Scots stand ready. Few of us wish to return home though I could be convinced to buy a home or land I probably own anyway. There is something about being cold and damp in Scotland that makes it more bearable.
We watched Ireland, with EU membership, see both boom and bust, a nation now dispelling its young across the world, much as it had done a century and a half ago. This is a lesson for Scotland to watch. We, those forgotten sons, have more than good wishes. We have money also, that Scottish tradition has stood the test of time, the ability to squeeze a penny until you can read a newspaper through it.
If, and I say, “if” Scotland chooses to go it alone, which I hope they do, including staying out of the bastardized EU with their “monkey parliament” in Strasbourg and the ethereal “Euro,” it will be time to turn to the expats, the millions of us who have a home most have never seen, families taught long ago to look on all of us as dead. That is a Scottish tradition also.