IRL: in Cincinnati, they’ve been keeping Scottish culture alive for two centuries

President Robert Reid introduces the Caledonian Society of Cincinnati, the oldest continually operating Scottish society in the United States 

We were formed in 1827 to help the Scottish immigrants that were coming to the Cincinnati area.  We are now more of a social organisation, but still provide aid to other Scottish groups in the area, along with providing scholarships to students with a Scottish connection and give a prize fund award to either the top engineering or medical student at the University of Cincinnati each year.

Many of our members have had an impact on the city. Andrew McAlpin, namesake of the old Downtown McAlpin store, was a leading city merchant and one of the incorporators of the Cincinnati Caledonian Society.   

The Kilgour family were prominent members, giving us David Kilgour as the first society president.  His sons, John and Charles, developed the city street rail system.  David Kilgour’s grandson, Bayard, was founder of the Cincinnati Bell Telephone system.  

Another important early member and past president was William Napier Sim, a leading expert in prosthetics, whose pioneering work still benefits the lives of thousands of people all over the world.  

Washington McLean, an early owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer paper, was a member of the society, as was eminent lawyer Salmon P. Chase.  He became Secretary of the Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln, and later was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.  

Thomas Gibson, who became a member in 1847, bequeathed to the City of Cincinnati $31,000 in 1914 for the establishment of an endowment for the Medical Department of the University of Cincinnati. This endowment is still intact and operating for the benefit of one of the finest medical schools in the United States.  

Society members also helped in the Civil War, with members forming the Cincinnati Independent Highland Guards, which was mustered into service at Camp Dennison, Ohio on June 21, 1861. This group formed the nucleus of the Fifth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

The regiment’s first colonel, John H. Patrick, was killed in action at New Hope Church, Georgia, on May 25, 1864. The second colonel, Robert L. Kilpatrick, was severely wounded shortly after and, having lost his arm, was discharged on July 30, 1864. The third colonel, Robert Kirkup, remained with the regiment until the end of the war. All three of these men were members of the society, and contributed to the brilliant record of the regiment.

The society continues to preserve and promote Scottish culture here in Cincinnati. One of our main events we use to do this is our St Andrew’s Night Ball, held this year on November 26 at the Hilton Netherland Plaza, downtown Cincinnati, celebrating all things Scottish.

Celebrating St. Andrew’s Day has been a tradition since the society was formed and was written into the constitution: for the purposes of promoting “social intercourse and for keeping alive those recollections of our native country which must be dear to every Scotsman”.

Article XXIII provided that members shall dine together-upon St Andrew’s Day; it was first celebrated in 1827 at Watson’s Hotel according to a brief entry in the minute book.

In 1828, the St Andrew’s Day celebration, as the Cincinnati Weekly Chronicle reported it, was a “hummer” complete with piping, dancing, poetry recitation, and singing of patriotic songs. Also mentioned was the “introduction of black bottle”, pitchers of hot water, bits of lemon peel, and lumps of sugar, after which the tumblers never cooled. They began at 4 pm on December 1, 1828, and did not adjourn until the next day.

Since 1827, not one anniversary has been missed by the society and we would like to extend an invitation to anyone interested to join us on November 26 for performances by the Cincinnati Caledonian Pipes & Drums, Cincinnati Scots and Cincinnati Highland Dancers.  There will also be the traditional toast to the haggis and Scottish Country dancing.  Our honoured guest will be the British Consulate General, Stephen Bridges.

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