Origins of the Maryville Scot

There exists a campus-wide confusion regarding the heritage of Maryville College. Ask some students what they think our mascot is and no one really knows for sure. We might call ourselves the “Fighting Scots” or even “Scottie Dogs.”

But are we even Scottish?

MC was founded in 1819 by an Irishman named Isaac Anderson. We are a Christian school with a Presbyterian foundation; although the concept of Presbyterian faith originated from Scotland, that does not necessarily mean MC is of Scottish descent, and in fact we are not.

So, you find yourself asking how did the Irish origin of the college translate into the Scots becoming the school mascot?

Before we can begin to answer the bigger question, we need to have a better understanding of Maryville College’s history.

Historian Dr. Ronald Wells has done a large amount of research with president emeritus Gerald Gibson regarding the history of MC to learn why we are called the Scots.

“If you take the identity of the college from 100 years ago, it would have been a Christian college of Presbyterian brand,” Wells said.

He explained that most Scottish immigrants settled into areas such as North and South Carolina. The Irish, seeking a disassociation from Catholicism, moved into the Appalachian area, establishing a firm foundation for the culture we see today.

“We have an Irish founding of the college,” Wells said. “But it wasn’t a big Irish consciousness. It was a far more Protestant and Presbyterian consciousness. After being here for 100 years, they had lost the Irish feeling; they had become American.”

According to Wells, in the 1880’s football took the nation by storm as the sport was adopted by popular schools such as Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. By the 1890’s the popular sport had spread everywhere. For fun and sport, teams began to see the importance for nicknames.

“One of the writers on the Highland Echo in 1905 said we need teams, we need a name,” Wells said. “So, let’s call it the Maryville College Lions.”

This idea failed to catch on, Wells continued. A decade later the idea of being called The Highlanders caught on, because we are in the base of the highlands of Appalachia. As “The Highlanders” proved to be difficult to write on jerseys, so instead there was the invention of “The Maryville College Scots.”

“Dr. Gibson and I looked in all the official records. The official college records do not comment on the adoption of the ‘Scot’ until it was well established in student culture in the 1950’s,” Wells said.

“It’s only in the 40’s in the yearbook we begin noticing that the band becomes the Highlander band, playing for the Scots football team.”

“Everyone embraced this movement; it was the school spirit.”

Nearly 200 years later, it still is.

3 thoughts on “Origins of the Maryville Scot

  • March 6, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Very interesting!

  • July 27, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Yes, the school incorrectly identifies itself with the Highland Scots, but it’s equally incorrect to identify Isaac Anderson as an “Irishman” as described in this article. Isaac was a Scots-Irish American, and his ancestors were Lowland Scots who were planted in Ulster in the 1600s. Isaac’s grandparents emigrated to America @ 1715. They never identified as “Irish.” Even today, the Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland are far more similar to the Scots than to the “Green” Irish. I know for a fact that Isaac’s great grandfather, Samuel Shannon, survived the Siege of Londonderry by eating rats. Even more remarkable, Samuel was nursed back to health by a Catholic girl who lived outside the city’s walls. Isaac’s Shannon ancestors came from the Kintyre area of Scotland. Isaac’s McCampbell and Anderson lines were also Scots-Irish, NOT Irish. Isaac’s grandmother, Mary Shannon McCampbell, was the one who taught Isaac to read, write, and spell. She would have told him all about her father’s experience in Londonderry and would have taken great offense to her grandson being called an “Irishman.”

    • November 21, 2021 at 2:09 pm

      Good points. I would mention, though, that the Scots-Irish were more typically called simply “Irish” before the “Green” Irish came to America en masse. It was then, the 1840s, that it became more common to start saying “Scotch-Irish” in referring to the Presbyterians in the northern quarter, so as not to confuse them with the Catholic Irish from the rest of the country who were coming to America due to the potato famine, who were known simply as Irish.

      The term Scots-Irish has come into wide usage only within the last few decades.


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