The Black Watch Tartan & Targe, Fort Frederica, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
brand new lease on life
back in the memoir saddle
where do I begin?
haunting photos of Georgia –
let’s start with the Scots
everything passed down.
Georgia’s Scottish Highlanders: Memoir Calls Again
Life circumstances have bestowed upon me the gift of time. I called Mom last weekend and we began talking ancestry again (one of our favorite topics). I’m not sure if I’ll be visiting Georgia this summer, but the seed has been planted. I’ve renewed the research catalogue we use for the family tree. And have begun going back through the photographs taken over the last two summers in Georgia and South Carolina.
History excites me; I love the ghosts of the past. Especially if they are connected to the history of our family. Mom has (almost) traced our ancestry back to the Scottish Highlanders in Darien, Georgia (Irish side of family, perhaps Scots-Irish). When we were at John Wesley’s place (English clergyman and founder of Methodism) on St. Simons Island, we read several accounts in old ledgers that led us to believe a member of our family was a Scottish Highlander. The search goes on for that one definitive piece of recorded evidence to back it up.
The Highlanders were known for their battle skills and the British recruited them to help settle the Colonies. Scottish troops serving in the British Army were sent to Georgia in 1736 to set up a new outpost. Under the leadership of General James Oglethorpe, these men established the settlement of Darien and a sawmill along the Altamaha River.
Mom, Liz, and I visited the buzzing wildness of Fort King George last summer. We braved the dripping humidity to walk through one of the ancient cemeteries at the edge of Darien, and the perimeter of a tabby building, now a historic site, that was one of the first black churches in the area (at the time many people in Darien were against slavery). It’s a sleepy, quiet river town. And boy, was it hot there last July!
Warrior Shield: History of the Targe
We had driven to Darien after our stay on beautiful St. Simons Island and a visit to Fort Frederica. St. Simons played a pivotal role in the struggle for empire between the competing colonial interests of England and Spain. Georgia’s fate was decided in 1742 when Spanish and British forces clashed on the Island. Fort Frederica’s troops defeated the Spanish, ensuring Georgia’s future as a British colony. Today, the archeological remnants of Frederica are protected by the National Park Service.
While Liz was out taking video of a British reenactment at Fort Frederica (complete with musket fire), Mom and I, sweat-covered and tired, slipped into the historical area where it was cool and checked out the books and exhibits. I was immediately drawn to the glass case with what looked like a life-sized mandala shield that turned out to be a targe.
One of our ancestors may have worn The Black Watch Tartan (plaid fabric) authorized for use by the Scottish troops serving in the British Army. Or maybe they carried a targe. I did find a link to the history of the targe written by a man who is still constructing them by hand – John Stewart, The Targeman. According to his site, the targe dates back to the 16th Century and was once the Scottish Highlander’s first line of defense. I was fascinated by the details in these excerpts:
Targes are round shields between 18″ and 21″ (45–55 cm) in diameter with an inside formed from two very thin layers of flat wooden boards, the grain of each layer at right angles to the other. Targes were fixed together with small wooden pegs, forming plywood. The front was covered with a tough cowhide that was fixed to the wood with many brass, or in some cases, silver, nails. Sometimes brass plates were also fixed to the face for strength and decoration.
Some targes had center bosses of brass, and a few of these could accept a long steel spike which screwed into a small “puddle” of lead which was fixed to the wood, under the boss. When not in use, the spike could be unscrewed and placed in a sheath on the back of the targe.
Most targes had their back covered with cow and goat, and 80% of original targes still show straw, crude wool and other stuffing material beneath their ruined skins. Some targes, usually those actually used in battle, had their backs covered in a piece of red cloth taken from the uniform of a government soldier (a “Redcoat”) that the owner had killed in battle.
The face of a targe was often decorated with embossed Celtic style patterns. Typically two general patterns were used - concentric circles, or a centre boss with subsidiary bosses around this. An exception is the targe in Perth Museum in Scotland which is of a star design (see photo at his site). Although some targe designs appear to have been more popular than others, there is very little to indicate that there ever were “clan” designs.
The targe reminds me of a protective mandala — a warrior shield. Yet I had to wonder how much protection it actually provided in times of war. The Targeman answered that question, too. He mentioned that after the disastrous defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the carrying of the targe would have been banned, and many may have been destroyed or put to other uses.
It gave me an eerie feeling knowing I was walking the same ground my ancestors had centuries before. It’s not that all of this historical detail will make it into a memoir — it’s terra firma, a place to stand. The composting of past experience lays the ground for the person I have become. What if an ancestor’s Black Watch Tartan and Targe, in some strange way, blazed the way for the mandala practice last year? And the circle archetype must hold both war and peace.
Resources & Information:
- Fort King George at The New Georgia Encyclopedia — History and Archaeology
- Fort King George in Darien at Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites — including information about Scottish Heritage Day Encampment in March
- The Targeman – Hand Crafted Traditional Scottish Highland Targes by John Stewart
- Fort Frederica at The New Georgia Encyclopedia – History and Archaeology
- Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island at The National Park Service
- Electric Scotland – info on the history of Scotland, the Scots and Scots-Irish, people and places of Scots descent around the world, Scottish clans, tartans and genealogy
- The Fiery Cross – Award-Winning Newsletter For Clan An Cu, The Highland Independent Company of Darien – newsletter with current day photographs of tartans and targes, a Commentary on whether the Highlanders carried targes into battle (p.7), and a letter of praise from Fort Frederica National Monument (p.5) – Because of all your hard work, “the Scots remain the backbone of the parks living history program.”
-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 5th, 2009