Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1722/A Circassian Scotchman

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From The Leisure Hour.


In the recently published work on Russia, by Mr. D. Mackenzie Wallace (Cassell), is the following curious account of an old Scottish settlement:—

"As an instance of the ethnological curiosities which the traveller may stumble upon unawares in this curious region, I may mention a strange acquaintance I made when travelling on the great plain which stretches from the Sea of Azof to the Caspian. One day I accidentally noticed on my travelling-map the name Shotlándskaya Kolóniya' (Scottish Colony) near the celebrated baths of Piatigorsk. I was at that moment in Stavropol, a town about eighty miles to the north, and could not gain any satisfactory information as to what this colony was. Some well-informed people assured me that it really was what its name implied, whilst others asserted as confidently that it was simply a small German settlement. To decide the matter I determined to visit the place myself, though it did not lie in my intended route, and I accordingly found myself one morning in the village in question. The first inhabitants whom I encountered were unmistakably German, and they professed to know nothing about the existence of Scotchmen in the locality, either at the present or in former times. This was disappointing, and I was about to turn away and drive off, when a young man, who proved to be the schoolmaster, came up, and on hearing what I desired, advised me to consult an old Circassian who lived at the end of the village, and was well acquainted with local antiquities. On proceeding to the house indicated, I found a venerable old man, with fine, regular features of the Circassian type, coal-black sparkling eyes, and a long, grey beard that would have done honor to a patriarch. To him I explained briefly, in Russian, the object of my visit, and asked whether he knew of any Scotchmen in the district.

"'And why do you wish to know?' he replied, in Russian, fixing me with his keen eyes.

"'Because I am myself a Scotchman, and hoped to find fellow-countrymen here.'

"Let the reader imagine my astonishment when, in reply to this, he answered, in genuine broad Scotch, 'Eh, man, I'm a Scotchman tae! My name is John Abercrombie. Did ye never hear tell o' John Abercrombie, the famous Edinburgh doctor?'

"I was fairly puzzled by this extraordinary declaration. Dr. Abercrombie's name was familiar to me as that of a medical practitioner and writer on psychology, but I knew that he was long since dead. When I had recovered a little from my surprise, I ventured to remark to the enigmatical personage before me that, though his tongue was certainly Scotch, his face was as certainly Circassian.

"'Weel, weel,' he replied, evidently enjoying my look of mystification, 'you're no' far wrang. I'm a Circassian Scotchman!'

"This extraordinary admission did not diminish my perplexity, so I begged him to be more explicit, and he at once complied with my request. His long story may be told in a few words: —

"In the first years of the present century a band of Scotch missionaries came to Russia for the purpose of converting the Circassian tribes, and received from the emperor Alexander I. a large grant of land in this place, which was then on the frontier of the empire. Here they founded a mission, and began the work; but they soon discovered that the surrounding population were not idolaters, but Mussulmans, and consequently impervious to Christianity. In this difficulty they fell on the happy idea of buying Circassian children from their parents and bringing them up as Christians. One of these children, purchased about the year 1806, was a little boy called Teoona. As he had been purchased with money subscribed by Dr. Abercrombie, he had received in baptism that gentleman's name, and he considered himself the foster-son of his benefactor. Here was the explanation of the mystery.

"Teoona, alias Mr. Abercrombie, was a man of more than average intelligence. Besides his native tongue, he spoke English, German, and Russian perfectly; and he assured me that he knew several other languages equally well. His life had been devoted to missionary work, and especially to translating and printing the Scriptures. He had labored first in Astrakhan, then for four years and a half in Persia—in the service of the Bale mission—and afterwards for six years in Siberia.

"The Scottish mission was suppressed by the emperor Nicholas about the year 1835, and all the missionaries except two returned home. The son of one of these two (Galloway) is the only genuine Scotchman remaining. Of the 'Circassian Scotchmen,' there are several, most of whom have married Germans. The other inhabitants are German colonists from the province of Saratof, and German is the language commonly spoken in the village."