The most celebrated group of Highlanders left Campbeltown of Argyll, Scotland aboard the ship "The Thistle" and arrived in Brunswick Town in the Colony of North Carolina in September of 1734. They numbered 350 and most were related either by blood or marriage. Unlike the impovershed emigrants who came to the Colony later, these Scots were settlers. They could foresee what was coming in the Highlands and left by choice because the Duke of Argyll, Archibald Campbell was on the forefront of converting his lands from family farming to large scale sheepherding which was more profitable. To begin that process and maximize profits his agents began cutting the tacksman out and obtaining leases directly, in effect auctioning his lands rather than allocating them based on kinship or tradition.
Historical accounts called the men in the group of 350 "lairds" (landed gentry). Other accounts said they were "tacksmen." Though an integral part of the clan system, tacksmen were not lairds but were often blood kin to the chief. They rented or mortgaged his land then sublet it in parcels to other clan members at a higher rent. Because of their position and associated income they were able to leave Scotland for America with money to buy land.
Not yet having established a destination of settlement, the 350 took up residence in Newton (Wilmington). A local merchant, James Murray wrote a letter on their behalf to Henry McCulloh stating that four of the Scots would travel upriver to inspect vacant land near his (McCulloh's) land, presumably a 100,000-acre tract in present-day Guilford and Alamance Counties.The Murray letter implies that the colonists had previously negotiated with McCulloh, a London merchant and large-scale land speculator in North Carolina about purchasing some of his land. By the following June a deal was finalized with McCulloh, and the Scots moved onto land along the Cape Fear ninety miles upriver from Newton. With full support of Governor and fellow Scotsman Gabriel Johnston, the Colonial Assembly granted the Highlanders an exemption from all taxes for ten years provided that they encourage other Scots to emigrate to North Carolina.
The immigration to North Carolina was accelerated, not only by the accounts sent back to the Highlanders of Scotland by the first settlers, but particularly under the patronage of Gabriel Johnston, governor of the province from 1734 until his death in 1752. He was born in Scotland, educated at the University of St. Andrews, where he became professor of Oriental languages, and still later a political writer in London. He bears the reputation of having done more to promote the prosperity of North Carolina than all its other colonial governors combined. However, he was often arbitrary and unwise with his power, besides having the usual misfortune of colonial governors of being at variance with the legislature. He was very partial to the people of his native country, and sought to better their condition by inducing them to emigrate to North Carolina. Among the charges brought against him, in 1748, was his inordinate fondness for Scotchmen, and even Scotch rebels. So great, it was alleged, was his partiality for the latter that he showed no joy over the king’s "glorious victory of Culloden;" and "that he had appointed one William McGregor, who had been in the Rebellion in the year 1715, a Justice of the Peace during the late Rebellion (1745) and was not himself without suspicion of disaffection to His Majesty’s Government.
- North Carolina Colonial Records, Vol. IV, p. 931.