The President’s Paisley Roots

It’s impressive the influence that Scottish people have had on world events – and many famous names born overseas have discovered a connection with our shores and traced their descendants right back to Scotland.

None more so than former US President, Ronald Reagan.

Born in 1911 in Illinois, Reagan worked in radio before moving to Hollywood and forging a film career.

An impassioned conservative, Reagan was elected governor of California and, in 1980, after a landslide victory, found himself in the top job at the White House.

He was not aware of his Scottish roots until 1991, when he received a letter from the minister of Castlehead Kirk in Paisley. It revealed the US President’s great-great-grandfather, Claud Wilson, wed Peggy Downie in the kirk in 1807.

Wilson and Downie’s fathers had been weavers during a difficult era of labour reform. In the early 19th century, weavers and other skilled artisans were growing more radical in outlook, often clashing with government as they fought for better conditions.

Perhaps the determination and bravery of Reagan’s Scottish forebears informed his own radical re-interpretation of the American Dream?

Ronald and his wife Nancy visited Castlehead Kirk in late 1991 and received a painting of the church that delighted Reagan, who said it would be given place of honour in his home.

Who knows, perhaps the determination and bravery of Reagan’s Scottish forebears informed his own dedication to rejuvenating the United Sates and his own radical re-interpretation of the American Dream?

Another famous American, singer Johnny Cash, was similarly surprised by his Celtic ancestry – and royal connections. Read his story here.