On January 25, poetry lovers around the world gather to enjoy haggis, Scotch whiskey, and other traditional dishes in honor of famed Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birthday. This year, Burns would have turned 255.
Though not a common celebration in the United States, Burns is well known throughout Great Britain where, primarily in his native Scotland, the anniversary of his birth is commemorated. But, Burns has a direct connection to northern Michigan.
Though Burns never actually traveled to North America, his friendship with Arent DePeyster, the British commander of Fort Michilimackinac in the 1770s, came about as a result of a mutual love of poetry.
After Colonel DePeyster retired from the military in 1794, he and his wife Rebecca settled in Dumfries, Scotland. When a French invasion seemed imminent a year later, DePeyster became the commander of the Dumfries Volunteers, a local militia unit in which Burns served. Burns wrote a patriotic song about the militia, “The Dumfries Volunteers,” as well as an epistle dedicated to DePeyster in response to the colonel’s inquiry about his health. Although Burns died in 1796, as an amateur poet himself, DePeyster’s love of poetry continued to grow, culminating in the 1813 publication of Miscellanies, by an Officer, a collection of his letters, speeches, and poems written at Michilimackinac and elsewhere.
Whether you spend the evening enjoying a Burns Dinner, haggis or not, take some time to reflect on the words of one of Scotland’s greatest poets, and the British officer who shared his love of writing.
Follow the links below to learn more about Burns and DePeyster.