Scots and Scotch-Irish Immigration

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Scots and Scotch-Irish Immigration

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 4,319,232 people in the United States claimed Scottish heritage and 4,890,581 people claimed Scotch-Irish heritage. The two groups represent just over 3 percent of the U.S. population.

History of Scottish immigration

The earliest Scottish immigrants to the American colonies came because of conflicts with England. Until 1603 Scotland had its own royal family, but in 1603 King James VI of Scotland (1566–1625) became James I, king of England and Scotland, beginning the Stuart line of English monarchs (kings and queens). The Scots were proud to have a Scot on the English throne. When James's son Charles I (1600–1649) succeeded as king, though, he began to impose unwanted religious rulings on the Scots, who were mainly Presbyterian Protestants. Eventually they rebelled. Charles also offended the English Parliament, which overthrew and then executed him. Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), the head of the English Parliament, took over the rule of the land, but the Scots did not accept him as their leader. Despite the conflict with King Charles I, they preferred to be ruled by his son, Charles II (1630–1685), and to retain the Stuart monarchy. Scotland fought a war with Cromwell's forces and was defeated in 1650. Cromwell then forcibly sent a thousand prisoners of war to the American colonies.

Scots were prohibited from emigrating until 1707, when the Act of Union united Scotland, England, and Wales as the United Kingdom, giving Scots the same rights as the English. At that time, trade between Scotland and America increased. Scots began to immigrate to Virginia, where tobacco production was a highly profitable business.

Conflicts with England broke out again, and between 1715 and 1745 more than fourteen hundred defeated Jacobite rebels (Scots who wanted to return a Stuart monarch to the throne of England) were sent to America as political prisoners of England. They were forced to become indentured servants —people who contracted to work for someone in the New World, for a set term, in exchange for the cost of their voyage.

Another large group of involuntary immigrants were Scottish soldiers, who were brought to America by the British to serve in the French and Indian War (1754–63), a war over territory between the French and the British. At the end of the war, the British offered the Scottish soldiers land in western Pennsylvania as an alternative to being shipped home. Of the twelve thousand Scottish soldiers, only seventy-six returned to Scotland.

Highlander immigration

The Scottish people belonged to two distinct groups, Highlanders and Lowlanders. Highlanders came from the north of Scotland, where the land was rugged and remote and the people were less influenced by England. Highlander society was organized around clans—communities of people with strong family ties. Highlanders wore tartan kilts (kneelength pleated skirts made from cloth with patterns associated with particular clans) and spoke the Gaelic language. One of the ways Highlanders made a living was by raiding, or stealing from, the more prosperous Lowlanders, who lived to the South and had more connections to England.

In the mid-eighteenth century, the British prohibited the Highlanders from bearing arms. Without being able to raid, there was not enough work to support the clans. Around this time, wealthy landowners in America advertised for indentured servants. A number of Highlanders jumped at the chance. Others sold their farms and livestock to pay for their own passage to America.

Some Highland clan leaders organized large-scale migrations to the New World. Some of these migrations included thousands of people from the same town or area, and when they arrived in America, they settled in a community together. Scots settled in all of the thirteen colonies, with an especially strong concentration of Highlanders in North Carolina.

Scotch-Irish immigration

In the early seventeenth century, a large population of Scottish Presbyterians from the Lowlands immigrated to Ulster, a province of northern Ireland that was predominantly Catholic . King James I had decided he wanted a Protestant population in the area and evicted the Catholics so the Scots could move in. The Scots developed successful industries in Northern Ireland, but they lived in fear of the surrounding Irish Catholics. When King Charles I tried to impose elements of the Church of England on the Scotch-Irish in 1632, they resisted. The king sent in troops to evict them from their homes.

The Scotch-Irish began to leave Ireland in large numbers in the early eighteenth century, seeking a new home where they could govern themselves and practice Presbyterianism in peace. They learned that the colony of Pennsylvania encouraged religious freedom, and many immigrated there. By 1749 about 25 percent of the total population of Pennsylvania was Scotch-Irish.

Later waves of immigration

Back in the Highlands of Scotland, by the early nineteenth century the increase in the practice of raising sheep required vast amounts of land, pushing thousands of poor farmers out of their homes. Many made their way to the United States.

Perhaps the largest wave of Scottish immigration to the United States occurred after World War I (1914–18), when the United Kingdom descended into an economic depression with high unemployment. Over three hundred thousand Scots immigrated to the United States between 1921 and 1930 in search of better opportunities. Since then, much smaller numbers of Scots have moved to the United States.

Scottish American culture

The Scottish Highlanders spoke the Scottish Gaelic language when they arrived but soon shifted to English to avoid harassment. With little or no language barrier, Scottish and Scotch-Irish assimilation (blending in) was generally quick and uneventful after the early migrations. Like other groups, Scots married people from different national ancestries, and many lost touch with their roots. However, since the late twentieth century there has been a surge of interest in Scottish ancestry.