Scots and Scotch-Irish

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Scots and Scotch-Irish


Scotland. The emigration of individuals from Scotland, regardless of their destination, was a product of conditions at home and the aftermath of various wars and rebellions against England. Scotland was roughly divided into the Lowlands, the flatter and rolling lands closest to northern England along the east coast, and the Highlands to the North and the West, which were mountainous. Lands were poor and growing seasons short. Almost any traveler visiting Scotland was struck by its poverty: The ordinary country houses are pitiful cots built of stone and covered with turves [sod], having in them but one room, many of them no chimneys. In the Lowlands, which furnished the majority of the settlers to America, most of the land was owned by a small group of the wealthy who rented it out to farmers. These tenants raised oats and barley and kept a few animals. While some tenants could rent larger holdings many had barely enough to survive, especially during periodic years of famine such as the late 1690s, 1709, 1740, and 1760. Laborers fared even worse than tenants. Given the lack of economic opportunity, at many levels, Lowlanders were willing to move to northern Ireland (Ulster), the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe. Until the Restoration of the Stuarts and the 1707 Act of Union, which united England and Scotland, Scots were not allowed to trade with the American colonies. Scottish Highlanders enjoyed even fewer opportunities since fertile lands were scarcer there and poverty even greater. Their political and social structure was based upon clans whose chiefs had great power over their members.

A New Life. The Act of Union in 1707 opened up the possibility of immigration to North America. Lowlanders took greater advantage of this opportunity. They could be found almost everywhere although they tended to cluster in the Middle Colonies and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Highlanders fate was more problematic. Supporters of the Stuart king, James II, who lost his throne in Englands Glorious Revolution of 1688 (called Jacobites since Jamess name in Latin is Jacobus), Highlanders fought against the Crown in 1715 and 1745. Both rebellions ended in disaster with some of those taken prisoner sent to the colonies as exiles. The 1745 uprising in particular had dire consequences for the Highlands. After the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the English took the opportunity to undermine the power of the clans by changing inheritance patterns that had given chiefs the land to reward their followers, forbidding weapons and outlawing the wearing of the tartans (the plaid clothing that identified each clan). With the end of the clan system a more profit-oriented relationship to the land and to the people on it emerged, which allowed more opportunity for some, less security for others, and greater ability to leave a hard and harsh environment. Those Highlanders who came to America in the eighteenth century tended to settle in the South, especially in North Carolina. They did not join the Lowlanders who had come earlier.

Scots in Ireland. The southwest coast of Lowland Scotland and the east coast of Ireland are culturally and linguistically related. (On a clear day the two coasts are in sight of one another.) The first major movement of Scots to Ireland took place about 1400 when some of the clan chiefs married into the Irish nobility and acquired land. Further large grants to Scotsmen were part of the English Crowns program of pacifying the native Irish who opposed both English and Scottish settlement. In 16091610 a large push for a non-Irish settlement resulted in planting Scots and English in Ulster. By the 1650s there might have been forty thousand or fifty thousand Scots in northern Ireland. Religious difficulties in Scotland also sent migrants to the Protestant parts of Ireland. By 1700 there were one hundred thousand Scots there. Ireland proved to be no safe haven for dissenters because Queen Anne authorized the Test Act in 1703 that required all officeholders to be members of the Church of England. The Irish, both Catholic and Protestant, also contended with various economic problems. England began undermining the Irish economy through trade barriers that prevented American or European goods from going directly to Ireland. Instead they had to go through England, thus raising the prices and keeping merchants in Ireland out of the wholesale trade. Protective policies restricted Irish trade in some goods, such as woolens, only to England. Rents also rose in the early eighteenth century as rent controls, passed in 1607 for the period of one hundred years, expired. Poor harvests occurred sporadically through the eighteenth century.

To America. The first major attempt at Scottish colonization took place in New Jersey when Lowland Scots Quakers and Scottish Episcopalians became the proprietors of East New Jersey in the 1680s. These men envisioned a settlement like those in northeast Scotland with large landholdings subdivided among tenants. They did not want a colony of independent small landholders. Of the seven hundred or so people who migrated in the 1680s, over half were indentured servants who came in family groups. While the large estates did not work out as the original proprietors had imagined, Scots were more likely than other groups to remain tenants after their labor contracts were over and less likely to buy their own farms. By the mid eighteenth century three thousand inhabitants of Scottish descent lived in New Jersey. Scots also dominated the politics of earlier eighteenth century New Jersey through their connections with the proprietors and their friendship with the Scottish governors sent over by England. The proprietors of East Jersey did not keep control of their colony which merged with West Jersey in 1702. After initial efforts at colonization, they left it to others to settle their lands. Scots, and after 1725 Scotch-Irish, dribbled in, settling near other Scots rather than among the English or Dutch in New Jersey. In time they came to identify even more strongly as Scots, and as Presbyterians, than they had at home. In 1750 central New Jersey had forty-two hundred Scots and Scotch-Irish, more than 20 percent of the population. Lowland Scots also settled on Port Royal Sound in South Carolina in the early 1680s, but the Spanish forced them out in 1686. Eighteenth-century Lowland Scots settlements into the backcountry and the South are harder to trace since historians tend to speak about the Scotch-Irish rather than the Scots. Likewise it is difficult to know how many Scots there actually were since population has been estimated based on last names that might or might not actually be Scottish. The largest Scots migrations occurred from 1763 to 1775 and consisted of around twenty-five thousand people, excluding the Scotch-Irish.

Another Wave. Highland Scots furnished the fewest of the Scottish immigrants. Highland emigration indirectly resulted from the fight over the British Crown between the Protestant Hanovarian kings who succeeded Queen Anne, the last of James IIs daughters from his Protestant first marriage, and the Jacobites who looked to the Roman Catholic heirs of James II from his second marriage to the Catholic Mary of Modina. This branch of the family had been excluded from succession to the throne by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which had deposed James II and crowned his older daughter Mary and her husband, the Dutch Prince William, joint monarchs of England. While some of those on the losing side were forced into exile or years of indentured servitude, these political emigrants were relatively few. Economic motives drew most of the Highlanders to America beginning in 1732 with a settlement on the upper Cape Fear River in North Carolina. In 1739 another group settled nearby on Cross Creek. The great migration to North Carolina began in 1749 and ended only with the American Revolution. This exodus from the Highlands was led by those known as tackmen who had once served as middlemen between the clan chiefs and ordinary people. With the end of the clan system in 1746 they found themselves with no position in the new society, and many not only organized the emigration of others, for a fee, but also moved themselves. The Highlanders wanted to be with other Highlanders, and they tended to settle together, entering North Carolina through the Cape Fear River and not through the Valley of Virginia as the other Scots did.

Last Group. Scotch-Irish immigration began in 1717, and by the next year 5,000 Ulster Scotch-Irish left for America. In 1728 another 3,000 boarded ships. Undoubtedly, smaller groups had embarked for America in the intervening years. Their destinations were Delaware and Pennsylvania, places where they had heard there were ample farmland and religious toleration. Initial settlements centered in southeastern Pennsylvania, encouraged by an active recruitment campaign on behalf of the province. In time the colonys leaders came to see their effort to entice these folk as misguided since many of them were poor and unable to pay for the lands they squatted on. Moreover, they continued to follow the valleys west, putting pressure on the Indians, which made the frontiers more dangerous. The Valley of Virginia opened up to the Scotch-Irish in 1736, when Virginias governor, William Gooch, gave huge land grants to proprietors who then began selling off smaller landholdings. Hard times in Ireland in 17391740 led to a large migration that made its way to the backcountry of Virginia. During the 1740s settlement reached the geographic limit of the Valley of Virginia, and settlers looked farther south to the Carolinas, which welcomed immigrants. The number of Scotch-Irish who came to America is problematic. They might well have been the largest number of migrants other than the English. An educated guess is that in 1783, at the conclusion of the American Revolution. there were 250,000 people of Scotch-Irish heritage in America.


Ian Adams and Meredyth Somerville, Cargoes of Despair and Hope: Scottish Emigration to North America 16031803 (Edinburgh, Scotland: John Donald, 1993);

Bernard Bailyn, Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1988);

Ian Charles Cargill Graham, Colonists from Scotland: Emigration to North America, 17071783 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press for the American Historical Association, 1956);

Carlton Jackson, A Social History of the Scotch-Irish (Lanham: Madison Books, 1992);

Ned Landsman, Scotland and Its First American Colony, 16831765 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985);

James G. Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962);

Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina 17321776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957).