Theme: As with other immigrants,
ethnic identity is shaped by
origins, immigration history, and historical
experiences with other sub-groups of the
USA's dominant culture. Many of their defining attitudesóanti-government,
racism against American minorities, reverence for firearmsóderive from their historical experiences with governing
elites or competing ethnic-national groups in Great Britain and North America.
How the Scotch-Irish
history of immigration resembles the standard immigrant narrative (in
Like normal immigrants, the Scotch-Irish choose to immigrate for economic
opportunity plus or minus religious freedom, human rights.
migrate not as a community but as individuals and families, sometimes extended
Scotch-Irish resemble the USA's dominant culture (in immigration patterns or
language (or some version of it) as native language,
so no assimilation necessary. (Nasal sound of Country music, hard "r"
pronunciation come from
(though often more Celtic than Anglo-Saxon)
Scotch-Irish keep moving: from East Coast to
Appalachia to Oklahoma / East Texas to Orange County, California. (Scotch-Irish
de-emphasize permanent housing in favor of log cabins, later mobile homes, more
recently prefab housing.)
How the Scotch-Irish resemble an American minority culture (in
immigration patterns & behavior):
rural, not urban
Though Scotch-Irish continue to marry early and reproduce early, their overall
rate of population growth may have diminished in comparison to high-reproduction
Hispanic immigrants, creating a "numerical minority" mentality among many
or hostility to higher education, anti-science attitudes. (The first big
anti-evolution event in U.S. history was the "Scopes
Monkey Trial" in the Appalachian mountain town of Dayton, Tennessee.
dominant-culture systems like government and public education. ("They're only
out to get you.")
Backgrounds to Scotch-Irish
Immigration: Who are the Scotch-Irish? What historical conditions shaped their
attitudes and ethnicity?
the Scotch-Irish originate
Great Britain / the British Isles
Great Britain / British Isles (box)
relative to Europe
Great Britain / United
Great Britain or the United Kingdom includes the nations of England,
Scotland, and Wales. The Republic of Ireland is a
separate island and nation, but the Province of
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain &
Division b/w Scotland & England dates back to time of
Christ, when Roman Empire colonized England but built
Emperor "Hadrian's Wall" to separate "wild" peoples of North from
"civilized" Southern peoples.
Ethnic / genetic
national consequences: Scottish (& Irish) peoples are more
Celtic, while English are more mixed b/w Celtic, Roman, & Germanic
In succeeding centuries, modernizing national governments of
English kings and aristocrats repeatedly battled Scottish peoples organized by family (clans), experience
fighting together, and occasional unification under strong leaders like William
Wallace (a.k.a. "Braveheart," d. 1305) and Robert the Bruce (1274-1329).
Shifting borders between England and Scotland confused ethnicity
or nationality: whether people identified as English or
Scottish might depend on who won the last border war.
Scotland and the island-nation of Ireland are separated only by the
Irish Sea (below), resulting in many historic migrations and mixing between
these peoples. (The name Scotland derives from the Scotti, an Irish
clan who migrated to Scotland in the Middle Ages.)
Ethnicity as religion: the Scottish people
or nation became more distinctly defined in the 16th century by becoming
Protestant, specifically Presbyterian
under the reformer John Knox. This change distinguished them from Celtic peoples in
Ireland, who remained
mostly Catholic. This difference became significant
for the history of Northern Ireland and the Scotch-Irish in North America.
(map of Ireland at right)
In the 1100s,1500s, & esp. the early 1600s, English and
later Scottish settlers colonized counties of Ireland, esp.
areas around Ulster that eventually became Northern
The Scottish (and Northern English) served
similar roles in Ireland as they would in North America:
looked down on Scotch-Irish but depended
on them as soldiers, police, middle-management, overseers, etc. (just as
Scotch-Irish in America were depended on to fight Indians
and serve as overseers on slave plantations.)
English " Jacobean
Plantations" of early 1600s
("Jacobean" < King James I;
"Tudor Plantations" < Queen
Elizabeth I [House of Tudor])
English power and population growth led to colonization of Ireland in 1600s
(same time as early English colonization of North America).
Modern Ireland and Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland = separate nation, mostly Catholic
Northern Ireland = province of Great Britain, half-Protestant
population of N. Ireland resemble the American Scotch-Irish in appearance and
strong sense of family honor, social conservatism, fighting spirit,
suspicion of outsiders.)
Scotch-Irish Migration from Northern Ireland to
In the early-to-mid-1700s, famines and political conflicts led many Protestant peoples from
Ulster or Northern Ireland to migrate to the British Colonies in North
Map to right (not drawn to scale)indicates routes from
Northern Ireland (at bottom) to East Coast ports of North American British
Colonies / USA (top left)
Scots-Irish immigration from
to North America
Early Scotch-Irish Settlements in British
North America / USA
immigrants originally settled in rural areas of East Coast colonies or
states, especially in the mid-Atlantic region from Pennsylvania to
The Scotch-Irish, indifferent to large-scale
social-political organization, did not form towns as much as neighborhoods
of farms and villages.
Scotch-Irish remain well-represented in
rural areas of PA, VA, NC, SC.
Many Scotch-Irish Move West to Appalachian Mountains &
Encouraged by East Coast elites, many Scotch-Irish
in the late 1700s-early 1800s moved into the southern reaches of the
Appalachian Mountain range and its foothills.
This relocation earned the
nickname "Hillbillies," forced the Scotch-Irish to become Indian fighters
(with some intermarriage), and reinforced association with rural outdoors,
and dissociation from urban life and higher education.
Many Scotch-Irish continue moving west to Ohio River Valley
Revolution (1775-83) and the Louisiana Purchase (1803) opened up the
trans-Appalachian region and the Ohio Valley to Anglo-American settlement,
led by the Scotch-Irish, associating them with the "pioneers" of the early
American nation (e.g., Daniel Boone) + continuing images as
soldiers, cowboys, and Indian fighters in popular media and in actual
history (Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston).
Rust Belt maps
Scotch-Irish continue to move west but maintain deepest
in southern Appalachia, Ohio Valley, and the Deep South
In literature "Okies" (or people living in or
deriving from Oklahoma) appear most prominently in the poor farm families of
John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939).
Wikipedia: In the 1930s in California, the term (often used in contempt)
came to refer to very poor migrants from Oklahoma (and nearby states). Jobs were
very scarce in the 1930s, but after the defense boom began in 1940, there were
plenty of high-paying jobs in the shipyards and defense factories.
The "Okie" migration of the 1930s brought in over a million newly displaced
people; many headed to the farms in California's Central Valley.
By 1950, four million individuals, or one quarter of
all persons born in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri, lived outside the
region, primarily in the West. The core group of Okies are descendants of Scotch
Irish who display a marked individualistic political bent. During 1906-17 a good
amount joined the Industrial Workers of the World, and Okies tended toward
left-populism in the 1930s.
(Orange County, California)
Adapted & edited from "Scottish &
Scots-Irish Immigration to America" at National Tartan Day Society
on 14 May 2012)
While there had been Scottish immigration to America in the
1600s, it was not until 1700 that it began in numbers. Between 1707, when
Scotland and England combined to form the British Union, giving the Scots legal
access to all of the colonies, and 1775, when the American Revolution began,
Scottish immigration soared. Immigration paused during the Revolution, but
resumed after the fighting ended. Scots immigrated to American in three
Lowland Scots: Assimilated to
English ways, the Lowland Scots were primarily skilled tradesmen, farmers, and
professionals pulled by greater economic opportunity in America. They
usually immigrated as individuals or single families, then dispersed in the
colonies and completed their assimilation to Anglo-American ways.
Highland Scots: More desperate than
Lowland Scots, the Highlanders responded primarily to the push of their
deteriorating circumstances. In 1746 the British army brutally suppressed
the Jacobite Rebellion in the Highlands and Parliament outlawed many of the
Highlanders' traditions and institutions, creating much discontent.
At mid-century, the common Highlanders also suffered from a pervasive rural
poverty worsened by the rising rents demanded by their landlords. The
immigrants primarily came from the relatively prosperous peasants, those who
possessed the means to emigrate and feared a fall into the growing ranks of the
After 1750, emigration brokers and ambitious colonial land
speculators frequented the northwest coast of Scotland to procure Highland
emigrants. The brokers and speculators recognized that the tough
Highlanders were especially well prepared for the rigors of a transatlantic
passage and colonial settlement. Preferring cheap, if dangerous lands, the
Highland Scots clustered
in frontier valleys, especially along the Cape Fear
River in North Carolina, the Mohawk River in New York, and the Altamaha River in
Georgia. By clustering they preserved their distinctive Gaelic language
and Highland customs, in contrast with the assimilating Lowland immigrants.
Scotch-Irish (or Ulster Scots):
Nearly half of all Scots immigrants came from Ulster, in Northern Ireland,
where their parents and grandparents had colonized during the 1690s. Like
the Highlanders, the Scotch-Irish fled from deteriorating conditions.
During the 1710s and 1720s they suffered from ethnic violence with the Catholic
Irish, a depressed market for their linen, the hunger of several poor harvests,
and the increased rents charged by grasping landlords. The Ulster
immigration to the colonies began in 1718 and accelerated during the 1720s.
The Scotch-Irish or Ulster Scots immigrated in groups,
generally organized by their Presbyterian ministers, who negotiated with
shippers to arrange passage. Once in the colonies, the Scotch-Irish
gravitated to the frontier where land was cheaper, enabling large groups to
settle together. Their clannishness helped the immigrants cope with their
new setting, but it also generated frictions with the English colonists.
Feeling superior to the Catholic Irish, the Ulster Scots bitterly resented that
so many colonists lumped all the Irish together. In 1720 some Ulster Scots
in New Hampshire bristled that they were "termed Irish people, when we so
frequently ventured our all, for the British crown and liberties against the
Irish Papists [Catholics]." As a compromise they became known in America
as the Scotch-Irish.
(materials below edited from "MCCLELLAND
The Scotch-Irish, A Social History
(Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1962), which covers the migration of
lowland Scots from Scotland to Ireland beginning in 1610, then to America in the
1700's, and finally across the mountains to the Pennsylvania frontiers and down
the valleys into Virginia and the Carolinas. This abstract sketches the
waves of migration from Ulster to America. There were five great waves
of emigration--1717-18, 1725-29, 1740-41, 1754-55, and 1771-75 with a
lesser flow in intervening years--which provide, in effect, a chart of the
economic health of northern Ireland.
The following is abstracted from James G. Leyburn,
This first movement, so significant as a path-opener, had as its immediate
cause the years of drought; but it was the opinion of Archbishop King and
Dean [Jonathan] Swift that not even the dire effects of bad crops and high
prices would have been enough to make the people move if they had not had
the added goad of rack-renting*, still such a novel practice that it caused
intense resentment. In a letter of 1718 to the Archbishop of Canterbury,
King summed up the causes and tried to persuade his colleague to use his
influence to arouse the English conscience to a realization of the effects
of what was happening. He charged: "I find likewise that your Parliament is
destroying the little Trade that is left us. These & other Discouragements
are driving away the few Protestants that are amongst us. ...No Papists stir
except young men that go abroad to be trained to arms, with intention to
return with the Pretender. The Papists being already five or six to one, & a
breeding People, you may imagine in what conditions we are like to be." . .
In a sense, the emigrants of 1717 would be explorers
whose report on their experiences could guide those who came after. The
Ulstermen who went to Boston found unexpected difficulties and a welcome
that lacked warmth. Those who followed them in the next two years were made
to understand that they were not at all welcome. The people who entered
America by the Delaware River, on the other hand, found a land of the
heart's desire. Their enthusiastic praise of Pennsylvania persuaded others
to follow them, and then still others, until by 1720 "to go to America"
meant, for most emigrants from Ulster, to take ship for the Delaware River
ports and then head west. For the entire fifty-eight years of the Great
Migration, the large majority of Scotch-Irish made their entry to America
through Philadelphia or Chester or New Castle.
[*Rack-rent was simply raising the rent on the land after
the period of the lease had expired, and renting to the highest bidder.
Lease terms in Ulster were usually 31 years, much longer than they had been
in Scotland, and were reasonable in the 17th century. As more immigrants
came in and land became scarce, landlords could get more for use of their
land. However, the dispossessed, who had been there for a generation or two,
1725-29. The second
wave was so large that not merely the friends of Ireland but even the
English Parliament became concerned. Parliament appointed a commission to
investigate the causes of the departures, for they had reached proportions
that portended a loss of the entire Protestant element in Ulster.
Letters from immigrants themselves spoke of rack-rents as a determining
cause of this second wave; but the Pennsylvania Gazette mentioned these as
only one of the "unhappy Circumstances of the Common People of Ireland" that
had resulted in so great an exodus. An article in that journal (November 20,
1729) reported "that Poverty, Wretchedness, Misery and Want are become
almost universal among them; that . . . there is not Corn enough rais'd for
their Subsistence one Year with another; and at the same Time the Trade and
Manufactures of the Nation being cramp'd and discourag'd, the labouring
People have little to do, and consequently are not able to purchase Bread at
its present Rate; That the Taxes are nevertheless exceeding heavy, and Money
very scarce; and add to all this, that their griping, avaricious Landlords
exercise over them the most merciless Racking Tyranny and Oppression. Hence
it is that such Swarms of them are driven over into America."
1740-41. Famine struck Ireland in 1740* and was certainly the
principal occasion for the third large wave, which included numbers of
substantial Ulstermen. An estimated 400,000 persons died in Ireland during
1740-41; for the next decade there was a tremendous exodus to America.
This third wave marked, on the American side, the first movement of
Scotch-Irish in any numbers beyond the confines of generous Pennsylvania to
the southwest. Following the path through the Great Valley, many Ulstermen
now went into the rich Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, whose southern
extremity opens out toward North and South Carolina. Arthur Young, writing
in 1779, estimated that between 1728 and 1750 Ulster lost a quarter of her
trading cash and probably a quarter of her population that had been engaged
in manufacture. His comment, if accurate, suggests the caliber of men now
leaving the country.
[*Not to be confused with the potato crop failure that
was the cause of the great Catholic Irish migration in 1845-47.]
1754-55. The fourth
exodus had two major causes; effective propaganda from America and
calamitous drought in Ulster. A succession of governors of North Carolina
had made a special effort to attract to that province colonists from Ulster
and from Scotland. That two of these officials were themselves Ulstermen
lent persuasiveness to their invitation and appeal. As drought ravaged the
countryside, testimony of Scotch-Irish success in American struck a
particularly responsive chord in hearts back home. . . .
At this moment, however, the Scotch-Irish pioneers had their first taste of
real trouble with the Indians. The French and Indian wars broke out in the
colonies and were to last for more than seven years. For the time being,
these violent disturbances effectively dried up the source of new
immigration. More than this, Ulster was just now undergoing a true economic
recovery. Her prosperity was so pronounced that the vacuum left by emigrants
began to be filled by arrivals of people from the south of Ireland and from
Scotland. Her population began to increase apace; indeed, it was the
pressure of numbers, combined with a new economic depression, that caused
the final large wave of migration.
1771-75. Young, writing in 1779, when the outbreak of the American
Revolutionary War had eliminated the possibility of further emigration, said
that the people of Ulster had by 1770 become very poor, living chiefly "on
potatoes and milk and oat bread," and that their little farms had been
divided and subdivided until "the portions were so small they cannot live on
them." More than this, the shipowners at the ports of Belfast and Derry were
in distress because their "passage trade, as it was called," which had long
been a regular branch of commerce, was now cut off.
There was, however, a special reason for the departure of this final wave.
In 1771, when the leases on the large estate of the Marquis of Donegal in
county Antrim expired, the rents were so greatly advanced that scores of
tenants could not comply with the demands and so were evicted from farms
their families had long occupied. This aroused a spirit of resentment
intense that an immediate and extensive emigration was the consequence.
During the next three years nearly a hundred vessels sailed from the ports
in the North of Ireland, "carrying as many as 25,000 passengers, all
Presbyterian." Froude gives an even larger figure: "In the two years which
followed the Antrim evictions, thirty thousand Protestants left Ulster. ...
Throughout the fifty-eight years of the Great Migration, religious
liberty had been a motive only at the beginning. It is nevertheless
significant, both for Ireland and America, that those who left Ulster were
almost all Presbyterians. Members of the Established Church rarely went, nor
did Roman Catholic Irishmen. ...
All of the thirteen original American colonies received Scotch-Irish
settlers. By comparison with the main stream that flowed through
Pennsylvania, the Valley of Virginia, and the Carolina Piedmont, however,
Scotch-Irish settlement in other colonies was insignificant in numbers. The
strength of Presbyterianism in many of the colonies (New Jersey, for
example) was not, as might be supposed, evidence of Scotch-Irish settlement,
on the contrary, most of these churches had been founded by English and
Welsh Presbyterians and many by immigrants directly from Scotland.
A clear distinction should be made at this point between colonists from
Scotland and those from Ulster, for the two have often, to the complete
distortion of events, been thought identical. It has already been noted that
by 1717 Scots and Ulstermen were two different nationalities.
Extensive emigration from Scotland to America occurred during the eighteenth
century, possibly a fourth or a fifth as large as that from Ulster; but the
reasons for Scottish emigration were distinct. Before the union of the two
Crowns in 1707, many Scots were exiled as criminals and many more came as
indentured servants or as merchants to America. After the Union, since Scots
had equal rights with Englishmen, including the right of moving to the
colonies, thousands came over to escape the grinding poverty at home.
Defeat of the Highlanders in 1746, after the collapse of the Stuart
cause, with the determination of the government to "civilize" these people,
caused a large exodus; and the enclosure of lands, the dispossession of
tenants, and the consequent dissolution of ties of personal loyalty binding
man to chief, sent thousands of others to America. The pull from
the colonies was, as usual, the opportunity for a better life. At times
during the nineteenth century there came to be a positive "rage for
emigration" throughout both Lowlands and Highlands.
Scots in America from the first showed traits clearly different
from those of the Scotch-Irish. Scots were seldom explorers, Indian
fighters, or frontier traders; they played only a minor role as pioneers,
preferring to settle in the east and to carry on business enterprises.
Their greatest difference from their Ulster cousins, however, was seen at
the time of the American Revolution: whereas the Scotch-Irish were
usually ardent patriots and notable fighters in the cause of the colonies,
the Scots were, with notable exceptions, Loyalists faithful to the Crown.
Only in their Presbyterianism and a few of their traits of personality did
they resemble the Scotch-Irish. In North Carolina the Highland Scots for a
long while retained their Gaelic language and even their Highland dress.
Children and grandchildren of the original Scotch-Irish settlers
in America were always among the leaders in the move to the new West; but
they were no longer Scotch-Irish in their social characteristics and
outlook. Just as they were likely to become Methodists and Baptists instead
of remaining Presbyterians, so they were likely to marry persons whose
background may have been English or German. The memory of Ulster and its
respectabilities and distinctions meant little or nothing to these constant
pioneers. They were Americans.
[The Scotch-Irish] moved immediately upon arrival to a region where there
was neither a settlement nor an established culture. He held land, knew
independence, had manifold responsibilities from the very outset. He spoke
the language of his neighbors to the East through whose communities he had
passed on his way to the frontier. Their institutions and standards differed
at only minor points from his own. The Scotch-Irish were not, in
short, a "minority group" and needed no Immigrant Aid society to tide them
over a period of maladjustment so that they might become assimilated in the
American melting pot. Like all people, whether immigrants or
stay-at-homes, they must have known individual discouragement and
disappointment; some may even have had a heightened feeling of inner
loneliness, a quality of mind Weber attributes to most Calvinists who
reflect upon the implications of the doctrine of predestinatiion. But to the
extent that their neighbors shared similar experiences and attitudes,
without pressure from other Americans to be different, the Scotch-Irish were
not . . . marginal men. They were, on the contrary, full Americans almost
from the moment they took up their farms in the back-country.
The Presbyterian Church
The following is
abstracted from James G. Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish,
A Social History (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina
[Instructor's note: the "Presbyterianism"
discussed here should not be confused with the modern Presbyterian church, a
comparatively affluent and liberal mainline denomination; instead, the
Presbyterian church established by Scots-Irish in the Appalachian regions and
elsewhere became a subsoil for later Fundamentalist Christian churches.]
The course of Presbyterianism in American
between 1717 and 1789 neatly reflects the transformations of the mind and
the social life of the Scotch-Irish as they became Americans. The eighteenth
century in the colonies was a period whose currents of thought had
inevitable effects upon church as well as state. Presbyterianism changed
much during the century, and in three aspects its changes were significant
for the Scotch-Irish: the church became Americanized; it enlarged its
conception of service to the common man; and it made tentatives toward
democracy. Yet during the very century that saw its increase in vision and
effectiveness, the Presbyterian Church lost its hold upon thousands of
Scotch-Irish for whom it had been a birthright. ...
In spite of all the expansion of education and the remarkable missionary
accomplishment, the church could not begin to meet the religious needs of
the two hundred thousand Scotch-Irish, who by 1776 were filling the
back-country and steadily increasing their large families. Certainly the
church was vividly aware by now of the spiritual needs of the people.
Presbyteries ordered pastors to leave their congregations to make missionary
journeys among the settlements--preaching, performing marriages,
administering the sacraments, consoling the ill and bereaved. Young men who
wished to enter the ministry were not ordained until they had visited the
frontier. So persistent were the calls that a good part of the time of each
Presbytery's meetings was taken up by consideration of appeals from
Scotch-Irish settlements. Yet the Church's best was not enough: thousands of
the Scotch-Irish people were without the care of a church or minister, and
had been for years.
What Presbyterians could not do, Baptists accomplished. All the
ardor and adaptability displayed by the former following the
[George Whitefield's evangelism in colonial America beginning in 1738] could
not overcome the major obstacle of insufficient numbers of ministers. One
fundamental Presbyterian commitment stood in the way: the clergy must be
well educated. Baptists had no such requirements. To them the gospel was
simple, uncomplicated, within the reach of all. Neither Christ nor his
disciples had been university men, and his final command had directed
ordinary persons to preach the gospel to all men. More than this, it
required no complex organization to form a Baptist church; the approval of
no Presbytery or other ecclesiastical court was involved. A group of
like-minded Christians could form a congregation and select as their
minister a dedicated Baptist who felt the "call." He was forthwith a
minister, endowed, as he felt, by God's grace to perform all the functions
of his office. While Presbyterians were spending six years or more at great
expense getting ready to preach, Baptists were already at work--and more of
them every year.
At times the zealous young Baptist ministers and missionaries and
exhorters could not even read or could read only haltingly, but they knew
many passages of the Bible from memory and could speak directly to the
hearts of their ready listeners about the great issues of life and death,
sin and hell, faith and heaven. ...
Late in the eighteenth century the Methodist Church,
zeal of the Wesleys and the far-sighted direction of its first American
bishop, Francis Asbury, began to share the Baptist success. After
independence, when the Appalachians began to be traversed and the Ohio
Valley to be filled, the progress of these two denominations was accompanied
by methods truly sensational. Whitefield's meetings may be said to have been
forerunners of the "revival meeting," which both Baptists and Methodists
eagerly adopted; but by 1802, in Kentucky, the revival had lead to the still
more fervid and dramatic "camp meeting.." The two sects were evangelical and
assiduous in a way that no Protestants had ever been before.
The Methodists devised one of the truly effective adaptations to frontier
conditions of life, the circuit rider. A minister, instead of being tied to
a single church, rode hundreds of miles each month to visit pioneers on
their remote farms. If there were neighbors, he would preach; in any case,
he could perform all the services of a pastor to a scattered flock,
comforting, counseling, marrying young couples, burying the dead. The
devotion and indefatigability of these circuit riders became proverbial:
Kentuckians remarked of a day of foul weather that no one would be abroad in
it "but crows and Methodist ministers."