Researching your Scotch-Irish Ancestors
To find the origin of the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian settlements in Virginia and
North Carolina, we must go back to Scotland and Ireland in the times of
Elizabeth and her successor, James. Elizabeth found Ireland a source of
perpetual trouble. The complaints from the ill-fated island were numerous, and
met little sympathy at the court of England; right or wrong, Ireland must submit
to English laws, and English governors, and English ministers of religion; and
last, though not least in the estimation of the Irish, the English language was,
under sanction of law, about to supplant the native tongue, and the last work
of subjugation inflicted on that devoted people.
The Reformation in England had been accomplished partly by the piety and
knowledge of the people at large under the guidance of the ministers of religion,
and partly by the authority of the despotic Henry and his no less despotic daughter.
The tyranny of the crown for once harmonized with the desires of that great body
of the people so commonly overlooked, and even in this case entirely unconsulted;
it pleased Henry to will what the people desired. In Ireland the Reformation was
commenced by royal authority, and carried on as a state concern; the majority of
the nobility and common people, as well as the ministers of religion, being entirely
opposed to the designs of the sovereign, their wishes were as little consulted as
the desires of the people of England. The chief agent employed in this work was
George Brown, consecrated Archbishop of Dublin, March 19th, 1535. Immediately
after his consecration he proceeded to Ireland, and in conference with the principal
nobility and clergy, required them to acknowledge the king's supremacy. They
stoutly refused, withdrew from the metropolis, and sent messengers to Rome to
apprise the Pope of the proceedings. In May, 1536, a parliament was assembled
for the purpose of taking measures for acknowledging the king's supremacy in religion,
he being considered head of the church in England and Ireland
Most of the Scots-Irish settlers in the Carolinas
came first to the Piedmont. Some continued south to South Carolina,
but many stayed. In 1730, the population of North Carolina was 36,000,
mostly on the coast. In 1750 it had risen to 70,000 and in 1770 it
was 180,000, with most of the growth being in the Piedmont region.
Migrants came to this area from the Great Wagon Road in the north, as well
as from the port of Charleston in the south.
Land in the Piedmont was even cheaper than it
was in Pennsylvania or in Virginia. There were fewer problems with
hostile Indians. There was rich soil and abundant game. Many
in North Carolina did their best to promote settlement far and wide.
Arthur Dobbs was an Ulsterman who was granted land in Mecklenburg and Cabbarus
counties in NC. He actively promoted settlement in North Carolina
among the Ulster Scots. William Byrd II wrote in 1731 that “North
Carolina is a Very happy Country where people may live with the least labour
that they can in any part of the world.” Many writers of his day
agreed with him, making North Carolina one of the most popular destinations
for the emigrant.
But this time the Scots-Irish got there first,
and got the best of the land. They continued to use the same agricultural
techniques as they had in Ulster. They maintained livestock, supplemented
by crops, using simple tools and an almost wasteful land management policy.
Some of the land taken from the Native Americans had already been cleared
for use in farming, and a few settlers used this land for intensive, permanent
agriculture. But the majority of the Scots-Irish preferred instead
to clear their own land, farm around the stumps, and when the land was
exhausted, clear more. This slash and burn method of farming was
a hallmark of the Piedmont farmers. The livestock was branded and
left free to graze in the uncleared areas, gaining a profit from that land
This frontier, advantageous as it was to farming
and settlement, gave rise to unique challenges for the Presbyterian Church.
The Calvinist virtues of individualism and self-sufficiency did well here,
but the Christian virtues of kindness, compassion and humility suffered.
The Scots-Irish people loved their faith and desperately clung to it.
Yet the Presbyterian Church required an educated clergy, stressed an educated
laity, and relied on an organized structure connected through presbyteries
and synods. This simply could not work on the frontier.
Presbyterian missionaries from Pennsylvania did
establish churches in North Carolina. The first churches west of
the Yadkin river were all Presbyterian. Yet many of these congregations
had to wait years for a pastor to be found. They were sheep without
shepherds, and many strayed.
North Carolina, which grew out of a settlement from Virginia on Albemarle River,
remained in obscurity until 1729, when the inefficient Proprietary government
came to an end and the country became a Crown colony. About the year 1736 a
body of emigrants from Ulster settled in Duplin County, founding Scotch-Irish
families whose progeny is scattered through the South. But in the main the
Scotch-Irish settlements of the South and West were derived from the overland
emigration that had its main source in Pennsylvania. While there is abundant
evidence that this was large, it is impossible to give statistics even approximately.
Scotch-Irish and Irish
To the west and east of the Highland settlements were large settlements of
Scotch-Irish. One area directly to the west of the Cape Fear settlements was
even called “Scotch-Irish Mesopotamia.” Most of the Scotch-Irish landed at
Philadelphia and came south into North Carolina as early as 1740. After 1750, a
steady stream flowed into the Colony. In 1751 Governor Gabriel Johnston of
North Carolina reported to the Board of Trade that “Inhabitants flock in here daily,
mostly from Pennsylvania and other parts of America . . . and some directly from
Europe, they commonly seat themselves toward the West and have got near the
mountains” (Saunders, 1886–90).
The Scotch-Irish were Protestant, as compared to the smaller number of Irish in
Carolina, who were Catholic. In the seventeenth century a large amount of the
Irish immigrants were situated in the West Indies, but in the eighteenth century
there were Irish settlements in North America. Pennsylvania was in 1790 the
colony that had most persons of Irish nationality, but it was mainly in the
nineteenth century that the mass immigration of Irish Catholics to North America
Links to researching your Scotch-Irish Ancestors
The Ulster Scotch Agency
The Scotch Irish
Scotch Irish Family Research
Scotch Irish Central
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