THE SCOTCH-IRISH OF WESTERN VIRGINIA

A CONTRIBUTION FROM COL. WILLIAM PRESTON JOHNSTON, PRESIDENT OF TULANE UNIVERSITY, NEW ORLEANS, LA.

From the Proceedings of the Fifth Congress of the Scotch-Irish Society, Springfield, O., May 11-14, 1893

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To Mr. A. C. Floyd, Secretary of the Scotch-Irish Society.

Dear Sir: Your meeting comes at the busiest time of the year for me. Hence I am not able to attend, but I do not wish the Scotch-Irish Society to feel that I am indifferent to the objects of their association. I have a good deal of Scotch-Irish blood in me, and feel a certain satisfaction that among my ancestors was a Preston who endured the horrors of the siege of Londonderry. Prom the amiable complacency that characterizes our meetings, a stranger to the Scotch-Irish history might infer that this branch of the British race is given somewhat to boasting, but we should bear in mind a nice distinction in this matter. As a noble scion of this race once remarked, "No man has a right to call me a braggart. He brags who tells what he is going to do. I only tell what I have done." Measured by this standard, the Scotch-Irish of America will bear comparison with the best.

I believe I can speak advisedly of the Scotch-Irish character as it is developed in the Valley of Virginia. I dwelt among these people for thirteen years; and separated from them by sufficient differences arising from early education and environment, I believe I can judge them fairly and dispassionately. To a harsh critic who was charging them with provincialism, narrowness, bigotry, austerity, and other shortcomings, a distinguished professor of Washington and Lee University, who was allied to them by ties dearer than heredity, replied: "Much of what you allege is true; but they spit no fire before the late war, and they have eaten no dirt since." There is a grand character summed up in that short phrase: the conservatism that assailed no one, the tenacity of purpose that admits of no surrender of principle.

Many of these Rockbridge County people are the direct descendants of the Scotch Covenanters. A curious bit of folklore illustrating this cropped out in the experience of an acquaintance of mine. Riding in one of the high valleys of North Mountain, a ridge of the Alleghanies, he stopped at a house for a drink of water. As the woman of the house served him, her little child clung to her gown, so as to interrupt her. Her rebuke to the child was: "Behave yourself, or Clavers will catch you!" Thus the memory of the terrible Claverhouse still lingers in a distant land as a bogy, or a "Richard in the bush," evidencing the primitive character of these people, and their hold upon their traditions.

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