The Scotch-Irish in Western Pennsylvania
By Hon. John Dalzell, Member of Congress from Pennsylvania, Washington, D. C.
From The Scotch-Irish in America: Proceedings and Addresses of the Second Congress at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 29 to June 1, 1890.
Our ancestors knew the waters that lave the Giant's Causeway, the outskirts of Derry, and the quays of Belfast, but the Ulsterman also knew, and his history is linked with, the Alleghany, Monongahela, and Ohio. His mark is on every soil that bears witness to thrift and progress; the influence of his character on every people where civilization has marched; the glory of his deeds, and the flash of his genius on every page of history that testifies of heroism and brightens the story of human progress. But he is peculiarly at home here, on the spot where his pioneer courage conquered savage foe of man and forest, and where his devotion to the principles of civil and religious liberty find lasting monument. And yet, strange to say, there is no such thing as a literature of Scotch-Irish achievement. Coming to the pleasing task of addressing you on the proud history of our common ancestry, and amidst many and laborious duties, pressed for time, I found myself crippled for aid from any source in the utter lack of the gathered materials of history. The long story of Puritan achievement is embalmed in classic prose and stirring poetry; the cavalier has found immortal memory in records many and eloquent, recounting his contributions to the world's advance, but the sturdy race that has watered every historic field with its blood, and whose allegiance is bounded by no lines but those of liberty, still lacks a historian.
Reference to, and praise of, its character, its genius, its heroism, and its achievements are to be found on the pages of many a history, but historian of its record as such, it has none. Plain proof that in deeds and in action it has had no time to think of diary or journal, and that its method of speech has been heroic--not by boast but by result. May I not say for it that its motto has been that of my own class in college, borrowed from an old Greek author, "ou logoisi all' ergoisi," not by words but by deeds.
But just here I catch the query of some doubter, who says: ''What boots it whence we came; are we not Americans, all?" "Aye," let me answer, "that are we, so proven by a century of devotion to the principles of American liberty; by our contribution to their inception and embodiment in constitutional form; to their practical establishment; to their maintenance and defense on all our battle-fields of liberty, and by a conscientious and enthusiastic regard for their present enforcement and their perpetual preservation."
But down deep in the nature of every true man, as a practical part of his character, lies a substantial regard for the blood of his ancestry, and underlying the courage and ambition of every race is a religious respect for its history. Without such principle in human nature we should have no memoirs like those of Grant and Sherman and Sheridan; no historians like Hume, Macaulay, or Froude, or our own revered Bancroft. The present finds its inspiration in the past, its zeal, its poetry and sentiment, and its animating hope for the future.
Said the most finished of American orators, Wendell Phillips: "Races love to be judged in two ways--by the great men they produce, and by the average merit of the mass of the race. ... So again there are three tests by which races love to be tried. The first, the basis of all, is courage, the element which says here and to-day, `this continent is mine, from the lakes to the gulf; let him beware who seeks to divide it.' And the second is the recognition that force is doubled by purpose; liberty regulated by law is the secret of Saxon progress. And the third element is persistency, endurance; first a purpose, then death or success."
Set aside race history and you make impossible race judgment; you take away the incentive to race progress; you deprive the future of achievements possible only as born of the heroic consummation of the past. And at this point let me not be misunderstood. He who stands highest in my regard, for whom I have warmest praise, is not the original Ulsterman, noble as he was, but his outcome--the American, the consummate fruit and flower of the transplanted original seed, brought to perfection under the influences of a hundred years of American history, life, and experience.
In the art of photography, many faces, by the proper manipulation of the camera, may be pictured as one, which is the composite of the many. Features are toned down, characteristics modified, a general result obtained; the ultimate concentration in one of the whole; all the faces reduced, as it were, to a common denominator. That is the American Scotch-Irishman of to-day.
The Scotchman is himself a man of composite race. Long before the period when his transfer to Irish soil gave birth to the term "Scotch-Irish," the blood of the Celt, the Saxon, and the Norman had been mingled so as to run in the same veins. In his character were combined the virtues and the failings of the various people from which he had sprung. And humanity knows few virtues of which he was not the legatee. Celtic daring and thrift, Saxon energy and enterprise--the pioneer spirit--and Norman pride, all these with a Scotch environment of birth, an Irish environment of hard experience, have ripened under the sun of American enterprise and prosperity into the American Scotch-Irishman, who to-day figures in every sphere where his characteristic virtues count, and figures always well up to the front.
Prior to the accession to the throne of Great Britain of James, the first of the Stuarts, Irish history is a record of turbulence, riot, bloodshed and rebellion. But in the first decade of the seventeenth century, the last serious attempt on the part of any individual Irish chieftain to rise against the power of England took place, and proved a failure. Following thereon, came the flight of the rebels, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel, and the forfeiture to the crown of all their estates. There thus passed into governmental control the counties of the North of Ireland, which constitute the province of Ulster, and comprise some eight hundred thousand acres. Here came the Scotchman, as a colonist and pioneer, to possess this land, to till the soil and to cultivate, not alone the seeds of annual crops, but his ideas, customs, and institutions.
Here he came to better his condition, not because he was starving and a laggard in the race at home, but because he had the ambition and the enterprise to try a new hazard for a new result. It was the best of Scotchmen that invaded Ulster, and they took with them the virtues that moved them to the enterprise.
And here begins the history of the Scotch-Irishman. I do not mean that the Scotch-Irishman originated here; far from it. It was at this point only that he was baptized with a name. The Scotch-Irishman, as we know him, was a growth. Let it be noted that upon the part of the Scotchman who came to Ulster there was no assimilation with the native Irishman; no connection by marriage and intermarriage; no conformity to local religion or custom; no sympathy with local tradition, history, or sentiment; nothing in fact to identify him with Ireland but the accident of place. Scotland had moved over and taken possession of Ulster, and Ulster had become, so far as nature would permit, Scotland.
When the Scotchman went to Ulster he took with him his individuality and his religion. He had ambition, grit, thrift, tenacity. He was a John Knox Presbytorian. This made up his religious faith; his political faith followed as a natural consequence. He believed in individual freedom. His social unit was the family. Apart from personal characteristics he was what the religion of John Knox made him. And, my countrymen, do you know what that was? Standing here, with the gathered sheaves of a century of republicanism, rich and strong, prosperous and happy, we are fain to imagine that to our immediate fathers alone was given in charge the ark of the covenant of liberty, and that they conceived the principles upon which our government is founded! I say to you, nay. Across the gap of three centuries of time hear the thunder of the grand old Scotchman, "who never feared the face of clay," as he proclaims the principles of liberty. "The authority of kings and princes," said he, "was originally derived from the people; that the former are not superior to the latter, collectively considered; that if rulers become tyrannical or employ their power for the destruction of their subjects, they may be lawfully controlled, and proving incorrigible may be deposed by the community as the superior power; and that tyrants may be judicially proceeded against even to a capital punishment."
Surely startling words and audacious sentiment for Scotland in the sixteenth century! Seeds sown at St. Giles to bear fruit at Whitehall and fruit still more abundant across the sea. A hundred years stretch between them and Charles discrowned and beheaded. They precede by still longer space that revolution which, in 1688, declared the trusteeship of royalty and the dominant rights of the beneficiary. Gathering force with years, these words echo and re-echo from Octarara, from Mecklenburg, from the valley of Virginia, and from old Independence Hall at Philadelphia. From the midst of an assemblage, many of whom were Scotch-Irishmen, they burst into a shout heard round the world, the prelude to the march of armed men, consecrated to their establishment as the framework of a government of the people.
Plain axioms of political truth to-day, they have been blood-bought, as has every human right wrested from the hand of power, from that morning, when blood was found on the door-posts of Egypt, down to the hour when the last drop was shed on the battle-fields of our own civil war.
It is not my purpose to rehearse the story of the Scotchman in Ulster.
His discipline there was that of industry--the labor necessary with thrift to make a comfortable home; of good morals, exercised in planting the school and providing for the education of his children; of persecution and repression in maintaining his religion in the face of test-oaths and despotic law. His growth was in the line of his discipline, and thus his virtues were perpetuated, strengthened, magnified. His courage, loftiness of purpose, his persistency, endurance, are they not written where all the world may see them in the splendid heroism of Londonderry and in the red storm of the battle of Boyne Water?
In the providence of God a richer heritage awaited him across the sea; more fertile fields, with richer returns for his labor; a wider sphere for the growth and exercises of his virtues; a broader plane for his heroism, and more magnificent opportunities for his children.
And so the Scotch-Irishman came to America. "The first great migration from Ulster to Pennsylvania--and it was to Pennsylvania that nearly all the immigrants came prior to the Revolution--was from 1717 to 1750. At this time, under the benign sway of the toleration act of 1689, religious persecutions had ceased in Great Britain, or at least had become tempered down into annoying hindrances and exactions. But the long leases which landholders had granted upon the original colonization had expired, and they took advantage of the prosperity which had attended the labors of the colonists and their descendants to advance the rents to such high figures as to be ruinous to many of the tenantry, and burdensome to all. Having heard of the better land across the sea, where they could be their own landlords, where tithes were unknown and taxes light, they at once determined to seek new homes there. And thither they went." (Judge Veech, "Secular History.")
According to one authority (Proud's History of Pennsylnania), up to 1729, six thousand Scotch-Irish had come, and for several years prior to 1750, about twelve thousand arrived annually. In September, 1736, one thousand families sailed for the Delaware from Belfast alone.
The second great migration from Ulster occurred between 1771 and 1773.
"The cause of this extensive emigration was somewhat similar to that of the first. It was well known that a great portion of the lands in Ireland are owned by a comparatively small number of proprietors, who rent them to the farming classes on long leases. In 1771 the leases on an estate in the county of Antrim--the property of the Marquis of Donegal--having expired, the rents were so largely advanced that many of the tenants could not comply with the demands, and were deprived of the farms they had occupied. Thence arose a general spirit of resentment to the oppressions of the large landed proprietors, and an immediate and extensive emigration to America was the result. From 1771 to 1773 there sailed from the ports of the North of Ireland one hundred vessels carrying as many as twenty-five thousand passengers--all Presbyterians. This was shortly before the breaking out of the Revolutionary war; and these people, leaving the Old World in such a temper, became a powerful contribution to the cause of liberty and to the separation of the colonies from the mother country.
"These Scotch-Irish emigrants landed principally at New Castle and Philadelphia, and found their way northward and westward into the eastern and middle counties of Pennsylvania. From thence one stream followed the great Cumberland Valley into Virginia and North Carolina. Another powerful body went into Western Pennsylvania, and settling on the head waters of the Ohio became famous both in civil and ecclesiastical history, and have given to the region around Pittsburg the name it so well deserves of being the backbone of Presbyteriamsm." (J. Smith Futhey's Historical Discourse.)
The gravitation of the Scotch-Irishman to America finds its explanation in the traits of his character and in his ingrained love of liberty. He always wants the best of every thing; he has that self-confidence which begets the belief that he can get the best of every thing if he tries; he has the courage to try, the perseverance which make success the outcome of pursuit, and hence he is the ideal pioneer.
His gravitation to Pennsylvania finds its explanation in a variety of circumstances. Her fertile soil tempted his occupancy, for he was an agriculturist. He was clannish. His first love was for family, his next for his neighbors, and Pennsylvania offered room for the building of communities. He loved adventure; in Pennsylvania the savage and the white man still faced each other. But, above all, he was devoted to the principles of civil and religious freedom, and no other province offered to him such mild, just, and liberal laws as did the province of the Quaker Penn.
Turning now for a rapid glance at the history of Western Pennsylvania, how picturesque it is! Claimed first by England, her claim was disputed by France, which coveted and meant to have a territory connecting her Canadian and Louisiana possessions; and so it came about that in this very place where we now are ensued the struggle between France and England for the mastery of this Western continent. Here on this spot, at the junction of these rivers, French arms planted and defended Fort Duquesne, and not far off is the battle field where English pretenses went down for the time with the bloody defeat of Braddock.
On yonder hill, with its stately pile, where justice is judicially administered, fell many a gallant Scotchman following his gallant Scotch leader, Grant.
And here again, within a stone's throw of where I stand, the banner of St. George was planted by the hand of Forbes above the lilies of France, and Fort Pitt erected, so named in honor of the immortal Chatham, whose genius at a critical time saved to England her western possessions.
Listen to Mr. Bancroft's description of the fall of Duquesne (History of the U. S., Vol. IV, p. 313):
"On the 25th of November the youthful hero (Washington) could point out to the army the junction of the rivers, and entering the fortress they planted the British flag on the deserted ruins. As the banners of England floated over the Ohio, the place was with one voice, named Pittsburg. It is the most enduring trophy of the glory of William Pitt. America afterwards raised to his name statues that have been wrongfully broken, and granite monuments of which not one stone remains upon another; but long as the Monongahela and the Alleghany shall flow to form the Ohio--long as the English tongue shall be the language of freedom in the boundless valley which these waters traverse, his name shall stand inscribed on the gateway of the West."
Following the struggle for this territory between France and England came the long and vexatious contest as to boundary lines between Pennsylvania and Virginia. And then came the Revolution and Indian warfare and the whisky insurrection. Very plain is it that in so far as he was party to Western Pennsylvania's history, the Scotch-Irish immigrant had opportunities for the exercise of all his virtues, and trials sufficient to test all his endurance.
Prior to 1700 it is said that no Englishman or Frenchman had trodden the shores of the Monongahela, Alleghany, or Ohio. As early as 1715 or 1720, a few traders ventured west of the Alleghanies, but the first serious attempt at settlement was the formation of the Ohio Company in 1748. This was a Virginia enterprise, at the head of which were Thomas Lee, Lawrence and Augustine Washington, and its purpose was to settle this western territory and carry on trade with the Indians. A grant was made by the crown to the company of five hundred thousand acres of land south of the Monongahela, and the great Kanawha, with the further privilege of locating also north of that river. Our present interest in this company consists in these facts, which I quote from "Old Redstone" (page 23):
"Mr. Lawrence Washington, upon whom fell the chief management of the affairs of this company after the death of Mr. Lee, conceived the very plausible plan of inviting the 'Pennsylvania Dutch,' and their brethren from Germany to colonize this region. Their only objection was the parish taxes they would have to pay to support the Episcopal Church. Mr. Washington exerted himself to get this difficulty removed; but high church Episcopacy was too strong for him, and so his scheme failed, and a large portion of Western Pennsylvania and Virginia was kept open for a different race--mainly for Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Thus the intolerant Episcopal establishment of Virginia was overruled by the purpose and providence of God, to contribute unwittingly to provide a home for many of our fathers; or, rather, keep open for them such a home. Mr. Washington, in a letter to Mr. Hanbury, of London, wrote: `I conversed with all the Pennsylvania Dutch whom I met, and much recommended their settling. The chief reason against it was the payment of an English clergyman, whom few understood, and none made use of him. It has been my opinion, and I hope ever will be, that restraints on conscience are cruel, in regard to those on whom they are imposed, and injurious to the country imposing them. England, Holland, and Prussia, I may quote as examples, and much more Pennsylvania, which has flourished under that delightful liberty, so as to become the admiration of every man who considers the short time it has been settled.'"
Following the attempts of the Ohio Company at colonization came Braddock's defeat. Passing over the consequent period of French domination, and coming to that of British supremacy again, we find that there were obstacles still standing in the way of the settlement of Western Pennsylvania. There were Indian hostility, the question as to Indian titles, and the controversy between Pennsylvania and Virginia as to the boundary line between them, the real bone of contention being the possession of Fort Pitt.
Who does not know the thrilling story of the conspiracy of Pontiac; that veritable Napoleon of the redmen? And how it failed, so far as Fort Pitt was concerned? And how, following thereupon, the settlers resumed their labors and extended their improvements? From this time forward the march of civilization continued in spite of the obstacles to which I have already referred, and of which I must again make mention.
The first town of Pittsburg, built in 1760, and having some 250 inhabitants, was destroyed in Pontiac's war; but a new town was laid out in 1765.
In that and in the following year, settlements were made at Red-stone and Turkey Foot. From 1760 to 1770 settlements were rapidly made in various places throughout Western Pennsylvania and Virginia. A considerable number of emigrants, soon after 1767, settled on the Youghiogheny, the Monongahela and its tributaries, and in the year 1770-1771, many of the Scotch-Irish from Bedford and York counties, from the Kittatinny Valley, from Virginia, and some directly from the North of Ireland, commenced settlements in Washington county. The settlements soon extended from the Monongahela to the Ohio River. (Old Redstone, p. 30). From this time forward Western Pennsylvania was, for a long time at least, characteristically Scotch-Irish.
Mark, now, as significant of Scotch-Irish character, what was involved in the journey to Western Pennsylvania, in the conditions then existing there, and in the results that followed upon its settlement.
Two routes connected Western Pennsylvania with the east; one, Braddock's road, which led over the mountains from Will's Creek, and the other, that made by General Forbes's army. Both of them were mountain roads, with all that that term implies, although some money and care had been spent on the Braddock route.
The relinquishment of homes already established east of the mountains, and the penetration of the western wilderness over these roads, the inconveniences to men, women, and children, with the carriage of household goods; the perils of the way from savage beast and still more savage man, illustrate, in the most emphatic way, those traits of Scotch-Irish character, with which we have already become acquainted. To the pioneer vision cheap lands and civil and religious freedom lay beyond the Alleghanies, and therefore westward his star of empire took its way.
The condition of things in Western Pennsylvania that confronted the hardy and adventurous immigrants was bad enough. It was the boast of the Penns that the lands of the Indian should not be interfered with until his title had been first acquired. No acquisition of the Indian title to many of the lands taken possession of by these new settlers was acquired until by treaty at Fort Pitt in the spring of 1768, and finally by a treaty in the fall of the same year at Fort Stanwix. Prior to this time the settlers were harrassed by proclamations from the governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia warning them off their lands, and by the passage of a law by the Pennsylvania Assembly (1768), punishing "with death without the benefit of clergy" all who disobeyed the warning. Following the treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Penns opened their land office in Philadelphia (April 3, 1769), and thereafter immigrants arrived in large numbers to Western Pennsylvania and Virginia.
But a difficulty still remained threatening the peace and progress of these parts; a difficulty which forms a prominent feature and had an important influence in many ways on our local history--the controversy between Virginia and Pennsylvania as to boundary lines.
Let me try, briefly, to state it.
In 1681, Charles II granted to William Penn the province of Pennsylvania, with the Delaware River as its eastern boundary line, and a western boundary line to be five degrees in longitude, computed from the eastern. How much of uncertainty there is in the term "five degrees in longitude" from the windings of a river will be apparent to the most unobservant.
But, seventy-five years before (1606), James the First had granted to the London and Plymouth Company the privilege of making two settlements on any part of the coast of America between the 34th and 35th degrees of north latitude, and under this grant a settlement had been made at Jamestown; and three years later (1609) he had enlarged the grant so as to call for a water front 200 miles northward and 200 miles southward from Point Comfort "and all that space and circuit of land lying from the sea coast of the precinct aforesaid, up into the land throughout from sea to sea, west and northwest."
True, thereafter (1623), by writ from the Court of Kings Bench, this company was dissolved and the lands reverted to the crown; but the grant itself was claimed to have been an assertion of title to lands included in the subsequent grant to Penn.
In 1632, Charles the First granted to Lord Baltimore the territory of Maryland, which encroached on the Virginia grant and was claimed also to be interfered with by the grant to Penn.
It is apparent, therefore, that the Penn's had two controversies on hand, one as to their boundary with Maryland and the other as to the Virginia boundary.
With respect to the Maryland line it is sufficient, so far as our present purpose goes, to say, that the controversy was substantially ended in 1768, and that thereafter the boundaries fixed by two English surveyors, Mason and Dixon--historic names, as they figure in all our subsequent history--marked the settlement of the controversy.
The Virginia dispute, however, went on until 1780, when terms were finally agreed upon, and in accordance therewith Mason and Dixon's line extended became the southern boundary of Pennsylvania.
In the meantime, however, pending this settlement, all this western region was substantially without law, and called for the daily exercise of the voluntary virtues of good citizenship. No man knew what title he had to his home, or whether he had any. Up until March, 1771, the western country was within the jurisdiction of Cumberland county, and the Alleghany peaks intervened between the citizen and his court of judicature. How much such court amounted to it needs no expert in human nature to say. In 1771 Bedford county was created, so as to cover the western country, but without relief to the legal situation. The mountains still stood between the litigant and justice to be judicially administered. In 1773 Westmoreland county was created and courts established at Hannastown, but the jurisdiction of this court was disputed by armed force from Virginia, and riot and confusion, not judicial action, was the result.
I am trying to avoid details; neither your patience nor mine will endure them at this time. My simple purpose is to picture, if I can, the difficulties that interfered with the peace, order, good morals and civil government of a society composed in largest part of Scotch-Irish immigrants.
In such a chaos of government, especially in a rude community where up to this time law had never yet been asserted in its majesty, the common weal must depend on the assertion of individual character, and find its only bulwark in public opinion. Public opinion under such circumstances assumes the force of law--and public opinion is but the aggregate of individual views. Indeed, where public opinion and the law are synonymous terms the law is a superfluity--and law without the buttress of public opinion is practically a nullity. And when I announce, what is the fact, that in this Scotch-Irish settlement west of the mountains, while courts were beyond reach and no law capable of execution existed, the community dwelt in security--the rights of man were respected, good morals observed, and peace prevailed, I am simply pronouncing a eulogy on the character and virtues of the men and women whose allegiance to the precepts of religion and to the principles of individual right made them a marked and superior race. Such men and women were the Scotch-Irish of Western Pennsylvania during all the period of which I speak, and down to the time when the outbreak of the Revolution gave them other things to think of than land titles and state boundary lines.
The first gun fired at Lexington in man's new crusade for the rights of man found echoing answer at the western foot-hills of the Alleghanies. It woke the spirit of the slumbering old Presbyterian, John Knox, and was answered by the heirs of his faith and courage.
The fiery eloquence of Scotch-Irish Patrick Henry set aflame the hills and valleys of Virginia. The less gifted tongues, but no less enthusiastic purpose, of the pioneers of Western Pennsylvania, responded in kind. Leaving field, cabin, and workshop, they came together at Hannastown, their court-house seat, and first having recited the wrongs inflicted upon the inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay, they unanimously resolved:
"It is therefore become the indispensable duty of every American, of every man who has any public virtue or love of his country, or any bowels for posterity, by every means which God has put in his power, to resist and oppose the execution of it; that for us, we will be ready to oppose it with our lives and our fortunes." And then, with that practical sense which belongs to the race, they added:
"We will immediately form ourselves into a military body, to be made of companies, to be made up out of the several townships under the following association, etc."
And like proceedings were taken at Pittsburg, then claimed to be in Augusta county, Virginia. Nay, more. I may add that like proceedings were had and a like spirit prevailed wherever there was a Scotch-Irish settlement in the colonies; for Mr. Bancroft says: "The first public voice in America for dissolving all connection with Great Britain came, not from the Puritans of New England, the Dutch of New York, nor the planters of Virginia, but from Scotch-Irish Presbyterians."
St. Giles, Whitehall, Londonderry, William of Orange, Lexington, Hannastown--are they not all chapters in the same history of man's growth, through struggle, to governmental manhood?
The relation of Western Pennsylvania to the War of the Revolution was peculiar, and her trials many and harrassing. No fear was entertained of British soldiers from the east, but west of Fort Pitt the English held Detroit and the Illinois country, and between swarmed savage foes, many of them in the service of English gold.
The rallying point of defense and attack was Fort Pitt, which played quite as important a part in the war for colonial independence as had Fort Duquesne in the French War. The story of Western Pennsylvania's part in the Revolution is one of blood and hardship in many chapters, each of which is but a repetition of the preceding. Garrisons lacking supplies, expeditions well planned against the Indians and the British, but somehow failing of effect, discouragements of all kinds--all these were frequent, and murders by savages of daily occurrence. Says Dr. Laming ("History of Alleghany County"), speaking of Indian raids: "The repetition of these raids, although varying more or less according to circumstances, was the every-day expectation of the Western population, and the mere recital of them became monotonous. The population around Forbes's road, in the Monongahela Valley, in the immediate vicinity of Pittsburg, and generally throughout the south-western part of the state, had by this time become considerable. But the draft that was made on them for the war with England, for the garrisoning of the local forts and blockhouses, for the various expeditions into the enemy's country, and for the defense of their own homes, left them little time for the care of their farms. Yet at no time in the history of the state did this require greater labor; for although the soil was as yet rich and required little cultivation, the forests had to be cleared and inclosed, the ground in most cases to be broken up with strong teams, which were not at the command of every one, and when under cultivation it required constant watching to prevent wild animals, such as deer, bear, raccoons, etc., from destroying large portions of the crop. The life of the frontiersman was one of great hardship, and though it bred a hardy race, it frequently taxed them beyond the powers of endurance. The women, too, required courage equally with the men, for it frequently happened that for weeks they were left alone with their families in a little 'patch' in the forests, far from all human succor, and liable at any moment to hear the war-whoop of the savage, or discover him lurking around the premises, ready to fall upon his victim."
So far as the connection of Western Pennsylvanians with the Revolution is concerned, it is wholly lacking in the romance, "the pomp and circumstance," of glorious war. But Western warfare was such as to demand upon the part of the colonists just the kind of fighting material to be found in the Scotch-Irishman, with his peculiar sturdiness of character and no lack of aversion to fight when he believed in the justice of his cause; and the fact that this race all along our borders stood with their faces westward, a cordon between the settled portion of the country and its savage foes, may be regarded as providential.
Time will not admit of my saying any thing at length with respect to the Whisky Insurrection, an episode of note in Western Pennsylvania history. Prominent actors therein, both on the side of the accused insurrectionists and on the side of the government, are on record, and their respective stories are not altogether reconcilable. In the mean between the two probably lies the truth. Following the establishment of the national government and the adoption of Hamilton's scheme for the assumption of the state debt, came the necessity for the raising of national funds in excess of those receivable from duties upon imports. Hence an excise tax was levied upon the products of the still. This tax met opposition in Western Pennsylvania for several reasons.
An excise tax is per se odious amongst all people and at all times. This is the verdict of our own history. That of 1791 was specially odious to the people west of the mountains, because, without a home market for the product of their fields, it was, as they regarded, absolutely essential to their existence that they should turn their grain into portable form in the shape of whisky. Hence the excise was to them an exceedingly burdensome tax, and was at the same time unequal, in the comparison between them and the great body of the people not similarly situated.
It represented to the Scotch-Irishman traditional oppression. "They remembered, or their fathers had told them, of the exactions and oppressions in the old country under the excise laws--that their domiciles were entered by excise officers, their most private apartments were examined, and that confiscations and imprisonments followed if the smallest quantity of whisky was discovered not marked with the official brand. When they saw the inspector going round with his measuring rod, gauging their barrels and their stills and writing the result in his book, they imagined that the same scenes were to be acted over again in the wilds of America that their fathers had witnessed in the old country. To these people no other tax of equal amount would have been half so odious."--Dr. Carnahan on the Pennsylvania Insurrection, N. J. Historical Society, vol. VI, 119.
Under these circumstances and in this state of public sentiment the wild spirits which exist in every community, and which we know existed in that, set in motion disorderly proceedings, which, looked upon at first by the intelligent of the community with passive indifference, grew to such volume as to involve, more or less, the lovers of law and good order themselves in the verdict of condemnation which followed.
Dr. Carnahan, a Presbyterian minister, from whom I have already quoted, says: "At first good men stood aloof, remained at home and attended to their business, except when taken by force and compelled to assist in erecting liberty poles and to be present at public gatherings. After the outrages were committed they were restrained by prudence or timidity from making known their real sentiments. My own opinion is, that if, when the fury was at its height, the people of the western counties could have expressed their opinions by secret ballot, a large majority would have been against these unlawful proceedings. This opinion, we think, is confirmed by the fact that in October following, before the fury had subsided, Albert Gallatin, although he did not reside within the district, was elected a member of Congress to represent the counties of Washington and Alleghany. Gallatin was a conservative, opposed to mob law."
So that upon the whole, looking back from this distance of time, while we may regret that there was any such episode in our history, we fail to find in it any thing not capable of ready excuse upon the part of the Scotch-Irish of Western Pennsylvania; the men "who brought to the New World the creed, the spirit of resistance and the courage of the Covenanter."
Since the Whisky Insurrection nothing has occurred to make Western Pennsylvania's history especially conspicuous. Among many elements gradually intermingling to produce our present state, the Scotch-Irishman still abides. The truth is that his history here is largely the history of Presbyterianism, and that in this community its marks are plainly to be seen. The sturdy men who molded the public opinion of our early days, who lighted the fires of patriotism, contributed to social order, laid the foundations of our commercial and industrial greatness, founded churches, schools, and universities, were the pioneer preachers of the Presbyterian Church. Their names are household words in this community; their memories fragrant. Beatty and Finley, Power, Dodd, McMillan, Smith and Dr. Herron, Black and Bruce, not to mention others--all these were strong men, earnest men, masterful men, and their influence yet remains.
In the line of their teachings, as the result of their labors, directly and indirectly, a sound system of education has been built up and prevails. Not to speak of sectarian efforts, the Western University, Washington and Jefferson Colleges, and kindred institutions, are monuments to their usefulness. And from these schools have gone forth, from time to time, men of mark, who in public and in private life have left their impress on their neighborhood and time.
The sterling qualities of the pioneers are visible to-day on every hand in this western country. Spreading toward sunset, their sons have carried the cause of civilization even to the Pacific coast. The results of their thrift and enterprise surround us on every hand and call us to witness how great is the debt of gratitude that is justly their due.
I would not be understood as claiming for them exclusively the glory of our present prosperity--only a share, but a large one. Other streams, and many, have combined to make the current on whose magnificent sweep we are carried. The crowning glory of American character is that it is composite; it is the result of a happy assimilation, the fruit ripened in the air of a freedom which rests in the recognition of individual right.
And I believe, furthermore, that the men of to-day are better than the men of the earlier day, as the civilization of to-day is an advance upon theirs.
But I affirm that the Scotch-Irishman, whether of the earlier or the later day, may fearlessly meet the test by which races love to be judged.
The great men of the race--I do not stop to name them--have lent luster to the bench and the bar, to medicine, to theology, to the halls of Congress, and to executive place.
In the hot blast of battle they have never been wanting when right was at stake.
To the average mass in any community they add the leaven of their character. Men of no special fame, but full up to the measure of their task, as cultivators of the field, mechanics, merchants, they are useful citizens; law-abiding, liberty-loving, God-fearing, educators of their children; and so long as they remain true to the ancient land-marks the republic shall be safe.
And so I affirm, also, that you may try the Scotch-Irishman by the tests by which races love to be tried.
In courage he will measure to the full stature of a loyal manhood. Nothing of physical hardship can stay his progress toward better things any more now than it could when he invaded Ulster, or crossed uncertain seas to face the savage in Western wilds. In the forward march of civilization, to win new conquests he has ever been found leading the van.
His is a force doubled by purpose. He has ever carried with him the articles of his belief; he is loyal to the traditions of his history, and after his banner follow both minister and schoolmaster. There are no doctrines set down in his curriculum that do not run parallel with the rights of man.
I never think of him that I do not recall the figure of that grand old man, John Witherspoon, Presbyterian clergyman and Pennsylvania statesman, in the convention at Philadelphia, when, in the enthusiasm of his convictions, he said of the Declaration of Independence:
"That noble instrument on your table, which secures immortality to its author, should be subscribed this very morning by every pen in this house. He who will not respond to its accents, and strain every nerve to carry into effect its provisions, is unworthy the name of a freeman. Although these gray hairs must descend into the sepulcher, I would infinitely rather they would descend thither by the hand of the public executioner, than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country."
As to persistency, endurance; first, a purpose, then death or success. Tell me if the Scotch-Irishman's story in Western Pennsylvania does not proclaim this as the shibboleth of his faith?
My countrymen, this is Decoration Day. In the glad sunshine of peace, under summer skies, and amid the fragrance of flowers, a grateful people is covering, with its tokens of love and affection, the graves of its patriot dead. Neath the blossom-strewn turf the "bones are dust, the good swords rust, but the souls with God, we trust," and the tribute is to honest purpose, high resolve, and the courage to dare and do for the right, as to each man it was given to see the right.
On many a battle-field of the civil war, men faced each other who were sous of the Scotch-Irish immigrants to Pennsylvania, inheritors of a common history and sharers of its glory. Borne apart by the accident of fortune, the Scotch-Irishman of the South, rallying to the support of the Stars and Bars, met the Scotch-Irishman of Pennsylvania following the Stars and Stripes. In conflict, deadly, desperate, hand-to-hand, the iron blood of Irish Scotland met its kind, and men died as their fathers would have had them die. For some the ebbing tide of life crimsoned the gray, for some the blue. But under either flag death only added new proof to the verdict of history, that for the peerless courage that men honor and women love, America owes a meed of pride for her Scotch-Irish sons.
And now, when the war-drums throb no longer, and the battle-flags are furled, remembering the race from which we came only as an inspiration, let us be Americans all, to work out, as I verily believe God intended we should, the grandest destiny vouchsafed to any people.Other articles on the Scotch-Irish
Scotch-Irish of Tennessee
Scotch-Irish in New England
Scotch-Irish in Virginia
Scotch-Irish Settlers in South Carolina, and Their Descendants in Maury County, Tennessee