The Scotch Migration to Ulster (3) - Scotch-Irish in America

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER III (3) Start of Section

The situation in the Borders which were the southern tier of Lowland shires throws light upon a saying that is often quoted in histories as indicative of a low state of morality among the Ulster settlers. The authority for it is the Rev. Andrew Stewart, an Ulster minister. He remarked: "Going to Ireland was looked upon as a miserable mark of a deplorable person; yea, it was turned into a proverb, and one of the worst expressions of disdain that could be invented was to tell a man that 'Ireland would be his hinder end.'" As one follows through the state papers accounts of the measures taken by James to rid the Borders of "maisterles men and vagabondis wanting a lawfull trade, calling and industrie" and notes the terrible punishments inflicted, branding, drowning and hanging, it is easy to understand how the popular imagination would be impressed. The severe attitude of the authorities is strikingly displayed by the measures taken in August, 1612, when some Scottish companies that had been in Swedish service returned home. It was ordered that "the said soldiers shall, within two hours after landing, dissolve themselves and repair peaceably to their homes, and that no more than two of them shall remain together, under pain of death." To escape from such rigor emigration to Ireland would be a natural impulse among the restless and wayward, and an association of ideas was established that became a text of warning in the mouths of sober-minded people. But there is abundant evidence that both in Scotland and Ireland the authorities were active in precautions against crime and disorder. A frontier has a natural attraction for the misfits of old communities but the evidence when analyzed does not warrant the opinion that the Scottish migration into Ulster was so low in moral tone as has been averred by historians on the testimony of early Ulster divines.

The authorities upon whose word rests the charge of prevailing immorality are the Rev. Robert Blair, the Rev. Andrew Stewart, and the Rev. Patrick Adair. Blair, who arrived in Ireland in 1623, left an autobiographical fragment which was begun in 1663 when he was seventy. In it he gave this account of the early settlers:

"The parts of Scotland nearest to Ireland sent over abundance of people and cattle that filled the counties of Ulster that lay next to the sea; and albeit amongst these, Divine Providence sent over some worthy persons for birth, education and parts, yet the most part were such as either poverty, scandalous lives, or, at the best, adventurous seeking of better accommodation, set forward that way. . . . Little care was had by any to plant religion. As were the people, so, for the most part, were the preachers."

Stewart's account of early conditions is contained in a church history which was begun in 1670 and was left unfinished at his death in 1671. He was minister at Donaghdee from 1645 to 1671, so his account cannot be regarded as contemporary testimony as to original conditions although it has been cited as such. His account has been supposed to derive support from the fact that his father before him was a North of Ireland minister, but the elder Stewart himself did not arrive in Ireland until 1627, and the son was only ten years old when the father died. Even if the younger Stewart is to be credited with information derived from his father, his knowledge does not approach so close as Blair's to the first settlement but nevertheless he paints the situation in much darker colors. Stewart says:

"From Scotland came many, and from England not a few; yet all of them generally the scum of both nations, who, from debt, or breaking and fleeing from justice, or seeking shelter, came hither, hoping to be without fear of man's justice in a land where there was nothing, or but little as yet, of the fear of God. Yet God followed them when they fled from Him. Albeit at first it must be remembered, that as they cared little for any church, so God seemed to care little for them. For these strangers were no better entertained than with the relics of popery, served up in a ceremonial service of God under a sort of anti-Christian hierarchy. . . . Thus on all hands atheism increased, and disregard of God, iniquity abounded with contention, fighting, murder, adultery, etc., as among people who, as they had nothing within them to overawe them, so their ministers' example was worse than nothing; for 'from the prophets of Israel profaneness went forth to the whole land.'"

Adair settled in Ireland, in charge of the parish of Cairn Castle, Antrim, May, 1646. He died in 1694 leaving unfinished A True Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. His account of the first settlers is simply a reproduction of Blair's, in almost the same language.

An examination of these several accounts shows that the purpose of the writers was hortatory rather than historical. The motive that set them all writing in their old age was to put on record edifying experiences. Literary composition of this sort instinctively avoids all colors except black and white. It needs strong contrasts to accomplish the desired effect. Hence Dr. Reid, in his History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, a work written in the genuine historical spirit, while he reproduces Stewart's account, gives the caution that it is "probably a little over-charged."

Doubtless to clergymen of strict opinions there was deplorable laxity of morals among the early settlers of the Ulster plantation, but if one's views are formed upon examination of the official records, it will not be thought that the people settling in Ulster were any worse than people of their class in Scotland or in England. If anything, the comparison is to the advantage of the Ulster settlers. As a matter of fact they showed far more regard for religious establishment than is usual among emigrants. It has already been noted that a minister accompanied the party of settlers brought over by Lord Ochiltree in 1611. By the close of 1625 seven ministers are known to have settled in the country. Neal's History of the Puritans, published in 1731-2, mentions the Ulster plantation as a field in which Puritanism prospered. Referring to the work of colonization carried on by the London companies, Neal said:

"They sent over considerable numbers of planters, but were at a loss for ministers; for the beneficed clergy of the Church of England, being at ease in the enjoyment of their preferments, would not engage in such a hazardous undertaking, it fell therefore to the lot of the Scots and English Puritans; the Scots, by reason of their vicinity to the northern parts of Ireland, transported numerous colonies; they improved the country and brought preaching into the churches where they settled; but being of the Presbyterian persuasion, they formed their churches after their own model. The London adventurers prevailed with several of the English Puritans to remove, who, being persecuted at home, were willing to go anywhere within the King's dominions for the liberty of their consciences."

This reference to the Puritan complexion of the ecclesiastical arrangements made along with the Ulster plantation accounts for the acrimony with which pioneer ministers, writing in their old age, described the situation in which they began their fruitful labors. That situation did not exist however because the Ulster settlers as a class were worse than the other people, but because exceptionally high standards had been set up, measured by which morals that elsewhere might have passed without much reprobation were regarded as abominable. Such an epithet as "atheism" when employed by religious zealots must be taken with allowance. It may mean really no more than an indifference which however culpable from the ministerial view-point was far from implying actual atheism. It may be noted that Stewart couples the charge of atheism with "disregard of God." That is to say the people were atheists because they neglected the ordinances of the church as construed by Puritan clergymen. Blair in his autobiography mentions incidents that show that atheism could hardly have been prevalent. He remarks that on the day after he landed in Ireland he met some Scots with whom by way of conference he discoursed the most part of the last sermon he had preached. He speaks of finding several ministers in the field, and of hours spent "in godly conference and calling on the name of the Lord." Alongside of such fervor the behavior of the common people doubtless seemed cold and indifferent, and Blair describes them as "drowned in ignorance, security and sensuality." Yet he says the people were much affected by two sermons he preached on the same day, "one sermon on heaven's glory and another on hell's torments." It was suggested to him that as some of the people that dwelt far from the kirk returned home after the first sermon, he should thereafter preach of hell in the morning and of heaven in the afternoon. In fine, his autobiography gives such an account of successful ministry as to indicate that the people were not a bad sort when judged by ordinary standards, and that upon a fair scale of comparison with new settlements in any country they really stood high in their concern for religion and their attachment to ecclesiastical order.

They certainly were tractable, for the relations that have come down from this period show that the ministers were able to establish a strict discipline. Blair tells how he made evil-doers make public confession of their sins. The Rev. John Livingston who was called to Ireland in 1630 thus describes the process of church discipline in his time:

"We [i.e. the session] met every week, and such as fell into notorious public scandals we desired to come before us. Such as came were dealt with, both in public and private, to confess their scandal in the presence of the congregation, at the Saturday's sermon before the communion, which was celebrated twice in the year. Such as after dealing would not come before us, or coming, would not be convinced to acknowledge their fault before the congregation, upon the Saturday preceding the communion, their names, scandals and impenitency were read out before the congregation, and they debarred from the communion; which proved such a terror that we found very few of that sort."

This was not an isolated case, for Livingston mentions that "there were nine or ten parishes within the bounds of twenty miles or little more, wherein there were godly and able ministers." Both Blair and Livingston speak of the extraordinary appetite of the people for religious exercise. Livingston says:

"I have known them come several miles from their own houses to communions, to the Saturday sermon, and spending the whole Saturday's night in several companies, sometimes a minister being with them, and sometimes themselves alone in conference and prayer. They have then waited on the public ordinances the whole Sabbath, and spent the Sabbath night in the same way, and yet at the Monday's sermon were not troubled with sleepiness; and so they have not slept till they went home. In those days it was no great difficulty for a minister to preach or pray in public or private, such was the hunger of hearers."

All this, in less than twenty years after the colonization of Ulster began, certainly does not exhibit a community prone to atheism and immorality. It is evident that ecclesiastical control over the people was promptly applied and was speedily effectual, and it was a control of a strict Puritan type. The development of this characteristic was promoted not only by the fact that the North of Ireland served as a refuge for Puritan ministers harassed by episcopal interference in Scotland and England, but also by the fact that at this time the established church in Ireland had a strong Puritan tincture and the bishops there were friendly and sympathetic in their attitude toward the Presbyterians. The low state of the Established Church at the time of the accession of James had been somewhat retrieved by the appointment of good bishops and diligent pastors, trained under Puritan influence. During Elizabeth's reign Cambridge University had been a center of Calvinistic theology and Puritan doctrine. The famous Richard Cartwright, sometimes called the father of English Puritanism, was a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Dublin University, founded in 1593, drew upon Cambridge University for its staff of professors and their influence upon the Irish Church was very marked. The articles of religion adopted by the Church of Ireland in 1615 are printed in full in Neal's History of the Puritans as a Puritan document. Blair, Livingston and other Presbyterian ministers accepted Episcopal ordination after a form made to meet their approval. Neal says:

"All the Scots who were ordained in Ireland to the year 1642, were ordained after the same manner; all of them enjoyed the churches and tithes, though they remained Presbyterian and used not the liturgy; nay, the bishops consulted them about affairs of common concernment to the church, and some of them were members of the convocation in 1634."

Looking back upon the situation in the plantation period from the standpoint of our own times, the remarkable thing now appears to be that the people were so spiritually minded. In the time when Blair used to preach his sermons on heaven's glory and hell's torments, both on the same day, it may have seemed deplorable indifference that some of the people were satisfied to hear only one; but what surprises one now is that there should have been so many willing to make long journeys to give whole days to hearing sermons. Such devotion is hardly intelligible until the general circumstances of the times are considered. Previous to the spread of popular education, the rise of journalism, and the diffusion of literature, the pulpit was in most places the only source of intellectual stimulus and mental culture. It was like the well in the desert to which all tracks converge, whereas now some sort of supply is laid to every man's house.

The nervous disorders that are apt to result from immoderate states of religious introspection and emotional fervor were early manifested in Ulster under the excitements of Puritan exhortation. In describing a revival under Blair's preaching Stewart says: "I have seen them myself stricken and swoon with the word—yea, a dozen in a day carried out of doors as dead, so marvellous was the power of God smiting their hearts for sin." Such scenes before long produced religious vagaries that gave trouble. Blair in his autobiography gives a long account of his dealings with Glendinning, described as "lecturer at Carrickfergus." Glendinning settled himself at Oldstone, near the town of Antrim, where "he began to preach diligently, and having a great voice and vehement delivery, he roused up the people and waked them with terrors." But Blair notes that he "was neither studied in learning, nor had good solid judgment." Indeed, it would appear that the man became deranged, judging from the strangeness of the doctrines he began to preach. "He watched much and fasted wonderfully, and began publicly to affirm that he or she after they had slept a little in bed, if they return themselves from one side to another, could not be an honest Christian." Blair gives a long account of a struggle he had with Glendinning to keep him from putting his foot in the fire to show that it would have no power to burn him. Glendinning professed to know when the Judgment Day was to come and he taught people to save themselves by "a ridiculous way of roaring out some prayer, laying their faces on the earth." Glendinning finally left the country, giving out that he had a call to visit the Seven Churches of Asia.