Formative Influences of the Scotch-Irish (2) - Scotch-Irish in America

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER IV (2) Start of Section

In Ulster religion supplied not only a principle of legality in opposition to royal absolutism but also a principle of institutional order in the Presbyterian model of church discipline. The claims originally put forth in behalf of that model in Scotland and England were not such as can be reconciled with liberty of conscience, but no such object was professed, the only purpose being to establish what was regarded as true spiritual order, the duty of government being to repress violations of that order. The Scottish National Covenant of 1638 described the authority of the King as "a comfortable instrument of God's mercy granted to this country for the maintenance of His Kirk." But while the Presbyterian system did not aim at liberty it served the cause of liberty by supplying a principle of unity and coherence whose political strength was triumphantly displayed both in Scotland and Ulster. Presbyterian influence banded the people together in massive resistance to Wentworth's policy. Wentworth himself bore emphatic testimony to the fact that the Ulster Scots were the great obstacle to his plans for reducing Ireland to submission and conformity. He singled them out as the special objects of his care. In 1639 an oath of allegiance was proposed by which they were compelled to swear never to oppose the King's command and to abjure all covenants and oaths contrary to the tenor of this engagement. This imposition, which became famous in Ulster history as The Black Oath, was expressly designed to reach the Ulster Scots, this purpose being set forth in the correspondence between Wentworth and the King with regard to the measure.

By proclamation of the Deputy and Council all the Scottish residents of Ulster above the age of sixteen, women as well as men, were required to take this oath. The only exception made was in favor of Scots who professed to be Roman Catholics. Commissioners were appointed to administer the oath, and to assist them the ministers and church wardens were required to make a return of all the Scots resident in their respective parishes. Then either the people named had to appear to take the oath, kneeling while the commissioners read it aloud, or else their names were reported as recusants liable to punishment. Wentworth's arrangements were so carefully made and so well backed up by military force that effective resistance was impossible, but the attitude of the people was such that later on he proposed "to banish all the under Scots in Ulster by proclamation," meaning by "under Scots" those who did not have large estates to incline them to submission to the policy of the Government. Nothing came of this notion for soon afterward his career was cut short by the impeachment that brought him to the scaffold. Wentworth, who became Earl of Strafford in 1640, was beheaded on May 12, 1641. Before parting with this remarkable man it should be observed that his energetic administration had its good side. His measures relieved the coasts of Ireland from the scourge of piracy and it was he that introduced the cultivation of flax which became and has remained a flourishing Ulster industry. In aid of that enterprise he imported flax seed from Holland at his own expense and induced expert workmen to come from France and the Low Countries. All historians of this period agree that under his six years of strong administration the country made great industrial progress. Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland says: "At no former period had the country enjoyed so much real prosperity, and so long internal peace."

A tremendous change impended, the factors of which were concealed within that specious tranquility. A measure which more than any other of Stafford's actions drew down upon him the deadly hostility of the parliamentary party in England was his levy of an army in Ireland. At the outset he intended all the men to be Protestants, and of British extraction so far as possible. But his views on that point had to be modified when King Charles advised him that the army would be used "to reduce those in Scotland to their due obedience." After that Scots were carefully weeded out and preference was given to Irish Catholics, who, he told the King, might do good service for they hated the Scots and their religion. The headquarters staff were all Protestants, but among the regimental officers were men who afterward became prominent as leaders of rebellion. Strafford was perfectly well aware that in thus giving military organization to natives whose religion was proscribed by law he was taking serious risks. He wrote to the King that their training "might arm their old affections to do us more mischief, and put new and dangerous thoughts into them after they are returned home." So clearsighted an administrator as Strafford would have taken precautions on this score, but after he had fallen a victim to the rage of the parliamentary party Charles precipitately ordered that the army be disbanded, with license to a number of officers to transport 8,000 foot "for the service of any prince or State in amity with us." At least seven of these officers were afterward active leaders of rebellion. One colonel by prompt work took over to the service of France one thousand picked men and engagements had been made also for shipments to Spain, when the English Parliament practically stopped the business by a resolution against transportation of soldiers by merchants from any part of the King's dominions. In the end the army, most of which was quartered in Ulster, was disbanded, the men giving up their arms and quietly dispersing.

The disbanding of the army seemed at the time to remove a great danger; what it actually did was to create a great danger, soon revealed by the outbreak of a civil war that lasted for eleven years. It was ushered in by massacres, the nature and extent of which has ever since remained a subject of controversy. In October, 1641, there was a sudden rising of the native Irish and a great slaughter of Protestants, attended by revolting atrocities. The seizure of Dublin Castle, in which Strafford had accumulated a great store of munition of war, was part of the plot, but this design miscarried. The number of persons who lost their lives in the October massacres is a matter about which there has been and still is great controversy. The number has been set as high as 200,000 and as low as 8,000. Gardiner, the latest historian to sift the evidence, concludes that four or five thousand were murdered, and about twice that number died of ill usage.

Woodburn, the latest historian of Ulster, accepts that computation as probably correct. An exact statement is not attainable but it is certain that thousands of Protestant settlers were massacred and that great atrocities were committed. The details as set forth in the depositions taken from survivors are revolting. A specification that frequently recurs is that the clothes were stripped from captives. But this would appear to be due rather to the fact that the poorer natives seized the opportunity to get clothes for themselves than that it was intended as a refinement of cruelty. Indeed some of the most horrible atrocities appear to have been committed by women and children, following after the raiding parties. At Kilmore in Armagh county, after a number of the leading Protestants had been murdered, a number of others were put as prisoners in a thatched house. A party headed by a woman set fire to this house, destroying all the inmates except two women who crept through a hole in the wall and feigning death waited until the murderers had gone when they escaped to the mountains. A letter of one of the leaders of the uprising is preserved in which he tells his correspondent that "as for the killing of women none of my soldiers dare do it, but the common people that are not under rule do it in spite of our teeth; but as for your people they killed of women and children above three score." Isolated acts of charity and mercy are recorded. The Rev. John Kerdiffe, a Protestant clergyman, in relating how he and his parishioners were made prisoners by the Irish under Col. Richard Plunket, said that "Col. Plunket treated us with great humanity and in like manner did Friar Malone at Skerry." It must be remembered that the uprising was carried on by local bands, subject to no regular discipline, throwing the country at once into a state of anarchy so that every ferocious instinct and evil passion had an opportunity of which horrible use was made. And there were horrible reprisals as soon as the Protestants got over the first surprise and were able to make a stand.

Ulster bore the brunt of this uprising but the English rather than the Scotch settlers were the chief victims of the first onslaught. The Rev. Dr. Reid, himself an Ulsterman, says in his history:

"As a body, the Presbyterians suffered less by the ravages of the rebellion than any other class. The more influential of their ministers, and the principal part of their gentry, had previously retired to Scotland to escape the tyranny of Strafford and the severities of the bishops, and were thus providentially preserved. Those who remained in the country were at first unmolested by the Irish, in conformity with the royal commission. This temporary preservation gave them time to procure arms, and to take other necessary measures to protect themselves against the storm which they saw approaching. When the rebels, therefore, abandoned their professed neutrality, and fell upon them, as furiously as upon the English, they were prepared for the attack. When they associated together in sufficient numbers, they were generally enabled to maintain their ground, and frequently repulsed their assailants with loss."

The "royal commission" mentioned by Dr. Reid refers to a document published by the insurgents as coming from King Charles authorizing them to seize and disarm the English Protestants, but to spare the Scots. This document is generally regarded by historians as a forgery. So far from being any advantage to Charles the Irish insurrection was a most untoward event. He exerted himself to bring about a cessation of hostilities, so that he might draw upon Ireland for aid in his struggle with the English Parliament. In 1645 he instructed Ormonde, his deputy, "to conclude a peace with the Irish, whatever it cost; so that my Protestant subjects there may be secure, and my regal authority preserved." The articles of peace concluded by Ormonde under this instruction contain one article which affords remarkable evidence of persistence of savage customs. One of the engagements exacted of the King was that the law "prohibiting the ploughing with horses by the tail" should be repealed.

The civil war opened by the massacres of October, 1641, was not ended until during the year 1653. During its course the Ulster Scots formed a distinct interest at variance with all parts and in danger from all. Throughout they had to encounter the steady enmity of the native Irish who regarded them as intruders and usurpers. They occupied a middle position between the royalists and the parliamentarians, between whose military operations they were caught as between upper and nether millstones, and if they were not ground fine that was because they were unusually hard material and the grindstones were defective in power and application. In Strafford's time they were on the parliamentary side and thus became a mark of royalist hostility. But when the Presbyterian leaders were ejected from the English House of Commons the Ulster Scots turned against the Rump Parliament and denounced its members as sectarians. The beheading of Charles I. brought out an indignant protest from the Belfast Presbytery to which John Milton, then beginning his career as Latin secretary of Parliament, made a tart reply, in which he described the Ulster ministers as "blockish Presbyters" living in "a barbarous nook of Ireland." In 1649 General George Monk, who was in command of the parliamentary forces in Ulster, actually formed a temporary alliance with the Irish rebel chief O'Neill and furnished him with military supplies so that he could keep the field against the royalists and the Presbyterians.