Formative Influences of the Scotch-Irish (4) - Scotch-Irish in America

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER IV (4) Start of Section

The most famous chapter of Ulster history was that which opened with the English revolution of 1688 and the Catholic rising in Ireland in support of James II. The Ulster Presbyterians were prompt to declare their allegiance to William and Mary, and the Presbyterian ministers took the lead in organizing the people for defense against the adherents of James. Ireland, outside of Ulster, was in the hands of Tyrconnel, the deputy of James, and Tyrconnel moved promptly to reduce Ulster to submission. But the invaders were decisively repelled at Enniskillen in the west of Ulster and at Londonderry in the north. Londonderry successfully resisted attack for 105 days. The siege supplied a theme admirably suited to Macaulay's powers as a literary artist and the account he has given in his History of England is a masterpiece of scenic writing.

The war ended in 1691 with the complete overthrow of the Jacobite interest and the entire submission of Ireland to William and Mary. Fresh confiscations of land followed together with the exile of many thousands of native Irish. The famous Irish brigade of Louis XIV. of France dates from this period, and it was kept up by a stream of recruits from Ireland. With the opening of the eighteenth century Protestant ascendance was securely established in Ireland, and yet it was during the period now begun that the causes that promoted Ulster emigration became powerful and influential. These will be dealt with in the next chapter, but before leaving the formative period of Ulster it should be observed that its history is not seen in its proper setting unless it is viewed as an episode in the wars of religion. The Scotch settlement of Ulster began before the Thirty Years War in Germany (1618-1648). Dreadful as were the sufferings of Ireland, they were on a smaller scale than the misery and depopulation of Germany; and Germany was far more advanced than Ireland in civilization when the war began. The Peace of Westphalia was a political reorganization from which the Europe of today takes its start, and prior events now possess only an antiquarian interest. But Ulster history is unbroken in its continuity and it has transmitted to our own times feelings, interests, prepossessions and antipathies derived from the sixteenth century. This has tended to obscure appreciation of the work accomplished in the Scotch settlement of Ulster. It is still too much involved in political controversy to obtain fair treatment, consideration of the theme being marred by prejudice for or against the actors in events. The ardent partisanship that is apt to characterize treatises upon Irish history is in marked contrast with the scientific detachment that marks historical works dealing with the contemporaneous periods of European history.

An incident of this continuity of Ulster history is the constancy of the Ulster type. Scotch-Irish character has such depth of root and the growth has been so durable that its fibre is singularly hard and strong and it retains this nature wherever it is planted. The specific qualities of the breed cannot be accounted for unless the influence of the Presbyterian discipline is taken into consideration. Influence of this order has become so lax in our own times that no idea of its original stringency can be obtained unless the nature of church government during the formative period is considered.

The essential principle of government is the subordination of the individual to the community. That principle was not abandoned by the Presbyterian reformers in their revolt against the Established Church. They did not conceive of liberty as the absence of restraint but as a state of order repressing brute propensity and developing the moral sanctions that distinguish human life from animal existence. That state of order the Church should institute and the State should protect. This principle they applied by a discipline which enfolded individual life and subjected it to guidance and control. In describing social conditions in Ulster while the Plantation was in the making, it has been mentioned that public penitence was exacted of evil doers. The affairs of each congregation were presided over by the session composed of the minister and the elders and deacons representing the congregation. This body took jurisdiction of the morals of the members of the congregation, and inflicted penalties for misconduct. The rules of the Session of Templepatrick adopted in 1646 provided:

"That all complaints come into the Session by way of bill: the complaintive is to put one shilling with his bill, and if he proves not his point, his shilling forfeits to the session book. This is done to prevent groundless scandal.

"That all beer sellers that sell best beer, especially in the night time, till people be drunk, shall be censured.

"That if parents let their children vague or play on the Lord's Day, they shall be censured as profaners of the Sabbath.

"All persons standing in the public place of repentance, shall pay the church officer one groat.

"That no children be baptized till the parents who present them come to some of the elders and get their children's names registered, that the elders may testify of them to the minister."

The character of the penalties imposed in the exercise of this jurisdiction will appear from the following record:

"That John Cowan shall stand opposite the pulpit, and confess his sin, in the face of the public, of beating his wife on the Lord's Day."

The rule respecting baptism looks to securing the publicity of that rite. The early Presbyterian ministers strongly condemned the administering of baptism or marriage in private. An overture considered by the Ulster synod at its meeting in Belfast, June 17, 1712, sets forth that "the ancient and laudable custom of publishing Marriage-Banns three several days of publick worship, whereof two at least shall be Lord's days, ought to be carefully observed." Any minister marrying persons without the consent of their parents or guardians was to be suspended from office for six months and "afterward to make a full and ingenuous confession of his sin, and express unfeigned repentance for the same before his Presbytery."

The ministers themselves were subject to strict supervision, for which purpose there was a process known as "privy censures" following a custom that formed part of the Presbyterian discipline in Scotland and France. The form of procedure is thus described:

"In every Presbytery, at least twice a year, on days for prayer, as should be dune in sessions likeways, there ought to be privy censures, whereby each minister is removed by course, and then enquiry is made at the pastors and elders, if there be any known scandal, fault, or negligence in him, that it may be in a brotherly manner censured; after the ministers, the Presbytery clerk is to pass these censures likeways."

Reid, writing in 1837, remarks that these censures "were laid aside at the general relaxation of discipline in the last century but they ought to be revived." In the early days the authority claimed by the church was freely and vigorously exercised, and its discipline was a school of morals for the people that made a deep and permanent impress upon the character of the Scotch-Irish—a term, which by the way, they were slow to accept. They used to describe themselves as of "the Scottish nation in the North of Ireland," and they resented the adjunct appellation "Irish" as an abatement of their proper nationality. But common usage gradually overcame the early antipathy.

From this training school came the stream of American immigration that has been so distinctive an ingredient of American society and so potent in its influence upon American history. The diffusion of the Scotch-Irish breed in the United States will occupy the remainder of this work. But before leaving Ulster, completeness of treatment requires the statement that in Ulster it is not only the Presbyterian Church that affords a signal instance of the value of institutional order in perpetuating national life. The case of the native Irish is even more significant. Nothing more strongly attests the institutional efficiency of the Catholic Counter-Reformation than the way in which the wasted and impoverished native Irish were sustained and recuperated by their church. The work was carried on under a heavy ban of law backed up by extremely severe penalties, but there seems to have been no lack of missionaries willing to meet all hazards. In 1747 the Primate of the Established Church of Ireland estimated that there were more than 3,000 Roman Catholic priests in the country while the Established Church had incumbents and curates to the number only of about 800. At the present time Ulster itself is more Catholic than Presbyterian, the Roman Catholics numbering 44 per cent., the Presbyterians 27 and the Episcopalians 23. In Ireland as a whole these three bodies have respectively 74, 10 and 13 per cent. of the population. While Catholic discipline must be acknowledged to be the main factor in producing this result, yet a powerful accessory has been the drain of Protestantism from the country through the effect of the legislation of the eighteenth century, and of this drain the most important part was the Ulster emigration now to be considered.


The period covered by this chapter was marked by such sharp vicissitudes of government that the following chronology may be of service in enabling readers to keep track of events:

1625 Accession of Charles I.

1633 Wentworth is appointed Lord Deputy.

1636 Introduction of linen manufacture.

1640 Wentworth created Earl of Strafford. The Long Parliament opens. Impeachment of Strafford.

1641 Execution of Strafford. Rising and massacres in Ulster.

1642 Civil War begins in England. Parliamentarians, Royalists and Catholic Confederates, each struggling for ascendancy in Ireland.

1644 Ormonde, Lord Lieutenant.

1645 Battle of Naseby in England.

1646 Charles surrenders to the Scots.

1647 Presbyterianism established in England. The King seized at Holmby.

1648 Scottish army invades England and is defeated at Preston and Wigan. Col. Pride expels the Presbyterian majority from the House of Commons.

1649 Execution of King Charles. The Commonwealth proclaimed. Cromwell arrives in Ireland.

1650 Cromwell returns to England.

1652 Act for the settlement of Ireland.

1653 Cromwell expels the Rump Parliament and establishes the Protectorate.

1654 The first Protectorate Parliament. Thirty members sit representing Ireland. The Cromwellian settlement of Ireland.

1656 Henry Cromwell, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

1658 Death of Cromwell.

1659 Monk marches from Scotland.

1660 He declares for a "free Parliament." The Restoration. Charles II. seated on the throne of England.

1662 Act of Uniformity.

1663 Ireland excluded from the Navigation Act.

1664 The Conventicle Act.

1666 Prohibition of export to England of Irish cattle and provisions.

1685 Accession of James II.

1688 William lands at Torbay. Flight of James. Closing of the gates of Derry and Enniskillen.

1689 Siege of Derry and Enniskillen.

1690 Battle of Boyne.

1691 William III. seated on the throne.

1696 Navigation Act unfavorable to Ireland.

1699 English Act prohibiting export of Irish wool. Irish Parliament lays prohibitive export duties on wool.

1702 Accession of Anne.

1704 Penal Act against Roman Catholics, with a test clause excluding Presbyterians from public office.

1711 Persecution of the Presbyterians.

1714 Accession of George I.

1725 Potato famine.

1727 Accession of George II.

1740-1741 Famine years in Ireland.

1760 Accession of George III.

1761 Agrarian disturbances in the North of Ireland.

1765 Passage of the Stamp Act for American Colonies.

1771 Decline of linen manufacture.

Extensive emigration to America from Ulster.

1776 American Declaration of Independence.