Scotch-Irish Emigration to America (3)

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER V (3) Start of Section

After the Revolution of 1688 Scotch migration set strongly toward Ulster. Land was offered on long lease at low rents and for some years a steady stream of Scotch Presbyterians poured into the country. In 1715 Archbishop Synge estimated that not less than 50,000 Scotch families had settled in Ulster since the Revolution. In 1717 and 1718 as the leases began to fall in, the landlords put up the rents double and often treble, and the smaller farms tended to pass from Protestant hands to Catholic tenants who were ready to bid higher terms. And while the tenant farmers were rackrented by their landlords they had to pay tithes for the support of the Established Church whose ministrations they did not desire or receive. Such conditions, introduced at a time when the commercial legislation of England was uprooting Irish industry, created an intolerable situation. Moreover, fresh religious disabilities were put upon the Presbyterians. The penal act of 1704 against the Roman Catholics had a test clause which excluded Presbyterians from all civil and military office. Presbyterian ministers were legally liable to penalties for celebrating marriages, and cases occurred of prosecutions although as a rule the Government was more tolerant than the laws. Entries on the Ulster Synod records show how solicitous the ministers were that none of their communion should provoke the authorities by marrying members of the Established Church.

To escape from such conditions the people began to flee the country in great numbers, often accompanied by ministers. An instance of emigration under pastoral care is supplied by an entry on the records of the General Synod of Ulster, June 15, 1714, which at the same time illustrates the care exercised as to ministerial qualifications in such cases. It appears that John Jarvie had been a probationer under the Presbytery of Down, but had received ordination from the Presbytery of Belfast, and the Synod called for explanations. The Belfast Presbytery replied that:

"Mr. Jarvie having a great inclination to go to some of the Plantations in America, Down Prebry having signified that to the late Synod of Belfast, and gave a very good character of him—Mr. John Jarvie bringing testimonies from the Prebry of Down to the Prebry of Belfast, which was abundantly satisfying—he readily subjected to the Prebry of Belfast; that Mr. Robert Wilson, mercht in_Belfast, wrot to Mr. Kirkpatrick, to be comunicate to the Prebry of Belfast, that there was a ship in the Logh of Belfast bound for South Carolina; that the seamen and passengers amount to the number of 70, that it was earnestly desir'd that they may have a Chaplain on board, and if ordain'd, so much the better for the voyage, and also for the person to be ordain'd and the Country whither they are bound."

It was further explained that before ordaining Mr. Jarvie the Belfast Presbytery had obtained the consent of Down, and examined him "in Extemporary Questions, Cases of Conscience, Church History, Chronolog: Questions" to all of which he "gave satisfying answers." Furthermore, Mr. Jarvie "had an 'Exegesis de Perfectione Scripturae contra Papistes,' and sustain'd his Thesis, delivered a popular sermon, in all of which he acquit himself with approbation."

In the spring of 1718 a minister in Ulster writing to a friend in Scotland said: "There is likely to be a great desolation in the northern parts of this Kingdom by the removal of several of our brethren to the American plantations. No less than six ministers have demitted their congregations, and great numbers of their people go with them; so that we are daily alarmed with both ministers and people going off."

The original sympathy between the Puritan settlements in Ulster and the Puritan settlements in New England naturally had the effect of directing emigration to New England when the Scotch-Irish began to remove from Ulster. As in the abortive attempt of 1635, ministers appear as leaders of the first systematic movement. The Rev. William Homes, born in 1663 of an old Ulster family, came over to Martha's Vineyard about 1686, and obtained a position as a school teacher. He returned to Ireland, studied for the ministry, and was ordained December 21, 1692, as pastor of a church at Strabane, in the Presbytery of Convoy. On September 26, 1693, he married Katherine, daughter of the Rev. Robert Craighead of Londonderry. The Rev. William Homes and his brother-in-law, the Rev. Thomas Craighead, decided to move to New England, and they sailed from Londonderry on the ship Thomas and Jane, arriving in Boston the first week in October, 1714. The settling in New England of these two ministers with extensive family connections in Ulster opened a channel into which immigration soon began to flow.

Homes's eldest son, Robert, born July 23, 1694, in Stragolan, County Fermanagh, became captain of a ship engaged in transporting emigrants to America. He married Mary Franklin of Boston, a sister of Benjamin Franklin. Captain Homes appears to have been the agent by whom people at Strabane, Donoghmore, Donegal and Londonderry were apprised of opportunities of removing to New England. It is recorded that Captain Homes sailed for Ireland April 13, 1718, and his ship returned "full of passengers about the middle of October."

The regular intercourse between Ulster and New England thus established led to movements on a scale approaching the transportation of communities. The congregations in the valley of the Bann became so interested that the Rev. William Boyd, pastor of Macosquin, went to New England as their agent to see what arrangements could be made for settling there in a body. Mr. Boyd was well received and having finished his mission, preached a valedictory sermon, on March 19, 1718. It was published with an introduction by the Rev. Increase Mather in which occurs the following reference to Boyd's mission:

"Many in that Kingdom [Ireland] having had thoughts of a remove to this part of the World, have considered him as a Person suitably qualified to take a voyage hither, and to make Enquiry what Encouragement or otherwise they might expect in case they should engage in so weighty and hazardous an undertaking as that of Transporting themselves & Families over so vast an Ocean. The issue of this Affair has a great dependence on the conduct of this Worthy Author. The Lord direct him in it."

Boyd brought with him a petition to Governor Shute of New England, certifying that Boyd had been appointed "to assure his Excellency of our sincere and hearty Inclinations to Transport ourselves to that very excellent and renowned Plantation upon our obtaining from his Excellency suitable incouragement." As well as can be made out from the faded writing there were 322 signers of this petition, all but thirteen of them in fair autograph. Only eleven made their marks, a remarkably low percentage of illiteracy. Among the signers were the Rev. James Teatte of Killeshandra, County Cavan; the Rev. Thomas Cobham of Clough, County Antrim; the Rev. Robert Neilson, a superannuated minister, formerly of Kilraughts in the Presbytery of Route; the Rev. William Leech of Ballymena, County Antrim; the Rev. Robert Higginbothan of Coleraine, the Rev. John Porter of Bushmills, the Rev. Henry Neill of Ballyrashane (the last three, all members of the Presbytery of Coleraine); the Rev. Thomas Elder of County Down; the Rev. James Thomson of Ballywillan, near Coleraine. Three of the signers, Samuel Wilson, Alexr. Dunlap and Arch. McCook,—have the degree M.A. appended to their names, which was then often a clerical dignity, but they are not known as belonging to the Presbyterian ministry of Ulster. The ministers who signed the petition have appended to their names the initials V.D.M. a contraction for Verbi Dei Minister—Minister of the Word of God. The ministers who signed did not all emigrate. Boyd himself, the agent of the emigrants in obtaining assurances of lands for settlement, remained in Ireland.

Through those various influences there was an active emigration from Ulster to New England, during the period from 1714-1720 inclusive, of which precise details have been obtained by the research of Mr. Charles K. Bolton. The list given by him in his Scotch-Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America, shows that five ships arrived in New England from Ireland in 1714, two in 1715, three in 1716, six in 1717, fifteen in 1718, ten in 1719 and thirteen in 1720.

So far as the disposition of the Ulster people was concerned New England would have been their American home, but their reception and experiences were such that the main stream of Ulster immigration soon turned toward Pennsylvania. The immigration to New England was from the first regarded with anxiety and distrust by the leading people there. In the letters of Thomas Lechmere to John Winthrop at the period there is a mention of Irish immigration in 1718 with the remark: "20 ministers with their congregations in general, will come over in Spring; I wish their comeing so over do not prove fatall in the End." Even such an ally of the Irish as Cotton Mather was apparently not free from anxiety although hopeful of good results and friendly to the movement. In his diary for August 7, 1718, he wrote: "But what shall be done for the great number of people that are transporting themselves thither from ye North of Ireland: Much may be done for ye Kingdom of God in these parts of ye World by this Transportation."

The records of the General Synod of Ulster make frequent references to the departure of ministers for America and to the difficulties experienced in providing subsistence for the ministers who remained. Representations of the necessitous condition of ministers or their widows and children formed a staple topic at meetings of the Synod and the difficulty of raising funds is shown by the frequency with which reiterated appeals are made for help in particular cases. At the meeting of Belfast, June 21, 1720, it was decided that "a moving letter be writ by this Synod" to all the people of the church. The letter approved by the Synod began by saying:

"Dearly Beloved.
You cannot be Ignorant of the deplorable circumstances that many of our Brethren are in, and how exceedingly deficient that fund which was design'd for their support has prov'd, in so much, that to some scarce can a third part of what was promist be obtain'd. Many of our Congregations who us'd to contribute, are not now in condition to maintain their own Minister, and far less give anything for the relief of others. It is melancholly to hear that many of our Brethren are wanting ev'n the necessaries of life; others are forc'd to lay down their charge; and others to transport themselves to America. The Credit of the Synod sinks from an inability to perform what they promist; and notwithstanding all the pains that have been taken time after time to get this remedy'd, it grows every year worse and worse."

Many went not only to America but also to the West Indies. Archbishop Boulter, Primate of Ireland, in a letter written in 1728, said:

"Above 4,200 men, women and children, here have been shipped for the West Indies within three years, and 3,100 this last summer. . . . The whole North is in a ferment at present, and people every day engaging one another to go next year to the West Indies. The humor has spread like a contagious disease. . . . The worst is that it affects only Protestants and rages chiefly in the North."

Writing in March, 1729, Archbishop Boulter said further:

"The humor of going to America still continues, and the scarcity of provisions certainly makes many quit us. There are now seven ships at Belfast that are carrying off about 1,000 passengers thither."

The alarm of the authorities over this drain of population caused letters of inquiry to be sent to the Presbyteries as to the causes. The reply of the Presbytery of Tyrone has been preserved. It gives as the chief cause the religious test that excluded Presbyterians from all places of public trust and honor, and then goes on to say:

"The bad seasons for three years past, together with the high price of lands and tythes, have all contributed to the general run to America, and to the ruin of many families, who are daily leaving their houses and lands desolate."

The authorities showed themselves incapable of action going to the root of the trouble. All that seemed to occur to them was to extend the policy of prohibition from the industries of the people to the movements of the people. The records of the English Privy Council contain the following entry of December 4, 1729:

"Reference to a Committee of a letter from the Lords Justices of Ireland to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carteret, dated 23 Nov., with a memorial from several noblemen and gentlemen on behalf of themselves and others of that kingdom, relating to the Great Numbers of Protestant Subjects who have lately transported themselves from the North of Ireland to the Plantations on the Continent of America, and that Twenty Thousand have declared their Intentions of transporting themselves the ensuing Spring to the great prejudice of the Linnen Manufacture, and lessening the Protestant Interest in those parts, and also relating to the great Quantities of Corn which have been lately bought up for Exportation to Foreign ports, and proposing the issuing of Proclamations to restrain the Exportation of Corn, and to prohibit the Subjects leaving the Kingdom. And likewise to prohibit the carrying Money or Bullion out of the Kingdom."

Some particulars of the way in which emigration was obstructed are given in a letter, written some time in 1736, preserved among the Penn manuscripts of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The writer, John Stewart, a sea captain, says:

"As you are the Proprietor of Pennsylvania, and being informed of your being in London, I would beg liberty to inform your Worship of some of the difficulties of the poor people who are flying from the oppression of landlords, and tithes, (as they term it) to several parts of America, viz:—When last our Irish Parliament was sitting, there was a bill brought in respecting the transportation of America; which made it next to a prohibition. The said bill greatly alarmed the people, especially in the North of Ireland, and lest a second should succeed, greater numbers than usual made ready. But when said landlords found it so, they fell on with other means by distressing the owners and masters of the ships, there being now ten in the harbor of Belfast. The method they fell in with, first, was that when any of said ships advertised that they were bound for such a port, and when they would be in readiness to sail, and their willingness to agree with the passengers for which, and no other reasons, they issued out their warrants and had several of said owners and masters apprehended and likewise the printers of said advertisements, and bound in bonds of a thousand pounds, to appear at Carrickfergus assizes, or thrown into a loathsome gaol, and for no other reason, than encouraging his Majesty's subjects, as they were pleased to call their indictment, from one plantation to another. But even after all this, when the assizes came on, they were afraid of their enlargement, and begged very earnestly of the judges to have them continued upon their recognizances, the consequence of which may easily be seen. Most of said ships being strangers, this would have effectually ruined them. But the Judge was pleased to discharge them. Nay one of the Justices got up in court and swore by God, if any came to Lisburn the town in which he lived, to publish an advertisement he would whip him through the town. To which the Judge very mildly replied, to consider if they deserved it and if he whipped any person, to do it according to law. Money had been offered by some of them to swear against some of said ships and rewards actually given, but yet a more hellish contrivance has been thought of and is put in practice by the Collector George Macartney of Belfast. He will not now, when said ships and passengers were just ready to sail, so much as allow the poor people to carry their old bedclothes with them, although ever so old, under pretence of an Act of the British Parliament."

Captain Stewart goes on to say that an appeal had been made to higher authority but meanwhile ten ships are detained and more than seventeen hundred people are in distress.

Such an attitude of mind only gave additional impetus to emigration. The authorities might harass but could not prohibit the movement of people, for nothing short of measures reducing them to the condition of serfs bound to the soil would have been sufficient to stay the exodus. A marked increase above the ordinary volume occurred from time to time owing to bad harvests and acute industrial distress. The famine years of 1740 and 1741 gave a great impetus to the movement. It is estimated that for several years the emigrants from Ulster annually amounted to 12,000.