Scotch-Irish Emigration to America (4)

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER V (4) Start of Section

After the first run to New England the main stream of Scotch-Irish emigration set toward Pennsylvania, a destination frequently mentioned in the reports made to the Ulster Synod of ministers demitted. Edmund Burke, in his Account of the European Settlements in America published in 1761, says:

"And as for the province . . . there is no part of British America in a more growing condition. In some years more people have transported themselves into Pennsylvania, than into all the other settlements together. In 1729, 6,208 persons came to settle here as passengers or servants, four-fifths of whom at least were from Ireland."

Burke further mentions Pennsylvania as the center from which Scotch-Irish occupation of America proceeded. He says:

"The number of white people in Virginia is between sixty and seventy thousand; and they are growing every day more numerous by the migration of the Irish, who, not succeeding so well in Pennsylvania as the more frugal and industrious Germans, sell their lands in that province to the latter, and take up new ground in the remote counties in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. These are chiefly Presbyterians from the northern part of Ireland, who in America are generally called Scotch-Irish."

Holmes's American Annals, a collection of historical data, first published in 1829, repeatedly mentions the large immigration from the North of Ireland. The annalist notes that in 1729 there arrived in Pennsylvania from Europe 6,208 persons with the purpose of settling in America. Of these 1,155 were designated as "Irish passengers and servants," and it was further stated that there "arrived at New Castle government alone passengers and servants chiefly from Ireland about 4,500."

Among the entries in the Annals for 1737 is the following:

"About this time multitudes of laborers and husbandmen in Ireland oppressed by landlords and bishops, and unable to procure a comfortable subsistence for their families embarked for Carolina. The first colony of Irish people, receiving a grant of land near Santee River, formed a settlement, which was called Williamsburgh township."

Among the events of 1764 it is noted that "besides foreign Protestants, several persons emmigrated from England and Scotland, and great multitudes from Ireland, and settled in Carolina." Two townships, each containing 48,000 acres, had been laid out for occupancy by settlers, one named Mecklenburg, the other Londonderry.

Among the events of 1773 it is noted that "there were large migrations from Ireland and other parts of Europe to America." In the first fortnight of August 3,500 passengers arrived in Pennsylvania from Ireland. In the same month 500 arrived in North Carolina from Ireland. In September a brig arrived at Charleston from Ireland, with above 120 settlers. A sad reminder of the risk of sea travel in that period is contained in the announcement that a Scotch brig that brought 200 passengers to New York lost about 100 on the passage. Although those immigrants from Ireland are not designated as Scotch-Irish there can be no doubt that generally they came from Ulster.

In 1760 the exodus to America seems to have almost ceased. The author of an Essay on the Ancient and Modern State of Ireland written in that year remarks that in the region of George II.:

"the North of Ireland began to wear an aspect entirely new; and, from being (through want of industry, business and tillage) the almost exhausted nursery of our American plantations, soon became a populous scene of improvement, traffic, wealth and plenty, and is at this day a well planted district, considerable for numbers of well affected useful and industrious subjects."

In less than a decade distress and discontent were again general and emigration to America was resumed on a large scale. A note to Killen's History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland computes that in 1773 and the five preceding years the North of Ireland was "drained of one-fourth of its trading cash, and of a like proportion of the manufacturing people." Killen remarks:

"Not a few of the Presbyterian ministers of the northern province had now to struggle against the discouragements of a slender and decreasing maintenance. Some of the members of the Synod of Ulster resigned their pastoral charges, and joined the stream of emigration to America."

The movement was greatly stimulated by the decadence of linen manufacture which set in about 1771. The principal cause assigned for it was the interruption of commerce due to the disturbed relations with the American colonies. Investigation by a Committee of the House of Commons in 1774 brought out official statements that one-third of all the weavers had been thrown out of work and that not less than 10,000 had within the last two or three years emigrated to America.

Arthur Young, the shrewdest observer of agricultural conditions at that period, made his Tour in Ireland in the years 1776 to 1779. He was in Belfast in July, 1776, and he notes that for many years emigration from that port was at the rate of about 2,000 annually. In 1772 the decline of the linen manufacture caused an increase which brought the number up to 4,000 in 1773, but in 1775 emigration ceased. In Derry he noted that "the emigrations were very great from hence, of both idle and industrious, and carried large sums with them." At Lurgan he was informed that "if the war ends in favor of the Americans, they will go off in shoals." Young notes that in 1760 the shipping of Derry consisted of sixty-seven sail, from thirty to three hundred and fifty tons. For eighteen to twenty years the emigrants numbered 2,400 annually.

As a result of his investigations Young concluded that emigration was closely connected with the vicissitudes of the linen trade. He says that for forty years "the passenger trade had been a regular branch of commerce, which employed several ships and consisted in carrying people to America. . . . When the linen trade was low the passenger trade was always high." Young remarks that the ordinary recourse of factory hands thrown out of employment is to enlist, but in the North of Ireland the linen manufacture "is not confined, as it ought to be, to towns, but spreads into all the cabins of the country. Being half farmers, half manufacturers, they have too much property in cattle, etc., to enlist when idle; if they convert it into cash it will enable them to pay their passage to America, an alternative always chosen in preference to the military life."

As a result of his inquiry Young concluded:

"The spirit of emigration in Ireland appears to be confined to two circumstances, the Presbyterian religion, and the linen manufacture. I heard of very few emigrants except among manufacturers of that persuasion. The Catholicks never went; they seemed not only tied to the country but almost to the parish in which their masters lived."

Young, although an unsympathetic was an acute observer, and he pointed out unsparingly the evil nature of England's commercial policy. He drily observed that "emigration should not, therefore, be condemned in States so ill governed as to possess many people willing to work, but without employment."

Young's range of vision did not extend beyond economic factors. There are unmistakable indications that apart from the decay of the linen industry, motive for emigration was supplied by the spirit of social revolt then prevalent. Intercourse with America had become so close and knowledge of conditions there had become so general that the whole attitude of popular thought on political and social arrangements had been affected. A spirit was abroad that made the old grievances of rackrents and tithe payments seem more odious and intolerable. There were agrarian disturbances that were repressed with severity, but whose effect in promoting emigration could not be repressed. In the years preceding the American Revolution a wave of discontent with existing conditions swept over not only Ireland but Scotland as well. At this period there was a great migration to America from the western islands and the Highlands of Scotland. Dr. Samuel Johnson's tour to the Hebrides under the guidance of Boswell was made in 1773 and Boswell's account of it makes frequent reference to emigration. An episode of their stay on the Isle of Skye affords a curious bit of evidence as to the way in which emigration to America had seized the popular imagination. Under date of October 2, 1773, Boswell noted in his diary:

"In the evening the company danced as usual. We performed, with much activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Skye has occasioned. They call it America. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to show how emigration catches, till a whole neighborhood is set afloat. Mrs. M'Kinnon told me, that last year when a ship sailed from Portree for America, the people on shore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off; they lay down on the ground, tumbled and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think that they would soon follow. This indifference is a mortal sign for the country."

A suggestion of the hardships to which passengers were then exposed in the American voyage is made by an anecdote related by Boswell. In the Isle of Ulva he met a Captain McClure, master of a vessel belonging to the port of Londonderry. Boswell says:

"The Captain informed us that he had named his ship the Bonnetta out of gratitude to Providence; for once, when he was sailing to America with a good number of passengers, the ship in which he then sailed was becalmed for five weeks, and during all that time, numbers of the fish Bonnetta swam close to her and were caught for food; he resolved therefore, that the ship he should next get should be called the Bonnetta."

Long delays through contrary winds or calms frequently occurred in the days of dependence on sails. Robert Witherspoon, who emigrated to South Carolina with his father's family in 1734, left an account of early experiences in which he said:

"We went on shipboard the 14th of September, and lay windbound in the Lough at Belfast fourteen days. The second day of our sail my grandmother died, and was interred in the raging ocean, which was an afflictive sight to her offspring. We were sorely tossed at sea with storms, which caused our ship to spring a leak: our pumps were kept instantly at work day and night; for many days our mariners seemed many times at their wits end. But it pleased God to bring us all safe to land, which was about the first of December."

The case of "the starved ship" was famous among the New England settlers. In voyaging to America in 1740 the provisions ran out, and the starving crew and passengers finally resorted to cannibalism. Samuel Fisher, a ruling elder of the West Parish Church of Londonderry, N. H., came out on that ship, and had been picked for slaughter when a ship was met that gave relief. Piracy was also a risk to be encountered. Among the early settlers of Londonderry, N. H., was a Mrs. Wilson who was one of a company captured by pirates. Their captain appears to have been remarkably goodnatured for one of that occupation. While a captive Mrs. Wilson gave birth to a daughter, and the captain was kind and sympathetic. Upon her promise to name the child after his own wife, he gave Mrs. Wilson a silk dress and other articles, and allowed the whole party of Scotch-Irish emigrants to proceed on their way. A granddaughter of this Mrs. Wilson was Mrs. Margaret Woodburn, the maternal grandmother of Horace Greeley, to whose instruction and influence he attributed his intellectual awakening.

Eighteenth century conditions were such that the hardy, the energetic, the resolute went to the making of America. Emigration was then a sifting process, to the advantage of America. Arthur Young, a thoroughly prosaic and unimaginative observer, remarked: "Men who emigrate are, from the nature of the circumstance, the most active, hardy, daring, bold and resolute spirits, and probably the most mischievous also."

Every writer on Ulster emigration notes its bearing upon the American Revolution. Killen, a Belfast minister, in his church history says: "Thousands of them [the Ulster tenant farmers] sought a home on the other side of the Atlantic, and a few years afterward appeared in arms against the mother country as asserters of the independence of the American republic."

Lecky, the historian who has given the most complete and impartial account of the circumstances of the emigration from the English standpoint, says: "They went with hearts burning with indignation, and in the War of Independence they were almost to a man on the side of the insurgents. They supplied some of the best soldiers of Washington."