Scotch-Irish Settlements

Henry Jones Ford

At the time the stream of Scotch-Irish immigration became particularly noticeable in America, the country under English occupation was a narrow strip along the seaboard, extending south as far as the Spanish province of Florida. Actual settlement did not extend far from the coast, and the interior of the country was in the possession of Indian tribes with whom hostilities occurred checking colonial expansion. At the opening of the eighteenth century, although the colonies were firmly established, they were not vigorous in their growth. The early hopes of rich mines and vast treasure, such as the Spanish were reputed to have found everywhere in America, had been dispelled. It had become generally known that in English territory America was not a land of golden adventure, and that such gains as it afforded came as the result of laborious industry. Add to this that the desirable lands along the coast had been taken up and the movement of the population to the interior could be effected only by thrusting back the Indians, and it will be seen that there was a situation that tended to check colonial development. Thomas Hutchinson, in his History of Massachusetts, written in this period, says:

"In 1640 the importation of settlers now ceased. They, who then professed to be able to give the best account, say that in 298 ships, which were the whole number from the beginnings of the colony, there arrived 21,200 passengers, men, women and children, perhaps about 4,000 families, since which more people have removed out of New England to other parts of the world than have come from other parts to it, and the number of families to this day [1670] in the four Governments [of New England] may be supposed to be less, rather than more, than the natural increase of 4,000."

Conditions were apparently not so slack in the middle and southern colonies, but in them also at this period there was a decline in colonizing energy. Accurate statistics of population are lacking, but on the accession of George I., in 1714, the English Board of Trade, on the basis of such data as were afforded by muster rolls and returns of taxables, estimated that the entire population of the American colonies, including Nova Scotia, consisted of 375,750 whites and 58,850 negroes. This estimate is the only one available as to the population of the colonies at the time Scotch-Irish immigration began. That immigration not only gave an impulse to national expansion that has operated ever since but it also cleared the way for that expansion by opening the interior of the country to occupation. In the seven years 1714-1720 inclusive fifty-four vessels arrived in Boston harbor from Ireland with companies of immigrants. Although details of arrivals at other ports are less minute, it is known that they were much larger at the ports of the Delaware. The mass of the Scotch-Irish arrivals everywhere moved on to the frontier. They constituted the border garrisons; they were the explorers, the vanguard of settlement in the interior. Their Ulster training had inured them to hostile surroundings, and their arrival in the colonies marks the beginning of a period of vigorous expansion, the effect of which is plainly visible in the Board of Trade returns. In 1727, on the accession of George II., the population of the American colonies was estimated at 502,000 whites and 78,000 negroes; in 1754 the estimated numbers were 1,192,896 whites and 292,738 negroes.

There was a Scotch ingredient of colonial population from the earliest times, and also Scotch-Irish, although not usually distinguishable as such. Josselyn, in his Two Voyages to New England, published in 1665, says: "It is published in print that there are not less than 10,000 souls, English, Scotch and Irish, in New England." The Scotch-Irish settlements in the Chesapeake Bay region probably had begun at this period, but taking the earliest distinct mention of Scotch-Irish settlements as the safest guide, their chronological order appears to be as follows: 1. Maryland, 1680; 2. South Carolina, 1682; 3. Pennsylvania, 1708; 4. New England, 1718.

Of these the Pennsylvania settlements were the most numerous and the most important in their bearing upon American national development. Consideration of them will be reserved until after some account has been given of all the other settlements.

No record has yet been discovered of the departure from Ireland of the founders of the Maryland settlements. In default of any positive information, it may be plausibly conjectured that the settlers formed part of the migration to Barbadoes and Virginia that ran strong in the middle of the seventeenth century. There was a close trading intercourse between the Barbadoes and Virginia, one evidence of which is the fact that Makemie, although settled in Maryland, extended his pastoral care to Barbadoes. The Scotch-Irish settlers in Virginia were doubtless among those non-conformists against whom the acts of 1642 and 1644 were passed, forbidding any person to officiate in a church who did not conform to the Book of Common Prayer. Some of the non-comformists were fined and three of their ministers were banished. Thus Virginia was made uncomfortable at a time when Lord Baltimore was offering the large inducements noted in the preceding chapter; and hence there was an exodus to Maryland where a policy of toleration then prevailed. It can hardly be doubted that the Scotch-Irish settlements in Maryland date from this period. The illustrious Polk family dates from these settlements. The founder of the family was Robert Polk who emigrated from Ulster in the second half of the seventeenth century and settled in Somerset County, Maryland. A grandson, William Polk, removed from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Two sons of William became famous in North Carolina, to which State they removed from Pennsylvania. One of them was Thomas Polk, the leading man of Mecklenburg County, member of the legislature, an officer of the militia, chairman of the famous Mecklenburg convention, and Colonel of the Fourth Regiment of North Carolina. His brother, Ezekiel Polk, was captain of a company of rangers. Ezekiel's grandson, James Knox Polk, born at Mecklenburg, November 2, 1795, was the eleventh President of the United States. Leonidas Polk, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and also a distinguished Confederate General, was among the many descendants of the Somerset County immigrant that have achieved distinction.

Effective occupation of the Carolinas did not take place until 1665. At that time popular interest in colonization had greatly declined in England, and proprietors of American lands had to look elsewhere for settlers. Their main resource was to draw them from the other colonies. New England, Virginia and Barbadoes each contributed to the population of the Carolinas. The most populous and prosperous of the early settlements was that made at Cape Fear, upon a tract purchased by a company of Barbadoes planters in August, 1663. The actual settlement took place in 1665, and within a year it numbered 800 inhabitants, but the location was so unwholesome that eventually the site was abandoned and the remaining settlers removed to Charleston, where in 1670 a settlement had been started with emigrants drawn from England and Ireland. This settlement eventually grew into the State of South Carolina.

The first distinct instance of emigration from Ireland to South Carolina is mentioned in Chalmer's Political Annals, published in London in 1780. Referring to liberal arrangements made by the Proprietors in 1682, Chalmers goes on to say: "Incited by these attentions, Ferguson not long after conducted thither an emigration from Ireland which instantly mingled with the mass of the inhabitants."

George Chalmers, the author of this statement, was born in 1742, and practiced law in Maryland prior to the Revolution, when he returned to England and became clerk of the Board of Trade, which office he held until his death. His information was doubtless accurate, and although he gives no particulars it is safe to infer that this Ferguson drew emigrants from Ulster. There is on record the will of Richard Newton, dated September 9, 1692, in which he makes a bequest to his brother, Marmaduke Newton, of Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland.

Notwithstanding the early beginning of Scotch-Irish emigration to South Carolina, it was not marked in extent or influence. The sultry climate and the malarial fevers of the swampy lowlands in which the first settlements were made were peculiarly trying to people of Scotch blood and habit. There was at one time a disposition to regard the Carolinas as an asylum from persecution, but it was practically extinguished by the disastrous experience of the Scotch colony at Port Royal, which was wiped out of existence by a force from the Spanish posts in Florida. It was not until half a century later, when white settlements had penetrated to the uplands, that emigration from Ulster became noticeable. In 1732, in response to a petition from James Pringle and other Irish Protestants, the Council of South Carolina granted a township twenty miles square to Ulster colonists, which they named Williamsburgh, in honor of William of Orange. There was a considerable movement from the North of Ireland to this new settlement, and by the end of 1736 the inhabitants were sufficiently numerous to send to Ireland for a minister, the Rev. Robert Heron coming out and remaining for three years. Among the Williamsburgh settlers were John Witherspoon, James McClelland, William Syne, David Allan, William Wilson, Robert Wilson, James Bradley, William Frierson, John James, William Hamilton, Archibald Hamilton, Roger Gordon, John Porter, John Lemon, David Pressly, William Pressly, Archibald McRae, James Armstrong, the Erwins, Plowdens, Dickeys, Blakelys, Dobbinses, Stuarts and McDonalds.

When, by the treaty of 1763, France yielded to England all her possessions east of the Mississippi, South Carolina received a large share of the heavy emigration from Ireland which then set in. An account of it is given in the earliest history of South Carolina, written by the Rev. Alexander Hewatt, a Presbyterian clergyman and a resident of Charleston. He went to England at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and published his history in 1779. In it he says:

"Besides foreign Protestants, several persons from England and Scotland resorted to Carolina after the peace. But of all other countries, none has furnished the province with so many inhabitants as Ireland. In the northern counties of that kingdom, the spirit of emigration seized the people to such a degree, that it threatened almost a total depopulation. Such multitudes of husbandmen, laborers and manufacturers flocked over the Atlantic, that the landlords began to be alarmed, and to concert ways and means for preventing the growing evil. Scarce a ship sailed for any of the plantations that was not crowded with men, women and children. But the bounty allowed new settlers in Carolina proved a great encouragement, and induced numbers of these people, notwithstanding the severity of the climate, to resort to that province. The merchants finding this bounty equivalent to the expenses of the passage, from avaricious motives pursuaded the people to embark for Carolina, and often crammed such numbers of them into their ships that they were in danger of being stifled during the passage, and sometimes were landed in such a starved and sickly condition, that numbers of them died before they left Charleston. . . .

"Nor were these the only sources from which Carolina at this time, derived strength, and an increase of population. For, notwithstanding the vast extent of territory which the provinces of Virginia and Pennsylvania contained, yet such was the nature of the country, that a scarcity of improvable lands began to be felt in these colonies, and poor people could not find spots in them unoccupied equal to their expectations. Most of the richest valleys in these more populous provinces lying to the east of the Alleghany Mountains were either under patent or occupied, and, by the royal proclamation at the Peace, no settlements were allowed to extend beyond the sources of the rivers which empty themselves in the Atlantic. In Carolina the case was different, for there large tracts of the best land as yet lay waste, which proved a great temptation to the northern colonists to migrate to the South. Accordingly, about this time above a thousand families, with their effects, in the space of one year resorted to Carolina, driving their cattle, hogs and horses overland before them. Lands were allotted to them on the frontiers, and most of them being only entitled to small tracts, such as one, two or three hundred acres, the back settlements by this means soon became the most populous parts of the province."

North Carolina, which grew out of a settlement from Virginia on Albemarle River, remained in obscurity until 1729, when the inefficient Proprietary government came to an end and the country became a Crown colony. About the year 1736 a body of emigrants from Ulster settled in Duplin County, founding Scotch-Irish families whose progeny is scattered through the South. But in the main the Scotch-Irish settlements of the South and West were derived from the overland emigration that had its main source in Pennsylvania. While there is abundant evidence that this was large, it is impossible to give statistics even approximately.

The classification of Scotch-Irish has never figured in official computations of American population. The first national census was taken in 1790. The law provided for lists of free white males under sixteen and also above sixteen, of white females, free blacks and slaves. The Census Bureau in 1909 published an analysis of the returns obtained by the first census, and a chapter was devoted to "Nationality as Indicated by Names of Heads of Families." The following was given as the proportion of total population formed by each nationality: English, 83.5 per cent.; Scotch, 6.7; German 5.6; Dutch, 2.0; Irish, 1.6; French, 0.5; Hebrew, less than one-tenth of 1 per cent.; all other 0.1. Despite this show of statistical precision, a little consideration will show that the exhibits are fallacious and untrustworthy. Many Ulster names are also common English names. There is nothing in such names as Boyd, Brooks, Brown, Clark, Cornwall, Dunlop, Gray, Holmes, Long, Little, Miller, Smith, Young and others to suggest that they did not in all cases belong to English families, and doubtless the English proportion as given above includes many Scotch-Irish families. Names classed as Scotch or Irish were probably mostly those of Scotch-Irish families. There was very little emigration from Ireland, outside of Ulster, until after the War of 1812. Mr. James Mooney of the Bureau of American Ethnology in a paper published in 1913 on racial elements of population, said that "the Irish immigration to the American colonies previous to the Revolution was mainly of the alien Scotch and English element, known sometimes as Scotch-Irish." The proportions given in the Census Bureau publication are admittedly vague and conjectural, and they are remote from known facts. The probability is that the English proportion should be much smaller, and that the Scotch-Irish, who are not included in the Census Bureau's classification, should be much larger than the combined proportions allotted to the Scotch and the Irish.