Emigration of Scotch and Scotch-Irish to America (2)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER IX.continued

Another cause for the large emigration from Ireland was the repressive measures adopted by the English government toward commerce and agriculture. At first these industries were fostered by the mother-country, and the encouragement given, particularly to the culture of flax, so increased the linen trade that there was danger of Ireland controlling the market. When this became apparent, England repented of the magnanimity shown to Ireland’s most flourishing branch of industry, and began at once “to invade the compact,” and by indirect yet effectual means to steal away the trade from her colonists in favor of her own people.

A similar course was pursued with respect to agriculture. The prices at which the Irish farmers could afford to put their crops into market excited the fears of their English competitors, and so restrictions were put on the production, in order that English land should not be depreciated in value. “Her salt meat and butter were laid under an embargo when England went to war that the English fleets and armies might be victualed cheaply at the expense of Irish farmers.” By such means a large portion of the people were remanded back to poverty and its attendant evils, and were rendered hostile to the oppressive government; and such of them as had property resolved to seek a home where they could escape from all these unnatural and unjust discriminations.

But the arbitrary treatment of tenants by their landlords had much to do in swelling the tide of emigration. At the time when the six counties of Ireland were escheated to the Crown, and a portion of the land placed in charge of Scotch colonists, agriculture was in a low state. Such was the character of the former inhabitants, and the unsettled condition of the country, that the proper culture of the soil was wellnigh impossible. A miserable peasantry dragged out a wretched existence. Great changes, however, rapidly took place with the introduction of a more frugal and industrious class of farmers. Lands were cleared and improved in productiveness through a better system of farming. Mud hovels and wattled huts gave place to commodious homesteads, and the entire country showed evidence of increasing thrift and comfort. By the time the tenants’ leases had expired, the lands cultivated by them had largely increased in value.

This excited the cupidity of the landlords. Unwilling to share the benefits with the farmers, and only to raise their rents in a moderate degree, they extorted from them all they possibly could, irrespective of their improvements and what the tenants had done to make the property valuable. Instead of an effort to reach an arrangement which would have been just to both parties, the landlords, as soon as the leases expired, invited proposals in writing for the leasing of their lands. This was an invitation to every covetous and malicious person to bid for the possession of his neighbor’s improvements. Catholics stood ready to bid more than their value, and to promise anything in the way of rent, in order to recover their hold upon the soil. Thus the stupid selfishness of the landlords expelled their Protestant tenantry by letting the land over their heads to Romanists, and at once a whole countryside were driven from their habitations.

As the landlords were sustained in this oppression by the House of Commons, the Protestants had no hope of redress, and therefore hastened to leave a country in which they had been so cruelly dealt with. “In the two years,” says Froude, “which followed the Antrim evictions, thirty thousand Protestants left Ulster for a land where there was no legal robbery, and where those who sowed the seed could reap the harvest. … The south and west were caught by the same movement, and ships could not be found to carry the crowds who were eager to go.”

Similar testimony is borne by many other writers to the unprecedented exodus of the Protestants of Ireland, induced by the causes which have been described. Early in the year 1718 a minister in Ulster wrote to a friend in Scotland, “There is like to be a great desolation in the northern parts of this kingdom by the removal of several of our brethren to the American plantations. Not 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 tide of emigration was somewhat checked for a brief period by the passage of the Toleration Act, and by further promises of relief. It, however, began anew in 1728, ten years later, as appears from a statement which Archbishop Boulter sent to the English Secretary of State, and which he calls a “melancholy account” of the condition of the north, and of the extensive emigration which was taking place to America: “We have had for several years some agents from the colonies in America, and several masters of ships, that have gone about the country and deluded the people with stories of great plenty and estates to be had for going for in those parts of the world; and they have been the better able to seduce people by reason of the necessities of the poor of late.” He proceeds to assign reasons why the people desire to leave the country, and then adds: “But whatever occasions their going, it is certain that above four thousand two hundred men, women and children have been shipped off from hence for the West Indies within three years, and of these about thirty-one hundred this last summer. … The whole north is in a ferment at present, and people every day engaging one another to go. The humor has spread like a contagious distemper, and the people will hardly hear anybody that tries to cure them of their madness. The worst is that it affects only Protestants and reigns chiefly in the north.” In a private letter the following year the bishop states that “the humor of going to America still continues. There are now seven ships at Belfast that are carrying off about one thousand passengers thither.”

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