Emigration of Scotch and Scotch-Irish to America

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

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THE emigrants to this country from Scotland and Ireland had so many things in common, and they mingled so naturally and constantly wherever they settled, that it is impossible to trace, with any accuracy, the separate streams of emigration. An approximation is all that will be attempted.

During the bloody persecutions which prevailed in Scotland many of her best citizens were banished to America. Some of them were transported as felons because they would not violate their consciences; this was the only crime alleged against them by their accusers. Others fled because they saw no prospect in the future that in their native land they would be permitted to enjoy those modes of worship which they believed most in accordance with God’s word; while still others were attracted to the New World by the prospect of improving their temporal affairs, which had been impaired or wholly ruined by the fines and imprisonments to which they had been subjected.

After the disastrous battle of Dunbar (1650), a large number of prisoners were sent to the Plantations, as they were called, to be sold for slaves. A like disposition was made of many who took part in the Pentland rising and the battle of Bothwell Bridge. The oppressed congregations also furnished many colonists, who, denied all religious freedom at home, fled to this country. A large number of these Presbyterians settled, from the years 1670 to 1680, on the Elizabeth River, Virginia, and in the lower counties of Maryland, and established several churches at least twenty years before the close of the century.

Several Scottish noblemen and gentlemen, who had been active in their opposition to the prelatic measures of their sovereign, and so incurred his displeasure, conceived the design of providing a home for their persecuted brethren in America, and in 1682 they contracted with the lords-proprietors of Carolina for a large landed property. In the same State, and previous to the year 1670, “several hundred able-bodied men formed a settlement on the west bank of the Ashley River and named it Charles’ Town.”[1] As early as 1662 a company of persons driven from Virginia by religious persecution settled on Albemarle Sound. They supposed they would be protected in their civil and religious rights, but no sooner did the Episcopal Church acquire the necessary prestige and power than dissenters were taxed for its support, and were disfranchised if they failed to conform. Thus were they socially and politically degraded by intolerant laws designed to prop up Episcopacy, and to escape from this injustice they removed to another colony. This settlement and a previous one on Chowan River were visited by Governor Berkley of Virginia in 1663, who appointed William Drummond, a Scotch Presbyterian, the first governor of the colonies settled in North Carolina. At his death (1667) the colonists numbered about five thousand.

The congregations of Marlborough and Bladensburg, Maryland, were composed of Presbyterians who left Scotland during the persecution in the reign of James II. East Jersey subsequently received a considerable emigration, chiefly induced to remove there by George Scot of Pitloche, who had suffered everything short of death for his nonconformity. In his appeal to his countrymen to emigrate he dwelt especially upon the privilege they would have of enjoying their own modes of worship; and this appeal was seconded by letters from their friends who had previously settled in the province. Other companies of Scotchmen found homes in Delaware and along the York and Rappahannock Rivers in Virginia; while, as we have seen, a large number of colonists had entered the southern colonies, landing either at Wilmington or Charleston. Those who remained in Charleston united with Congregationalists from New England, who were already settled there, in forming an Independent church, but the pastors for many years belonged to the Church of Scotland. This church was gathered probably as early as 1682. In 1695 we know that a gift of one thousand pounds was made to it by Governor Joseph Blake. The French Huguenot church was established in 1686, and was the first purely Presbyterian church in South Carolina. Other churches were formed within a few years. A letter from South Carolina published in London (1710) states that there were at this time five Presbyterian churches in the colony, and the records show that a donation of three hundred acres of land was made in 1717 for the support of a Presbyterian minister on Edisto Island.

North Carolina was also largely indebted to these early Scotch colonists for many of her most useful and honored citizens. As early as 1729, and again in 1736 and 1739, there were large arrivals of emigrants, who occupied the fertile plains along the Cape Fear River. The rebellion of 1745 caused many Highlanders to leave their native land. Shiploads of them are said to have landed at Wilmington, and from thence they made their way into the interior of North and South Carolina. Some of these were voluntary exiles, but the most of them had fled from Scotland to avoid persecution, and even death itself. For many years the Gaelic language was retained among them, and was employed by their preachers in all public services.

As early as 1698 a colony of French Presbyterians (Huguenots), numbering more than one thousand persons, settled upon the Santee and Cooper Rivers, South Carolina. The emigration of Huguenots continued for many years, and various colonies were formed in the State. From these have descended some of the most worthy citizens in the South. Previous to the year 1700 seventy families of Swiss Presbyterians landed in the same State, and being largely mechanics and merchants made their permanent residence in Charleston.

Though the emigration from Scotland began at an earlier period than that from the north of Ireland, it never assumed the magnitude nor the organized form of the latter, especially from the years 1715 to 1750. During these years America received very large accessions to its Protestant population, most of whom were Scotch-Irish, and in hearty sympathy with the Presbyterian Church. So great were the numbers from Ireland who sought refuge in this country that the civil magistrates “deplored the hallucination” which seemed to have seized the inhabitants, and which led them in such multitudes to forsake their adopted land.

There were three causes impelling the inhabitants of Ulster to desert a country which they had reclaimed from barbarism. These were religious bigotry, commercial jealousy and the oppressive measures employed by landlords.

Of the first little requires to be said in this connection. In the course of the previous history we have seen what evils were inflicted upon nonconformists by an intolerant government, instigated by still more intolerant bishops. It may be well, however, to add here, and more in confirmation of previous statements than by way of elucidation, what Mr. Froude[2] has said on this subject: “The Protestant settlers in Ireland at the beginning of the seventeenth century were of the same metal with those who afterward sailed in the Mayflower —Presbyterians, Puritans, Independents—in search of a wider breathing-space than was allowed them at home. By an unhappy perversity they had fallen under the same stigma, and were exposed to the same inconveniences. The bishops had chafed them with persecutions. … The heroism with which the Scots held the northern province against the Kilkenny Parliament and Owen Roe O’Neil, was an insufficient offset against the sin of nonconformity. … This was a stain for which no excellence could atone. The persecutions were renewed, but did not cool Presbyterian loyalty. When the native race made their last effort under James II. to recover their lands, the Calvinists of Derry won immortal honor for themselves, and flung over the wretched annals of their adopted country a solitary gleam of true glory. Even this passed for nothing. They were still dissenters, still unconscious that they owed obedience to the hybrid successors of St. Patrick, the prelates of the Establishment; and no sooner was peace re-established than spleen and bigotry were again at their old work. Vexed with suits in the ecclesiastical courts, forbidden to educate their children in their own faith, treated as dangerous to a State which but for them would have had no existence, and deprived of their civil rights, the most earnest of them at length abandoned the unthankful service. … If they intended to live as freemen, speaking no lies and professing openly the creed of the Reformation, they must seek a country where the long arm of prelacy was still too short to reach them. During the first half of the eighteenth century, Down, Antrim, Tyrone, Armagh and Derry were emptied of Protestant inhabitants, who were of more value to Ireland than California gold-mines.”[3]

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[1] Howe’s History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina.

[2] As Mr. Froude was educated for the ministry of the Established Church of England, though not now in orders, it is probable that as an Englishman and a churchman he would not speak with undue severity, not to say injustice, of any matter where Ireland and dissenters were concerned.

[3] Froude, vol. i., pp. 129, 130.