The "Scotch-Irish"

by Sue Roe

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION

A four-part series on the largest groups of emigrants from the British Isles to Colonial America. They were: the PURITANS who came, primarily, from East Anglia to the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1629 and 1640; the CAVALIERS AND SERVANTS who came, primarily, from the south of England to Virginia between 1642 and 1675; the QUAKERS who came, primarily, from the English Midlands to Pennsylvania between 1675 and 1725; and the SCOTCH-IRISH who came, primarily, from the English/Scottish border counties (sometimes via northern Ireland) to Virginia (via Pennsylvania) between 1717 and 1775.

This last article is about a group of people who came to be known as the "Scotch-Irish" or the "Ulster Irish", both of which are completely American terms and very misleading--since very few of the people in this migration had any Irish blood at all. To help you understand who these people really were, I'm going to start with a brief history lesson.

Over a period of several centuries, there was almost constant war between England and Scotland. The battles took place in the border counties of both countries and the people who lived there, whether English or Scottish, were living in a war zone. This made their lives quite different than anywhere else in the British Isles; they had much more in common with each other than with the rest of England or the rest of Scotland. The men were very warrior-like and often away at battle. They lived with constant economic oppression because soldiers trampled their crops, rustlers stole their livestock, taxes were high, and wages were low. The border kept changing; sometimes both countries claimed the border counties at once. Eventually, many of them decided to leave. Some went to Northern Ireland, settling in the area of Ulster.

In the period between 1717 and 1775, these English/Scottish Borderers (a much better name for them) came into the port at Philadelphia in great numbers. Some came directly from the Northern English counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmoreland, Durham, Cumberland, and Northumberland. Some came directly from the Southern Scottish counties of Ayr, Dumfries, Wigtown, Roxburgh, and Berwick. Others had gone to the Northern Irish counties of Derry, Down, Armagh, Antrim, and Tyrone and migrated from there to America. A few Northern Irish came with them, but most of the people in this migration were English or Scottish. When they arrived, their behavior, dress, and speech patterns were so very different from those people (mostly Quakers) already living in Pennsylvania that they were rejected, ridiculed, and called "Scotch-Irish"--a derogatory term used to be certain nobody would think they were English!

The reason for this migration was much different than for the other 3 groups. It had nothing to do with religion, but was for the purpose of material betterment. The Borderers were not the poorest of the poor (those people didn't have enough money to migrate) but they were mostly from the economic lower class. They were farmers and semi-skilled craftsmen. Very few came in bondage; very few were servants. They were of mixed religious backgrounds. The largest number were Presbyterian, but there were Anglicans and other protestant sects represented as well. There was a very broad age range; all except elderly were well represented. Males outnumbered females by about 149 to 100. In spite of their poverty, they were a very proud people--and this was a source of further irritation to their neighbors. They settled in the "back- country" of Pennsylvania and, when the roads to the south began to open, they left and went down into the Shennandoah Valley of Virginia. They continued to follow this pattern of living in the "back country" for years, going first into the Carolinas, then into Tennessee and Kentucky, then further west to Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. (If this was the migratory pattern of your ancestors, they may have been "Scotch-Irish".)

Family life was different for the borderers. They lived mostly in nuclear families, but the extended family was much more extended than for most other people. The family extended out for 4 generations and connected one nuclear family to another and one generation to the next. This group was called a clan. Clans tended to live and move together. This was the way in the borderlands of England and Scotland and it continued to be the way in the back country of America. The Borderers had large families just like the Puritans.

The age at marriage was much younger than in any of the groups of British immigrates. The average age for men was 21 and for women 19. Weddings were wild affairs, full of ritual, and costly. Sometimes brides were abducted, usually (but not always) willingly. First cousins often married to "keep it in the clan". There was a shortage of clergy in the back country and sometimes couples got tired of waiting. Premarital pregnancies were common. But they were not thought to be scandalous. The Borderers made a joke of it!

Family life was very different. Men were warriors and women were workers. These men had to be warriors in the old country for generations and the pattern didn't change just because they migrated. The most important possessions for a man were his gun and his horse. In any society where the men go off to war, the women do much more heavy labor at home. This was true for the Borderers. In these families, the women labored in the fields right beside their husbands. Families were male dominant; women and children were supposed to obey. Borderer families also had a strange mix of love and violence in their homes. And feuds between clans sometimes occurred.

These Borderers brought their child-naming practices with them. There was a pattern but they were the least likely group to follow it. The pattern in this male dominant society was for the two eldest sons to be named after their grandfathers and the third son after his father. They also used Biblical names (John the most common), Teutonic names (Richard or Robert the most common), names of Border saints, such as Andrew, Patrick, or David, Celtic names, such as Ewan/Owen, Barry, or Roy, names from other cultures, such as Ronald or Archibald, names of Scottish Kings, such as Alexander, Charles, or James, names of brave border warriors, such as Wallace, Bruce, Perry, or Howard, place names, such as Ross, Clyde, Carlisle, Tyne or Derry. Sometimes they made up names or feminized family names and gave them to their daughters (i.e. Hoyt=Hoyette). The most common names for girls were the same as in all 3 of the other groups of English immigrants--Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah. There were also some naming taboos: they did not use Scottish Highlander names, such as Douglas, Donald, Kenneth, Ian, or Stewart; they did not use Gaelic names, such as Sean, Kathleen, Maureen, or Sheila.

Child-rearing practices in the back country were very different. Borderer parents were highly indulgent and permissive. Socialization began at birth. Children, especially boys, were taught to exercise their wills. They doted on their male children, who were reared to have fierce pride, stubborn independence, and a warrior's courage. Girls were taught the domestic virtues of patience, industry, sacrifice, and devotion to others. Men shared in the care of their children from infancy. Corporal punishment was often used.

There were very few schools in the back country and formal education didn't seem to be important. There was more illiteracy in this group; 20 to 30 percent couldn't even sign their own name. The main occupation was a combination of crop farming and herd grazing. There was no class system; everyone was seen as equal. This was the most mobile of the four groups. They moved more often and they were the only group to have scattered, isolated settlements. Whereas the other groups tended to live along roads, the Borderers tended to live along creeks and streams. Because they had to travel long distances to visit, overnight stays were much more common.

Finding records for this group is tough. They tended not to keep them. In Virginia, the best source would be Episcopal Church records, in the Carolinas try Presbyterian Church records. In all areas, look for collections of family Bible records. Mostly you need luck!

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If you would like to study these groups in more depth, I recommend that you read the book, ALBION'S SEED: FOUR BRITISH FOLKWAYS IN AMERICA by David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989. Much (but not all) of the material in this "Recipe" is from that book.
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