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
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!
<< Sue's Genealogy Recipes
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.