Scotch-Irish Americans are descendants of the Presbyterian “Ulster Scots,” who migrated from the Lowland areas of Scotland to northern Ireland (also referred to as Ulster, although present-day Ulster is smaller than the historical Irish province of Ulster) in the seventeenth century as part of a plan to cement Protestant British domination of Ireland. Over the course of the eighteenth century, religious persecution by the official Episcopalian Church of Ireland and economic hardship pushed a significant portion to set off across the sea again, from Ulster to North America. Northern Ireland, barely 12 miles across the Irish Sea from southwestern Scotland at its closest point, consists of the northeasternmost six counties of the Irish island—Antrim, Armagh, Fermanagh, Down, Derry, and Tyrone—which, at the time the Republic of Ireland was established in 1937, remained part of Great Britain. Ulster's landscape consists of fertile lowlands and rugged uplands. Its area is 5,345 square miles (13,843 square kilometers), about the size of Connecticut.
The population of Northern Ireland was just over 1.8 million in 2011, according to the census carried out by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. The census listed slightly more than 40 percent of the population as Roman Catholic and a similar proportion as members of various Protestant denominations, led by Presbyterians at 19 percent and Anglicans at just under 14 percent. The majority of the rest either declared themselves nonreligious or declined to state, and there were very small communities of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jews (less than 1 percent in total). Over the last century Northern Ireland's history has been characterized by division and bitter strife between cultural groups defined by religion. At the time of the Ulster migration, Scotland was a land of poor farmers; after its incorporation into Great Britain in the early eighteenth century, its economy was industrialized, with heavy involvement in shipbuilding, coal mining, and steelmaking. Northern Ireland's economy has historically been manufacturing based, though it has shifted toward services and the public sector in recent decades. While Northern Ireland has an average standard of living below that of the United Kingdom, as an “advanced” economy and a European Union member, it is a relatively well-off country in a worldwide context—its GDP per capita gives it a ranking between thirtieth and thirty-fifth on a list of the countries of the world.
Ulster Scots began to leave for the American colonies in the early eighteenth century. Most of the early immigrants, lacking the money to pay their passage, came as indentured servants, though they were able to earn their freedom in a few years and generally became independent farmers on the western and southern frontiers. Immigrants in later waves were more likely to be skilled artisans or professionals and to settle in cities and towns along the East Coast. Scotch-Irish immigration tapered off in the twentieth century and had virtually stopped by the time of the Great Depression. In all, an estimated two million had arrived during that time period (in comparison to 200,000 who had made the original trek from Scotland to Northern Ireland in the seventeenth century). By the mid-twentieth century, if not earlier, the Scotch-Irish were completely assimilated into the broader American society, and their occupations and lifestyle were almost indistinguishable from those of other ethnic groups. In recent decades numerous Scotch-Irish Americans have made concerted efforts to reconnect with their ethnic roots and explore their historical and cultural identity, producing a number of books, journals, and organizations dedicated to Scotch-Irish Americana.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, an estimated 3.3 million people living in the United States in 2011 self-identified as having Scotch-Irish ancestry; the 2008 figure was 5.8 million. However, both historians and authors of popular books, including Carlton Jackson, Karen F. McCarthy, and James Webb, have estimated that the number of Americans with Scotch-Irish heritage is more than 20 million, more than 6 percent of the U.S. population. Scotch-Irish Americans are most numerous in Pennsylvania, especially in Lancaster County and points further south and west; in the Ohio River Valley, principally in Ohio; and in the South, especially the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. According to the American Community Survey estimates, other states with large numbers of Scotch-Irish Americans included California, Texas, and Florida.
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE
Early History Because the first inhabitants of Ireland came by way of Scotland around 9,000 years ago, there has been a continuous history of connections between the two lands. Some of these “Scots,” as the early Celtic people in Ireland were called, crossed back over to Scotland in the centuries following the retreat of the Romans from the British Isles in the 400s; there they settled the western islands and coast. They brought Christianity and eventually conquered the other tribal groups in Great Britain: the Angles of the southeast, related to the Germanic tribes settling England at the time; the Britons of the southwest, a Celtic people related to the Welsh; and the Picts, also Celtic, who dominated the Highlands. Following the Viking invasions of the 800s and 900s, the four tribes gradually united under Scottish kings. Eventually, the Scots gave their name to the land and all its people, but the kings often ruled in name only, especially in the remote Highlands where local clan leaders retained their independence.
In 1066 Norman invaders from France gained control of England. Powerful new English rulers such as the thirteenth century's Edward I, who was called “the Hammer of the Scots,” gained influence over the Scottish kings and helped shape culture in the Lowlands. The Normans also attempted to expand into Ireland. Scots warriors were recruited by their brethren in Ireland to defend the island. The Scots resisted English dominance altogether, often allying with England's enemy, France. Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), the most renowned leader of Scottish defiance, sponsored an invasion of northern Ireland in the fourteenth century, led by his brother Edward, to weaken his English enemies. However, the destruction wrought by Edward on the land alienated the local population to the point where his defeat by the English was cheered, leading to a subsequent steady advance of “Anglo-Irish” power.
The 1503 marriage of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII, to James IV, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, united the English and Scottish royal houses. Already king of Scotland, James IV ascended the throne of England as James I on Elizabeth I's death in 1603. His coronation coincided with the defeat of the recalcitrant Gaelic chieftains of northern Ireland, the last bastion of Irish resistance to English domination. Their exile and the confiscation of their lands gave the united Crown the opportunity to further a long-standing “plantation” strategy, fortifying English control by colonizing the region with Protestants. This was accomplished using a system of “undertakers”—wealthy settlers who were granted tracts of land and who undertook to import tenants to cultivate it. Struggling farmers from the Scottish Lowlands proved most suited to the effort of building a new society in a harsh environment, surrounded by hostile Irish natives and eking out a living on often poor lands—qualities that were transferred to the American frontier a century later.
Religion also played a significant role in the migration. The Scottish Reformation, led by John Knox (ca. 1505–1572), had succeeded in toppling the especially corrupt and unpopular Scottish Catholic Church only after a civil war that ended in 1560. The doctrines of the new Church of Scotland were based on Calvinism (or Presbyterianism). James was a Catholic, however, and he turned the Scottish Protestant church into an Episcopalian (Anglican) institution dominated by bishops. The antihierarchical Presbyterians saw in this a “return to papacy.” Many ministers fled to Ulster, where the recent conflict had devastated churches and congregations and left an open field for them to fill.
An Irish rebellion centered in the north broke out in 1641 after wealthy Irish Catholics attempted a coup d'état. The 1630 to 1640 Bishops' Wars—a Scottish revolt provoked by Charles I's attempt to impose Anglican conformity on the Scots—had alarmed the Catholics of Ireland, as had the mounting conflict between Charles and Parliament that would became the English Civil War in 1642; the Irish Catholics feared an anti-Catholic invasion of Ireland. There followed eleven years of complicated, multisided war in Ulster, punctuated by a number of massacres that traumatized the Protestant settler community, contributing to a permanent “siege mentality” that historians see as an influential part of the Scotch-Irish cultural mindset. By the time the forces of the English Parliament toppled and executed Charles in 1649 and arrived in Ireland to brutally suppress what had become the Irish Confederate Wars, the Church of Ireland had practically collapsed, and it was replaced by the Irish Presbyterian Church. The English Parliament under Oliver Cromwell confiscated massive tracts of Irish land to punish the rebels, giving the Ulster settlers a firm foothold and spurring a new wave of immigration from Scotland. Scottish Presbyterians became the majority of the population of northern and eastern Ulster. They turned it into the wealthiest part of Ireland while maintaining a separate existence from the Catholic natives around them.
Their ascendance in the region was cemented by the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, in which the Protestant English King William III (also known as William of Orange) defeated Catholic forces led by the recently deposed James II on the east coast of Ireland. Seeking to regain his crown, James had secured most of his army from among the Irish by promising them autonomy, land, and the religious tolerance of England. William's victory finally secured English and Protestant control of Ulster. This occasion is still celebrated in Northern Ireland's Protestant communities with parades and banners featuring William's face every year on July 12. The following seven years were the high point of Scottish immigration to Ireland, with some 50,000 new settlers arriving.
Modern Era After William's death in 1702, the Anglican Queen Anne ascended to the English throne,
causing Irish Protestants to endure once again the experience of being an oppressed religious minority. Nevertheless, the eighteenth century saw a relaxation of sectarian tensions in Ulster coupled with economic advances. Progress was punctuated by stifling trade restrictions imposed by the Crown, intended to preserve English domination. Combined with periodic economic crises and stiff trade competition, the situation caused a substantial portion of the Ulster Scots—as many as 300,000 by the time of the American Revolution in 1775—to set out for new shores yet again, this time to the United States.
In the 1790s, inspired by the French and American Revolutions, liberal Irish Presbyterians joined with Catholics to form the republican United Irishmen, intending to throw off the yoke of British and Anglican rule. At the same time, conflict broke out in County Armagh between Catholics and Anglicans. Spurred by economic competition and, most likely, British provocation, the fighting led to the foundation of the militant Protestant organization the Orange Order. After the suppression of the United Irishmen's attempt at rebellion in 1798, the Order gained the support of Presbyterians as restrictions on them were relaxed.
In the nineteenth century Ulster became the site of the only significant industrialization in Ireland, and Belfast, home to an emerging shipbuilding industry (producing the HMS Titanic, among other giants), grew larger and more prosperous than Dublin. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, Ireland's significant Catholic majority had initiated a movement across Ireland for Home Rule—some measure of self-government within the British monarchy, though seen by many as a step towards full independence. Most Ulster Protestants opposed the crusade, fearing that abandonment by the Crown would leave them at the mercy of the Catholics. The religious divide mapped onto the political conflict between nationalists and unionists (the Orange Order being the backbone of the latter). The unionists formed the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1911 to fight the Home Rule threat; nationalists responded in 1913 by establishing the Irish Volunteers, which later evolved into the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The Anglo-Irish War, a guerrilla struggle for Irish independence that reached its peak between 1919 and 1921, was accompanied by street battles in Belfast between Protestants and Catholics. The 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioned the Irish island into the Irish Free State in the south (succeeded by the Republic of Ireland in 1937) and Northern Ireland. The latter contained the six (of nine) counties of Ulster with the highest proportion of Protestants and remained part of the United Kingdom.
The partition of Ireland was almost universally opposed by Irish nationalists, and IRA actions to destabilize the new Northern Ireland were met with reprisals by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the newly organized police force for the territory. The cycle of violence intensified periodically over the succeeding decades, often sparked by Orange Order parades. Although formal measures were put in place to ensure Catholics in Northern Ireland representation and political participation, gerrymandering led to permanent domination by hardline Unionists. Growing discrimination led to increasing emigration among Catholics and the sense of being an oppressed minority on the part of those who stayed. In the late 1960s a civil rights movement arose, attracting the support of moderate Protestants, especially students. Security forces and Unionist paramilitary groups responded with intense violence to the movement. Their actions spiraled into thirty years of bloodshed known as “the Troubles,” which were characterized by assassinations and bombings carried out by both the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups (among them the Ulster Defense Association) and widespread arrests by the British Army, mostly of nationalists.
By the time the Belfast Peace Agreement was reached in 1998, more than 3,500 had been killed and over 100,000 physically injured—huge numbers for such a small population. Although the power-sharing agreement between the nationalist and unionist communities has suffered setbacks when one side or the other felt victimized, and recalcitrant offshoots of the main combatants carried out a number of acts of violence in defiance of the agreement, on the whole it has been a model process of reconciliation for divided polities.
SETTLEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES
Ulster Scots first attempted to immigrate to the United States in the seventeenth century in response to a tightening of policies on religious practice by the new Irish Lord Deputy of the Irish Episcopal Church. Presbyterian leader Robert Blair arranged for the ship Eagle Wing to sail to Massachusetts in 1836 with 140 passengers, but after two attempts to reach land there, bad weather forced the ship's return and the abandonment of the effort. In the 1680s renewed religious restrictions spawned widespread plans on the part of Ulster Presbyterian congregations to emigrate, but the death of Charles II (whose stated support of religious tolerance was opposed by Parliament and betrayed by his own policies) and subsequent easing of restrictions again delayed the efforts of all but a few, one being Francis Makemie. Colonel William Stevens, an American landowner, invited Makemie to Maryland, where the Ulster Scots clergyman founded the first Presbyterian congregation and became known as the “father of American Presbyterianism.”
By 1718 the recurrent religious interference in the Scotch-Irish community was compounded by a six-year drought, causing crop failure and high food prices; a severe smallpox epidemic provided the decisive push. About one thousand Scotch-Irish immigrants sailed to Boston that year in ten different voyages, laying the groundwork for some 250,000 to immigrate by 1775 (by which time they made up 10 percent of the American population). Peaks in immigration occurred from 1725 to 1729, from 1740 to 1741, from 1754 to 1755, and from 1771 to 1775. While Scotch-Irish collective memory has tended to see religious persecution as the strongest cause of emigration, historians favor economic motivations, including periodic famines; ever-rising rents on farmland; the growing practice of “canting,” or auctioning of tenancies, which were then bought up by middlemen; and the collapse of the Irish linen trade in 1772 because of English restrictions on manufacturing, a crisis that severely impacted the many Ulster Scots weavers. As the immigration process became regularized, agents fanned out across Ulster to fill ships that were bound for the colonies to bring back heavy bulk goods but were nearly empty for the western crossing; in addition, land promoters who had a financial interest in American settlements (for example, in North Carolina) that needed colonists advertised widely to fill their tracts.
A high proportion of the immigrants—estimated at up to 90 percent at some points—were unable to pay for their passage up front; these people were forced to pledge their labor to an “employer” as an indentured servant for a fixed term after arrival, usually five to seven years; or to become redemptioners, who were typically sold by the ship's captain at an American port. An estimated 100,000 Scotch-Irish arrived in this manner. Later in the century skilled artisans, especially weavers, made their own way to the United States, despite British attempts to ban them from leaving, fearing a precipitous decline in the economic health and control of Ulster. After the failed United Irishmen Rebellion, political motivations propelled more affluent, professional, educated Scotch-Irish to immigrate (though still alongside a larger number of paupers); in contrast to the earlier servants and artisans of modest means, who tended to move south and west towards the frontier, this group was most likely to stay in the cities of the Eastern seaboard, and a good number went to Pittsburgh, an up-and-coming town on the western edge of the new republic. An estimated 100,000 immigrated in the three decades following the American Revolution.
The 1803 British Passenger Act—instituted in part to address often horrible conditions on the ships but also reflecting the Crown's interest in stemming the loss of its citizens—drastically limited the numbers allowed on transatlantic vessels; the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815 between Great Britain and France also disrupted the flow. The next three decades saw around half a million Ulster immigrants to the United States, however, the majority of them Presbyterians
until 1835. The early 1800s was the period of largest Scotch-Irish immigration, both absolutely and in proportion to the U.S. population. Farmers pressed by overcrowding in northern Ireland and the continued poor production of Irish agriculture, as well as weavers and spinners put out of work by industrialization, made up the bulk of this wave.
Although the mid-nineteenth century exodus caused by the Irish potato famine is one of the most remembered and significant immigrant waves in U.S. history, the proportion coming from Ulster, which suffered the least, declined at that time. The second half of the nineteenth century saw more than a million immigrants from Ulster, most of them Protestant and most of them skilled workers or part of the industrial proletariat, who headed to cities like the professionals had before them. In the twentieth century the Ulster proportion of Irish immigration to the United States steadily declined then practically stopped at the time of the Great Depression. After World War II those Ulster Scots who immigrated to the United States tended to return to Scotland or to England after a time.
While the first Ulster immigrants headed to New England, where they initially saw the English Puritans as refugees from religious persecution like themselves, their strict Calvinism ultimately clashed with what was quickly becoming an oppressive state religion itself. After 1725 their destination shifted to Pennsylvania, where the legacy of William Penn seemed especially tolerant and welcoming; in addition, the lack of a dominating big-landowner class or a slave plantation economy there was attractive to the modest settlers. Pennsylvania had ample land and also offered more protections for the many who arrived as indentured servants. Discord soon arose, however, because the Scotch-Irish attitude towards the indigenous Native Americans—which was harsh and combative—conflicted with the official Quaker policy of coexistence. From the Scotch-Irish Americans' point of view, the Quaker oligarchy was distant and slow to act, as during the French and Indian War, when those on the frontier (including in western Pennsylvania) were the first target of Indian retaliation.
Although Scotch-Irish constituted a third of the Pennsylvania population by the time of the American Revolution, a critical mass had already begun moving on, through the Cumberland and Shenandoah Valleys to the Carolinas—especially western North Carolina—and Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Whereas extensive slaveholding was taking hold in the deep South, the middle colonies (especially their interior hill country, where the slave-based plantation economy had less of a foothold) became the places where white labor and self-sufficient settlement were most in demand. The Ulster settlers became the quintessential pioneers, clearing the land, building log Page 92 | Top of Articlecabins, exploiting the soil, and moving on within a few years. Because of this period the Scotch-Irish immigrants became most identified with Appalachia and the South. Bill McGimpsey, president of the Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America, has also drawn attention to settlements of what he calls “divergent Scotch-Irish” in such places as Montana, New England, and Utah.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimates for 2009 to 2011, there were 3.3 million Americans of Scotch-Irish descent living in the United States. The states with the highest populations included North Carolina (279,291), Texas (278,316), and California (249,493). Other states with large numbers of Scotch-Irish Americans included Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The Scots language is a Germanic language descended from Northumbrian Old English and Middle English. It developed in Lowland Scotland and is completely distinct from Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language spoken in the Highlands and at the early Scottish Court. Scots and English developed separately from the Middle Ages onward. By the time of the English plantation of Ulster, written Scots had largely been superseded by English as a result of the convergence of the Scottish and English kingdoms. The language persisted in its spoken form, however, and was transplanted to Ireland along with the settlers, where it became Ulster Scots. Some linguists dispute the status of Scots as a separate language from English, as opposed to a dialect, saying that it is on the same spectrum as Scottish Standard English. It is spoken by an estimated 30 to 50 percent of Scotland's population, though more than half of the population has said in surveys that they do not in fact consider it a separate language.
Ulster Scots is usually considered to be a dialect of Scots, although some enthusiasts deem it a separate language. It is spoken by, at most, around 2 percent of Northern Ireland's population today. There have been efforts at a linguistic revival since the 1990s, although some write these off as partisan maneuvering to counter the spread of Irish (a Gaelic language), spoken by a higher but still relatively minimal proportion of the population. As a written, literary language, Ulster Scots had become practically extinct by the early twentieth century; however, the recent revival has attempted to reintroduce it as well. Regardless, by the time Scottish nationalists such as poet Robert Burns (1759–1796) were working in Scotland proper to reverse the decline of Scots in its written form, a good portion of the Scotch-Irish who were immigrating to America had already left the realm of Scots culture behind.
The diminution of the Scots and Ulster Scots languages or dialects by the advent of English in the British Isles is almost less extraordinary than the thoroughness of the linguistic assimilation of the Scotch-Irish in the United States, who rather quickly after their arrival gave up most of the distinctive signposts of their culture and language. Thus, knowledge of their ancestral languages is today nonexistent among Scotch-Irish Americans, except for a few words—for example, craic (“gossip or loud conversation”) and boggin (“disgusting”). Linguist Michael Montgomery, however, an expert on Appalachian speech, has identified a substantial Scotch-Irish influence on Appalachian pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, in particular on the dialect spoken in eastern Tennessee, that persists to this day. Most Americans would recognize many Scotch-Irish-influenced phrases. Examples are word usages such as “bottom land,” “kindling”(as a noun), to “let on” (pretend), and “a far piece” (distance); and grammatical usages such as “used to could,” “might could,” “done” as a helping verb (“I done told you already”), “y'all,” and “who all.”
The Scotch-Irish are almost by definition Protestants: their religion is what motivated their resettlement by the Crown from Scotland to Ulster, giving them their particular identity—an identity sharpened by their sense of being surrounded there by a hostile Catholic population. England thereby politicized religion and initiated the discord between the two groups, a discord that still plays itself out in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Scots also suffered constant real and imagined persecution by the official Anglican (Episcopalian) Church, which saw the much less hierarchical structure that formed the essence of Presbyterianism as a threat to ecclesiastical and political authority. This shaped the Scotch-Irish identity still further, as a sect embattled even among Protestants. Once the immigrants reached the United States, conflicts with the dominant Puritan culture in New England and with Quakers—who were alienated by the Scotch-Irish hostility towards the Indians and their reputation for disregarding legality and squatting what they saw as empty lands—in Pennsylvania continued this sense of siege. As resented and disdained Irish Catholics began to make their way to the colonies in larger numbers, the Scotch-Irish used their Protestantism—and anti-Catholicism—to keep from being lumped together with the Catholic “wild Irish.”
In their frontier communities their religion was what held the Scotch-Irish together, provided guidance and control over conduct and morality, and determined their outlook on life. Once the resources became available to build a church, worshippers came from miles around to attend an all-day communion, the only regular chance to socialize for families divided onto individual homesteads. A shortage of ministers exacerbated the farflung nature of the congregations; both the numbers of immigrants and the steady
movement outward made it hard for the Presbyterian Church to keep up. This problem was exacerbated by the Presbyterian requirement that ministers undergo a specific, rigorous university training, including the study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, still only available in Scotland. Thus, settlements had to wait years before their plea for a minister—a distant, difficult, and poorly paid posting that was far from attractive to such graduates—could be fulfilled. The American Presbyterian Church established a number of colleges to address this circumstance, including the College of New Jersey in Princeton (today Princeton University) in 1746 and Washington and Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania in 1781. In fact, Presbyterian-founded colleges were the largest group of the 207 prominent colleges in the United States before the Civil War, most of them established by and for Scotch-Irish. Still, the supply of ministers lagged far behind the need. The evangelical “Great Awakening” beginning in the mid-eighteenth century produced a flood of Baptist and Methodist ministers along the frontier; these ministers converted many Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who were not well served by their church and who were attracted by the passion and excitement of the new approach. This phenomenon caused a temporary schism in the Presbyterian Church between “Old Siders,” who resisted change, and “New Siders,” who wanted to adapt to the settlers' reality.
Scotch-Irish Americans are thus split today between their traditional Presbyterianism and the more evangelical Protestant churches that dominate the landscape in rural and especially southern parts of the country. Religion still plays a central role in their life and imprints itself on their culture, politics, and sense of identity. Some, in fact, argue that the general religiosity so prominent in American life—the sense that rights are God-given, that political leaders must be pious, and that religious duty saturates everyday life—which stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of other advanced industrial democracies, is in large part a result of the strong influence of the Scotch-Irish and their historical belief in the predestination of the soul.
CULTURE AND ASSIMILATION
The early Scotch-Irish Americans, through their religious evolution, language affinity, and experience with frontier life, became relatively quickly assimilated
Insofar as the dominant European-American orientation was at that time becoming white, Protestant, and plebian, it could almost be said that American mainstream culture assimilated to the Scotch-Irish.
into colonial American culture. In fact, insofar as the dominant European-American orientation was at that time becoming white, Protestant, and plebian, it could almost be said that American mainstream culture assimilated to the Scotch-Irish. In Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (2004), former U.S. senator and secretary of the Navy James Webb characterized their “radical individualism,” which has been claimed as the basis for such quintessential American traits as populism, love of country music, military tradition, fanatical attachment to gun rights, and even NASCAR racing—said to have its origins in the adventures of illegal moonshine runners during Prohibition. Thus, by the mid-nineteenth century, the Scotch-Irish had become practically indistinguishable from other Protestant European immigrants. Most histories of the Scotch-Irish end their narrative in this period. The conclusion of Ron Chepesiuk's The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America (2000) can stand in for many others: “From this point [around 1830] on, the Scotch-Irish began to make their contribution as Americans and not as Scotch-Irish—that is, not as people of a particular ethnic culture. They intermarried with other ethnic groups, mixing easily and eventually losing their identity as a separate people. By and large, the Scotch-Irish have become absorbed into the mainstream of society.”
There have, however, been periodic efforts, at least on the part of elites, to assert and preserve a Scotch-Irish American identity and culture. The Scotch-Irish Society of America was established in 1889, drawing on Presbyterian clergy, newspapermen, and politicians, and held annual congresses; however, after the sixth congress, in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1894, it seems to have disappeared. It was resurrected in the first decade of the twenty-first century as the Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America and has actively promoted Scotch-Irish heritage and exploration since then. The Ulster American Heritage Symposium has been held biannually, alternating between Northern Ireland and the United States, since 1976; it is organized by the Ulster American Folk Park in Northern Ireland, where the commitment to cultural preservation seems to be stronger. There are also many local efforts; for example, the Clover Scottish Games and Scotch-Irish Festival has been held annually in Clover, South Carolina, since 1997. A growing number of books on Scotch-Irish history and identity were published in the early twenty-first century, attesting to a renewed interest of individuals in investigating and promoting their heritage.
Dances and Songs Scotch-Irish musical traditions (tempered by the exigencies of early frontier life, especially in the Appalachian region) played a central role in the development of American traditional music styles such as bluegrass. Although fife and drum bands have been cited as the only pure and exclusively Ulster Scots music form, the Scotch-Irish were part of the broader “Anglo-Celtic” tradition of ballad singing, fiddle-based instrumental dance music, and storytelling. Except for the fiddle, traditional folk instruments of Scotland and Ireland, such as the bagpipes and the harp, were too unwieldy to bring on the arduous journey across the sea and into the wilderness; in some cases, including that of the harp, the instruments had already been suppressed by the English Crown back in Ireland. Traditional instruments were therefore replaced by local instruments such as the banjo, guitar, and mandolin. The Scotch-Irish also developed the Appalachian (or mountain) dulcimer, a variation of the scheitholt, a zitherlike instrument that German settlers had brought with them.
Musical styles anchored by the fiddle and particular elements such as the Scottish pentatonic (five-note) scale were united with American popular music trends and local elements, including gospel and African American music, to constitute something both distinctly American and deeply connected to the Scotch-Irish homelands. Another influence was early Protestant religious music. Based on the Scottish Metrical Psalter, which immigrants carried with them on their journeys, this tradition provided a source for the kinds of vocal harmonies typical to bluegrass and country, as well as to distinctive forms such as shape-note singing. Some musicologists assert that particular ballads were preserved long after their disappearance in the British Isles by Appalachian settlers as a result of their isolation and conservatism. The best-known example is “Bonny Barbara Allan,” also known as “Barbary Allan,” already popular in North Carolina in the late seventeenth century and still sung today.
The culture of drinking and dancing in the South is also traceable, at least in part, to the Scotch-Irish, with their love of whisky and celebration—another quality that diverged acutely from the dour New England Puritans, with whom the first Scotch-Irish immigrants clashed so sharply. The square dance, especially in its Appalachian form, is traditionally accompanied by jigs and reels from Scotland and Ireland, almost always featuring that most Scotch-Irish of instruments, the fiddle. Today's Texas two-step and “boot-scooting” evolved from ancient ritual dances.
Holidays The most prominent holiday particular to the Scotch-Irish—and even more so to Ulster Scots, or Northern Ireland Protestants—is July 12, the anniversary of William of Orange's victory over the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. This day was commemorated throughout much of the nineteenth century with parades in major American cities that often ended in violence between Protestants and Catholics. The Orange Riot of 1871 was one of the worst incidents of street violence in New York City's history, causing sixty deaths. These provocative demonstrations had practically disappeared in the United States by the end of the nineteenth century, though they continued and intensified in Northern Ireland, where they remain a flashpoint today. Another celebration of Protestant triumph that has led to riots occurs on December 7, the date that the defiant actions of thirteen “apprentice boys of Derry” touched off the 1688 siege of that city by Catholic royal troops. The holiday is celebrated by the brotherhood of the Apprentice Boys of Derry in Northern Ireland and its associated branches in England, Scotland, and the United States. In celebration of ethnic identity, the Scotch-Irish Society of Charleston, South Carolina, organizes the annual “South Carolina Day” on March 18, commemorating the birthday of Scotch-Irish and South Carolinian favorite son John C. Calhoun (1782–1850), vice president, senator, statesman, and political theorist of states' rights.
Health Issues Health concerns among the Scotch-Irish American community are primarily determined by economic factors and, more especially, by location. In Appalachia poverty and ill-health persist despite the initiatives of Lyndon B. Johnson's “War on Poverty” in the 1960s. The dominant industry of the area, coal mining, has left a considerable mark on the health of Scotch-Irish Americans. Black lung, a congestive disease of the lungs caused by the inhalation of coal dust, disables and kills miners at a high rate. This and chronic malnutrition, high infant mortality, and low birth weight remain the scourge of mountain people. West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee still have pockets of poverty as a result of high unemployment and isolation. The pattern of early marriage and large families is still typical, as is a significant problem with domestic violence.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY LIFE
In contrast to Highland Scots, who immigrated directly to the United States in groups based on their early organization in clans, Scotch-Irish immigrated individually or in small family groups. Homesteading on the frontier was carried out on a family basis, with initially monoethnic Presbyterian congregations constituting the broader community; the Scotch-Irish tended to separate themselves from other frontier dwellers, such as the Germans, whose culture and practices conflicted with their own. Scotch-Irish individualism and lack of the extended clan obligation led to relatively rapid assimilation and intermarriage, exacerbated by the numerous conversions during the Great
Awakening and after. Their constant push to resettle also limited community coherence. Wherever they ultimately established themselves, however, frontier families formed tight-knit communities, some more and some less specifically Scotch-Irish in character.
Gender Roles In independent and self-reliant Scotch-Irish frontier families, gender roles were as rigid as in other communities at the time, and women, in charge
of the household's domestic economy, were as essential as men to the family's survival. As well as cooking, cleaning, and sewing, mothers were typically charged with educating the children, both in basic literacy and Christian principles; milking the cows, grinding the flour, and baking the bread; gathering available foodstuffs from the forest; and even defending the homestead from Indians and wild animals, often with the husband away from home to trade, scout a new location, or deal with other business. This kind of centrality and independence among women has diminished in modern times as more roles (such as education and security) have been taken on by government institutions; as well, Scotch-Irish cultural conservatism and a certain fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity has spread the notion that a women's place is ideally tied to childbirth, childrearing, and domestic chores. Nevertheless, there is a certain feisty independence among women of Appalachia and other Scotch-Irish heartlands, as exemplified by Scotch-Irish American Dolly Parton (1946–) and her song “9 to 5,” with its adoption of the struggles of women in the workplace. “Typically Southern” masculinity, to some extent a product of the Scotch-Irish heritage, emphasizes hypertraditional male tropes of military service, hunting, auto racing, country music, and all-around hard living. At the same time, a 2013 article by historian James Loewen touted James Buchanan (1791–1868; president from 1857–1861), one of numerous American presidents of Scotch-Irish stock, as our “first gay President.”
Relations with Other Americans Scotch-Irish Americans' relations with other groups have often been difficult, especially when their resolve was threatened: their initial contacts with the New England (English) Puritans and then the Pennsylvania Quakers were discordant; rivalry and cultural clashes dogged their encounters with the German settlers who fanned out along the frontier in close parallel with them; and their stance toward the Native Americans, who threatened their further progress westward, was hostile. Probably their most fraught relationship, however, has been with Catholic immigrants, especially Irish Catholics, whose antipathy during their time in Ulster they had hoped to escape.
EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
As in their home country, Scotch-Irish in the United States have been drawn to the land as farmers and herders. Others found work in heavy industry, such as Page 97 | Top of Articlethe steel mills and coal mines. Hard times during the Great Depression for those isolated in Appalachia or the rural South brought scores of Scotch-Irish to the factories of Detroit and Chicago, where they labored in the auto plants and stockyards. Poverty returned for many of these people as plants shut down and downscaled in the 1960s, creating so-called “hillbilly ghettoes” in major Northern industrial cities. Generations of poverty have created an underclass of displaced Southerners, a social problem that persists today. Author Harriette Arnow (1908–1986) wrote movingly of the plight of these economic migrants in her novel The Dollmaker (1954). Having assimilated to a high degree, many Scotch-Irish Americans have benefited from the opportunities that class mobility and a strong work ethic have brought them. Webb asserted in Born Fighting, however, that over the course of their history, they have “endur[ed] poverty at a rate that far exceeded the rest of the country.”
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Scotch-Irish Americans' political credo is above all “small d” democratic, or populist, fueled by a strong sense of equality, self-reliance, and resentment against elitism and inherited privilege. This stance is exemplified by their most prominent flag bearer, Andrew Jackson (1767–1845; president 1829–1837), the son of immigrants from County Antrim who arrived in the United States two years before his birth and was raised on the Carolina frontier. While he is remembered as a fighter for the common man—and still celebrated by the Democratic Party—Jackson was also a fierce antagonist to Native Americans, responsible for the Trail of Tears and numerous other lesser-known acts of “Indian Removal,” and was himself a wealthy slave-holder. Scotch-Irish Americans in general tended not to own slaves and resented the wealthy slaveholders on their lowland plantations. No friends to Abolitionism, the Scotch-Irish in greater numbers fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War than on the side of the Union.
The Scotch-Irish in the Carolinas were a bulwark of the Regulator Movement, an armed resistance against corrupt colonial officials in the 1760s, often seen as a kind of opening act to the American Revolution. But despite a collective memory that valorizes them as a unified bastion of the independence struggle in the revolution itself, in some contexts they joined the Loyalists—not out of any great love for the British but because of their hatred for local patriots they saw as wealthy and controlling. This opposition to the dominance of the affluent establishment in the new republic pushed them to support the Jeffersonians against the Federalists and to increase their involvement in politics, leading up to the Jackson presidency.
Although Scotch-Irish soldiers fought on both sides of the Civil War—including Generals Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) for the North and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (1824–1863), J. E. B. “Jeb” Stuart (1833–1864), and Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821–1877; Forrest survived the war to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) for the South—the bulk of them, residing in Confederate states, fought for the Confederate cause. The Scotch-Irish were closely identified with the Populist movement, strongest in the South and Midwest, which reached its peak in the 1890s and united farmers for a short time against perceived economic injustice. They were also a major force in the twentieth-century union movement, exemplified by their agitation for workers rights in the textile mills of the Southeast and the mines of West Virginia and Kentucky. These efforts were marked by serious outbreaks of violence and strikes—although many have since followed the drift of conservative and Southern politics to become strongly anti-union.
The Scotch-Irish claim that seventeen U.S. presidents have at least some verifiable Scotch-Irish ancestry, including, beyond Jackson, Buchanan, and Grant (served 1869–1877), Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–1889 and 1893–1897), William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901), Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–1921), Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–1974), and Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001). As is apparent from this list, it would be very difficult to pin Scotch-Irish Americans down to a particular political party or ideology. To the extent that they are enveloped by the southern white Protestant vote—which is true only partially—they tended to vote Democrat until the ascendance of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, later becoming conservative “Reagan Democrats” and, thereafter, straight Republicans.
Frontiersmen and Explorers Scotch-Irish Americans' baptism as sojourners to new territories instilled in them a penchant for pushing forward Euro-American expansion. Davy Crockett (1786–1836), the “king of the wild frontier,” served in the Tennessee Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, where he vehemently opposed the Indian Removal policies of Andrew Jackson, fought the Mexicans in the Texas Revolution, died at the Battle of the Alamo, helped popularize the coonskin cap, and was the subject of countless books, plays, movies, and television portrayals. Sam Houston (1793–1863) was governor of Tennessee, leader of the Texas Revolution, first president of the Republic of Texas, U.S. senator from Texas after its annexation to the United States, governor of Texas, adopted citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and namesake of the fourth-largest American city. Kit Carson (1809–1868) was a mountain man and early explorer of the West (all the way to California), wilderness guide, and Indian fighter; he fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War and was, like Crockett, the subject of many portrayals. Neil Armstrong (1930–2012) was the first human to walk Page 98 | Top of Articleon the moon, in 1969, coining the immortal phrase “That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Literature Scotch-Irish writers who have enriched American literature include Ellen Glasgow (1873–1945), whose best novel, Vein of Iron (1935), concerns the fortunes of Ada Fincastle, the daughter of a hardy Scotch-Irish family of Virginia in the early part of the twentieth century. Larry McMurtry (1936–) is known for his novels set in the American Southwest. His The Last Picture Show (1966) and Lonesome Dove (1985) enjoyed tremendous success after filmed versions captured fans for the prolific writer's view of his home state of Texas and its rich history. Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), master of the macabre, is known primarily for his gothic tales, such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and for his haunting poems, including “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven.” Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens; 1835–1910), author, humorist, abolitionist, and anti-imperialist, wrote the classics The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
Music Scotch-Irish Americans are well represented in country music by such greats as Hank Williams (1923–1953), one of the creators of the modern country sound, and Johnny Cash (1932–2003), the “man in black,” country icon and author and performer of such hits as “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Ring of Fire”; his daughter Roseanne Cash (1955–) is also a singer-songwriter, crossing over from country into many other genres, as does Hank Williams Jr. (1953–). Loretta Lynn (1932–), country music singer-songwriter and fifty-year member of the Grand Ole Opry, recalled her childhood growing up in a Kentucky coal-mining community in her song “Coal Miner's Daughter.” Bill Monroe (1911–1996) is credited as the “father of bluegrass,” the style that took its name from his band the Blue Grass Boys, intended to evoke his home state of Kentucky. Elvis Presley (1935–1977), the “King of Rock and Roll” and towering figure in popular culture, melded African American rhythm and blues with country; he was the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music.
Science and Medicine Bill Gates (1955–) cofounded Microsoft, which produced the software that made the personal computer revolution possible. He became one of the wealthiest people on earth and with his wife started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest foundations in the world, which works globally to reduce poverty and improve health care outcomes. James Irwin (1930–1991) was an astronaut who became the eighth person to walk on the moon on the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. Cyrus McCormick (1809–1884) is credited with the invention of the reaper, although much of the work was done by an African American slave on the family plantation who was not eligible for a patent because of his status. A particularly enterprising Scotch-Irish woman, Bette Nesmith Graham (1924–1980), born in Dallas, Texas, died with a net worth of more than $47.5 million; a poor typist, she devised a product that would cover mistakes and in so doing created Liquid Paper correction fluid. Andrew Mellon (1855–1937) was a banker, industrialist, U.S. secretary of the treasury, and philanthropist who founded the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, which later merged with the Carnegie Institute of Technology to form Carnegie-Mellon University, a major research center in Pittsburgh.
Sports William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey (1895–1983), the “Manassa Mauler,” was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1919 to 1926, setting attendance records and becoming a cultural icon. Arnold Palmer (1929–) is one of the most popular professional golfers of all time; “Arnie's Army,” as his fans were known, helped launch the sport into the television age. Race car driver Jeffery Martin “Jeff” Gordon (1971–) has racked up the most wins in NASCAR's modern era (since 1972) and was the first NASCAR driver to reach $100 million in career earnings.
Stage and Screen Influential Scotch-Irish Americans in the performing arts include Ava Gardner (1922–1990), the seventh child of poor cotton and tobacco farmers, who became one of Hollywood's leading actresses (Mogambo, 1953; and The Night of the Iguana, 1964). The careers of the remarkable Huston family span much of the history of the motion picture in the United States. Walter (1884–1950), his son John (1906–1987), and John's daughter Angelica (1951–) have all won Academy Awards. Walter Huston was a memorable character actor, perhaps best remembered for one of his son John's best films as a director, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948); granddaughter Angelica was directed by her father in three films, notably Prizzi's Honor (1985), for which she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. John Huston's last film, The Dead, a 1987 adaptation of James Joyce's short story, also starred Angelica and was scripted by her brother Danny. James Stewart (1908–1997), one of Hollywood's most famous and beloved citizens, is well known for classics such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It's a Wonderful Life (1947), and Rear Window (1954). John Wayne (1907–1979; born Marion Robert Morrison) was the icon of American masculinity, goto onscreen cowboy and soldier for three decades, and top box office draw of all time. Shirley MacLaine (1934–; born Shirley MacLean Beatty) has had a film career spanning seven decades, during which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress for Terms of Endearment (1983). Her brother Warren Beatty (1937–) not only starred in but also produced and directed landmark films, such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Reds (1981).
Established in 2012, this monthly online magazine of Celtic history and culture has a substantial Scotch-Irish component. Also available in print.
James A. McQuiston, Editor/Publisher
Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies
This journal, sponsored by the Center for Scotch-Irish Studies, publishes scholarly studies on the Scotch-Irish people: their history, language, literature, music, material culture, political and legal philosophy, and contributions to the United States in general.
Dr. Joyce Alexander, Editor
Richard K. McMaster, Editor
Center for Scotch-Irish Studies
P.O. Box 71
Glenolden, Pennsylvania 19036-0071
Phone: (610) 532-8061
RADIO AND TELEVISION
TNN (The Nashville Network)
TNN is a twenty-four-hour cable country music channel. Programming includes recorded videos and talk shows, with a strong regional emphasis toward the American South and West. “The Grand Ole Opry,” a radio and television simulcast of the weekly performances of leading country music performers from Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, airs each Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. on TNN and on a syndicated network of radio stations as well. Begun in 1925, it is the nation's oldest radio program.
Emily Cline Bronze
225 East 8th Street
Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402
Phone: (423) 468-5100
The Thistle and Shamrock
This weekly Celtic music and cultural appreciation program features thematically grouped presentations on Scottish, Irish, and Breton music. It is syndicated nationally on National Public Radio.
Fiona Ritchie, Founder, Producer, and Host
P.O. Box 518
Matthews, North Carolina 28106
ORGANIZATIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS
This website focuses on Scotch-Irish/Scots Irish and Ulster Scots and their history and culture. Its tagline is “brewed in Scotland, bottled in Ulster and uncorked in the USA.”
Scotch Irish Online
East 30th Street
New York, New York 10016
Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America
A national organization of persons of Scotch-Irish heritage, it was founded to promote and preserve Scotch-Irish history and culture. It sponsors the biennial Scotch-Irish Identity Symposium and publishes a semiannual newsletter.
Bill McGimpsey, President
P.O. Box 53
Media, Pennsylvania 19063
MUSEUMS AND RESEARCH CENTERS
Historical Center of York County, South Carolina
The center holds archives and sponsors programs illuminating the history of the Carolina Piedmont region, with its significant Scotch-Irish settlement.
212 East Jefferson Street
York, South Carolina 29745
Phone: (803) 329-2121, extension 7245
Scotch-Irish Foundation Collection at the Balch Institute, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Established in 1949 to preserve books and manuscripts relating to Scotch-Irish history, culture, and heritage, the Scotch-Irish Foundation was dissolved in 2012 and merged into the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. It includes records of the Loyal Orange Institution of the United States of America and related associations from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries.
Lee Arnold, Senior Director of the Library and Collections
1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
Phone: (215) 732-6200
Fax: (215) 732-2680
SOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL STUDY
Chepesiuk, Ron. The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2000.
Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Jackson, Carlton. A Social History of the Scotch-Irish. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1993.
Lehmann, William C. Scottish and Scotch-Irish Contributions to Early American Life and Culture. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1978.
Leyburn, James G. The Scotch-Irish: A Social History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962.
McCarthy, Karen F. The Other Irish: The Scots-Irish Rascals Who Made America. New York: Sterling, 2011.
McWhiney, Grady. Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988.
Miller, Kerby A. “‘Scotch-Irish’ Myths and ‘Irish’ Identities in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century America.” New Perspectives on the Irish Diaspora, edited by Charles Fanning. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.
Vann, Barry Aron. In Search of Ulster-Scots Land: The Birth and Geotheological Imagings of a Transatlantic People, 1603–1703. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008.
Webb, James. Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.