Home Up   

The Scots/Irish Immigration of the 1700s

GFS Linda, Co-leader Scot and Irish SIG, AOL Genealogy Forum.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Scots
    1. The People
    2. The Religion
  3. The Scots in Ireland
    1. The Common People
    2. The Wars
      1. Clashes between the English and the Irish
      2. Clashes between the Scots and the Irish
      3. Clashes between the Scots and the English
  4. The Emigration to the Colonies
    1. The Start
    2. The Voyage
    3. The Settlement
  5. Pioneer Life
    1. At Peace
    2. At War
  6. Settling the New Nation
    1. Conquering the Frontier
    2. Developing the Government
  7. Don Spidell's Notes
  8. Links
  9. Announcement:


Most of this history is a direct paste from a review of the movie, "God's Frontiersmen" which was written by Rory Fitzpatrick. The movie was shown on Irish TV, edited, and sent to GFS Linda by an Irish cousin of hers from Belfast. The movie was then viewed and written up by GFS Linda for her forum on America On Line. She has graciously shared it with me and given me her permission to use her material on this page.

A few terms for your understanding:

S/I = Scots-Irish, purely a U.S. term used to distinguish the Presbyterian/Protestant Irish, mostly from Northern Ireland, who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1700's as separate and distinct from earlier and later Catholic emigrants.

Papists = Roman Catholics. You should understand that much of what happened in Scotland which resulted in the emigration to Ireland was the result of the English King realizing that the Pope held a "higher" position than that of the King of England. With that thought came the outlawing of the Catholic Church in the whole of the British Isles.

Ulstermen or Ulster-Scots = Another name for the Scots-Irish, since Ulster was the part of Northern Ireland in which the Scots were settled by the British. And Ulster Scots is the name by which the Scots-Irish are known in the United Kingdom.
Orangemen = This name for the Scots-Irish comes from William III, Prince of Orange, and is kept because his victory over despotic power laid the foundation for the evolution of Constitutional Democracy in the British Isles. [O.K. Some of this rhetoric is rather radical, but that is the nature of the people.]

Return to the Table of Contents

The Scots

The People

In the early 1600's, the border between Scotland and England was in terrible trouble. It was impossible to live peacefully and normally. In order to survive, the border people became "Border Reevers" (Robbers) and turned their hands to cattle, stealing, kidnapping, protectionism and fraud. Because of their way of life, they made excellent frontiersmen, guerrilla fighters and scouts. [However, the English had no use for people with such professions on their borders.] The most famous of these border clans were the Armstrongs, the Bells, the Grahams, and the Johnstons. The most notorious of the clans were the Pringles.

When James I of England (who was the Sco. King James VI and son of Mary, Queen of Scots) came to the throne in 1603, the border was finally "pacified". Many people were killed and others sent to low countries. Whole families were sent to Ireland with the hopes that they would settle down to farming and be peaceful. However, their previous way of life had become so ingrained, they became the hard core of the Scots/Irish settlers. They were the best frontier fighters in Britain, if not in Europe.

The Scottish people who found themselves in Ireland had gone through a transforming experience - that of the Scottish Reformation, which was a complete and total break with the Catholic Church. The average Scottish Emigrant had discovered that he needed neither the Priest nor the King to think for him. This was the beginning of the great radical tradition of the S/I people.

Return to the Table of Contents

The Religion

The Calvinist Reformation taught the Scots/Irish that they were a chosen people and they hungered for the promised land which was always just beyond the horizon. The Calvinists advocated the grimmer aspects of all things focusing on death and they actively persecuted those whom they considered to be witches. The Scots/Irish, however, in Northern Ireland were mild in their treatment of witches.

John Knox, was a great educationalist and the Scots/Irish absorbed his love of education which gave them great advantage as propagandists.

Return to the Table of Contents

The Scots in Ireland

The Common People

Actually, the greater majority of the Scots/Irish were tenant farmers, and neither cattle thieves nor religious fanatics. They left Scotland because the land could no longer support them due to the ravages of war, and they could not pay the high rents that were being charged. So many people left Scotland that they were compared to great swarms of bees rising from the fields. They included grass men of Lanarkshire and skilled grain growers from Wigton. Cattle were virtually the only wealth of the Scots.

Return to the Table of Contents

The Wars

Clashes between the English and The Irish

The native Irish were defeated by the English in the Nine Year War. Chichester commented, "We spare none! James I exiled some chiefs (one of which was McNeil), confiscated their lands, and gave it to the Scottish and English families he considered gentle and peaceful. Also he chose people who had the wealth to install tenants and to improve the land. James I even then considered the native Irish a barbarous and un-subdued people. [Another reason of the English for displacing some of the Scots, and encouraging others to move on their own, was the intention for the Scots to help in the pacification of the Irish. The English authorities of this time period seemed to like the idea of using the solution of one problem in providing the solution to a second problem.]

Lord Abercorn was given 3,000 acres in Ulster. L'Derry was given to the London City Guild, however the 20' wall surrounding the city of Derry, proved the Scots/Irish dominance. Coleraine was given to English land owners, but the Scots took it over. Tully Castle on the shores of Loch Earne in Fermanagh was one of the original Scots/Irish forts. So many Scots had migrated that the ratio of Scots to English in Ulster was 20 to 1.

Return to the Table of Contents

Clashes between the Scots and the Irish

The native Irish rebellion in 1640 was answered by the Scottish Army who considered themselves to be God's Army. The Scots were headquartered at Carickfergus with the intent of converting the Papists in Ireland to the Presbyterian faith. The Scottish Army failed and Cromwell took over with a war lasting until 1660. In answer to the incursion of the Protestant Scots, the Irish in the 17th century, banned Presbyterian services and outlawed their ministers. Thereafter, Presbyterian services were held when and where they could (many times in the woods with guards posted to ensure safety).

Return to the Table of Contents

Clashes between the Scots and the English

Poverty and persecution made the Scots/Irish sharply aware that they were separate and second class citizens. In the 1680's, a radical and dedicated Presbyterian sect labeled the Covenanters declared War on the English King. Two women were made martyrs in Scotland when they were tied to posts in the tide-lands and left to drown in high tide - all because they refused to reject the principles of the Catholic Church. Whole prisons were built to house the Covenanters who were arrested. At the closing of the 17th century, English landowners again began the persecution of the Presbyterians. The Presbyterians could not be married in their own church without being labeled as "fornicators". They could hold no position above postman.

Return to the Table of Contents

The Emigration to the Colonies

The Start

The English landowners no longer had a need for the soldier farmers. There had been no harvest for 5 years due to the ravages of war and several severe winters. [This area of the Scots/Irish was hit by the same bad weather as the Palatines were in Germany]. This recreated the need for emigration in the early days of the 1700's. Many paid passage by agreeing to 4 years as indentured servants in order to take advantage of the fertile and free land in the US. [In this we see many parallels between the Palatine migration and the Scots/Irish migration. Both groups were non-conformist Protestants. Both groups were hit hard by warfare and religious persecution, and both groups were mainly farmers who had, in a final insult, been hit hard by severe weather.]

Return to the Table of Contents

The Voyage

[Here, the movie "God's Frontiersmen" describe a rather severe ocean voyage. This voyage is so severe that you may think it was extremely atypical. Not true. The records left by the Palatines have similar references to bad ocean voyages, and even in the best of trips, which lasted 2 to 3 weeks; the ships were overloaded with people, the rations were short or just barely enough, the food was vermin ridden, and the water was stagnant and scummy.] The ship "Sully" set sail for PA on the 31st of May and at first was blown off course northward. The weather turned very cold and icebergs were sighted. By the 10th of Aug. the weather had turned very warm and their rations were down to 1 1/2# of bread per passenger per week. 2 weeks later, the ration was cut even further. In the next 12 days, they were reduced to 2 biscuits per week. Hunger and thirst reduced them to shadows. Many killed themselves by drinking salt water or their own urine. They were saved only by a providential rain. On Sept. 2, they finally saw land. Their journey had lasted 14 weeks or 3 1/2 months. [The film didn't bring this out, but the Palatines tell of the disembarkation process at their destination. First the ones who could pay full price were allowed to pay and get off the boat. Next the healthy ones were sold to their new masters for the full fee. Then unhealthy ones were sold at auction. This process often took several weeks. If one of the family died, the rest of the family members were held accountable for passage fees of the deceased.] However, like the Germans, the Ulstermen thought they had found the promised land.

Return to the Table of Contents

The Settlement

The Scots/Irish occupied the hills around the settlements in PA, and later they did the same in Maryland. They chose that which most closely resembled the areas from which they'd come. Those Irish who had indentured theselves to reach the US, set out for the frontier immediately on fulfilling their Indenture. The "frontier" was 40-50 mi. west of Philadelphia, and south in the foothills of the mountains in Western Maryland. They marked their property by cutting their initials in trees on the boundary of what they considered to be theirs, then cut circles in the bark to kill the tree. They refused to pay for the land, since God owned it. Immigrant Irish wives spun flax, milled the corn, worked in the fields and bore 10-15 children. They also educated their own children. The Irish fell trees and cleared 'round the stumps, rather than clearing the land properly, as the German immigrants had learned to do. Home made whiskey was important for trade and made a harsh life more tolerable.

The Ulstermen were known for drinking, arguing, singing and dancing but neighbors gathered to clear land, build houses, harvest crops and THEN they partied. The first Ulster settlement was in Donegal, PA - the Susquehanna being a barrier, and beyond which lay the rich Cumberland Valley. Eventually, a ferry opened the Cumberland Valley to the Scots/Irish and it became their heartland. The Scots/Irish were used unknowingly to form a cordon around the English and the Germans. [Actually the Germans were settled a little further inland than the English, to provide a buffer between the English and the Indians, and the Irish were settled a little further into the frontier than even the Germans. Another example of the English solving two problems at once.]

For every Native American killed, 50 Irish settlers were either killed or kidnapped by Native Americans and a kind of litural bankruptcy took place in the Scots/Irish which would be termed racist genocide today. The Scots/Irish moved down the Cumberland to VA and Carolina. From PA to SC, they dominated. In the Shenandoah Valley between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mtns., two land grants existed. During the 1740's, here lived the Lyles, the Lusks, the Trimbles, and the Houstons. [Here we see another pattern developing. The old reevers of the Scots-English border, became the frontiersmen and the mountain men. The tenant farmers of the Scots settled in many of the same areas as the Palatines because of their similar history and disposition. However, even among the farmers, the Scots tended to be more scrappy than the Germans, as the Presbyterian Scots never had a pacifist background as did the Anabaptist Palatines.]

Return to the Table of Contents

Pioneer Life

At Peace

The Houstons lived at Timber Ridge. The bison were plentiful and provided both meat and blankets. In the mss. left by Samuel Houston, a vivid description of pioneer life is shown. Their homes were squared log cabins with massive fireplaces to burn whole logs. Poplar wood was used to carve both cups and plates.

Return to the Table of Contents

At War

[The Scots/Irish did not have the same peaceful relationship with the Indians which the Germans enjoyed, so there were numerous individual clashes between the two even when they were at peace. During the French and Indian War, the Scots/Irish were among the first to suffer, and among those who suffered the most.] The Augusta Stone Church in the Shenandoah Valley became a refuge against the Native Americans. At Tickling Spring, 10 mi. from Augusta, many died at the hands of Native Americans. The Gilmers, the Hamiltons, and the McKees suffered severely. [After the French and Indian War was won by the English in Europe and on the seas and the Colonists in North America, the Colonists and especially the Scots/Irish were full of self confidence and ready to take on anything. They started becoming active in the government of the colonies, and they were for autonomy and independence. When the English started taxing the colonies to pay for the reconstruction of the English economy and military, the colonists objected severely. Many of the tax collectors who were specified by the Stamp Act were beaten, ran out of town, tarred and feathered, and rode out of town on rails. When that was deemed a failure, and the tariff was imposed on many trade goods which were sent to the colonies, i.e.. tea, the colonists were fed up.]

The Calvanists of New England fired the first shot in the Revolutionary War, but they soon were joined by the Scots/Irish from Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Scots/Irish had taken control of PA by means of Revolutionary Committees, [which means was also used by the Germans and the Ulstermen in Frederick County, Maryland]. In Philadelphia the framework for independence was created. John Hancock and Charles Thompson received a draft of the constitution - both being from Londonderry. Five of the signers of the final document were Scots/Irish. Two of them were: Francis Alison from Co. Donegal at New London, and Thomas McKean. The Scots/Irish of PA, MD and VA pledged themselves to the revolution.

Early settlements in the Carolinas were along the coast and up the navigable rivers but by the middle of the 18th century, the flow of immigrants from PA down the Shenandoah Valley and westward from Charleston and Carolina ports filled the back countries of the Carolinas at a remarkable rate. The region supported an agricultural life style and the influx created rapid economic growth. Traveler Charles Wood-Mason, an Anglican minister, who worked among the Scots/Irish, saw a shocking and primitive life and recognized that trouble lay ahead. When British intelligence officers moved into the Valley, stories of radical agitators reached their ears.

After five years of war, the Revolution had approached stalemate. While the Americans had won in the North, the British were largely in control in the South. The British commander, Cornwallis, prepared a master plan, intending to move up the interior, through land held by the seemingly quiet Scots/Irish heartlands. [Needless to say, the British advance was met by the scrappy frontier fighters who were descendants of the border reevers, and who were blooded in their battles with the Indians.] After the British defeat, Charles Thompson who began life as an indentured servant, was virtually in control of the US administration, it was he who designed the seal of this country. It was through his efforts that the constitution was ratified. John Smiley served in Congress but remained a radical until his death. Ulster men in Washington's army were Scots/Irish settlers from PA to SC. "Oh Shenandoah", was considered a Scots/Irish ballad.

Return to the Table of Contents

Settling the New Nation

Conquering the Frontier

The children of the pioneers moved on to Arkansas and MO. Fresh immigrants landed at New Orleans & moved up the Mississippi and met the 3rd generation of S/I coming down the Ohio from PA. The Scots/Irish were so reproductive that they dominated the South where their leisure oriented lifestyle worked but they were uncomfortable with too many neighbors. Their move to a less settled area caused their influx into TX. Davy Crocket was the son of an immigrant from Londonderry. The Scots/Irish, were clannish, aggressive, violent and devoted to their livestock, and they influenced the South more than any other group. [A lot of the modern Country & Western music out of Nashville resembles so much the Irish ballads that the styles are almost indistinguishable. The Clog Step of the Nashville square dances is no less than an Irish jig.] The restless Scots/Irish moved brought the more adventurous to the Rockies - Kit Carson was the grandson of an Ulsterman, Bill Craig desperado, was wanted for Murder. John Colter discovered Yellowstone and Jim Bridger convinced skeptical journalists of the truth of Coulter's claim.

Return to the Table of Contents

Developing the Government

It was in Nashville that the foundation of Scots/Irish political power was laid. In1829, Andrew Jackson, an Ulsterman, was the first "people's President". Jacksonian democracy was to be the foundation of American politics with one man, one vote, and was rooted in Scots/Irish Presbyterianism. Jackson knew politics would become a cross between a spectator sport and an evangelical revival. His ideas broke the grip of the aristocratic planters' family on the White House. For the first half of the 19th century, the S/I dominated the Presidency. James Polk of NC, James Buchanan, son of an immigrant from Co. Donegal, Andrew Johnston a grandson of a Co. Antrim farm laborer, and Ulysses S. Grant were all Scots/Irish. The Civil War divided the S/I into both camps, but most fought on the southern side. Stonewall Jackson was a Scots/Irish Presbyterian deacon. His Shenandoah Valley campaign became a classic in military textbooks. Will McGuffie, who had Ulster roots, was schoolmaster to America.

Return to the Table of Contents

Don Spidell's Notes:

This article cleared up a some misconceptions on my part and answered a some questions. Primarily: The Scots/Irish are always called Irish in the history books; Especially Sharf's "History of Western Maryland" and T.J.C. Wiliams' "History of Frederick County, Maryland" and "History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania." That left me with the question as to why the Irish were such staunch Catholics in Ireland, and yet they settled with the Protestant Germans and were described as Presbyterians and Methodist/Episcopalians. I now know that the ones called Irish in the genealogy and biography of Frederick and Washington Counties of Maryland were really the Scots/Irish, and they were a completely different people from the Native Irish. Therefore, a lot of us who have been wearing green on St. Patrick's day, should really have been wearing Orange in honor of the true nationality of our ancestors, the Ulster-Scots. I have edited the above article a little, and I have added some of my own comments. Mostly my comments are separated from the rest of the article by brackets, i.e.: [ ].

Return to the Table of Contents

Ulster HistoricalFoundation

12 College Square East, Belfast.
Tel +44 (0)1232 332288

The Ulster Historical Foundation provides an ancestral research service for the historic province of Ulster and publishes books on Irish and local history. Visitors are welcome to our heritage center, Familia, or to attend our annual family history conferences.

Return to the Table of Contents

Irish Family HistoryFoundation

The Irish Family History Foundation is the co-ordinating body for a network of government approved genealogical research centers in the Republic of Ireland (Eire) and in Northern Ireland (Ulster) which have computerized tens of millions of Irish ancestral records of different types.

Return to the Table of Contents

genIrlnd.gif (3518 bytes)


The Scottish Record Office has made available some services online.


Internet service was formally launched by Henry McLeish, Minister of State at The Scottish Office 6 April 1999, with public access.

The service provides access to a fully searchable index of births/baptisms and banns/marriages from the Old Parish Registers dating from 1553 to1854, and births, marriages and deaths from the Statutory Index for 1855 to 1897. An index to census records for 1891 is available, along with 1881 census data.

	Searching is possible on the following fields
SurnameEvent type (birth/baptism, marriage, death)SexForename
Year of Registration (or range of years)Age (or age range)Registration DistrictCounty (Old Parish Record)

This index constitutes one of the world's largest databases of genealogical information, including nearly 30 million names.

Users may order register extracts (e.g. a birth certificate, a census entry) from the GRO(S) via the Web.

Payment for the service is by credit card, using a highly secure payment mechanism. Credit card details are transmitted in encrypted form, making this method more secure than using a credit card in a store or restaurant.

This venture was initiated and operated by OMS Services Ltd. The application is being developed by RTA, an associate company of OMS.

MORE INFORMATION General Register Office for Scotland Deputy Registrar General New Register House, Edinburgh EH1 3YT, UK Tel: +44(0)131-314 4434 Fax: +44(0)131-314 4405 Web http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/
	OMS Services Ltd Dr Ian Galbraith, Managing Director 
	87 Moss Lane, Pinner, Middlesex HA5 3AT, UK  
	Tel: +44(0)181-866 5830 Fax: +44(0)181-868 1160  email: ian@aecserve.com 
	Web: www.aecserve.com/oms/who.html  

Some Other Useful Government Resources on the Internet