From Hadrian’s Wall to William Wallace to Robert the Bruce, the independent spirit learned during the border war battles of Scotland engrained a character that relied totally on self-determination. Upwards of 30 million Americans today - roughly one in ten - trace their lineage to the Scotch-Irish, whose bloodline was stained by centuries of continuous warfare along the border between England and Scotland, and later in the bitter settlements of England’s Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland.
New England was settled by Puritans seeking freedom from religious persecution in Europe. They formed a “covenant community” based on the principles of the Mayflower Compact and Puritan religious beliefs and were often intolerant of those not sharing their religion. They also sought economic opportunity and practiced a form of direct democracy through town meetings. The Middle Atlantic region was settled chiefly by English, Dutch, and German-speaking immigrants seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity.
Virginia and the other Southern colonies were settled by people seeking economic opportunities. Some of the early Virginia settlers were “cavaliers,” i.e., English nobility who received large land grants in eastern Virginia from the King of England. Poor English immigrants also came seeking better lives as small farmers or artisans and settled in the Shenandoah Valley or western Virginia, or as indentured servants who agreed to work on tobacco plantations for a period of time to pay for passage to the New World.
In 1609, six years after the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England as James I in its line of kings, a scheme was matured for planting Ulster with Scotch and English, and the following year the settlement began. The actual settlers were mostly Scotch, and the Ulster plantation took the character of a Scotch occupation of the North of Ireland. In that plantation was formed the breed known as Scotch-Irish, which was prominent in the struggle for American independence and which supplied to American population an ingredient that has deeply affected the development of the United States.
To Francis Bacon's view the tribal system of Ireland with its state of chronic disorder was a remnant of the same barbarism against which Caesar fought in Gaul and Charlemagne in continental Europe. The planting of trusty colonies among uncivilized peoples as garrisons to check their insubordination and as centers from which culture would be diffused was a practice that went back to the times of the ancient Roman commonwealth, had been adopted by many European rulers, and was generally regarded as a well-settled expedient of prudent statesmanship.
At this time the colonization of Virginia was appealing for support, but in comparison with the Ulster project the Virginia plantation seemed so visionary that Bacon referred to it as "an enterprise in my opinion differing as much from this, as Amadis de Gaul differs from Caesar's Commentaries." He struck the same note in 1617 when as Lord Chancellor of England he addressed the person called to be Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. Bacon remarked that "Ireland is the last ex filiis Europae which hath been reclaimed from desolation and a desert (in many parts) to population and plantation; and from savage and barbarous customs to humanity and civility."
The beginnings of the Ulster Plantation coincided with the beginnings of the American plantation, so that migration across the Atlantic was from the first a known recourse if conditions in Ulster became too hard. The Ulster settlers regarded themselves as being Scotch Presbyterians just as much as though resident in Scotland. The short seaferry between the two countries made intercourse easy and there was close ecclesiastical fellowship. Scotland was a regular source of ministerial supply to Ulster and Presbyterian ministers harassed in Ulster could count upon welcome and favor in Scotland.
After the first difficulties of planting colonies in America had been overcome and the settlements had taken root, popular appreciation of the New World as the land.of opportunity spread rapidly. In 1649 Lord Baltimore offered 3,000 acres of land for every thirty persons brought in by any adventurer or planter into Maryland. The influx of settlers that resulted from such measures is doubtless accountable for the beginnings of Scotch-Irish settlement in Maryland.
There can be no doubt that the religious motive was an important factor in Scotch emigration at this period. In 1684 and 1685 bodies of Scotch people fleeing from persecution landed in East Jersey. There is conclusive evidence of the existence of distinctively Scotch-Irish settlements on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia considerably prior to 1680, and probably dating back to the immigration started in 1649.
The economic conditions that occasioned a genuine exodus from Ulster early in the eighteenth century were the outcome of the narrow views of commercial policy that then inspired governmental action. Colonies and plantations were valued simply as a convenience to home interests and it was considered intolerable that they should develop industries of a competitive character.
After the Revolution of 1688 Scotch migration set strongly toward Ulster. Land was offered on long lease at low rents and for some years a steady stream of Scotch Presbyterians, poured into the country. In 1715 Archbishop Synge estimated that not less than 50,000 Scotch families had settled in Ulster since the Revolution. In 1717 and 1718 as the leases began to fall in, the landlords put up the rents double and often treble, and the smaller farms tended to pass from Protestant hands to Catholic tenants who were ready to bid higher terms.
And while the tenant farmers were rackrented by their landlords they had to pay tithes for the support of the Established Church whose ministrations they did not desire or receive. Such conditions, introduced at a time when the commercial legislation of England was uprooting Irish industry, created an intolerable situation. To escape from such conditions the people began to flee the country in great numbers, often accompanied by ministers. Between 250,000 and 400,000 Scots-Irish migrated to America in the eighteenth century, traveling in groups of families and bringing with them not only long experience as rebels and outcasts but also unparalleled skills as frontiersmen and guerrilla fighters.
Their cultural identity reflected acute individualism, dislike of aristocracy and a military tradition, and, over time, the Scots-Irish defined the attitudes and values of the military, of working class America, and even of the peculiarly populist form of American democracy itself.
"Born Fighting" by Scots-Irishman James Webb, Vietnam combat veteran and former Naval Secretary, shows that the Scots-Irish were 40 percent of the Revolutionary War army; they included the pioneers Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston; they were the writers Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain; and they have given America numerous great military leaders, including Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Audie Murphy, and George S. Patton, as well as most of the soldiers of the Confederacy (only 5 percent of whom owned slaves, and who fought against what they viewed as an invading army).
With a redneck, hillbilly stereotype, this is a people who, are largely invisible -- taken for granted -- to the general public and who, seldom thinking of themselves in ethnic identity terms, mostly don't know their culture.
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