1776 1976
A Bi-Centennial


As Northern Ireland, colloquially called Ulster, was the womb from which the Ulster-Scotch were begotten and the cradle where they were weaned, we must glance, for a moment, at how it all came to be.

The Ulster-Scotch are in fact the direct result of one of England's many attempts to solve the so-called Irish Problem.

Dr. Thomas Hamilton, in his "History of the Irish Presbyterian Church,'' graphically describes the momentus event which led to the foundation of modern Ulster.

"One September day in the year 1607, a small vessel of the old-fashioned type of naval architecture which prevailed two hundred and fifty years ago might have been seen working its way out of the wildly beautiful Lough Swilly, on the north-western coast of Ireland. Sailing cautiously along, with the lofty Slieve Snaght towering to the sky from out the wilds of Innishowen on the right, and the other Donegal mountains frowning down on the left, she at length leaves the calm waters of the picturesque lough behind, and finds herself on the rougher surface of the open sea. On her deck, as she rounds the point, may be discerned the figures of two gentlemen, who ever and anon, as the little vessel leaves Ireland farther and farther behind, cast many a regretful look at the mist-crowned hills and woods beginning to assume their ruddy autumn tints, and the rolling corn fields, already yellow for the reaping hook. These were O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnel. For long they had been the leading spirits of Irish disaffection. Followed by thousands of devoted followers, they had faced the soldiers of Queen Elizabeth on many a battlefield. Now, their power broken, and all their plots disconcerted, they leave Ireland for ever, to seek an asylum on the Continent."


After the flight of the two earls an abortive rebellion broke out headed by Sir Cahir O'Dogherty, the Irish Lord of the district of Innishowen on the coast of Derry. The rebellion ended with the death of O'Dogherty in an encounter in the neighbourhood of Kilmacrennan on the 18th July, 1608. O'Dogherty seriously implicated some of the other Irish lords of Ulster, including Niall Gary O'Donnell and his son Naghtan who were seized by the British authorities and eventually confined in the Tower of London, where they died.

So the two great families of Ulster, the O'Donnells and the O'Neills, in a few years became almost extinct. Their lands, moreover, along with those of O'Dogherty and other lesser Irish chiefs, amounting in all to 2,000,000 acres and embracing the counties of Donegal, Tyrone, Derry, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh, were forfeited to the British Crown. The escheated lands did not include the counties of Antrim and Down, as these were already occupied by Scots through the energy of Montgomery, Hamilton and Chichester.


With such a vast territory at the disposal of the Crown the way was opened for James I to put into operation his project to secure perpetually "the back door of the kingdom" as Ireland was styled, by planting it with Scotch and English settlers.

In transplanting such settlers from the Border of England and Scotland, James also hoped to achieve the quieting of a very unruly area of his united kingdom. Moreover, the borderers were the right type of hardy stock for the difficult work of pioneering the plantation and in contrast to the natives, they were all exclusively Protestant. E. W. Hamilton, in "The Soul of Ulster" describes the operation of the scheme.

"In 1609 the work of deportation started and continued for several years, Armstrongs, Elliotts, Johnstones, Pattersons, Watsons, Thompsons, Riddles, Littles, Scotts, Bells, Turnbulls, Pringles, Routledges, Andersons, Blacks, Bairds, Nixons, Dicksons, Crosiers, Rutherfords, Beatties, and a host of other Border clans crossed the seas, with their wives and families, and turned their backs for good and all on the land of their birth. So was carried out the great Ulster plantation. There was no armed opposition; the natives withdrew into the mountain districts, and the colonists settled down on the granted lands. They increased and multiplied; they utilised the water-power for factories; they reclaimed the bogs and tilled the land so gained. All went well in the planted districts. Peace and prosperity took the place of rapine and misery, and before the first quarter of the Seventeenth Century was passed, the justification of the Ulster Plantation seemed beyond dispute."

The whole history, not only of Ulster but of Ireland, was altered by. this colonising scheme and through it Ulster politically, educationally, morally and spiritually, became what the old Irish writers used to describe her as, "the thumb on the hand which is able to grip and to, hold against the four fingers, Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Meath."


The Plantation was a success although serious attempts were made to strangle it at its birth.

For example the awful rebellion of 1641 almost caused its end when an attempt was made to destroy the entire Protestant population. That rebellion was to Ulster Protestants what the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of the Huguenots was to French Protestantism. In both countries, however, the Reformation survived.

In Ulster there were some important underlying reasons for the survival of the Plantation.

As we have already noted the majority of planters were Scotch. Their native land was in close proximity to Ulster, twenty miles at its nearest point. On clear days it was easily seen from both the coasts of Co. Antrim and Co. Down. This meant that the lines of communication were not broken for the gulf which divided the Province from Scotland was none too great. Home, as it were, was still in sight to the colonisers.

They, brought the Church with them. The ministers of the Church of Scotland who ministered to them were mighty, men in Scotland's Kirk.

Blair, the minister of Bangor, was six years a professor in the College of Glasgow before coming to Ireland. He was a gentleman by descent. Welsh was the grandson of John Knox and the great-grandson of Lord Ochiltree. Livingstone of Killinchy was that pious young man, who, at the Kirk of Shotts on a communion Monday, 21st June, 1630, preached a sermon on Ezekiel 36:25, 26; which resulted in the conversion on the spot of 500 souls. He was also one of the most able linguists of his day. Bruce was of the highest descent, for his lineal ancestor John de Bruce was uncle to King Robert the Bruce. Ridge, a native of England, was the friend of Lord Chichester and was described by a contemporary as a "Judicious and gracious minister." Cunningham had been chaplain to the Earl of Buccleugh's regiment in Holland. Homilton, a man of learning, was a nephew of Lord Clandeboye.

The strong meat of Protestant Calvinism made the colonisers bold and courageous in spirit. They developed, as they hewed a garden out of a wilderness, the typical "no surrender" mentality. A great spiritual awakening under the above named ministers brought about a Second Reformation and was the granite upon which the Ulster Plantation was built. No potency could disintegrate that rock.

The hoary institution of feudalism which held men in servitude to a small ruling clique disappeared when Scotsmen crossed the Irish Sea. Once on Ulster shores they were indeed free men with the power to decide their own destiny. That love of freedom was henceforth to be deeply embedded in the Ulsterman's character.


After enduring the intensive fires of 1641 the Presbyterian planters entered a period of growth under Cromwell's lenient policy. Reid, the historian of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland says:

"It was during this period that Presbyterianism struck its roots so deeply and extremely throughout the province, as to enable it to endure in safety the subsequent storms of persecution, and to stand erect and flourishing, while all the other contemporary scions of dissent were broken down and prostrated in the dust. In the year 1653, the church possessed scarcely more than the half dozen of ministers who had ventured to remain in the country; now, however (that is in 1660), she was served by not less than seventy ministers regularly and permanently settled, and having under their charge nearly eighty parishes or congregations, comprising a population of probably not far from one hundred thousand souls." During the reigns of Charles II and James II the Ulster Presbyterians again entered into the furnace of affliction. Their ministers were especially marked down for savage treatment. Presbytery meetings were proscribed and the streets of Ballymena rang on one occasion with the armour of the dragoons sent to break up a Synod meeting there.

In 1661 sixty-one Presbyterian ministers were ejected including those of Bangor, Newtownards, Portaferry, Comber, Castlereagh, Killinchy, Saintfield, Dromore, Rathfriland, Magherally, Belfast, Carnmoney, Ballycanry, Larne, Donegore, Connor, Ballymena, Broughshane, Ballymoney, Dungannon, Minterburn, Brigh, Strabane, Glendermot, Omagh, Ballykelly, Aghadoey, Raphoe, Ray, Ramelton and Letterkenny.

Bishop Leslie of Raphoe first excommunicated and then imprisoned four Presbyterian ministers and held them in confinement for six years. Their only crime was that they happened to be Presbyterian ministers. Their names deserve to be kept in everlasting remembrance. They were the Revs. John Hart of Taughboyne, Thomas Drummond of Ramelton, William Semple of Letterkenny and Adam White of Fannet. Another colleague of theirs Rev. Thomas Kennedy of Carland was imprisoned in Dungannon by the Primate for nonconformity.

Under the rod of persecution the Presbyterians thrived and around about 1668 they commenced building humble meeting houses.

Persecution however continued to blaze out from time to time and reached its zenith in 1684 when many Presbyterian churches were forcibly closed.


It was at this time that Ulster supplied to the American colonies the founder of the first presbytery in the New World Rev. Francis Mackemie. He was the honoured forerunner of that great company of Ulstermen and women who were to follow in his steps. Thus Ulster Presbyterianism became the mother church of American Presbyterianism. Mackemie went to America to minister to the Ulster people who had already settled there. Those Ulster emigrants were but the small trickle which was to become a mighty torrent in the following century.
Francis Mackemie deserves a special word. He stands forth as a representative Ulster Presbyterian emigrant for, as we shall see, Ulster Presbyterians emigrants had much to do with America's Independence.

Francis Mackemie was born in Rameltown, Co. Donegal around about 1658. That was the year of Oliver Cromwell's death. Mackemie's parents had fled from Scotland to escape the bloody persecution taking place there.

The all important issue for young Mackemie as he grew up was the right of freedom to worship. He was ordained around about 1681 or 1862 by the Presbytery of Laggan and sailed for Maryland shortly afterwards. It is claimed that in 1648 he organised the first Presbyterian church in the United States at Snow Hill on the narrow neck of land between Chesapeake and the ocean.

Mackemie led in the formation in 1705 or 1706 of the first American Presbytery at Philadelphia, the city later to become the place of the Declaration of Independence.

By this act he set up the first purely independent American intercolonial church. In so doing he developed a new American Presbyterianism, a presbyterianism free from Old World control and free from government control, the harbinger of the new nation which would also free herself eventually from Old World control.

At its second meeting with Mackemie as Moderator, the General Presbytery proceeded to ordain John Boyd. Mackemie fought and won the battle in the New World for freedom to worship God and to that noted Ulsterman all Americans owe an enormous debt.

The story of Mackemie's battle for religious freedom should be recorded.

The principal opponent to religious freedom was, the Reverend George Keith, born a Presbyterian, subsequently a Quaker and finally a bigoted Anglican clergyman.

Keith sought to stop all Presbyterian worship, denouncing Presbyterian ordination.

Mackemie replied, "Ere I received the imposition of hands in that scriptural and orderly separation into my holy and ministerial calling, I gave requiring satisfaction to godly, learned and discerning judicious men of a work of grace and conversion wrought in my heart at fifteen years of age, by and from the pains of a godly school-master who used no small diligence in gaining tender souls to God's service and fear." In those days conversion to God was the first prerequisite for the Presbyterian ministry.

Mackemie resisted Keith's campaign to stop Presbyterianism in Maryland when the State became a Crown Colony. He was successful and licences were granted by the royal governor to two of Mackemie's ministers, George McNish, who became minister of the Manokin and Wicomico churches and John Hampton, of Snow Hill and Buckingham.

In 1707 he left for New York and the New England colonies, and on this journey he was arrested, at the instigation of the Governor of the New York Colony; as a "strolling preacher" spreading "pernicious doctrines." Although Mackemie was within his legal rights and was successful in demonstrating the fact before the court, he was retained in prison for two months, until he had paid the whole costs of the prosecution.

Released from prison, he continued his ministry, but his task was almost completed. In the summer of the following year, at fifty years of age, he passed away, leaving behind him as his imperishable monument, the church in America.

It was as a direct result of Mackemie's struggle that religious freedom was legally established in all the royal colonies, thus laying the foundation of religious liberty in the United States.

Dr. Henry Van Dyke, the well-known Presbyterian minister and author, sent the following poem to be read at the dedication of the Mackemie Monument. It sums up the thought of a grateful church to its noble founder:

To thee plain hero of a rugged race,
We bring a meed of praise too long delayed.
Thy fearless word and faithful work have made
The path of God's republic easier to trace
In this New World; thou hast proclaimed the grace
And power of Christ in many a woodland glade.
Teaching the truth that leaves men unafraid
Of tyrants' frowns, or chains, or death's dark face.
Oh. Who can tell how much we owe to thee,
Mackemie, and to labours such as thine.
For all that makes America the shrine
Of faith untrammelled and of conscience free?
Stand here, gray stone, and consecrate the sod
Where sleeps this brave Scotch-Irish man of God!



"Summing up the causes of the emigration, we find the first was the destruction of the woollen trade of Ireland by the repressive laws forced through the English Parliament by English manufacturers, which caused much unemployment, especially among the Presbyterians, who were chiefly farmers and traders. The second was the continual persecution they endured at the hands of the bishops of the Irish Episcopal Church. The third cause was the payment of tithes to the Clergy of the Episcopal Church. The fourth cause was a series o f poor harvests, which resulted in several famines in the third and fourth decades of the eighteenth century. The fifth was the raising of the rents by the landlords of the country. Our general conclusion is that the emigration was due to `religious bigotry, commercial jealousy, and modern landlordism' combined."
- J. B. Woodburn.

James Anthony Froude actually declares that the Ulster emigrants to America were driven out of Ireland.

We might well ask the question, "How did this come about?"

The reasons were religious and economic.

After the Relief of Londonderry, the Presbyterians because of their invaluable contribution to the City's defence, were treated for a short time more favourably than they had been before the Williamite Revolution. They still, however, were not granted full religious freedom.

The validity of the marriages performed by their ministers was called into question. They were forced, in many instances, to be buried according to Episcopalian rites. After William's death and the succession of Anne, the Sacramental Test was restored which forced all office holders to partake of the sacrament in the parish church, or in other words conformity was the price of office.

What is more the episcopal clergy insisted on the payment of the tithe.


Prof. Leyburn points out:
"The results of these Tory and High Church measures were not only a blow to the esteem of weighty citizens of Ulster and to Presbyterianism. Local government also suffered. At Belfast the entire Corporation was swept out; ten of the twelve aldermen of Londonderry were ejected. In their place were put men who were inexperienced, youths, and persons of little repute, whose chief recommendation was that they went to church. What rankled most was that the Act, in its practical administration, favoured Roman Catholics. In the eyes of High Churchmen, Catholic priests were lawfully ordained, whereas dissenting ministers were mere `sanctified upstarts,' not in the line of apostolic succession. It was announced that children of all Protestants not married by rites of the Established Church should be regarded as bastards; and `many persons of undoubted reputation were prosecuted in the bishops' courts as fornicators for cohabiting with their own wives.'

"This Test Act was more than unjust; it was demeaning, and it was stupid. In the truest sense of the word, the Ulster Presbyterian had always been loyal. They had maintained the authority of the king, had not supported the Parliamentary side in the civil wars, had protested the beheading of Charles I. They had defended their province against the last effort of the native Irish to recover their lands; and they had helped make the Ulster Plantation not only a success, but a
prosperous part of the realm. The wise policy of William III was now overturned because of the persistent narrowness of a clique in Queen Anne's government. To alienate substantial citizens in a valuable province, for no better reason than to please a group of prelates was silly."
All these things the Presbyterians rightly resented and in some cases vigorously opposed. They insisted, and rightly so, that Ulster would not have successfully resisted James without their fervent support for William and the yoke of base ingratitude galled on their freedom-loving souls.


The other reason was economic. The years 1714, 1715, 1716, 1717 and 1718 were disastrous for Ulster's agriculture.

A severe drought which did not come to an end until 1720 was ruinous to many of the small farmers. A recession in both the woollen and linen industry resulted, and after the years of drought bad harvests from 1725 to 1728 pushed up the prices of food.

Another disastrous year was 1739 as far as crops were concerned, and the result was both famine and disease. In 1756 and 1757 there followed yet another blow in the failure of potato crops. When leases ran out rents were raised to exorbitant figures and with the higher rents came higher tithes.

The final blow was probably the expiry of Lord Donegall's leases in County Antrim and the wholesale eviction of tenants unable to pay the shameful increases demanded of them. When these came about the already large exodus from Ulster increased to a flood.

These were the two main reasons which forced Ulster to sail west and turned the Ulster Scotch into the Scotch Irish in the New World.


The year 1718 was an important year. Before that, as we have already noticed, there had been a tiny trickle of emigration. Now it became a river which eventually ran in full spate.

In the summer of that year five ships from Ireland cast anchor in Boston harbour. They were all emigrant ships. Three of these had taken on emigrants at Belfast, one had sailed from Londonderry and one from Coleraine. In the autumn of the same year two more emigrant ships arrived -one from Dublin and one from Londonderry.

The emigrants who sailed on these ships came from the valleys of the Foyle and the Bann.

Most notable amongst them was the Rev. James McGregore, of Aghadowey, who brought a large section of his congregation with him.

In 1764 Dr. Clark of Cahans followed McGregore's example and emigrated with 300 of his congregation. As a matter of fact, one contemporary writes: "There is like to be a great desolation in the Northern parts of the kingdom by the removal of several of our brethren to the American plantations. No less than six ministers have demitted their congregations and great numbers of their people go with them." This highlights the fact that the emigrants from Ulster did not go out singly, but in groups as communities to settle as such or to join other communities of their own religion and race.

What is more, they protested vigorously when officialdom referred to them as Irish. They maintained that they were of the Scottish nation in Ulster who had come to America via Ireland, but were not to be identified with the Irish, whom they had given their lives and substance to oppose.

Many authorities could be quoted concerning the numbers of emigrants from Ulster. We will limit ourselves to the digest of statistics provided by Professor Leyburn.


'Two obvious questions about the migration from Ulster to America are impossible to answer exactly: How many came and how large was the Scotch-Irish element when the colonies became independent? There are no adequate statistics either in Britain or America for population and immigration during the colonial period. Records which cite figures are fragmentary, and figures given do not always agree.

"The conventional estimate of the total immigration of Scotch-Irish into America is 200,000, although Hansen's figure is around 225,000. Dunaway gives 250,000, and Barck and Lefler suggest perhaps 300,000. The lowest of these figures would mean that an average of some 3,500 people reached America from Northern Ireland in each of the fifty-eight years between 1717 and 1775. The highest estimate implies an annual average of at least 5,175. Hansen thinks that around 4,000 came annually, and remarks that this `emigration from Ulster was as much a feature of American history in the eighteenth century as Irish-Catholic emigration in the next and had a much greater effect on the development of the country.'

"For the peak years of the migration any of these estimates would be moderate; there is general agreement that more than 6,000 came in some years. The scholar must make his judgment of the total on partial evidence. My own conclusion is that the figure of 200,000 is most nearly accurate.


"The American Council of Learned Societies and the American Historical Association in 1931 published a report of a Committee on Linguistic and National Stocks in the Population of the United States. This committee refined upon the thesis of the Census Bureau of 1909, using all the expert advice available. Its conclusions were that in 1790 the white people of the United States of English descent numbered 60.9 per cent., those of Scotch descent 8.3, those bearing distinctive names of Ulster 6.0, and those with names characteristic of 'the Irish Free State' 3.7.

Since it would be impossible for all Scotch-Irish people to bear names distinctive of Ulster, and since thousands of them certainly had truly Scottish names, it might be contended that the just estimate of the Scotch-Irish element in the population of 1790 would be 14.3 per cent. - combining the Scotch and Ulster names.

"Using the lowest figure suggested (6.7 per cent.), this would give a Scotch-Irish total of 21,554. Using the figure of 14.3 per cent., the total would be 453,655. Using the highest figure suggested (16.6 per cent.,), the total would be 528,731. It would be safe to say only that considerably more than a quarter of a million Americans in 1790 had Scotch-Irish ancestry. Certainly this element, next to English, was the largest nationality group in the country, with Germans next."



It should be pointed out that Southern Irishmen, contrary to their avid exponents, could have made no vital contribution to American Independence. Simply because they were not there. Emigration to USA from Southern Ireland in the real sense did not commence until the 19th century.

It is an undisputed fact that the first Roman Catholic bishop in America was not consecrated until nearly ten years after the last battle of the War of Independence. Arthur Young, writing in 1780, declared:

"The Catholics never went: they seem not only tied to the country, but almost to the parish in which their ancestors lived."