PLANTATION: HOW IT ALL CAME TO BE
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."
AN ABORTIVE REBELLION
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
THE ULSTER PLANTATION
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
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
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.
THE FURNACE OF AFFLICTION
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
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
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
THE BEGINNING OF EMIGRATION
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
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
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
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
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!
EMIGRATION: HOW THE ULSTER-SCOTCH BECAME THE SCOTCH-IRISH
|"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
- 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
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
THE RELIGIOUS REASON
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
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
THE ECONOMIC REASON
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
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.
THE VOLUME OF THE MIGRATION
'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
"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."
THE SOUTHERN IRISH WERE NOT THERE
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
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,
"The Catholics never went: they seem not only tied to the country,
but almost to the parish in which their ancestors lived."