Presbyterian Church in Ireland web site Ulster Settlers in America The Very Reverend Howard Cromie, BA, B. D., M. A., D. D.,

DEDICATED To ALAN and DAVID

 
 
 

Chapter I

  They Sailed for Freedom

  Ulster is geographically a tiny area compared with the great land masses of the world, yet it is amazing how often it has occupied the center of the stage of history.

  In the grim days of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill paid this tribute to the Ulster people: "Only one great channel of entry remained open because loyal Ulster gave us the full use of the Northern Irish ports and waters and thus ensured the free working of the Clyde and the Mersey. But for the loyalty of Northern Ireland and its devotion . . . we should have been confronted with Slavery and death and the light which now shines so strongly throughout the world would have been quenched".

Casting our minds back through the pages of history we see the significance of a series of earlier events. We think of St. Patrick on Slemish in Co. Antrim, learning the nearness of God's presence through prayer at Armagh founding his Church, at Downpatrick, preaching the gospel and finally being laid to rest there, while the influence of his witness continued to rever­berate down the centuries and round the world.

We think of St. Columba sailing from Derrv taking the gospel to Scotland, followed by a host of Christian troubadours who set out from Bangor, carrying the Christian message far and wide. Those were the days when Ireland was the isle of Saints and Scholars and to the fore in the winning of that noble title were the men of the North.

It was the same in the major struggle for the balance of power in Europe in the latter part of the 17th Century. As far as Britain and France were concerned the decisive issue was the Irish campaign, headed on the one side by William of Orange and on the other by James II. Once again it was the men of Ulster who determined the outcome for Britain and Europe by their stand at Derry, Enniskillen and the Boyne.

  In each of those campaigns the backbone of resistance was provided by the Ulster Scots. William III acknowledged his indebtedness to them by granting the Regium, Donum to all Presbyterian ministers.2- One would have expected the story of such heroism and loyalty to be long remembered. Such was not the case. No sooner had Queen Anne ascended the throne than Political and ecclesiastical pressure began once again to be exercised against the Ulster Scots Presbyterians. In 1704 the Sacramental Test Act was enforced which prevented any Presbyterian holding either civil or military office under the Crown or teaching in school. The validity of Presbyterian marriages was denied often they were not allowed to bury their dead without the funeral service of the Established Church. Presbyterian ministers and People were so harassed that many of them began looking towards America for the freedom which was being denied them in their native land.

The first attempt by the Ulster Scots to emigrate to America was in 1636 when two Presbyterian ministers, Blair and Livingstone, attempted to cross the Atlantic to avoid religious persecution. Their frail craft, the Eagle Wing, however, was not equal to the fury of Atlantic gales and so they were forced to return to their native Ulster. In the years that followed, others successfully made the voyage landed and established their homes in the new world. From 1682 onwards a steady stream of Ulster families sailed for the American colonies.4

  Religious intolerance, however, was not the only reason for this exodus, there were also serious economic factors. In 1698 the British Government introduced a number of restrictions on the woollen trade which had a crippling effect on the commerce in Ireland. From 1714 to 1719 there was serious drought in Ireland, with poor harvests in consequence. This coincided with the raising of rents by many of the landlords. Those who were not able to pay the new rents were evicted and forced to emigrate. During this period whole districts became depopulated.' In 1718 the Rev. James McGregor set sail with a large section of his congregation from Aghadowey. Nor were they all isolated group In July and August of that year, five ships anchored in Boston Harbour from the ports of Derry, Coleraine and Belfast. During that year a succession of Presbyterian ministers left for America including the Rev. Wm. Boyd of Macosquin, the Rev. Wm. Cornwall of Clogher, the Rev. Wm. Elliott, the Rev. James Woodside, the Rev. James McGregor and the Rev. Wm. Tennent."

From Boston, these immigrants moved out to form settlements and townships in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. One of the most significant of those settlements was New Londonderry in New Hampshire-so named because many of those who formed if hailed from the city or county of that name in Ulster and not a few of them had shared in the historic Siege of Londonderry in 1698-89. The Rev. James McGregor was one of them. He had fired the large gun from the tower of the Cathedral which announced to those besieged within Derry's Walls that the relief ships were approaching. McGregor was a soldier before he became a minister and in New Derrv they still possess the musket which he took with him into his pulpit while the congregation took theirs into the pews. He died in 1729 and "his remains were borne home to the grave in that new Derrv beyond the seas by those who had been his fellow defenders in the memorable siege of the city on the Foyle".8
 

McGregor's successor was the Rev. Matthew Clerk of Kilrea (or Boveedy), he also had taken part in the Siege of Derry before going to America along with members of his congregation. He bore the scar of the siege on his temple for the rest of his life. Of him these lines were written:

"Priest or teacher of the town
Long as stands good Londonderry
With its stories sad and merry
Shall thy name be handed down
As a man of Prayer and mark
Grave and reverend Matthew Clerk".9  

 

click for a larger view

  Dr. W. F. Marshall says the standard of values of these Ulster settlers is clearly revealed in the building programme of New Derry- "First the erection of a crude fort for general protection against Indian attack; second the erection of a house of worship for the community; third the building of a school; and last of all houses for themselves".

The ministers they had with them, Marshall says, were a tribute to their active church membership in circumstances where such membership is often lightly regarded. That McGregor's people had their minister with them is a fact which does not stand by itself. Dr. Clark of Cahans went to America in 1764 with 300 members of his congregation. Thus the emigrants were not strangers in a strange land. They went out as communities, or to join communities of the same race and faith.

Prof. Perry of Williams College, Mass., states that in 1734, only fifteen years after the first settlement, the church records in New Deny state that there were 700 communicants present in the church on Sacrament Sunday.10 Such was the strength of the settlement in New Londonderry and other new communities were being formed continually. It is reckoned that during the quarter century before the Revolution, ten distinct settlements were made by people from New Derry and all of these became towns of influence and importance in New Hampshire. During the same period two strong settlements were made in Vermont and one in Maine, besides numerous families who spread out singly and in groups up the Connecticut river and over the ridge of the green mountains".

Prof. Boyd S. Schlenther states that "between 1731 and 1768 one third of the Protestant population of Ireland migrated to the New World”,12 When the total population of America at the time of the Revolution was three million, this solid influx of a quarter of a million from Ireland was naturally of profound signi­ficance.

  The New England states had been settled mainly by English Puritan, and when they realised that the Ulster Scots were arriving in such large numbers they became alarmed lest they should become outnumbered. As one Bostonian put it, “These confounded Irish will eat us all up". New England was made up of closely‑knit communities and when they found that the Scotch Irish were insisting on having their own Presbyterian Church and ministers, they soon let it be known that they did not wish the Scotch‑Irish to arrive in such force

  So it was that emigrant ships began landing their passengers at Charlestown in South Carolina. James Pringle and other Irish Presbyterians presented a peti­tion to the Council of South Carolina in 1732. The result was the granting of permission to the Ulster colonists to establish a township of some twenty square miles the name they gave their town was Williams­burg. Within four years the settlers were sufficiently numerous to warrant sending a petition home to Ulster for a minister. Again the Ulster Scots settlers soon be­gan to radiate out throughout the State founding a wide series of settlements. The sultry climate and the swampy lowlands of Carolina were not particularly appealing to the hardy Ulster Scots who were more accustomed to a colder and hardier climate.

Before long Philadelphia became the Ulster Scots' main port of entry Pennsylvania was hitherto mainly a Quaker State because of Wm. Penn to whom the land had been granted James Logan, an Ulsterman, who hailed from Lurgan had become a leading figure in Pennsylvania. He had acted as Provincial Secretary, President of the Council, Chief Justice of the Sup­reme Court, Mayor of Philadelphia and Governor of Pennnsylvania.13 In 1725 He stated: "It looks as if Ireland were to send all her inhabitants. If they continue to come they will make themselves Proprietors of the Province. Last week there were no less than six ships and every day two or three". Logan and his Quaker friends seem to have been worried lest the Scotch ­Irish should gain control of the whole state and so they sought to urge them not to settle in their midst, but to press further inland. The emigration continued how­ever. In his "History of Pennsylvania" Proud states that by 1729 some 6,000 Scotch‑Irish had come over and for several years prior to 1750 about 1,200 annually.

  So serious had the situation in Ulster become that as early as 1729 the Presbyteries in Ulster were asked to report unofficially to the Government on the causes of the emigration and were requested to appeal to the people not to leave the country. Even the Anglican Archbishop King wrote to the Archbishop of Canter­bury at the time stating, "Your Parliament is destroying what little trade is left to us. These and other discour­agements are driving away the few Protestants that are left us; insomuch that some thousands of families are gone to the West Indies”. 15

Lecky summed up the situation in these terms, "For nearly three‑quarters of a century this drain on the energetic Protestant population continued. The famine of 1740 and 1741 gave an immense impulse to the movement and it is said that for several years the Pro­testant emigrants from Ulster annually amounted to about 12.000”.16

  The effect of this mass emigration is seen in the changed face of Pennsylvania. In 1701 it is reckoned the total population of the State was 20,000 while by 1750 it was 250,000.

  The effect of this emigration in Ulster was serious in the extreme. Parts of the Province which had been solidly Presbyterian became severely denuded of Presbyterian influence and industry. Arthur Young who visited Ireland in 1776, says that the spirit of emigrating was confined to the Presbyterian religion; "The Catholics never went; they seem not only tied to the county but almost to the parish in which their ancestors lived.17

  It was in the next century, following the disastrous Potato Famine in Ireland, that a mass exodus of Irish Roman Catholics took place. They made their own contribution to American life in the later years, but they were not there when the foundations of the nation were being laid.

  Dr. W. F. Marshall makes this point clearly. He says: "The Story of Ulster and America' has been often confused with that of `Ireland in America'. It has been frequently acclaimed as the Irish contribution to the making of the United States. To so acclaim it is not unfair, so long as we make clear the part of Ireland the contribution came from. What is most unfair and dis­honest is to claim this contribution as Irish, and then use it as the basis of propaganda against the Ulster that made it”.18

  What was the contribution made by the Ulster Scots to American life'? Here the unbiased view of a Welsh-­born historian might be of significance.

  Prof. Estyn Evans states; "It is my contention that their (the Scotch‑Irish) lasting contribution to the American scene was their broad imprint on the Ameri­can landscape and way of life. It can be fairly claimed that, all in all, the middle colonies were the most signi­ficant cultural nursery of North America, thanks to the hybridisation of the various cultural groups which were attracted to Penn's colony. Growing out of it, Southern and Western Pennsylvania, which the Scotch-­Irish so largely fashioned, became in turn the cradle of the Middle West. The family‑farm and the family­ bible were the foundations of faith. The dignity of the individual was valued and distinctions of class were sacred. The cultural landscape of a large part of the United States is characterised by the single homestead and the unincorporated hamlet and by a system of land-use dominated by a corn and livestock economy which was pioneered in the Old West mainly by the Scotch. Irish". (P. 73‑74).19

The story of the Ulster-Scots in America is one of the utmost significance if one is to appreciate the emer­gence and development of the United States.

 

 Chapter II

   They Pioneered the Frontier

  It is a well-attested fact of American history that it was the Scotch-Irish, more than any other group who created the first western frontier. Esmond Wright states, “The westward movement was one marked not merely by the movement of men but by the movement of little red schoolhouses and tall white spires. To the Ulster ­Scots must largely go the credit of being the first pio­neers west of the Appalachians and of Opening the Mississippi valley to British civilisation".20

  The Scotch-Irish were by nature pioneering. It was that spirit which first brought their forebears from Scotland to Ulster and thence to America. They were not content to settle in the East coast towns doing hum­drum jobs, their eyes were looking westward towards the greater freedom, independence, risk and prospects of the frontier. The former American President Theo­dore Roosevelt in his book Episodes from the Winning of the West, writes, "It is doubtful if we have fully realised the part played by this stern and virile people. They formed the kernel of that American stock who were the pioneers of our people in their match west­ward".21 Charles Hanna in his history of the Scotch­ Irish refers to them as "that indomitable race whose pioneers in unbroken ranks from Champlain to Florida formed the advance guard of civilisation in its progress to the Mississippi, and first conquered, subdued and planted the wilderness between":22

Professor Boyd S. Schlenther says, "The Scotch-Irish seemed to strike for the westernmost frontier as a plant pushes towards the sun. Then, during the 1730's they began to stream southwards into the Shenandoah valley and the back country of Virginia. The tide continued southwards through Virginia into the Carolinas and upper Georgia where it met and mingled with the Ulstermen who had entered the New World at Charles­town in South Carolina. So we find them, by the middle of the 18th century, in pockets of New England, New York and New Jersey covering central Pennsylvania. West of the Susquehanna River, Western Maryland and a Portion of Northern Virginia, down to the Carolina Piedmont and Georgia but mainly based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Here were communities such as Paxton, Derry, Donegal, Middle Octorora and Han­over, when the Presbytery of Donegal was founded in 1732 it was the most “frontier” of the Presbyteries of the American Presbyterian Church

  L. J. Trinterud, the American historian, writes of the mass immigration of the Scotch‑Irish into Pennsylvania from 1720 onwards. He tells how "Along the upper and lower branches of the Octorara, Scotch-Irish were moving in along the Elk River the Brandywine, and other streams, small bands of settlers were working their way. Shortly after 1720 congregations were in existence at Pequea. Lower West Nottingham, Derry, New London, Pencader and the Forks of the Brandywine. Delaware also received a great many Scotch-Irish. As in Pennsylvania these settlers moved into the wilderness along the river valleys".24

  From Pennsylvania the Scotch-Irish pushed up the Shenandoah valley and down the Holston river into Tennessee. Kelley in his book on The Scotch-Irish in Tennessee, writes, "An overwhelming majority of the early settlers of out State was Scotch-Irish. Every Tennesseean descending from our first settlers is to be put down as of this people if he cannot prove his descent to be otherwise. No Church other than theirs, the Presbyterian Church, was founded in East Tennessee for over sixty years after its first settlement.
 

  Another American writer Governor Gilmer of Georgia says, Kentucky was first settled by Ulstermen from Virginia and North Carolina. East of the Allegany Mountains they formed the protecting wall between the red men and the tide-water. But not for long did our people endure the mountain frontier. Everywhere they leaped across it and opened up the country in the West”.25

It was a tough dangerous hard life with which these frontier men and women had to contend. Not only were they under constant attack from the Indians but they also had to be ready for "nature, red in tooth and claw". Wolves, bears and panthers abounded in the woods. Rattlesnakes with their fatal sling were hidden in the grass, and forest fires were a constant dread.

  Bradley gives us a graphic pen picture of the typical frontier man. "He was a farmer so far as was needful and practicable out of reach of all markets, though as often as not his corn was planted and his grass mown with the long-barreled short-stocked ponderous small bore rifle upon which his life so often hung, placed ready and loaded against a handy stump. What sheep he could protect from the bears and wolves together with a patch of flax, provided his family with covering and clothing. Swarthy as an Indian and almost as sinewy with hair falling to his shoulders from beneath a coon-skin cap, a buck skin hunting shirt tied at his waist, his nether man was encased in the Indian breech­clout, and his feet shod in deer-skin moccasins. Venison, wild turkey and bear meat supplemented his frugal fare; pelts were his sole marketable commodity. Once a year pack horses would leave the settlement returning with iron and salt"26

  It is not surprising that the story of these frontiers men has developed into one of romance that has pro­vided the subject matter for so many popular wild-west films. Behind the legend lay the reality of such Scotch­-Irishmen as Daniel Boone the Indian Scout and fighter and Davy Crocket "the king of the wild frontier".

  Roosevelt gives a good description of these early settlers- "A grim, stern people, strong and simple, powerful for good and evil, swayed by gusts of stormy passion the love of freedom rooted in their very hearts core. Their lives were harsh and narrow; they gained their bread by their blood and sweat in the unending struggle with the wild ruggedness of nature. They suffered terrible injuries at the hands of the red men and on their foes they waged a terrible warfare in re­turn. They were relentless, revengeful, suspicious, know­ing neither ruth nor pity; they were also upright resolute and fearless, loyal to their friends and devoted to their country, In spite of their many failings, they were of all men the best fitted to conquer the wilderness and hold it against all comers".27

  In his book The Epic of America, J. T. Adams describes a tombstone marking the grave of a Scotch-Irish Pioneer in the Shenandoah Valley which gives a well nigh perfect epitome of the history of many a Scotch-family.  “Here lies the remains of John Lewis who slew the Irish Lord, settled in Angusk County, located the town of Staunton and furnished five sons to fight the battles of the American Revolution".28

  The success of the Ulster Scots pioneers is to be seen in the profusion of Ulster place names. There are eigh­teen towns in the United States named Belfast. There are seven Derrys, nine Antrims and sixteen Tyrones. There is a Coleraine in Massachusetts. New Hampshire has Stewartstown. Washington, Ohio and Iowa have each a Pomeroy. Hillsborough is in New Hampshire, Illinois, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Maine has Newry. Ohio has Banbridge. In twelve Slates there are twelve Milfords. In Michigan there is a town named after the Boyne. 29In Cumberland County there are the townships of Antrim, Derry. Fermanagh and Tyrone.

The Ulster-Scots certainly left their mark among the place names of America.