Scotch-Irish and Ulster Scots Family Research


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Colonial United States

Many other peoples came to the new world before the Ulster Scots. They did not begin coming in large numbers in 1718. Here is a summary of their migration. Most of this information is from Leyburn The Scotch-Irish.

Aborted Exit: Eagle Wing: 1639

Rev Robert Blair of Bangor, Down, Rev James Hamilton of Ballywater, Rev John McLellan of Newtownards, Rev John Livingston (late of Killinchy), on receiving an invitation by the Governor and Council of New England, built the Eagle Wing in Belfast, named after a passage in Exodus: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine." She was forced to Scotland and then turned back by a hurricane. Over 140 people died and the Rev Blair had a son born. They never attempted the passage again --though descendents of the leaders did immigrate.

New England

The first to emigrate came to Boston. Their ministers were invited by the Rev. Cotton Mather. In 1781 the first five ships arrived in Boston harbor. However they did not receive a warm welcome since they were very different from the ethnocentric Massachusetts Bay Colony. Massachusetts was a theocracy aimed at a homogeneous society.

The Ulster Scots attempted to set up insular, isolated colonies in which they could be themselves, but the New Englanders literally tore down their meeting houses. Hence the Scotch Irish moved to the frontier in search of places beyond the control of Massachusetts. As Massachusetts moved in to control them, they moved on. Hence they are to be found in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Western Massachusetts.

They continued to migrate westward to New York (Newburgh area) and beyond to Pennsylvania. Then they joined other newcomers in the Great Migration southward and westward.

The first five ships who brought Ulster immigrants are know as the Five Ships.

For more history see this link.


Though a Quaker, William Penn, the proprietor of the Pennsylvania colony, provided freedom of religion in his great experiment. It wasn't long till it was the destination of choice for all kinds of European dissenters, especially Germans. Philadelphia was an important port. However many also came through New Jersey and various Delaware ports.

They first settled in Lancaster County but soon began moving westward and southward since they didn't like living with the Germans who were also moving to Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania they clustered on the frontiers where they bore the brunt of the Indian massacres during the French and Indian War in the 1750's. The failure of the nonviolent Quaker government to provide protection caused great bitterness.

Only a few hardy souls survived the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution west of the Alleghenies. After the Revolution, though thousands poured west to Pittsburgh and beyond.

Before the Revolution, outgrowing their cradle in Lancaster County, many treked southward down the great Philadelphia Wagon Road to the Virginias and the Carolinas.

Southern Colonies

The Scotch-Irish moving down the Wagon Road from the north were joined by countrymen arriving from Ulster. They moved southward and settled the inland Great Valley of Virginia first, then moved to the hilly Carolina Piedmont area to the south. In the 1750's and later the Scotch-Irish were still arriving via Philadelphia and then traveling by land up to 700 miles southwest to the Carolinas. However they also entered through Charleston though almost none are known to have entered ports in North Carolina. The South Carolina colony had developed a plan in 1731 to increase immigration by offering poor Protestants land. It gave 100 acres were given to the head of the family and 50 to each additional family member. The grantees had to pay quit rent two years after receiving the grant. Then he was entitled to another grant on the same terms. The grantee had to clear and cultivate the land at a rate of 3 acres out of every 100 acres per year. In 1752 grantees were provided with tools and provisions. In 1761 the colony offered to pay passage for these poor Protestants but required a certificate from their church testifying that they were of good character. These terms expired in 1768 though the Council ruled that poor Protestants would still be given land free of charge but still were charged various fees. They also had to travel to the land and to appear in person before the Governor in Council to request land.

Thus the names of grantees appear in the Council records.

Families from Ulster and elsewhere (Pennsylvania, Scotland) began to flood in in the 1750s, while still more came in the 1760s and even after the bounties expired. They continued to come after the Revolution. Note that some Catholics also came from Ireland, including a few that were granted land though their religion was known.

The most well known group was that of the Rev. William Martin, arriving on five ships in 1772. In Ulster he had ministered to scattered Reformed Presbyterian societies on either side of the Bann till 1760, when they were divided, and he chose the Kellswater congregation in Antrim. Conditions worsened in Ireland with higher taxes and economic hardship. He received a "Call" to go to Carolina following violence related to high rents. After he preached a sermon calling his congregation to join him, some 467 families did so in five ships. His leaving destroyed the fledgling Reformed Presbyterian Presbytery in Ireland.

The Rev was the first Covenanting minister in South Carolina, serving at the Catholic (universal) Presbyterian Church on Rocky Creek. All kinds of Presbyterians worshipped there in common: Associates, Covenanters, Burgher, Anti Burgher, Seceders. He was a patriot in the American Revolution. His families settled throughout South Carolina.They are documented in a book Scotch-Irish Migration to South Carolina, 1772 by Jean Stephenson. See the links for the Reverend for additional information on him.

Other Colonies

See the links section for additional information.

Post-Colonial History

The post-colonial history of the Scotch-Irish is the history of America. They largely determined the local culture in areas where they predominated: Appalachia, Pittsburgh, and the New South. African slaves picked up their accent and modified their style of church singing to create the Negro spiritual (see Culture). Other people assimilated into them, creating the phenomena of people who were culturally Scotch-Irish, but whose ancestors had never seen the sun rise in Ireland.

They were extremely avid democrats, perhaps a natural result of Presbyterianism. Consequently in the second American Revolution, they were all Jeffersonian Democrats -- confusingly, this means they were Republicans. With their vote in 1800 they set the rudder of the nation on its future course as a champion of the rights of the common man.

After the Revolution, the Scotch-Irish continued to spread out all America. In their rush to far distant mountains, they perhaps forgot the Boyne and the walls of Londonderry and their enemy the Irish, replacing them in the pantheon of myths with the American Revolution, the Alamo, and the American Indian. But they are same myths still.

Migration of course halted with the American Revolution, but began soon after it was over. Troubles with the British in the early years continued. The British stopped American ships and pressed Americans and emigrants into their navy. Both Irish and Americans protested, so eventually forced impressment stopped, but not before the War of 1812. This war also brought immigration to a halt. The early post-revolutionary years saw the arrival of many political refugees from the United Irish Rebellion. This new wave of Ulster migrants are under studied. Their impact on the fledgling Republic is extremely underrated.

Gradually as the new century grew older, the Ulster Presbyterian was joined by growing numbers of Catholic Irish. The USA was democratic in principle, though still, they were to learn, a land where Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, were disadvantaged. But they could get ahead nonetheless because there were jobs. They poured into the country to build the canals of the early 1800's, to work in the mills of New England, and to push west, where they met on the Pacific more Irish Catholic workers getting off the ships in San Francisco Harbor.

Post-Revolutionary Ulster Immigrants often joined their cousins and were not so different from them. However as the 19th century continued, events in Ireland had changed those who stayed in Ireland. Having survived the United Irish Rebellion and the terrors of the Wexford Massacre, they had relived the horrors of the 1641 Rising and were now convinced that they would never be safe from genocide. The rebellion had seemingly rendered permanent the chasm between Protestant and Catholic. It caused the Presbyterian to ally with his Church of Ireland landlord against the Catholic. In Ulster the Scot entered into an uneasy alliance with the Protestant Ascendancy that has lasted -- along with the unease -- to this day.

By 1830 Ulster migrants were establishing a support network based on the Orange Order (Founded in 1795). It helped new arrivals, getting them jobs and housing. Though early records are rare, you can use its records to research ancestors.

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© 2008 Linda Merle. Do not duplicate without the written consent of the author.