Information on Scotch-Irish history

Scotch-Irish refers to Irish Presbyterian and other Protestant dissenters from the Province of Ulster who immigrated to North America primarily during the colonial era, and their descendants. An estimated 250,000 migrated to America during the colonial era. Some scholars also include the 150,000 Ulster Protestants who immigrated to America during the early 19th century. Most of the Scotch Irish were descended from Scottish and English families who had been transplanted to Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century. While an estimated 36.3 million Americans (>11.9% of the total population) reported "Irish" ancestry in 2008, an additional 1.2% (3.5 million people) identified more specifically with "Scotch Irish" ancestry. People in Great Britain or Ireland that are of a similar ancestry usually refer to themselves as "Ulster Scots", with the term "Scotch-Irish" used only in North America.


"Scotch-Irish" is an Americanism, almost unknown in England, Ireland or Scotland. The term has led to confusion even among descendants of the Scotch-Irish themselves: some taking it to mean a mixture of Scottish and Irish ethnicities, and others thinking it refers to Irish immigrants to Scotland.[citation needed] The term is also misleading because some of the Scotch-Irish had little or no Scottish ancestry at all, as dissenter families had also been transplanted to Ulster from northern England, Wales and the London area, and some from Flanders, the German Palatinate, and France (such as the French Huguenot ancestors of Davy Crockett). What united these different national groups was their common Calvinist beliefs, and their separation from the established church (Church of England and Church of Ireland in this case). Nevertheless, a large Scottish element in the Plantation of Ulster gave the settlements a Scottish character. However, when the Ulster immigrants began to arrive in America they were collectively called simply "Irish" by colonial officials.

Upon arrival in America, the Scotch-Irish at first usually referred to themselves simply as "Irish," without the qualifier "Scotch." It was not until a century later, following the surge in Irish immigration after the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, that the descendants of the earlier arrivals began to commonly call themselves Scotch-Irish to distinguish them from the newer, largely destitute and predominantly Catholic, immigrants. The two groups had little interaction in America, as the Scotch-Irish had become settled years earlier primarily in the Appalachian region, while the new wave of Irish American families settled primarily in northern and midwestern port cities such as Boston, New York, or Chicago. However, many Irish migrated to the interior in the 19th century to work on large-scale infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads.

The usage "Scots-Irish" is a relatively recent version of the term. The historic and most commonly used term in America is Scotch-Irish, as evident in Merriam-Webster dictionaries, where the term Scotch-Irish is recorded from 1744, while Scots-Irish is not recorded until 1972.

English author Kingsley Amis endorsed the traditional "Scotch-Irish" usage implicitly in noting that "nobody talks about butterscottish or hopscots,...or Scottish pine", and that while "Scots" or "Scottish" has been preferred for a century in Scotland itself, the traditional English usage "Scotch" continues to be appropriate in "compounds and set phrases".


Because of the close proximity of the islands of Britain and Ireland, migrations in both directions had been occurring since Ireland was first settled after the retreat of the ice sheets. Gaels from Ireland colonised current South-West Scotland as part of the Kingdom of Dál Riata, eventually replacing the native Pictish culture throughout Scotland. These Gaels had previously been named Scoti by the Romans, and eventually the name was applied to the entire Kingdom of Scotland.

The origins of the Scotch-Irish lie primarily in the Lowlands of Scotland and in northern England, particularly in the Border Country on either side of the Anglo-Scottish border, a region that had seen centuries of conflict. In the near constant state of war between England and Scotland during the Middle Ages, the livelihood of the people on the borders was devastated by the contending armies. Even when the countries were not at war, tension remained high, and royal authority in one or the other kingdom was often weak. The uncertainty of existence led the people of the borders to seek security through a system of family ties, similar to the clan system in the Scottish Highlands. Known as the Border Reivers, these families relied on their own strength and cunning to survive, and a culture of cattle raiding and thievery developed.

During the course of the 17th century, the number of settlers belonging to Calvinist dissenting sects, including Scottish and Northumbrian Presbyterians, English Baptists, French and Flemish Huguenots, and German Palatines, became the majority among the Protestant settlers in the province of Ulster. However, the Presbyterians and other dissenters, along with Catholics, were not members of the established church and were consequently legally disadvantaged by the Penal Laws, which gave full rights only to members of the Church of England/Church of Ireland. Those members of the state church were often absentee landlords and the descendants of English title-holding settlers. For this reason, up until the 19th century, and despite their common fear of the dispossessed Catholic native Irish, there was considerable disharmony between the Presbyterians and the Protestant Ascendancy in Ulster. As a result of this many Ulster-Scots, along with Catholic native Irish, ignored religious differences to join the United Irishmen and participate in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, in support of Age of Enlightenment-inspired egalitarian and republican goals.


From 1710 to 1775, over 200,000 people emigrated from Ulster to the 13 Colonies, from Maine to Georgia. The largest numbers went to Pennsylvania. From that base some went south into Virginia, the Carolinas and across the South, with a large concentration in the Appalachian region; others headed west to western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and the Midwest.

Transatlantic flows were halted by the American Revolution, but resumed after 1783, with total of 100,000 arriving in America between 1783 and 1812. By that point few were young servants and more were mature craftsmen and they settled in industrial centers, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York, where many became skilled workers, foremen and entrepreneurs as the Industrial Revolution took off in the U.S. Another half million came to American 1815 to 1845; another 900,000 came in 1851-99. From 1900 to 1930 the average was about 5,000 to 10,000 a year. Relatively few came after 1930. At every stage a majority were Presbyterians, and that religion decisively shaped Scotch-Irish culture.

According to the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, there were 400,000 U.S. residents of Irish birth or ancestry in 1790 and half of this group was descended from Ulster, and half from the other three provinces of Ireland.

A separate migration brought many to Canada, where they are most numerous in rural Ontario.

Pennsylvania and Virginia

Most Scotch-Irish headed for Pennsylvania, with its good lands, moderate climate, and liberal laws. By 1750, the Scotch-Irish were about a fourth of the population, rising to about a third by the 1770s. Without much cash, they moved to free lands on the frontier, becoming the typical western "squatters", the frontier guard of the colony, and what the historian Frederick Jackson Turner described as "the cutting-edge of the frontier."

The Scotch-Irish moved up the Delaware River to Bucks County, and then up the Susquehanna and Cumberland valleys, finding flat lands along the rivers and creeks to set up their log cabins, their grist mills, and their Presbyterian churches. Chester, Lancaster, and Dauphin counties became their strongholds, and they built towns such as Chambersburg, Gettysburg, Carlisle, and York; the next generation moved into western Pennsylvania. With large numbers of children who needed their own inexpensive farms, the Scotch-Irish avoided areas already settled by Germans and Quakers and moved south, down the Shenandoah Valley, and through the Blue Ridge Mountains into Virginia. These migrants followed the Great Wagon Road from Lancaster, through Gettysburg, and down through Staunton, Virginia, to Big Lick (now Roanoke), Virginia. Here the pathway split, with the Wilderness Road taking settlers west into Tennessee and Kentucky, while the main road continued south into the Carolinas.

[John Craig is thought to have immigrated circa late 1750s/early 1760s, together with his brother/cousin Roland Porter Craig, and maybe other unknown relatives. He is listed by other genealogists as Irish, but the name Craig (which genealogist William Perry Hay said was also Crega, Cregg, etc) is Scottish. Therefore, he is assumed to be a Scotch-Irish. His first wife was thought to be a Hogg, which is also a Scottish name. He is not known to have lived in Eastern PA -- he was married for the second time in Philadelphia in 1769, to a woman who lived in Bucks county, but he is only known to have lived further west in Fayette county.]

Conflict with Native Americans

Because the Scotch-Irish settled the frontier of Pennsylvania and Virginia, they were in the midst of the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion that followed. The Scotch-Irish were frequently in conflict with the Indian tribes who lived on the other side of the frontier; indeed, they did most of the Indian fighting on the American frontier from New Hampshire to the Carolinas. The Irish and Scots also became the middlemen who handled trade and negotiations between the Indian tribes and the colonial governments.

Especially in Pennsylvania, whose pacifist Quaker leaders had made no provision for a militia, Scotch-Irish settlements were frequently destroyed and the settlers killed, captured or forced to flee after attacks by Native Americans from tribes of the Delaware, Shawnee, Seneca, and others of western Pennsylvania and the Ohio country. Indian attacks were taking place within 60 miles of Philadelphia, and in July 1763, the Pennsylvania Assembly authorized a 700-strong militia to be raised, to be used only for defensive actions. Formed into two units of rangers, the Cumberland Boys and the Paxton Boys, the militia soon exceeded their defensive mandate and began offensive forays against Delaware villages in western Pennsylvania. After attacking Delaware villages in the upper Susquehanna valley, the militia leaders received information, which they believed credible, that “hostile” tribes were receiving weapons and ammunition from the “friendly” tribe of Conestogas settled in Lancaster County, who were under the protection of the Pennsylvania Assembly. On 14 December 1763, about fifty Paxton Boys rode to Conestogatown, near Millersville, PA, and murdered six Conestogas. Governor John Penn placed the remaining fourteen Conestogas in protective custody in the Lancaster workhouse, but the Paxton Boys broke in, killing and mutilating all fourteen on 27 December 1763. Following this, about 400 backcountry settlers, primarily Scotch-Irish, marched on Philadelphia demanding better military protection for their settlements, and pardons for the Paxton Boys. Benjamin Franklin led the politicians who negotiated a settlement with the Paxton leaders, after which they returned home.

American Revolution

The United States Declaration of Independence contained fifty-six delegate signatures. Of the signers, eight were of Irish descent. Three signers, Matthew Thornton, George Taylor and James Smith were born in Ulster, the remaining five Irish Americans were the sons or grandsons of Irish immigrants: George Read, Thomas McKean, Thomas Lynch, Jr., Edward Rutledge and Charles Carroll, and at least McKean had Ulster heritage.

The Scotch-Irish were generally ardent supporters of American Independence from Britain in the 1770s. In Pennsylvania, Virginia, and most of the Carolinas, support for the revolution was "practically unanimous." One Hessian officer said, "Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion." A British major general testified to the House of Commons that "half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland". Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, with its large Scotch-Irish population, was to make the first declaration for independence from Britain in the Mecklenburg Declaration of 1775.

The Scotch-Irish "Overmountain Men" of Virginia and North Carolina formed a militia which won the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, resulting in the British abandonment of a southern campaign, and for some historians "marked the turning point of the American Revolution".

Source: Wikipedia