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SCOTCH-IRISH IMMIGRANTS
by Walter H. Berg, Jr.


1998 was the year my mother would have been 100 years old, so thoughts of her were on my mind about then. My mother always said she was Scotch-Irish, but I knew little about what that meant until recently. I picked up a book in Colonial Williamsburg just before Christmas '97, and from it learned quite a lot.

The term "Scotch-Irish" was first used in America after this group of people began their massive immigration. It was used to distinguish these Presbyterians from Ulster in Northern Ireland from the Irish Catholics that came from other parts of Ireland. These "Ulstermen" were of Scottish ancestry, having immigrated from the lowlands of Scotland to Ulster a hundred years earlier.

In an effort to gain control, England in the early 1600s created a huge plantation in northern Ireland, forced back the native Irishmen, and opened the area for settlement by "true Englishmen." Few from England took up the challenge, but it was a rare opportunity for the poor people of the Scottish lowlands to improve their lot, and thousands of Scots made the move. Only 30 miles separated the lower coast of Scotland from the northern coastline of Ireland, so they didn't have far to go. The result was probably not exactly what the English kings envisioned, as these Scotsmen brought their personalities and religious convictions with them. They were Presbyterians, stubbornly independent and much opposed to declaring allegiance to the established Church of England.

After several generations in Ireland, these people could no longer be correctly called Scotsmen. Their pioneering spirit, and the environment of Ireland had changed them. Yet, they were also much different from the native Irishmen who were staunchly Catholic. Most of what is written about them refers to them as the Ulster Scots, or the Ulster Irish.

When the English kings started imposing untenable restrictions on the Presbyterian Church (the Kirk) in an attempt to force the Ulstermen to accept the Church of England, they started leaving Ireland in droves for America. It was here that the name Scotch-Irish was first used to distinguish them both from the Scotch and the Irish. This massive immigration from northern Ireland toAmerica continued throughout the early and mid 18th century - until the American Revolution.

They flooded into Pennsylvania, filling the available farmable land, then into Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, then into the Carolinas. In many cases the surge was so rapid that there was no time to seek proper title to the land they settled on. The colonies encouraged their coming, as they provided a buffer between the large eastern towns and the threat of Indian attack in the west. Land acquisition was, in many cases, simply a question of moving in and building a crude shelter, their rights being acquired as "squatters."

The Scotch-Irish immigration far outpaced the ability of their church to keep up with them. With an established hierarchy, the Presbyterian "Kirk" was slow to send ministers to the American frontier, and because of stiff rules, the people could not start churches on their own without a minister trained and ordained by the hierarchy. As the migration reached Virginia and the Carolinas, there was an inevitable mingling with other immigrants who were Baptists and Methodists. Unfettered by hierarchial restraints, these people had no impediments to forming a new church. If people in a community wanted a church, it was formed. The Scotch-Irish, though by far the majority, joined these Baptist and Methodist churches in droves. Baptist churches in particular followed the great migration and grew in number, peopled in the main by the Scotch-Irish immigrants. As the Scotch- Irish farmers gained influence in the Baptist churches, many of the ideas and doctrines they had grown up with as Presbyterians, found their way into Baptist practices. In the early Baptist churches, they stilled referred matters of authority to a "Presbytery," a group of select men, though local, who were specially authorized to handle such matters as ordaining a minister or deacon, or establishing a new church. These early churches were the focus of the community. In the early days civil authority was also slow to keep up with the migration, so the church assumed authority for civil discipline.

After the Cherokee Indians were driven out of their traditional homeland in the mountains of western North Carolina and northern Georgia, the Scotch-Irish again sought "greener pastures," and moved into the mountains. From the earliest days, even before leaving Scotland, they had an earnest desire for good education. This, along with other enduring characteristics can still be seen in their descendants. They brought with them their customs of church life, stern Protestantism, now expressed as Baptists and Methodists for the most part. They also brought with them the knowledge and skill of making corn whiskey. Another characteristics was a quick temper and a readiness to fight. Washington attributed the success of the Revolutionary War to the fighting spirit of the Scotch-Irish in his armies. Their independence and scorn of governmental control, datng back to abuse by English kings, is still exhibited in the rural mountain communities of Appalachia.

After considerable research into my mother's family, I've concluded that the Crofts were not of Scotch-Irish ancestry, but more likely had German roots. I once thought the Crofts were from England. There were many with that name in South Carolina who were of English descent, but through all the research we've found no connection with that group. It now seems more likely that our Crofts had German roots - that the name was Craffts or something similar, changed to Croft as an Americanizaton. There was definitely some intermarriage with the Scotch-Irish. Jacob Croft married Abigail Hunter, daughter of William Hunter, and there were many Hunters on the lists of Scotch-Irish immigrants in Virginia, including a William Hunter on a list of Scotch-Irish felons who were deported to America from County Armagh, Ireland.

My mother's statements, however, were probably rooted in what she was told by her mother - a Drew by birth. We know that the Drews came to Florida via Georgia from North Carolina and were solid Baptists. Following up with a review of Scotch-Irish sources on the Internet, I found an index of several thousand surnames appearing in court cases in the counties of Virginia where the Scotch- Irish settled. Of the families I have researched, these surnames were included: Davis, Lewis, Hunter, McClellan, McCool, Sloan, and Turner. The name appearing most often was Lewis.

The Scotch-Irish designation dimmed after the Revolutionary War, and not much has been written about it. The people easily became - just Americans.

Footnote - The Scotch-Irish, A Social History, James G. Leyburn, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1962.

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