Saturday, May 25, 2013

Some Thoughts About the Scots-Irish in Mill Creek Hundred

This is really less a full-blown post than just a few thoughts, but I wanted to put them out there while they were still rattling around in my head. I've seen several programs recently that dealt in various ways with the Scots-Irish, and it got me thinking about something. I'll get to it in a moment, but first a quick refresher on the Scots-Irish (sometimes Scotch-Irish) and their importance to MCH and to the country.

The Scots-Irish were Scottish Protestants (primarily Presbyterians) who were forced by King James I (himself a Scotsman) to settle in the newly-conquered Catholic lands of Northern Ireland, in the region of Ulster, in the early 1600's. Over the next century, these Presbyterian Scots endured numerous hardships and persecutions, many caused by the fluctuating leanings of the English crown regarding their preferred religious strain. By the early 18th Century, many of these Scots-Irish families had decided they'd had enough, and set off west in the hope of finding greater freedom in the English colonies of America. As it happened, many of these immigrants entered the New World in our region, coming through Philadelphia and New Castle. And while their treatment in the Old World explains why they emigrated, it's the treatment the Scots-Irish received in the New World that I'm particularly concerned with now.

As luck would have it, when the Scots-Irish arrived in America, the reception they got was not much better than it was back home. The English colonists already here looked down on them as dirty, profane, uneducated country-folk, and seemed to want to have little to do with them. It sounds not much different than the attitude towards the Irish immigrants in the 19th Century. For that reason, and because these Scots-Irish were used to living in the wildernesses (such as they were over there) of Scotland and Ireland, many of them pushed south and west, away from the English-populated areas near the Atlantic seaboard. Large numbers of them eventually settled in the region of Appalachia, which was the western frontier at the time. Their Scots-Irish culture became the foundation of the Appalachian culture (no, not an oxymoron), and by extension much of Southern culture in general. Even such prototypical Southern words as "redneck", "hillbilly", and the most Southern of them all, "y'all", may have their roots in the Highlands of Scotland.

The treatment given the Scots-Irish by the English had one other major implication, too. Because of their history, when the Revolution began in 1775 the Scots-Irish became some of the fiercest backers of the rebel cause. Their frontier skills were especially useful in some of the western campaigns. To show what an impact they had, one Hessian captain wrote, "Call it not an American rebellion, it is nothing more than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian rebellion."

Not all the Scots-Irish of the early 1700's left for the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee, of course. A fair number settled here, in Mill Creek Hundred. Along with the Quakers, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians were truly the founders of MCH (with a few Swedes and Fins, of course). The early Presbyterian congregations on either end of the hundred -- Red Clay and White Clay Creek churches -- were both founded by Scots-Irish immigrants.

All of these facts had been known to me for a couple years now, but only recently did one aspect of the story get me thinking about something (see? told you I'd get to it). With all of maltreatment and bigotry that the Scots-Irish apparently suffered at the hands of the other English colonists in other places, I realized that I have never come across any accounts of confrontations or other problems here in MCH or surrounding areas. Now, of course there could have been some issues that just weren't great enough to make it into the historical record 300 years down the road, but I assume there weren't many, just judging by the size of the Scots-Irish communities that did settle down here. From everything I've gathered, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians in early MCH lived peacefully alongside their English neighbors. Assuming this were true, why was this the case here, when it obviously wasn't in many other places?

I really don't have an answer for this, but I do have a few ideas (surprise, surprise). My first thought is that the rough-and-tumble Scots-Irish found tolerant neighbors in the Quakers, who may have been less likely to mistreat them. The lingering Swedish and Finnish families would also have had less of a cultural reason to look down at them.

My second thought is that their settling in MCH may have been less of an exception to the rule than it seems. This area 300 years ago was still sparsely settled, with large tracts of land still available from the Penn family. And while MCH wasn't exactly "The Frontier", it still may have been a place to get away from some of the more populated areas elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I really don't know enough at this point to test any of these theories, or to know if there's any mystery at all as to the presence of the Scots-Irish communities here. Maybe these aren't really out of line with Scots-Irish numbers elsewhere, or maybe it was just random chance that they settled here. One thing's certain, though -- the Scots-Irish are an often-overlooked group that was vital to the formation of Mill Creek Hundred and to the United States.


  1. Scott,

    4 of my rough and tumble Scots-Irish Morrisons married 4 of my Quaker Eastburns. I'm thinking that your idea of tolerant Quakers is a good one.

    My Shakespeares came over on a convict ship. Apparently, their crime was being Baptists.

    Rich Morrison

  2. Scott,
    I believe that your conjecture has merit on the relationship of tolerant Quakers, Swedes and newly arrived Scots-Irish. Regarding Scots-Irish choices for settling two things come to mind for me, after doing a bit of reading in the past for my family genealogy. First, early settlers often followed the establishment of Presbyterian churches. Looking at the locations of where these churches were established often reveals new Scots-Irish to the area. The earliest Boggses in 1780's are among the followers of Francis Makamie who preached in the Chesapeake Bay area of VA eastern shore, Accomack Island to Maryland. My particular Boggs family was no exception...the establishment of the White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in 1721 may have been the reason that our Boggs line came to settle in the Mill Creek area. This church played a prominent role in the lives of the family.
    The second principle that seemed to follow was the apparent desire for land that the newly arriving Scots-Irish sought. Land was/is wealth. A number of sources discuss the fearlessness of the people to occupy forward wilderness positions in the southern and western expansion of the colonies and states. It is also interesting to note, that although the English may have considered the Scots to be, shall we say "poorly bred", the women in the family were important enough to educate, even early on. There are numerous indications in my family that the women were educated and literate, even in the 18th century. I was told that this was because the Presbyterian faith believed both men and women should be able to read the Bible.
    Regarding the ill-will shown the crown by Scots-Irish, well I can say that my family ancestors apparently showed this characteristic, too. The Boggs clans were in PA, DE, NJ, MD, VA, the Carolinas and GA by the time of the Revolution. There is evidence that one of the family businesses was spying for the colonies. Moving information up and down the major trade routes and through the wilderness is one of the benefits of a connected and committed family group. Robert Boggs 1712-1801, buried in the WCCPC graveyard and mentioned in your Jan 29th post, was head of the Committee on Safety and Secrets for the colony of Delaware. His sons, nephews, and cousins worked in Delaware, Virginia and other locations to transfer information on a variety of intelligence needed for the rebellion. I hope others have family stories to contribute to this interesting thread. Thanks!
    Bonnie Boggs