Scotch-Irish-L ArchivesArchiver > Scotch-Irish > 1998-08 > 0904133794
From: Linda Kincaid <>
Subject: Meaning of Scotch-Irish
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 1998 07:16:34 -0500
The recent post on the meaning of the term Scotch-Irish caught my eye as
an interesting perspective on a very tragic event in Irish history. I
appreciate the effort it took to post it very much. The old book that
it is drawn from has a decidedly pro-English slant, which I find
fascinating. I wanted to throw my two cents worth in as well to give
another Scotch-Irish perspective on this topic.
There were many people in the Colonies who had Scottish sounding
surnames by the middle 1700's. Most of the immigrants did not come over
from Scotland, but
lived in Ireland for two or three generations first, becoming a distinct
culture not Scottish, not Irish, which we of course now call the
Many of these people are hard to trace except with family stories,
although there may be records still unknown in N. Ireland or London.
This is due to the poverty of these hard working farm people, as it is
to have much time for recording your family tree when you are working
seven days a
week on hard farm land with poor wooden tools, have no family bible as
you cannot afford one, or are perhaps illiterate. I thought that some
of the Bell list subscribers might want to see something about the lives
that the Scotch-Irish Bells might have lived, in the event that they
have no records of their own.
Most all of the Scots who migrated to this country were Lowland Scots
who came to the Colonies via Ireland. They were mainly Presbyterians who
been urged by King James and successors to populate Ulster Plantation in
order to "civilize" and develop Ireland. The largely Catholic
Highlanders, on the other hand, were left out of this influx into
The Ulster Plantation consisted of nine counties set aside in Northern
Ireland for "settlement" by English and Scottish settlers. (I use this
in quotes because, like Palestine in 1948, and the Gaza Strip and West
Bank today, it was already "settled" and occupied before the "settlers"
got there, and the land was taken by force. It is rather cynical to
call someone who is taking over another person's land and home a
"settler"). The nine counties were taken by force, and the displaced
Irish farmers sent to remote reservations full of rocky, boggy land not
fit to grow a weed. They were what may be considered the first example
of modern "ethnic cleansing". They resisted futilely, and later
assaults were crushed by Cromwell's ruthless forces.
The purpose of the Plantation was to expand the wealth and power of
Britain's empire by displacing the "mere Irish", and is at the core of
the troubles Northern Ireland still has today. The settlers, like most
of those who remained in England and Scotland, were predominantly
extraordinarily poor Protestants who were motivated to migrate by dire
poverty and the ray of hope provided by the thought of farming in a
foreign land where the ground was not so thoroughly overused. Some were
Londoners, encouraged to leave their teeming, crowded city and become
farmers. The other portion was made up of Lowland Scots farmers, who
were accustomed to unfathomable hardship and need.
The English were not very successful in the strange, rugged land, so far
away from home, while the Scots thrived in the new place which was only
(for many) a thirty or forty mile trip from their original homes in
Scotland, and much more fertile than their old, worn out farms. Most of
the English went back in a short time, while the tenacious Scots clung
to the rocky land and made a new better life for themselves. Northern
Ireland was a land of relative prosperity for these people who had
nothing but poverty in Scotland.
In the case of the bulk of the Scots, they were Presbyterians. Many of
the Scotch were devout followers of John Knox and his forebear John
Calvin, and spent endless hours discussing details of the Covenant and
Calvinistic philosophy. They talked religion in the same quantities of
time that we use today watching television, namely, a lot! They were
not persecuted in any way for their beliefs, as although of a somewhat
lower social standing than the English, they were not Catholics like the
"mere Irish". They were an important part of a business enterprise under
the Crown and were protected for it by the English Army.
The perimeter of the Ulster Plantation was guarded by English soldiers,
and the protected area was called the Pale. To go beyond the Pale was to
risk grave injury or death, as some of the displaced Irish had left the
reservations set aside for them and had become outlaws in their own
land. Anyone who ventured into the territory they controlled might be
waylaid and robbed. The farmers were expected to join the professional
soldiers and fight in the event of an outside attack by the displaced
Irish, and had to do so many times.
They were tenants under lairds that expected a lease payment and a
percentage of the farms' proceeds in exchange for use of the land, which
was divided into long strips called "runrigs". The runrigs were randomly
assigned in order to fairly allot the good land with the poorer parcels.
Drainage and conservationwere much improved over the primitive farms on
which the Irish had toiled. The land was granted to barons who allowed
the lairds to live on and manage the land in exchange for a periodic
payment. It was up to the lairds to find tenants. The law was written so
that the lairds would not be allowed to hire the Irish, but some did as
the English bailed out and the available Scots were scarce. Also, the
Irish worked at a fraction of the wages of a Scotsman.
Although the Covenanters were perhaps a little extreme by our standards,
religious freedom was not the reason for the Ulster plantation or for
the later exodus from Ulster to the Colonies. The Lowland Scots had
lived in Ulster for several generations until the early 1700's when a
reduction in the taxes on livestock touched off a movement to convert
many small farms to large sheep ranches. When the long leases (up to 31
years) began expiring around this time, the landlords raised the rents
far more drastically than could be paid with any crop, and drove the
farmers out of business. The unneeded
farmers were thus "encouraged" to migrate to the American Colonies.
The Scotch-Irish (now called this because they were neither Scotch nor
Irish, after three generations in the land, but a distinct new culture)
were driven off the land by huge increases in rent which they could not
afford to pay.
A great exodus into Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina
established what we can still see today in the Scotch Irish areas in
those states. Some stayed in Ireland until they were penniless, and when
opportunities arose in the Colonies, went over as indentured servants.
Being in many cases on frontier lands, they almost immediately were
thrown into the French and Indian War and suffered terribly.
Many of the Scotch and Scotch-Irish immigrants moved several times
before truly settling down here. It may be that they were looking for
the best possible land for the best possible price, and as the Colonies
were expanding and cheap frontier land became available, moved into the
new areas. English representatives negotiated treaties with the Native
Americans, who would sell large tracts of land willingly. Some
Scotch-Irish took the audacious step of settling on land before England
had secured title, causing embarassment for the Crown. There are at
least three known instances in which the English government had to buy
land which was already populated by Scotch-Irish settlers,
in order to maintain peaceful relations with the tribes.
The vast majority of people in this country with Scottish surnames seem
to be of Scotch Irish descent. My own family, the Kincaids, came
directly over from Scotland due to political conflicts in 1745 or 1746,
but intermarried over the years with many Scotch-Irish families such as
the Renicks, the "Stone Church" Bells, Johnstons, and others. I am
proud of all of them, wherever they came from....