Doddridge County Park is presenting the 1st Annual Mountain State Scottish & Celtic Gathering on May 30th this year. It will be a one-day festive event, but don’t call it a festival. It is a gathering. Come on out and enjoy the day.
We at the Doddridge County Historical Society are so excited to be participating in the event. So, watch for our booth which will have historic information and charts showing the crests, tartans and coat of arms for many of the numerous clans throughout West Virginia. You can ask one of our members to run your family name through Ancestry.com to find where your family name originated and a little history regarding its creation. You never know… you may descend from royalty, or you may descend from a warrior. There will be no charge for the service.
Now back to the question… Why did the Scotts-Irish (Don’t call them Scotch-Irish) come to America and to West Virginia, including Doddridge County? Did you know that West Virginia’s early immigrants were predominantly Scotts-Irish? There really is a different story behind the migration of the Irish, the Scotts, and the Scottish-Irish?
Let’s start with the Scots. Of course, each individual and/or his family had their own personal story for immigrating to America. However, to a large scale, immigration from Scotland began in the 18th century.
It began in earnest with the destruction of the clan system by the British government led by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. That battle saw the defeat of the great Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart and was the last battle fought on British soil.
After the fall of Scotland’s Highland Clans, the Duke of Cumberland was determined to wipe out the Jacobite threat once and for all. He wanted revenge by crushing the Highlanders.
Within just a few days of the Battle of Culloden, Charles Stuart and his soldiers gathered at Ruthven Barracks. Instead of engaging in battle, the Highlanders were surprised to learn that Charles Stuart gave the order for his army to disperse and then he went into hiding himself. For him, it was finished. However, the British government was not through. It moved across Scotland destroying anyone suspected of being a supporter or sympathizer.
Still before the Battle of Culloden, the Scotts were going through major social and economic changes, but the process did accelerate after the defeat at Culloden. The Gaelic culture and way of life meant an insecure and increasingly dismal future should they stay in Scotland. Most Scotts immigrated to Canada, but many came to the USA.
Why did the Irish immigrate to America? Ask that question and most people will respond that it was the potato famine. However, there was a large influx of Irish immigrants prior to the potato famine.
The first significant influx of Irish immigrants to Boston and New England consisted primarily of Ulster Presbyterians and began in the early eighteenth century. The majority arrived in Boston between 1714 and 1750, as most Ulster immigrants went to the mid-Atlantic area via Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston beginning in the 1750s. Those who came to Boston between 1715 and 1740 were escaping the discrimination that the English Penal Laws imposed on Protestant dissenters (non-Anglicans) and Roman Catholics alike. They were also fleeing the consequences of a succession of poor harvests, droughts, escalating rents, and the burdensome tithe payments demanded by the established Anglican Church in Ireland.
The Irish Potato Famine began in 1845. The Scottish people began to lose hope of ever surviving should they remain in Ireland. It became clear after successive potato crop failures and the failure of the British government to provide timely relief. The British government closed soup kitchens in the fall that year making starvation a real threat.
As panic set in, the great exodus of 1847 occurred. Hunger, fever, and disease compounded with the scarcity of money to buy food or medicine soon gave way to evictions and families found themselves sick, hungry, broke, and homeless.
A few landlords between 1846 and 1848 paid the passage costs of their tenants to go to America as a cost saving mechanism. However, government and landlord assisted passengers numbered no more than 40,000, representing only a small percentage of the Irish men, women, and children who crossed the Atlantic between 1846 and 1851. Thousands died on poorly organized landlord schemes to send immigrants to British North America on these “coffin ships” or shortly after their arrival. Due to tighter maritime regulations on American ships in addition to a shorter journey time across the Atlantic, immigrants to the United States fared better. Famine refugees continued to flow into America in very high numbers between 1848 and 1853, reaching over 200,000 in 1851. According to Oscar Handlin, 121,381 passengers came from Ireland to Boston from 1841 to 1851, and it is probable that a considerable number of the 22,777 who arrived from English and Scottish ports such as Liverpool and Glasgow were also Irish.
Many of these Famine era immigrants subsequently brought their relatives to America, creating a pattern of “chain migration’ that lasted into the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1849, the Emigration Commissioner in Ireland observed, “Emigration begets emigration; almost the whole of the Irish emigration last year, certainly more than three quarters of it, was paid for by the money sent home from America.” Decisions to emigrate were increasingly based on careful calculation of economic benefits rather than the panic driven exodus of the late 1840s.
Scots-Irish immigrants came from the historic province of Ulster (in the north of Ireland). Scottish settlers began to come in large numbers to Ulster in the early decades of the 1600s. British King James I sought to solidify control by transferring land ownership to Protestants and by settling their lands with Protestant tenants (English and Scottish). Scottish settlers continued to come to Ireland throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Most of the Scots-Irish who came to America in the colonial period settled in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Nonetheless, there was significant Scots-Irish settlement in each of the thirteen American colonies.
Many of the earliest Scots-Irish immigrants (of the 1720s and 1730s) first settled in Pennsylvania. Many then moved down from Pennsylvania into Virginia and the Carolinas. From there immigrants and their descendants went on to populate the states of Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the 1780s and 1790s. (Do you see a pattern of the character of these strong, fierce settlers with warrior blood flowing through their veins?)
There is a myriad of possible reasons for the immigration of so many of the Scots-Irish to America in the 1700s. High rents and religious persecution have often been blamed. Most of the Scots-Irish came freely to the American colonies, although there were also some who were deported as prisoners or came as indentured servants. Others came with British Army regiments and remained in the American colonies.
Millions of Americans have Scots-Irish ancestors. In fact, when America won its independence, approximately one out of every ten persons was Scotch-Irish. A more brave or fierce soul has not been found than that which lives inside the Scots-Irish. Still, only a few descendants among these millions know much about their ancestors—about what the hyphenated name implies, where the original Scots-Irishmen came from and why, or what part did these people played in early American history and culture especially our West Virginian culture.
I am so honored to say, “I’m Scots-Irish. I hope that those of you who are Scots-Irish too, are too!”
Written by: Patricia Harris, President, DC Historical Society