The character of the Scotch Irish
In this attempt to give some impression of the Scotch in Ireland and in America, so much emphasis has been placed upon documentary history that race characteristics have played only a small part in the story. But these people of Coleraine on the Bann, of Strabane and Londonderry, came into the rural settlements of the New World with so distinct a personality, with customs and habits so marked, that they left an enduring impress. Since the days of the battle of Dunbar (1650), or for nearly a cen tury, the Scotchman had lived in the Atlantic col onies. How did his influence differ from that of his Scotch cousin of Ulster who came to America in 1718? Did the life in Ulster really effect a change? Certainly orators and writers have from time to time made this claim.
The lowland Scotch and their borderland English neighbors left heather-clad mountains and grazing flocks to cross the narrow waters of the North Channel into Antrim and Down. They abandoned pastoral land for flax fields and bleach-greens, surrendering an isolated existence to live close together upon small farms. Speaking of Aghadowey Miss Mary Semple of Lame writes: "The whole region is quite level, witli a gentle slope to the river. The southern end of the village joins Kilrea, and throughout its length can be traced houses built by its first Scotch settlers. These are in clusters and are termed Slackens/ Gaelic for village. The peo ple are a strong-looking race, the men tall and well formed, the women rather above medium height. They are principally farmers, but many work on the bleach-greens, while others spend their lives in weav ing on looms which stand in their own homes."
New scenes must have quickened the mental proc esses of the transplanted Scot, and the greater com munity life enlarged the social instinct. The Epis copalians, all-powerful in government, and the Eoman Catholics, strong in numbers, pressed in upon every side, and forced the Presbyterians to an exercise of their loyalty and patience, while the spirit of proselyting which existed everywhere in Ulster sharpened their wits. Under a century of these social and religious influences the Scotch char acter must have changed.
"It was," said Mr. Morison in his life of Jeremiah Smith, "the sternness of the Scotch covenanter, softened by a century's residence abroad amid persecution and trial, wedded there to the pathos and comic humor of the Irish. " And President McKinley, another scion of the same stock, said of the Scotch Irishman, "He was the result of a slow fusion of diverse characteristics. Time and trial had given to the Scot in Ireland memories, both of bloody Claverhouse in Scotland and of Tyrconnel in Ireland, that became a part of his fibre. The illiterate mother in the hills of Kentucky today passes on her burden of tradition when she exclaims to her unruly son: "Behave yourself, or Clavers will get you!" To her Clavers is but a bogey; to her ancestors Graham of Claverhouse was a very real cause for terror. If that is an inheritance from the days of religious warfare what shall we say of Gabriel Barr and Rachel Wilson, lovers for forty years, who would not or could not marry because there were two warring Presbyterian churches in Londonderry and neither lover would abandon an allegiance of faith for the ties of affection?
The Rev. Dr. Macintosh in his charming essay on "The making of the Ulsterman" calls the trans planted Scot more versatile and more fertile in re source, less clannish and less pugnacious, or in other terms a man of wider vision. His beliefs were con sistent and well defined. Against the Puritan s town meeting the Scotch Irishman placed the legis lature; for the congregation he substituted the assembly; instead of laying stress upon personality, he emphasized partnership.
Since the denial of the franchise to non-conform ists in Ireland threw the Scotch Irish back upon their church assemblies for exercise in government they were perhaps the more eager for participation in affairs of state when they reached America. Ac customed to close reasoning in debate the Scotch Irish leaders from Maine to Georgia accepted po litical responsibility promptly and successfully.
Oppression commercially, politically and re ligiously in Ireland prepared those who emigrated to the colonies to enter the civic school of Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams. Nor were they unpre pared for the inevitable result. Whatever of mili tary science the Scotch Irish did not learn at the siege of Londonderry they acquired in the French and Indian wars in the New World. Their rugged life fitted them to endure camp and march ; and their inborn hostility toward England led them to forge to the front in the early weeks of the year 1775 when many good men of the old English race wavered in the face of war with Great Britain.
The Scotch Irish have never claimed that they brought literature or art to these shores. They knew little of the former and nothing of aesthetics. Diaries and letters of the migration period do not exist and perhaps never did exist. Let us speak frankly. Every race brings to our western civiliza tion a gift of its own. These people from Ulster cared very little for the beautiful, with the single exception of the wonderful and beautiful Bible story. Even the New Testament they handled as a laborer might touch a Sevres vase reverently but rudely. The Rev. Matthew Clark of Kilrea, a veteran of the Londonderry siege and a popular minister at the American Londonderry, was a type of the patriot soldier, rough, sturdy, independent. Preaching from Philippians iv. 13 he began with the words: " I can do all things. Ay, can ye, Paul? I ll bet a dollar o that!" whereupon he drew a Spanish dollar from his pocket and placed it beside his Bible on the pulpit. Then, with a look of sur prise he continued : ( Stop ! let's see what else Paul says: I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me. Ay, sae can I, Paul ; I draw my bet ! and he returned the dollar to his pocket. We may wonder that such preaching fostered the sim ple trust and abiding faith evident in the dying words of Mrs. Morison of Londonderry. When asked what she would have more, she replied: "Nothing but Christ."
The Scotch Irish could not see that the severe lines of a cabin are softened by a sumac against the south wall or a creeper at the corner. They did not trim the edge of the roadway that led to the front door. In short, utility required nothing of these things and utility was their law. For the same rea son, if the soles of their feet were tough they saw small need of shoes in summer. Their bare feet, however, gave something of a shock to century-old New England.
This rude development of taste was based possibly upon a primitive state of education. Although many served as local school-masters, it is evident that few even of the scant number who attained a college education ever learned to write well or to spell correctly their English language. William Smith of Moneymore, Ireland, was a bright lad in his use of the pen, and his school-master wrote in his copy book :
William Smith of Moneymar
Beats his master far and awar:
I mean in writing
William's son Judge Smith of Peterborough, New Hampshire, after copying these and other lines upon birch bark became so proficient that he was em ployed to write letters, basing commissions from young lovers upon the burning phrases in the Song of Solomon.
The earliest emigrants knew Gaelic, and some may even have had no other language until they settled among English and Dutch colonists in America. I have found no direct mention of Gaelic in New England, but Eupp the Pennsylvania historian speaks of the disappearance of the language before his day. The authorities in Georgia in 1735 applied to the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge for a minister to preach in Gaelic and to catechise the children in English. John Macleod of the Isle of Sky was sent out in response to this request. Gaelic lingered among the old Scotch emigrants very much as Presbyterianism in New England remained with the aged after their children and grandchildren had turned to Congregationalism.
In the industrial field the Scotch Irish at the out set contributed to New England s economic life; they taught their new neighbors the value of the "Irish" potato as a common article of food, and to make fine linen out of flax. The potato which now is a large part of the annual crop of every Northern farmer was rare in the colonies before 1718.
The spinning industry soon became so popular that a public school of spinning was proposed in Boston in 1720, and the following year the select men, together with a special committee, were empowered to let out without interest three hundred pounds to any one who should establish a school for instruction in spinning flax and weaving linen. In 1732 the Hon. Daniel Oliver, who had been a member of the Committee in 1720, died, leaving the old Spin ning House adjoining Barton's Ropewalk, with its "Promts and Incomes ... for learning poor children of the Town of Boston to Eead the word of God and to write if need be.
In time, when they had grown accustomed to their new environment, the Scotch Irish did more than to defend the frontier and fight the battles of the Revolution, for they excelled also in letters and in art.
It is evident that whether we view the Scotch Irish pioneers from the standpoint of education, or culture, or material success of the larger kind, they were in 1718 in their proper place when Cotton Mather consigned them to the frontier. The life there conformed to their standards, as measured by their opportunity at that time. Those who remained in Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston were very generally tradesmen, and on account of the Ulster industries many naturally were tailors. But they were none the less virile, earnest and ambitious. A line of settlements extending from the Maine seacoast westward through New Hampshire and south westerly through western Massachusetts into a part of New York, and thence through Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, might be expected to produce much when a second generation had come to manhood on American soil. And the roll of statesmen, preach ers and soldiers proves that these Scotch Irish did possess latent power of a high order.
All that has been said of the character of those who constituted the great migration to New Eng land in 1718 applies equally to the brothers, cousins and neighbors in old Ireland who swarmed across the sea into the middle and southern colonies. For every one who landed at Boston a dozen set foot in Philadelphia and Charleston. In Massachusetts they were an incident in history ; at the South while they did not outnumber the natives they helped to make history. In 1790, following the Eevolution, the Scotch Irish in Maine still clung in greatest numbers about the Kennebec ; in New Hampshire on both sides of the Merrimack; and in Massachusetts they were to be found along the Merrimac, in the val ley of the Connecticut and around the ancient settle ments of Worcester and Eutland. In New York state they inhabited the banks of the Hudson near Albany. Pennsylvania still held a great Scotch Irish population, not only on the fertile shores of the Schuylkill and the Susquehanna, where they first found homes, but now all about the source rivers of the great Ohio.
Farther south the Scotch Irish were very numerous in North Carolina, between the upper waters of the Great Pedee and the Catawba. Across the border in South Carolina the Scotch Irish found homes along the Saluda, the Broad and the Catawba, in two districts which then bore names made famous in Revolutionary history, Camden and Ninety six.
It cannot but be evident that the great water courses were in those days as vital in their influence upon colonization as they were to be upon the commerce which follows permanent settlements.
In no state did the Scotch Irish population in 1790 equal the English, averaging only 6.7 per cent, of the whole, but in every state except New York and Pennsylvania it stands second. The Scotch Irish were largely responsible for phenomenal increases in the population of New Hampshire and North Carolina between 1720 and 1740. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maryland already had a considerable population and new settlers made less impression on the per cent, of increase. The Scotch Irish family averaging 5.67 members, fell short of the English family of 5.77, a fact not expected of the later comer; but in energy, resource and endurance, in a desire to excel in arms and in political leadership the smaller family held its own.
The statement that the Scotch Irish in 1790 amounted to 6.7 per cent, of the entire population, although 7 per cent, would probably be nearer the truth, at least gives a vague basis for the comparison of Scotch Irish ability with that of other strains. We may turn then with some curiosity to a group of figures prepared by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge for the Century Magazine of September, 1891, under the title "Distribution of ability in the United States." These figures are founded on 14,243 biographies of Americans of more than average ability, as given in Appleton's Encyclopaedia of American Biography. The results were so much discussed in the press of that winter that Senator Lodge printed similar tables in the Century for July, 1892, based upon names selected in a different manner. The results were not unlike those first obtained.
The Scotch Irish he describes as the descendants of the Scotch and English who settled in the North of Ireland, with an infusion of Irish blood in some few instances.
Of the 14,243 influential people recorded, there were biographies of the
|Race.||No. and percent, of all biographies.||Percent of the population in 1790.|
|English||10,376 or 72.8%.||83.5%|
|Scotch Irish||1,439 or 10.1%||6.7%|
|German||659 or 4.6%||5.6%|
|Huguenot||589 or 4.2%||.5%|
|Others||1,180 or 8.2%||3.7%|
We find that the Germans, with a little less than one half as many biographies as the Scotch Irish, had more representatives in art, music and science; but in education, government, law, the stage, invention, exploration and war the Scotch Irish exceeded the Germans by more than three to one. As compared with the Huguenots the Scotch Irish were weaker in art and music, but were three times as strong in government, theology, exploration, invention and the stage. In careers devoted to government, war and exploration, just as one is prepared to expect, the Scotch Irish exceed their natural proportion; in literature, art, science, business, philanthropy and music careers ill suited to a pioneer life, they fall far short.
Those who are represented in the work by por traits, an indication of conspicuous ability, number 1,258. Of these, the men of Scotch Irish extraction number 137, or 10.9 per cent. ; the English 897, or 71.3 per cent. If this increase from 10.1 (non por trait class) to 10.9 per cent, (portrait class) means anything it suggests that among English and Scotch Irish men of ability the Scotch Irish more often pro duce men of the first rank.
New England may well be proud of General John Stark and General Henry Knox of the Revolution, and of General George B. McClellan of the Civil War; of Matthew Thornton, the signer of the Dec laration of Independence; of Horace Greeley, the editor; of Asa Gray the botanist; and of John Lothrop Motley the historian, all scions of the early Scotch Irish migration.
Further south were other great figures in our national life Governor Edward Rutledge, Vice President Calhoun, President Jackson, and also Wil liam McKinley, whose ancestors lived at Conagher s Farm in County Antrim, only a few hours walk from the homes of our Bann Valley settlers. We should like to believe that McKinley stands as a type of the best Scotch Irish manhood, simple in his habits, gen tle in his demeanor, strong in control of himself and a peace maker among his fellows.
Dr. Macintosh has said : "The plantation of the Scot into Ulster kept for the world the essential and the best features of the lowlander. But the vast change gave birth to and trained a somewhat new and distinct man, soon to be needed for a great task which only the Ulsterman could do ; and that work which none save God, the guide, foresaw was with Puritan to work the revolution that gave humanity this republic."