Appendix (Part 2) - The Scotch-Irish in America

Source:The Scotch-Irish in America
Author:Samuel Swett Green

Mr. Murray wrote again to the Worcester Daily Telegram. This letter was in the paper of July 8.

To the Editor of The Telegram:

Samuel Swett Green in your issue of the 28th ult., replies to my communication of a day or two previous anent the “Scotch-Irish,” so called.

I take exceptions to certain points advanced by him in his latest contribution, as I have to others which he had previously brought forward.

Still, there is so much in his present reply in the nature of concession to my position, that our bone of contention is being rapidly reduced to a minimum. This is practically the outcome Mr. Green indicated would result as soon as we got together and compared views and notes. In his latest reply Mr. Green thus manfully writes:—

“In regard to the use of the term Scotch-Irish, I did not realize that I should give offence by employing it, and I probably should have used some other designation to convey my meaning rather than irritate bodies of men whom I respect. I used the word, however, only in a descriptive sense, just as I sometimes use the terms Afro-American and Swedish-American. I entirely agree with Mr. Murray that, generally speaking, it is best not to use words which show the differences of the inhabitants of a country rather than the things which they hold in common. For example, it is better to speak generally of Americans, rather than Irish-Americans or French-Americans.”

After this candid admission very little remains to be said. So much of what I have been contending for is comprised in it that a vast amount of debris has been cleared away, thus enabling us to survey the field to better advantage.

The tendency nowadays among Americans of Irish extraction, is to drop the prefix Irish, and it is well that this is so. No more patriotic Americans can be found than those of immediate or remote Irish descent. And this has been so from the beginning. Ten years ago I wrote in the Boston Globe on the staff of which I was at the time, that it was in bad taste to insist on hampering an American on every possible occasion, with the prefix “Irish” or “German” or “French” or “Scotch.” With as much or as little sense might the late Robert C. Winthrop be spoken of as an “English-American,” or the Knickerbocker element in New York continue to be labelled “Dutch-Americans.”

But the principle herein contained is not of recent conception. The bulk of the most progressive and highly educated people in Ireland of Scottish descent, have for centuries held like sentiments. In their own estimation they were “Irish” and wished to be so regarded. The evidence on this point is so overwhelmingly abundant that it seems a waste of time to dwell upon it. A few there were, no doubt, who were ashamed of their Irish nationality just as we have in our country to-day a certain class of wretched Anglo-maniacs who, despising their birthright, can admire nothing save what is English.

These patriotic Irish of Scotch descent, mentioned above, objected to being loaded down with a foreign prefix on the same principle that we Americans object to similar hyphenated terms. And they were right as we are right. What then must be thought of people to-day in this country who persistently label themselves Scotch-Irish or Scotch-Irish-Americans? Very little that is complimentary, I am sure.

Mr. Green quotes Hon. Leonard A. Morrison of Canobie Lake, N. H., who boasts that even after 200 years residence in Ireland his family still remained aliens. I pity the man who would make such a boast. At the same time, I can hardly suppress a smile at Mr. Morrison’s breakneck anxiety to get away from the awful suspicion that he may be considered “merely Irish.” But he is handicapped at the outset. His name—Morrison,—is deplorably Irish. In fact, few names can trace a longer pure Irish pedigree than his. The Morrison families, too, were proud ones among the old Irish nobility. The stem goes back to a period anterior even to the Irish colonization of Scotland. If Mr. Morrison wants pedigree and ancestral glory he will stick to Ireland. Still there is no accounting for tastes, and if he wishes to cut loose from the ancient Irish stock, we, who glory in that stock, will make no effort to detain him.

Hon. John C. Linehan, the historian of the Irish in New Hampshire, and now Insurance Commissioner of the State, thus writes:—

“In these latter days a new school of writers has sprung up, whose pride of ancestry outstrips their knowledge, and whose prejudices blind their love of truth. With the difference in religion between certain sections of the Irish people as a basis, they are bent in creating a new race, christening it ‘Scotch-Irish,’ laboring hard to prove that it is a ‘brand’ superior to either of the two old types, and while clinging to the Scotch root, claim that their ancestors were different from the Irish in blood, morals, language and religion. This is a question not difficult to settle for those who are disposed to treat it honestly, but, as a rule, the writers who are the most prolific, as well as the speakers who are the most eloquent, know the least about the subject, and care less, if they can only succeed in having their theories accepted. The Irish origin of the Scots is studiously avoided by nearly all the Scotch-Irish writers, or if mentioned at all, is spoken of in a manner which leaves the reader to infer that the Scots had made a mistake in selecting their ancestors, and it was the duty of their descendants, so far as it lay in their power, to rectify the error.

What a vast difference there is between the contracted spirit shown by Mr. Morrison, and the love for Ireland and the Irish which the great, big hearted Dr. McSparran displayed. What a difference, too, between Mr. Morrison, who tries to avoid kindred with the pure, unalloyed Irish, and Gen. John McNeil, another descendant of a Londonderry settler, who in 1830, joined the Charitable Irish Society, thus wishing to identify himself with the Sons of Hibernia.

In my previous letter to The Telegram alluding to Parson McSparran’s work, the types made me say “Americans Dissected,” it should be “America Dissected.” Also when referring to St. Patrick’s lodge of Masons, the date should have been 1770 and not 1700, as it appeared in print.

Commissioner Linehan says in speaking of the Irish arrivals in Worcester: “Rev. Edward Fitzgerald (a Scotch name in no sense whatever) was the first pastor of the Presbyterian church in Worcester, in 1718. His congregation had rather a sorry time of it trying to establish themselves in the Heart of the Commonwealth. The margin between the Congregational and Presbyterian churches was narrow, but the former widened it by tearing down the church of the newcomers, not leaving the timber, even, on the ground… John Young came to Worcester in 1718, from Ireland, with his family. The town historian, Lincoln, wrote that the ‘Scotch-Irish’ were accompanied by a few of the native Irish, and mentions Young as one of them; and that he was the first man to introduce the cultivation of the potato in Worcester. Here is a concession the mere Irish ought to be thankful for—that there were even a few came; but it certainly is queer that their Boston brethren persisted in calling themselves Irish, notwithstanding they were as Protestant as the Worcester or New Hampshire people of the same period.”

Why anybody of Irish birth or descent should try to sink his glorious heritage and seek to establish himself as “Scotch rather than Irish,” is something I cannot understand. Ireland possesses a far more ancient civilization than either Scotland or England. Her hagiology, her educational institutions, her old nobility, her code of laws, her jurisprudence, are of much greater antiquity. “The Irish,” declares Collins, “colonized Scotland, gave to it a name, a literature and a language, gave it a hundred songs and gave it Christianity.” For additional evidence on this point see Knight, Lingard, Chambers, Lecky, Venerable Bede, Buckle, Pinkerton, Logan, Thebaud, Sir Henry Maine and other authors.

Mr. Joseph Smith, an Irish Protestant of Lowell, Mass., in a letter to the Pilot in September, 1892, alluding to a writer who dwells upon the “Scotch-Irish,” says:—

“I object as an Irishman and a Protestant to having my race and religion misrepresented, and I most vigorously protest against a Scotchman’s posing as the mouthpiece and defender of Irish Protestanism. The Irish Protestants need no defender; they have always been amply able to take care of themselves, and they have always been honorably prominent in the efforts to ameliorate the condition of their country and give it a strong nationality in which the question of religious faith should be merely incidental and unimportant. Irish Protestants are Irish, and they never had and never needed Scotch aid to fight their battles.

“My people have lived in Ulster for hundreds of years, but we were never stigmatized as Scotch-Irish. We of Ulster, Protestant and Catholic, are Irish, pure and simple; and Irish nationality, undiluted by Scotch vinegar or British water, is quite good enough for us. The strength of the movement of ’83 was in Ulster; the United Irish Society was formed in Ulster, and it was Irish, with no use whatever for Scotch ideas or allies I, as an Irishman of Ulster blood and Protestant religion, stoutly scorn this man and his Scotch-Irish rubbish. I am an Irishman, pure and simple, and I protest with vigor against my religion being used to deprive me of my nationality by this self-elected missionary. I utterly repudiate him and all his kind, and array myself under the standard of Grattan and Emmet and Parnell, and take a glorious pride in remembering that innumerable movements for Irish nationality against English misrule has been captained by Irish Protestants.”

Mr. Green intimates that he is going to claim President Jackson as Irish of the prefix variety. Surely Mr. Green cannot be acquainted with the origin of the Irish Jacksons—the name coming down through the centuries from the old Milesian stock. President Jackson himself was assuredly not afflicted with the “Scotch-Irish” heresy. Read his address at Boston, in June, 1833, to the Charitable Irish Society. On that occasion President Boyd of the Society, a Protestant, said, addressing Jackson: “Irishmen have never been backward in giving support to the institutions of this country, nor in showing due respect to the chief magistrate thereof; but when the highest office is held by the son of an Irishman, we must be allowed to indulge in some feelings of pride as well as patriotism.”

To this President Jackson responded: “I feel much gratified, sir, at this testimony of respect shown me by the Charitable Irish Society of this city. It is with great pleasure that I see so many of the countrymen of my father assembled on this occasion. I have always been proud of my ancestry and of being descended from that noble race, and rejoice that I am so closely allied to a country which has so much to recommend it to the good wishes of the world. Would to God, sir, that Irishmen on the other side of the great water enjoyed the comforts, happiness and liberty they enjoy here. I am well aware, sir, that Irishmen have never been backward in giving their support to the cause of liberty. They have fought, sir, for this country valiantly, and I have no doubt would fight again were it necessary, but I hope it will be long before the institutions of our country need support of that kind. Accept my best wishes for the happiness of you all.” (See records of the Society).

How the spirit of old Pat Calhoun must groan when certain writers traduce his memory by holding his son up and apart as “Scotch-Irish.” In his lifetime he surely never dreamt it would come to this.

A few years since the Protestant Archbishop Plunkett of Ireland, in addressing some Presbyterian visitors, said: “I hope that while we shall always be very proud of our imperial nationality; proud of our connection with the British empire, on the history of which, as Irishmen, we have shed some lustre in the past, and from our connection with which we have derived much advantage in return,—while we are proud, I say, of our imperial nationality, let us never be forgetful of our Irish nationality. We may be descended from different races—the Danes, Celts, Saxons, and Scots—but we form a combined stratum of our own, and that is Irish, and nothing else.”

I cannot better extend this communication than by reproducing an extract from my original reply to Mr. Green, published in the Boston Traveller: An Episcopalian friend once said to me: “I notice that so long as an Irishman in this country goes to the Roman Catholic church, he is spoken of as Irish; but should he change his creed and frequent the Baptist or the Methodist church, he is immediately referred to by his new friends as “Scotch-Irish.” This is a fair specimen of the shaky ground on which the shibboleth rests.

Touching upon the subject of Sarah Alexander, mother of the hero of Lake Erie, I ask Mr. Green if he would consider himself any the less an American because his grandfather happened to be English or Irish or Scotch? He avoids a direct answer to this, and good-naturedly brushes the question aside. So I must repeat it.

Mr. Green facetiously remarks that he might be able to establish a few Scottish ancestors for myself. I think not. The Murrays (Irish, O’Muiredhaigh) are in origin Irish of the Irish. They trace descent back many centuries and at different periods have been dynasts in Cork, Meath, Derry, Mayo and other districts. They are kin to the O’Mahoneys, McCarthys and other historic Irish septs. So you see, Mr. Green, how hopeless your task would be.

Speaking of the name borne by my correspondent, I have known sturdy, full-blooded Irishmen, right from Cork and Galway, who were named both Green and Greene. Did time allow, perhaps I could trace Irish descent on the part of the distinguished librarian. I am sure he would be pleased to have me do so.

As I stated in a former letter, this “Scotch-Irish” fad has, in very truth, become an unutterable bore. While some Irish people of immediate or remote Scottish descent did unquestionably come to these shores, not five per cent. of those claimed as such by current writers were really of Scotch extraction. And these were so hopelessly overwhelmed in numbers by other Irish who came that any attempt to claim exclusive merit for the handful can only result in mortification to the claimant.

The part the Irish—the “mere Irish”—took in our revolutionary war is safely recorded in American history. “You have lost America by the Irish!” exclaimed Lord Mountjoy (1783) in the British parliament. Loyalist Galloway when questioned in the Commons as to the composition of our patriot army, replied: “I can answer the question with precision. They were scarcely one-fourth natives of America, about one-half Irish, the other fourth English and Scotch.” Ramsey declares “the Irish in America were almost to a man on the side of independence,” and Plowden says that many of the successes of the patriots “were immediately owing to the vigorous exertions and prowess of the Irish emigrants who bore arms in that cause.”

The precious “Scotch-Irish” of modern times had not yet eventuated, it would appear. I cannot close this letter more appropriately than by quoting the tribute of Washington’s adopted son, G. W. P. Custis, who thus speaks of the plain, every day Irish:—

“Then honored be the old and good services of the sons of Erin in the war of independence. Let the shamrock be entwined with the laurels of the revolution, and truth and justice guiding the pen of history inscribe on the tablets of America’s remembrance, eternal gratitude to Irishmen.”

Thomas Hamilton Murray.

Lawrence, Mass., July 6, 1895.

The correspondence closed with the following letter from Mr. Green in The Worcester Daily Telegram of July 9, 1895:

To the Editor of The Telegram:

Mr. Murray in his rejoinder, this morning, to my reply to his recent communication, says that after a certain statement which I had made in the reply, which he quotes, and, in his use of our language, calls an “admission,” “very little remains to be said.”

He will therefore excuse me if, with a great deal of work crowding on me, I answer his last letter briefly, and, without agreeing with or disputing the assertions made by him regarding the general subject of what he would call the Scotch-Irish myth, merely reply to a question to which he says I avoided “a direct answer,” and write a few words in defence of Hon. Leonard A. Morrison.

Mr. Murray writes: “I ask Mr. Green if he would consider himself any the less an American because his grandfather happened to be English or Irish or Scotch.”

I had supposed that I had made my answer clear, but, as I do not seem to have been understood, I state distinctly that, under the circumstances mentioned, I should not consider myself any the less an American.

I will add that, under the same circumstances, I should feel at perfect liberty, did I so choose, to call myself an English-American, Irish-American or a Scotch-American, and that I do not believe I should resent it if my friends and acquaintances spoke of me in that way. It is natural and pleasant for many Americans to have the love which they bear the lands of their birth or of their ancestors recognized by an appropriate adjective before the name of the beloved country to which they now belong.

Mr. Murray seems to think that Mr. Morrison and all other persons who choose to be known as Scotch-Irish are ashamed of the name Irish.

Is that true? I am sure it is not.

If they wish to avoid being known as Irishmen, why do they not call themselves Scotchmen? Many of them I am sure, feel that while they retained the characteristics of Scotchmen, while living in Ireland, they also gained much by coming in contact with the people of Ireland.

Mr. Morrison is a student of the history of the North of Ireland, and is very proud of being descended from ancestors who lived there. He knows, of course, as do Mr. Linehan and I, that, according to the old traditions, emigrants from Ireland settled Scotland and gave it its name. But he believes, and I believe, that the mixture of races, as they were to be found in the lowlands of Scotland, from which the large colonies went into Ireland in the 17th century, was very different from the mixture of races to be found among the Irish of the same period. Mr. Linehan would probably deny this statement, but I think that people generally who have read of Scotchmen and Irishmen, or who have come in contact with them, believe that the two races differed widely during the century under consideration, and that the differences in race characteristics which showed themselves then are very obvious now.

Samuel Swett Green.

12 Harvard street, July 8, 1895.

The passage of more than one hundred years since The Scotch-Irish in America by Henry Jones Ford was first published in 1915 has rendered the book no less fascinating and gripping. Written in a thoroughly accessible way, it tells the story of how the hardy breed of men and women, who in America came to be known as the ‘Scotch-Irish’, was forged in the north of Ireland during the seventeenth century. This book is a comprehensive and very informative account of the history of the Scotch-Irish in America.