The Scotch-Irish and the American Revolution

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

The Scotch-Irish, as you would imply from what I have said before, entered into the contest of the Revolution, not only to uphold civil and religious liberty, but also with a zeal inspired by an ardent desire to pay off old scores.[55] The Scotch-Irish served in great numbers in the Continental array and in the militia of the several States during the Revolution, and the achievements of their officers and men were often brilliant. When the British landed at Charlestown “the two New Hampshire regiments were ordered to join the forces on Breed’s Hill. A part were detached to throw up a work on Bunker Hill, and the remainder under” the Colonels born in Londonderry, “Stark and Reed, joined the Connecticut forces under General Putnam, and the regiment of Colonel Prescott, at the rail-fence. ‘This was the very point of the British attack, the key of the American position.’”[56]

Again, it was John Stark who hurriedly gathered together 1,400 well-trained militia from New Hampshire and Vermont, and instead of making Molly Stark a widow, beat the detachment of troops which Burgoyne had sent to Bennington, giving the Americans the much needed inspiration of a victory. In less than two months followed the battle of Saratoga, October 7, 1777. Burgoyne was conducting an armed reconnoissance and much fighting ensued. The right of the British line was commanded by the brave Scotchman, General Simon Fraser. On the left of the American troops was the equally brave Scotch-Irish Colonel Morgan, with his regiment of sharpshooters. The Scotch-Irish in America were generally fine marksmen.[57] Seeing that an officer on an iron gray charger was active in the fight and that wherever he went he turned the tide of battle, Morgan, calling to some of the best men in his regiment, pointed to the officer and said, “Bring him down.” At the crack of a faithful rifle the gallant British officer reeled in his saddle and fell. That officer was Simon Fraser, the idol of Burgoyne’s army.[58] Burgoyne was now in straits, and failing to receive hoped-for aid from Sir Henry Clinton, surrendered his army on the 17th of the month.

A distinguished member of this Society[59] has labored hard, during the last few years, in forcible and eloquent speech, to secure for the pioneer settler of the Northwestern Territory, General Rufus Putman, of Rutland, Massachusetts, due recognition of what he regards as his great merits as an officer in the Revolutionary army, and his inestimable services in giving a proper tone to the settlements in the northwest. It is interesting to mention in connection with this fact another fact, namely, that the Northwestern Territory, then claimed by Virginia, was taken possession of in 1778, in an ever memorable campaign, by the great soldier, Colonel George Rogers Clark, of Scotch descent,[60] and two hundred brave men of the Scotch-Irish race whom he had collected for his secret expedition, in Augusta County, Virginia, and in Kentucky, at the command of the Scotch governor, Patrick Henry.

It would be a pleasant task to speak at length of the exploits, during the Revolution, of officers and men from the Middle and Southern States, of Scotch-Irish extraction, for a majority of the troops who served on the American side, from Pennsylvania and the States south of it, seem to have been of that nationality. I can only mention, however, the battle of King’s Mountain, which was fought by a body of troops composed of Huguenots and of Scotch-Irish volunteers. This battle took place the 7th of October, 1780, just three years after the memorable engagement at Saratoga, and, like the earlier contest, was a turning point in the affairs of the Americans. That battle was the forerunner of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, and stood in causal relations to it, just as the battle of Saratoga resulted in the capture of the army of Burgoyne.

Besides the officers already mentioned, the Scotch-Irish contributed to the Continental array during the Revolution such men as General Henry Knox of Massachusetts,[61] General George Clinton of New York,[62] and, as claimed on apparently good grounds, Colonel John Eager Howard of Maryland, who changed the fortunes of the day at the battle of Cowpens, Colonel William Campbell of Virginia, who won the battle of King’s Mountain, and General Andrew Pickens of South Carolina.[63]

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.