Scotch-Irish Emigration to America

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

It is easy to see, after the recital of facts just given, why the Scotch settlers in Ulster became discontented, and large numbers of them emigrated to America in the eighteenth century. In addition to their sufferings from the repression of trade and commerce and from religious disabilities, agriculture was in a miserable condition, and at times when land leases expired, the settlers could only renew them by paying a largely increased rent.[16] The emigration to America was very striking. Some of the Scottish settlers went before 1700, and very early in the eighteenth century, but the great bulk of the emigrants came to this country at two distinct periods of time: the first, from 1718 to the middle of the century; the second, from 1771 to 1773; although there was a gentle current westward between these two eras. In consequence of the famine of 1740 and 1741, it is stated that for “several years afterwards, 12,000 emigrants annually left Ulster for the American plantations”; while from 1771 to 1773, “the whole emigration from Ulster is estimated at 30,000, of whom 10,000 are weavers.”[17] August 4, 1718, there arrived in Boston five small ships containing probably about seven hundred and fifty emigrants from the north of Ireland.[18] These were nearly all Scotch-Irish. Their arrival was not unexpected, for, before coming, they had sent over a messenger to Governor Shute and been encouraged to come. A portion of the emigrants had resolved to unite in forming a settlement, and to place themselves under the pastoral care of Rev. James MacGregor, a Presbyterian minister who came over with them. Sixteen or twenty families from among these, embarked in a brigantine and sailed east in search of a suitable site for a town, the remainder going for the present to Andover and Dracut. The party in the brigantine explored a considerable portion of the coast of Maine and, as cold weather came on, concluded to winter in Casco Bay at Falmouth, now Portland. They had a hard winter there and when spring came determined, with some exceptions, to seek a place of settlement with a milder and otherwise more agreeable climate. They sailed west, entered the Merrimack River and came to Haverhill. Here they heard of the town of Nutfield, now Londonderry, New Hampshire. Having examined the place, they determined to settle there. Here they were joined by the members of their party who had gone temporarily into the country, including Rev. Mr. MacGregor, and laid the foundations of a prosperous town. Londonderry grew rapidly, Scotch-Irishmen already in this country flocking to it, and emigrants of that race coming from the north of Ireland to New England generally choosing it as their place of settlement.

Another portion of the emigrants who came to Boston in 1718 went to Worcester, Massachusetts, to live. Professor Arthur L. Perry, of Williamstown, whose father was born in Worcester and whose family is one of the old families of the place, himself a descendant of one of the Scotch-Irish settlers in Worcester and an interested student of the qualities and career of that portion of the early inhabitants of the town, estimates that more than 200 Scotch-Irish people[19] went to Worcester in 1718; they probably outnumbering the population already there, who are represented as occupying fifty-eight log houses.[20]

At the time when these inhabitants went to Worcester, the people of that place were making a third attempt at settlement, they having been dispersed twice before by the Indians; and the town was not organized until September, 1722. It appears by the town records that some of the officers chosen in the earliest town meetings were Scotch-Irishmen. That element of the population was not popular, however, and although the government of the Province was glad to have this addition to the number of the inhabitants of a frontier town exposed to the depredations of Indians, and although the older occupants of the place may have looked with favor at first upon the coming of the Scotch-Irish, the newcomers soon came to be disliked and were treated with marked inhospitality. They were of a different race; there was an especial prejudice against the Irish which worked to their disadvantage, although they were in reality, most of them, Scotchmen, who had merely lived in Ireland. The habits of the foreigners were different from those of the older inhabitants. They differed also in the form of their religion, and although staunch Protestants the Congregationalists, who made up the earlier settlers, were not ready to tolerate the Presbyterianism of the newcomers.

The Scotch-Irish were treated so inhospitably in Worcester that, while a considerable number of them remained there, the larger portion went away, some to Coleraine, many to Pelham;[21] and, after the destruction of the church they were building, many others to Western (now Warren), Blandford and other towns where they could live more comfortably and enjoy a larger liberty. They introduced the potato, so generally known in this vicinity as the Irish potato, into Worcester[22] as well as into Andover, Massachusetts, and other towns and parts of the country where they settled. They are said to have made spinning fashionable in Boston.

Dr. Matthew Thornton, the distinguished New Hampshire statesman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was brought to this country by his father when only two or three years old. He received an “academical”[23] education in Worcester and after studying medicine settled down in Londonderry, New Hampshire, to practise his profession.[24] At the second annual town meeting in Worcester, held in March, 1724, James McClellan, the great-great-great Scotch-Irish grandfather of General George B. McClellan, was chosen a constable. Honorable George T. Bigelow, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, through his grandmother, the wife of Colonel Timothy Bigelow, a revolutionary soldier of local reputation, was descended from one of the members of the Scotch-Irish colony in Worcester. Professor Perry has also announced the discovery that the great botanist Asa Gray was a great-great-grandson of the first Scotch-Irish Matthew Gray of Worcester.

There are in Worcester to-day two old houses which are believed to have been built and occupied by the early Scotch-Irish residents, Andrew McFarland and Robert Blair.

It is an interesting fact that Abraham Blair and William Caldwell, of Worcester, and several of the inhabitants of Londonderry, N. H., as survivors of the brave men who defended Londonderry, Ireland, in 1689, were, with their heirs, freed from taxation, by Act of Parliament, in British Provinces, and occupied what were here known until the Revolution as “exempt farms.”

As has been related, a few of the Scotch-Irish emigrants who came to Boston in the vessels which arrived August 4, 1718, settled in Maine, a large portion went to Londonderry, N. H., and two hundred or so to Worcester. A considerable number, however, remained in Boston, and, uniting with those of their countrymen of their own faith already there, formed the religious society which was known as the Presbyterian Church in Long Lane—afterwards Federal Street. That Church became Congregational in 1786, and, on April 4, 1787, Dr. Jeremy Belknap, the founder and one of its officers until his death, of the Massachusetts Historical Society, was installed as its pastor. This is the same society which later had William Ellery Channing for its minister, and the successor to which is the Unitarian body which worships in the stone New England meeting-house on Arlington Street.

In 1719 and 1720 several hundred families of Scotch-Irish from the north of Ireland were landed on the shores of the Kennebec River in Maine in accordance with arrangements made by an Irish gentleman, Robert Temple.[25] They were soon dispersed by Indians and a large portion of the settlers went to Pennsylvania, and considerable numbers to Londonderry and other places. Some remained in Maine, however. This immigration is of particular interest to members of this Society, for its conductor, Robert Temple, was the ancestor of our second president, Thomas Lindall Winthrop, and his son, Robert Charles Winthrop, who has for so long a time taken a marked interest in our proceedings and whose loss is fresh in our memories to-day.

From 1629 to 1632 Colonel Dunbar was governor of Sagadahoc, a tract of land lying between the Kennebec and St. Croix rivers. He was a Scotch-Irishman, and made some of his countrymen large owners of land in the territory under him. They in turn introduced, in the course of two or three years, one hundred and fifty families into the territory. These were mostly Scotch-Irish, and came partly from older settlements in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and partly from Ireland. Numerous descendants of the settlers are to be found to-day in the territory which Dunbar governed, and others are scattered over the whole State of Maine.

Samuel Waldo, a member of a family well known in Boston and Worcester, was probably the last person to introduce a colony of the Scotch-Irish people into Maine prior to the Revolution. He owned large tracts of land between the Penobscot and St. George rivers. His first settlers, who went upon his lands in 1735, were Scotch-Irish, some recent immigrants, some who had been in the country since 1718. Their posterity are excellent citizens. Some of the persons wrecked in the “Grand Design” from the north of Ireland, on Mt. Desert, settled on Waldo’s lands. In 1753, Samuel Waldo formed in Scotland a company of sixty adults and a number of children to settle on his possessions.

Our lamented Scotch-Irish associate, Governor Charles H. Bell, of Exeter, N. H., in the address which he made at the 150th anniversary of the settlement of old Nutfield (Londonderry), June 10, 1869, calls attention to the fact of “the prodigious increase in numbers which the descendants of the early Londonderry stock have attained, in the four or five generations which have passed away since the colony, of such slender proportions, was formed.” “It is estimated,” he said, “by persons best qualified to pronounce upon the subject, that the aggregate, in every section, would now fall little short of 50,000 souls.”[26]

Certain it is that a large portion of the inhabitants of New Hampshire and Maine, and a considerable portion of those in Massachusetts, as well as many persons in Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut have had Scotch-Irish ancestors. When this people has settled in some part of our country it has sent out colonies. Parker, the historian of Londonderry, says that “during the period of twenty-five years preceding the Revolution, ten distinct settlements were made by emigrants from Londonderry, all of which have become towns of influence and importance in the State.”[27]

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.