More than 100,000 Ulster Presbyterians of Scottish origin migrated to the American colonies in the six decades prior to the American Revolution, the largest movement of any group from the British Isles to British North America in the eighteenth century. Drawing on a vast store of archival materials, The People with No Name is the first book to tell this fascinating story in its full, transatlantic context. It explores how these people–whom one visitor to their Pennsylvania enclaves referred to as ”a spurious race of mortals known by the appellation Scotch-Irish”–drew upon both Old and New World experiences to adapt to staggering religious, economic, and cultural change. In remarkably crisp, lucid prose, Patrick Griffin uncovers the ways in which migrants from Ulster–and thousands like them–forged new identities and how they conceived the wider transatlantic community. The book moves from a vivid depiction of Ulster and its Presbyterian community in and after the Glorious Revolution to a brilliant account of religion and identity in early modern Ireland. Griffin then deftly weaves together religion and economics in the origins of the transatlantic migration, and examines how this traumatic and enlivening experience shaped patterns of settlement and adaptation in colonial America. In the American side of his story, he breaks new critical ground for our understanding of colonial identity formation and of the place of the frontier in a larger empire. The People with No Name will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in transatlantic history, American Colonial history, and the history of Irish and British migration.
Among the ethnic groups which have been largely neglected by historians are the Ulster Scots, or Scotch-Irish, as they came to be called in America. Indeed, few works besides James G. Leyburn’s 1962 classic study, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, have explored in depth their unique identity and assessed their valuable contributions to the formation of British North America. Griffin’s book explores how the Scotch-Irish identity was created from an active involvement in trans-Atlantic commerce and by several waves of immigration to the New World between the years 1718 and 1775. These migrations are noteworthy in that more than 100,000 men and women journeyed from their native Irish province of Ulster to forge new lives in the American colonies, largely motivated by fluctuations in the linen trade, religious persecution represented by the imposition of the Test Act, and schisms within their own churches. In fact, the Scotch-Irish represent the single largest movement of any group from the British Isles to North America during the eighteenth century.
The proportion was roughly four Scots to one Englishman. They largely displaced what Macaulay referred to as the “aboriginal Irish,” who were almost wholly Catholic. The Scots were Presbyterians and the English Anglicans with some dissenting creeds.
In order to clarify this paradox in the “Scotch-Irish” terminology, we shall have to go back to the old Whitehall Palace in London, on a day in September 1607, only four months after the English had planted the first permanent colony in America. King James I was disturbed by reports of further turbulence in his unruly Irish dominion. He decided to act on a proposal by Sir Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland, to repeople the island with Protestants.
That was the beginning of the Ulster Plantation. What then formed nine counties of Northern Ireland (now six counties) was actually re-peopled in the 17th century with Protestants from Northern England and the Lowlands of Scotland. The proportion was roughly four Scots to one Englishman.
They largely displaced what Macaulay referred to as the “aboriginal Irish,” or the ‘Black Irish’, who were often given the description of people of Irish origin who had dark features, black hair, dark complexion and eyes. who were almost wholly Catholic. The Scots were Presbyterians and the English Anglicans with some dissenting creeds.
Thus we have the Scotch-Irish who later were to be such a large factor in settling the New World. They disliked the term because they held the native Irish in contempt as an inferior people. The Irish, on their part, were equally averse to being linked in any way with a people they hated as invaders. But language grows without consent and in spite of ordinance. And so a hyphenated term that was repulsive to both parties and misleading in context was woven into history.
The incident has a rough parallel in the Democratic-Republican Party of Madison’s and Monroe’s time(USA). It is one of the ironies of British empire rule that having settled Ulster with people of the Protestant faith, it was not long until the British were persecuting the residents of the Plantation for holding to their dissenting Presbyterianism. By 1715 the Anglican church establishment had been so tightened that Presbyterians could not hold civil or military office, nor be married by their own ministers.
Even more galling to the Orangemen (as they came to be called after the Revolution of 1688 when William, Prince of Orange, became joint sovereign with his Queen Mary) were the trade restrictions imposed by the English as though on “foreigners.” The transplanted Scotch and English had made agriculture and stock-raising thrive on the rocky hills of Ulster. They had introduced flax growing and built a high-quality linen industry, and were engaging in superior woolen manufacture. Deprived of the right to export their goods even to the motherland or the other English colonies or to import from anywhere but England, their source of a livelihood was narrowed to bare subsistence.
It was under these circumstances that there began early in the 18th century and continued until around 1775 the great exodus of the Scotch-Irish to America. Within about a half century, fully half of the Ulsterites had emigrated. At the time of the American Revolution they constituted no less than one-sixth of the whole population in the 13 colonies, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
They came over, says W. E. H. Lecky, “their hearts burning with indignation, and in the War of Independence they were almost to a man on the side of the insurgents.” It was these comparative newcomers to the colonies, or their near descendants, who contributed 12 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and 12 of the 54 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The Mecklenburg Resolves voted by Scotch-Irish in North Carolina anticipated by more than a year the famous Declaration at Philadelphia which marked the birth of our nation.
One of the interesting footnotes to history records the proposal by Benjamin Franklin that in tribute to the Scotch-Irish zeal for the cause of independence, the Continental Congress should except Ireland from the non-importation agreement by the colonies. While this idea was found impracticable, the Congress did address a special apology to the people of Ireland for the necessity that forced them “to cease our commercial connexion with your island.” Shortly thereafter the British government yielded to Ireland what it had refused the American colonies—an end to the restrictions on commerce.