America and the Ulster-Scots
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History of the Scotch-Irish in America!
The Scots-Irish or the Ulster Scots, as they are known in this part of the world, were a unique race of people and those of us in Northern Ireland who belong to that noble tradition exude with pride at the exploits and achievements of brave men and women who created a civilisation out of a wilderness on the American frontier, 200-250 years ago.

This independent and spirited people had been on the move for several centuries before they made the trek across the Atlantic in simple wooden ships for a new life on the frontier. Most of them originated in lowland Scotland, some were of French Huguenot stock. They settled in the nine northern counties of Ireland in the 17th century in what were known as the Plantation years.


As Presbyterians these people were non-conformist to the Established Church of the day, the Anglican code, and during their settlement in Ulster they found great obstacles were raised to the means of propagating and witnessing for their Presbyterian faith.

Civil and religious liberty had been established to the British Isles by King William III Prince of Orange through the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 and initially the Scottish Planter stock appeared to be getting a better deal for their dissenting religious beliefs.

Over a 100-year period from about 1610 the Scots had moved primarily into counties Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Donegal and Londonderry; they had worked the farms, established industry with the French Huguenots who had fought alongside King William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and erected meeting houses for their Presbyterian form of worship and schools for the education of their children. In the Presbyterian culture, the church and the school are inter-twined and this was the case when the Scots-Irish arrived in Ireland and subsequently in America.


William's reign ended in 1702 and his cousin Anne ascended the throne of England, a High Anglican faction became dominant in Government circles in London, enacting legislation which weighed heavily on the minds and consciences of the Presbyterians of Ulster.

An Act was passed in 1703 which required all office-holders in Ireland to take the sacrament according to the Established Episcopal Church. As many Presbyterians held posts as magistrates in cities and towns like Belfast, Londonderry, Lisburn and Carrickfergus and exercised civil duties they were automatically disqualified unless they renounced the dissenting Calvinistic faith of the forefathers in Scotland.

Members of the Roman Catholic Church, who in the main constituted the native Irish population in Ireland, also bore the brunt of the discriminatory Test Act. However, in the administering of religion Roman Catholic priests were at least recognised by the High Churchmen as being lawfully ordained.
Presbyterian ministers were in no such position and right across Ulster they were turned out of their pulpits and threatened with legal proceedings should they defy the Episcopal edict from London. Ministers had no official standing; they were unable to sanctify marriage; unable to officiate at the burial of their congregation and prevented from teaching in schools on any aspect of the faith.
This narrow ill-thought-out piece of legislation left the Presbyterian population, by then a highly significant section of the Ulster community, deeply resentful and almost totally alienated from their political masters in the English Established Church. The Act had the effect of making the Presbyterian people think increasingly of starting a new life in America. Their protests had been ignored and there was, from the pulpit to the pew in some congregations, the feeling that this might be the only way to ease the suffering.


The harsh economics of life in Ireland in the early 18th century was another factor which made immigration more appealing. Four years of drought made life almost unbearable for the small peasant farmers on the hillsides of Ulster and with the High Church landlords staking claims to exorbitant rents and the textile industry in recession, the movement of the Scots-Irish to America began in earnest.

The Eagle Wing is believed to have been the first ship to set sail from Ulster's shores for America, but its 1636 voyage from the little Co. Down port of Groomsport was aborted after heavy storms in mid-Atlantic. Some 140 Presbyterians from congregations on both sides of Belfast Lough in North Down and East County Antrim sailed on September 9 bound for Boston but the journey ended back in Carrickfergus Bay on November 3 with the ships shrouds asunder, mainsail in ribbons, and rudder badly damaged.
It had been a traumatic experience for the voyagers who had completed three- quarters of the journey when one of the Presbyterian ministers accompanying them, the Rev. John Livingstone advised, in the face of the continuing storm, that it was God's will that they should return home. The ship's captain was also of similar mind and the 150-tonne vessel was turned around.

Between 1717 and the American Revolutionary War years of the late 1770s and early 1780's an estimated quarter of a million Scots-Irish Presbyterian settlers left the Province of Ulster in the northern part of Ireland for the new lands across the Atlantic. They travelled in extremely hazardous conditions, in simple wooden sailing ships from the ports of Belfast, Lame, Londonderry, Newry and Portrush for the far-off berths of Philadelphia, New Castle (Delaware), Charleston, Baltimore and New York. Huddled together with the most meagre of belongings and money, they were a people forced to move because of the severe restrictions placed on their faith by the ruling British establishment of the day, and because of the economic deprivations prevailing in their Ulster homeland.

The first ships in the main thrust of emigration to the United States were chartered in 1717 and in that year, when drought completely ruined the crops on the Ulster farmlands, 5,000 men and women headed to Pennsylvania. There were five great waves of emigration to America from Ulster in the 18th century: 1717-18; 1725-29; 1740-41; 1754-55 and 1771-75.

Poverty had taken its toll on many families and the promise of a better life in a new world seemed irresistible. The Irish famine of 1740-41 led to the third great wave of immigration to America by the Scots-Irish. An estimated 400,000 people perished in that famine and when the Presbyterian settlers arrived in America on that trek they set their sights beyond the borders of Pennsylvania - along the path of the Great Valley of Virginia (the Shenandoah region) and to South and North Carolina.

The 1754-55 exodus resulted from appeals by colonists drought in America to settle on new lands of Virginia and the Carolinas and from another calamitous drought in Ireland. In the last great wave of 1771-75, land leases in Ulster were cited as the main reason for the movement. Evictions were commonplace in Ulster at the time, and not enough ships could be found to carry the throng of Presbyterians who left the Province then.

Next to the English, the Scots-Irish became, by the end of the 18th century, the most influential of the white population in America, which, by 1790, numbered 3,173,444. At that time the Scots- Irish segment of the population totalled about 14 per cent and this figure was much higher in the Appalachian states of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.

In all an estimated 250,000 Ulster-Scots Presbyterians moved to America in the 100 years from 1710. They were people who became totally assimilated into the fabric of American society, they were after all the first Americans in many regions particularly in East Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas, North and South.
Their involvement in the American War of Independence is well recorded and the bravery and determination shown in battle like Kings Mountain underline the sort of people they were. Soldiers like Andrew Pickens from South Carolina stood out.
The Scots-Irish who headed west 200-250 years ago belonged to the same breed of people who today constitute the majority Protestant and Unionist community in Northern Ireland. Virtually all of these emigrants led the vanguard against the British in the War of Independence in the 1770/1780s.

In Northern Ireland today, the Scots-Irish (the Protestant-Unionist population) pledge themselves to the maintenance of the link with Britain. The complexities of the Several hundred years of British history since fully explain this paradoxical situation in terms of economic benefit and cultural attachments for the one million people who presently hold this view.

In the United States today an estimated 44 million people claim Irish extraction. But while the Irish American community, the descendants of the Roman Catholic emigrants who moved at the time of the potato famine in the mid-19th century are the most vocal and politically active on Ireland. 56 per cent of Americans with Irish roots are of Protestant stock, whose forebears were the Scots-Irish Presbyterians who settled on the frontier in the 18th century.
"My Ulster blood is my most priceless heritage" James Buchannan (Left)
Ulster-American Presidents
Andrew Jackson -

(Democrat - 7th President 1829-37). Born on March 15th, 1767 in the Waxhaw region of North Carolina, his family left Ulster in 1765, having lived in the village of Boneybefore near Carrickfergus in County Antrim distinguished himself as a lawyer, soldier, politician and statesman.

James Knox Polk -

(Democrat - 11th President 1845-49). Born on November 2nd, 1797 near Charlotte in North Carolina, he is descended from a Robert Polk (Pollok) of Londonderry, who arrived in the American colonies in 1680. James Knox Polk was a Governor of Tennessee before making it to the White House.

James Buchanan -

(Democrat - 15th President 1857-61). Born on April 23rd, 1791 in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, he was brought up in a Presbyterian home like his two predecessors Jackson and Polk. The family came originally from Deroran near Omagh, County Tyrone and they left Londonderry for America in 1783.

Andrew Johnson -

(Democrat - 17th President 1865-69). Born on December 28, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina, his namesake and grandfather from Mounthill outside Larne in County Antrim came to America about 1750. Andrew rose to the Presidency from humble log cabin roots and he worked as a tailor for many years in Greeneville, Tennessee before he made it as mayor of the town and as a national politician and a statesman.

Ulysses Simpson Grant -

(Republican - 18th President 1869-77). Born April 27, 1822, Ulysses Grant was the man who commanded the Union Army in the American Civil War. His mother Hannah Simpson was descended from the Simpson family of Dergenagh near Dungannon, County Tyrone. His great-grandfather John Simpson left Ulster for America in 1760. Ulysses was a Methodist.

Chester Alan Arthur -

(Republican - 21st President 1881-85). Born on October 5, 1830 in Fairfield, Vermont, his grandfather and father, Baptist pastor William Arthur, emigrated to the United States from Dreen near Cullybackey in County Antrim in 1801. President Arthur was an Episcopalian.

Grover Cleveland -

(Democrat - 22 and 24th President 1885-89 and 1893-97). Born on March 8, 1837 in Caldwell, New Jersey, his maternal grandfather Abner Neal left County Antrim in the late 18th century. Grover was the son of a Presbyterian minister and he belonged to that denomination.

Benjamin Harrison -

(Republican - 23rd President 1889-93). Born on August 20, 1833 at North Bend, Ohio. Two of his great grandfathers James Irwin and William McDowell were Ulster immigrants. Benjamin was a Presbyterian.

William McKinley -

(Republican - 25th President 1897-1901). Born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, he was the great-grandson of James McKinley, who emigrated to America from Conagher, near Ballymoney in County Antrim about 1743. William McKinley, a Methodist, was assassinated at Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901.

Theodore Roosevelt -

(Republican - 26th President 1901-09). Born 1885 in New York City, Is believed to have Presbyterian ancestors on his maternal side from Larne, Co Antrim, either the Irvines or the Bullochs.

Woodrow Wilson -

(Democrat - 28th President 1913-21). Born on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia, Woodrow was the grandson of James Wilson, who emigrated to North Carolina from Dergalt, County Tyrone about 1807. Woodrow's father, Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, was a Presbyterian minister and he belonged to that denomination.

Harry Truman -

(Democrat - 33rd President 1945-53). Born 1884 Lamar, Missouri. His maternal grandfather, Solomon Young was of Scots-Irish settler stock and moved from Kentucky to Kansas City, Missouri in 1840.

Richard Millhouse Nixon -

(Republican - 37th President 1969-74). Born on January 13, 1913 in Yorba Linda, California, Richard Nixon has Ulster connections on two sides of his family. His Nixon ancestors left County Antrim for America around 1753, while the Millhouses came from Carrickfergus and Ballymoney, also in County Antrim. He died in 1994. President Nixon was a Quaker.

James Earl Carter -

(Democrat - 39th President 1976-81). Born on October 1, 1924 in Plains, Georgia. Scots-Irish settler Andrew Cowan, the great grandfather of President Jimmy Carter's great grandmother of his father's side, was one of the first residents of Boonesborough in South Carolina in 1772. Andrew Cowan was a Presbyterian, Jimmy Carter is a Baptist.

William Jefferson Clinton -

(Democrat - 42nd President 1993-2001). Born on August 19th, 1946 in Hope, Hempstead County, Arkansas, Bill Clinton claims to be five times removed from Lucas Cassidy who left County Fermanagh for America around 1750. Lucas Cassidy was of Presbyterian stock, President Clinton is a Baptist. He is the only serving U.S. President to have visited Northern Ireland.

George W. Bush -

(Republican - 43rd President 2001-) Born in Texas 1946, son of President George Walker Bush, is descended on his father's maternal side from the late 18th Century East Tennessee settler William Gault, who was born in the north of Ireland (Probably Co. Antrim).