DUMMY'S GUIDE TO THE SCOTCH IRISH
Are you as confused as I am about the Scotch Irish?
As a student of the American Revolutionary War, I became somewhat convinced that the SI played a pivotal role in the Southern Campaign of that war, and perhaps elsewhere. I set out to see what I could learn about them, and it has been a confusing journey. Every question one can ask about them seems to produce a "yes and/or no" answer. Any conclusion made about them by writers seems to result in "No, not so" responses from others of their ilk. So what can be known about this enigmatic people? I'll begin by sharing some of questions about them and the confusing array of answers that I have received.
What is the correct name by which one should call them?
Ans. 1: Scotch Irish. This is the name passed down to their descendants.
Ans. 2: No, no, no. That should be Scots Irish. Scotch is the name of a whisky. The term Scotch Irish was coined in 1800s to separate themselves from the later-arriving Catholic Irish, and as such, was an expression of bigotry.
How should the Scots who migrated to the Ulster plantations be characterized?
Ans. 1: They were essentially the dregs of society, being the poorest of the poor and from the Lowland area of Scotland, involving none of the more respectable Highlanders.
Ans. 2: At the time they migrated to Ulster, 90% of the population of Scotland lived in the Lowlands and it was the most backward nation in Europe. Those migrating to Ulster were typical of the majority of the population of Scotland at the time. The Highlanders, not involved, were even more primitive economically.
When they migrated to the American colonies, were they still genetically Scots?
Ans. 1: Yes. While others had migrated to the Ulster plantations, e.g., from the London area, they did not thrive and eventually returned to England. There was great animosity between the Protestant Scots and the Catholic Irish, and intermarriage was highly unlikely, even dangerous.
Ans. 2: No. There was a significant amount of intermarriage between the Protestant Scots with Catholic Irish and Catholic Scots in Ulster before they migrated to the American colonies.
When the SI migrated to the American colonies, which other groups from Ulster migrated with them?
Ans. 1: No other groups immigrated with the Protestant SI. Other groups migrated decades late.
And. 2: Other groups in Ulster migrated with them, including Irish Catholics and Scottish Catholics.
What did the SI call themselves when they arrived in the American colonies?
Ans. 1: They called themselves Irish.
Ans. 2: They called themselves Scotch.
Ans. 3: They called themselves Scots.
Ans. 4: They called themselves Scotch Irish.
When the SI arrived in the American colonies, where did they settle?
Ans. 1: Some arrived in New England and settled in the NH area. Some arrived at Charleston SC and settled in the Carolina backcountry. Most arrived at Philadelphia. Some settled there, but most continued migrating to the frontier lands from that point south through VA, into the Carolinas, and eventually further south and west.
Ans. 2: They were concentrated in Pennsylvania.
Were they a literate people?
Ans. 1: Yes, they were among the most literate of those migrating to the colonies. It is estimated that 95% could sign their name when they arrived, not equalled by any other immigrant group. They placed high emphasis on education and established schools wherever they settled. Their ministers were required to be college graduates.
Ans. 2: No. Very few among their number were literate.
Were they a moral people?
Ans. 1: Yes, they were extremely pious, and conformed to a strict code of behavior.
Ans. 2: No, they rarely attended church, were noted for their combativeness, were licentious, and given to drink.
Which side did they support during the American Revolutionary War?
Ans. 1: They immediately and predominantly supported those seeking independence.
Ans. 2: They were about equally divided between the two sides.
Ans. 3. Until late in the war, they did not align with either side, preferring to stay out of it. Eventually, most joined those seeking independence, but some also joined the opposing side.
Was there a single event in the Carolina backcountry resulting the SI "coming off the fence" in support of those seeking independence?
Ans. 1: The Carolina backcountry SI, prior to Buford's Defeat ("Massacre") at Waxhaws, did not care much for either side in the conflict. They had no love for the British, and neither did they care for the leadership they saw among the rebels (whom they recognized as the having been leaders of the colonial militia which "put down" the Regulators in 1771). After Tarleton's performance at Waxhaws, they decided they liked the British the least.
Ans. 2: There had been strong support among the SI for independence from the beginning.
Ans. 3: The SI were about evenly divided between the two sides, so the effect of Waxhaws would have been minimal and very local.
What influence did the SI have on the concepts of the US Constitution?
Ans. 1: The SI had considerable influence on the US Constitution. Many of the ideas of their form of Presbyterian church government can be found there.
Ans. 2: Not much actually. The constitution was written before the full development of the Presbyterian system of church government.
What was the primary religous denomination of the SI in the American colonies?
Ans. 1: They were predominantly Presbyterian and remained so.
Ans. 2: They founded numerous Presbyterian churches which foundered because they could never obtain college-trained ministers for them. Most SI eventually found their way into Baptist and Methodist churches.
What other questions are there for which we need multiple, conflicting answers?
WILL THE REAL SCOTCH IRISH PLEASE STAND UP?