Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Diary of Reverend David McClure, Pennsylvania, 1774

David McClure

Rev David McClure (1748–1820) was a Presbyterian missionary to the Native American Indians, but due to the effects of war he ended up in western Pennsylvania. He was also on the staff of Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. Some of the family’s ancestry appears in this book. The McClures are said to have fled from Scotland to Ulster “in times of persecution”, so therefore the mid 1600s, where they were caught up in the Siege of Derry of 1688–9. They left Ulster around 1729 and sailed to Boston where they founded a Presbyterian church called Federal Street Church.

"The congregation began as a group of Scots-Irish Calvinists gathered in a converted barn on Long Lane in Boston on November 15, 1729. The inhospitable residents of Boston dubbed them derogatorily as “The Church of the Presbyterian Strangers,” and the name stuck. "Their first house of worship was a barn, which sufficed until they were able, in 1744, to build a neat wooden edifice.’ (Wikipedia)


David was born in Newport, Rhode Island and died at East Windsor, Connecticut. His diary was published and is online here.

The diary is a treasure trove, once again slaying the claim that ‘Scotch-Irish’ was an unknown term to the early Ulster emigrants in America but was ‘retro-fitted’ to their story in the late 1800s.


"The people are mainly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. On this journey we overtook several families moving from the older settlements in the East to the West. Iremember one in particular, a family of about twelve. The man carried a gun and an axe on his shoulders. The wife had the rimof a spinning wheel in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other. The little boys and girls each carried a bundle according to their age. Two poor horses were loaded with some of the bare necessities of life. On top of the baggage of one was a sort of wicker cage in which a baby lay, rocked to sleep by the motion of the horse. A cow was one of the company, and she was destined to bear her part of the family belongings. A bed cord was wrapped around her horns and a bag of meal was on her back. This family was not only patient, but cheerful; pleased at the prospect of finding a happy home in one of the valleys which stretched from the mountains westward on to Pittsburgh."

"The inhabitants of this country, many miles around, are Scotch Irish. They are presbyterians, & generally well indoctrinated in the principles of the christian religion, civil, hospitable & curteous to strangers. This description of people are removing almost daily into this country. Great numbers, within a few years, have come from Ireland."

The inhabitants west of the Appalachian mountains are chiefly Scotch Irish presbyterians. They are either natives of the North of Ireland, or the descendents of such & removed here from the middle Colonies. There are some Germans, English & Scotch. The presbyterians are generally well indoctrinated in the principles of the christian religion. The young people are taught by their parents & school masters, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, & almost every family has the Westminster Confession of Faith, which they carefully study. Mr. Eurie, lives in a small neighbourhood of german quakers, with whom he can have little or no religious society, as the most of them are very ignorant & bigoted."

"Not able this day to preach, (being Sabbath) having been badly poisoned in the face, by some poisonous weeds. The people of this settlement are almost all of scotch irish descent. Immigrants from the North of Ireland, or descendents of such. They are presbyterians, well instructed in the principles of religion, & a number of them very exemplary and pious. The line between religious & irreligious characters is more discrimenating here, as well as over the mountains, than it is in New England, where the forms of religion are established by law, and where the irreligious are not much respected or promoted to Office in society."

“CARLISLE. Passed through this place, in which are two presbyterian churches, & one small episcopal Society. The people principally scotch-irish."


Gaelic-speaking Highland Scots were also among the frontier Pennsylvania community:

"Dined at Dr. Rogers, with a Scotch minister, who has lately arrived, with a company from the Isle of Sky, with the intention of making a settlement up the North River. His name, I think, is McClellan. Heard Mr. Treat preach in the afternoon, & in the evening, Mr. McClellan. He preached in the Erse language, to his companions, who appeared in the Scotch plaid dress, & attended with great decency.


Interestingly McClure also uses the term ‘Scotch and Irish” but to refer to one group of people, not two. Here’s an example where he contrasts them with the German settlers:

"It is strange that there should be so wide a difference in point of hospitality, between the Germans & the Scotch and Irish of this country. The former will put themselves to no trouble to oblige you, & expect a reward for every service, the latter, we found cheerfully shewing us any kindness which we needed, without any other reward, except the satisfaction of obliging a stranger."