Friday, May 26, 2017

Kidnapped by Indians - Meggie Stinson (SW Pennsylvania, 1764) and Jenny Wiley (East Kentucky, 1789)

There were, and still are, Savages in the Ards Peninsula. That's not a pejorative term, although the wordplay is sometimes aimed at me by local town-dwellers! The Savages / Le Sauvages were an Anglo-Norman family who arrived in Ireland in 1171 and eventually moved north to Ulster, settling in Antrim and Down. After the Bruce wars of the early 1300s their estates were restricted to the southern end of the Ards Peninsula and also Lecale just across Strangford Lough. Their legacy is a collection of castles which exist to this day, and probably some of the early abbeys and churches. Their history was catalogued by George Francis Savage-Armstrong in two books, firstly The Ancient and Noble Family of the Savages of the Ards (1888) and the posthumous revision The Savages of Ulster (1906).

So what of these 'noble savages'? This is an idea which exists far beyond the Ards.

The romantic 'noble savage' theory (usually attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Wikipedia here), proposed that ancient peoples were peaceful, living at harmony with the natural world and enlightened, until a group of 'outsiders' arrived and colonised them all. You can apply this to various places in the world, you can hear it assumed and implied in many places - People A were idyllic, happy and peaceful, a model society even, until People B turned up, supposedly bringing ‘civilisation'. The 'noble savage' idea has been disproven time and again - ancient peoples were themselves sometimes violent and barbaric. Human remains have demonstrated this over and over again. What we might think of today as 'people groups' have been warring amongst themselves since the dawn of time - and so even the notion of homogenous 'people groups’, defined as such in our era, is flawed.

This article on - The Myth of the Noble Savage - is an interesting read, especially the references to Marxist theory of the late 1800s and neo-Marxists of the 1970s. A Biblical outlook is that 'all have sinned', that everybody is contaminated by an broken, sinful, nature, and capable of great evil. So therefore no individual or people group is virtuous. Everybody's just as bad as everybody else, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, geography, gender or historical era. We are all ‘savages'. And we are all able to accept redemption.

Here is a clip from the 2007 film version of the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee which might be of interest –

It is of course true that terrible things happened to the Native Americans, and that some of this was at the hands of Scotch-Irish settlers and pioneers, as well as English, French, Germans, Dutch, and all other European settlers. For Central and South America, consider what Spain and Portuguese conquistadors did.Many Native American Indian tribes allied themselves with the French

The Scotch-Irish in turn were on the receiving end of some terrible atrocities carried out by Native American Indians, having been (conveniently) driven by the coastal elites into the backcountry, to form a 'human buffer' in the front line of potential Indian conflict and attack. Many of them were happy to go, confident in their ability to defend themselves if necessary and keen to get away from authority. Others, like James Adair from Ulster (Wikipedia page here) lived very happily in Indian communities for most of their lives.

Charles A Hanna's seminal The Scotch-Irish: The Scot in North Britain, north Ireland, and north America contains much detail of the Scotch-Irish/Native American interactions. They exchanged clothing styles, and both learned how to shoot long rifles with astonishing accuracy (think Davy Crockett). Some were amorous and resulted in intermarriage, some were amicable, some were tolerable, some were seemingly manipulated by the establishment governments. Some were barbaric.

This Declaration document, penned by Matthew Smith and James Gibson in 1764, and signed by 1500 frontier people, gives a clear picture on the experiences of some of the Scotch-Irish.


I've recently come across the stories of two women who were both kidnapped by Native Americans.

• One, Jenny Wiley, was the wife of Ulster emigrant Thomas Wiley. Her father was Hezekiah Sellars/Sellards, described as a 'Presbyterian of the strictest sort' who had settled first in Shenandoah in Virginia. Her mother might have been a Cherokee woman. Jennie was said to have been 'endowed with an abundance of good hard Scotch common-sense'. In 1789 while Thomas was away, the family home in east Kentucky was attacked, nearly all of the children were killed, pregnant Jennie was taken captive with her one surviving 15 month old infant. Both of these children were later killed by their captors. She was held hostage for 11 months, eventually managing to escape and return to Thomas. Today a State Park at Prestonburg, Kentucky, is named for her. Here Wikipedia page is here.

• A similar tale can be found in a song from south western Pennsylvania, from 1764 (the same year as the Declaration above) about a Meggie Stinson / Stevenson who was taken captive as a child. Some years later she and other hostages were set free and returned to their settlement, but Meggie had forgotten what her own mother looked like. The song below, from the despairing mother's perspective, is in broad Scots. It is possible that the song 'Meggie Stinson’ is in fact based on a story of a German settler girl called Regina Hartman Leininger (see gravestone here) who might well have become emblematic of a common frontier experience, one familiar to Scotch-Irish families as well as their German neighbours.

Life is complicated, so is history. One for the sociologists to unpick.

Meggie Stinson

There is a lot of quite interesting material online about the 'noble savage' myth. New York Times science correspondent Nicholas Wade published Before The Dawn in 2006, which appears to be a major reassessment of how ancient people are understood, including the view that "archaeologists of the postwar period had artificially "pacified the past" and shared a pervasive bias against the possibility of prehistoric warfare".

If you Google 'myth of the noble savage' you'll find things like a 2004 course at the University of Washington, Seattle which describes it as 'anthropology’s oldest and most successful hoax'.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Liberty Mountain: The Revolutionary Drama

This play, now entering its fourth season at Kings Mountain in South Carolina, looks excellent. Have a read at this:

“… They took up arms, and many sacrificed their lives, to defend and preserve the freedoms they held dear, and none was more important to them than religious expression.

To understand how crucial this was to the settlers of the Carolinas, you have to go back to their roots in Northern Ireland. Many were Scots-Irish Presbyterians who fled poverty and misery in that land, compounded by religious persecution. The “official” religion of the British Empire in the 1700’s was the Church of England, and those who didn’t swear allegiance to that church were punished, often brutally.

In the American colonies, they saw the opportunity to start a new life, one in which they were free to worship as they pleased. They came here, built homes and farms and churches and raised God-fearing families. But they were still subjects of the British king, and the Crown continued to attempt to thrust the Church of England on them. When British troops occupied the Carolinas and those who were still loyal to the king went on a rampage of murder and mayhem, these Scots-Irish rose up and fought back ..."

And this newspaper article too:

Production is underway for the fourth season of “Liberty Mountain: The Revolutionary Drama” in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The play will run for 17 performances, beginning June 23, at the Joy Performance Center in downtown Kings Mountain.

“Liberty Mountain” tells the story of the settling of the Carolinas by hardy Scots-Irish immigrants who came to America to start new lives, raise families, work and worship, and how they became caught up in the conflict of the struggle for independence from Great Britain.

Their story culminates in the Battle of Kings Mountain in October, 1780, which historians agree was the turning point in the Revolution. In an hour of savage hand-to-hand combat, Patriot militiamen defeated a larger and better-trained force of Loyalists, triggering a series of Patriot victories that led to the British surrender at Yorktown a year later.

“Liberty Mountain” features a cast of more than 30 actors in a fast-moving, action-packed drama. Playwright Robert Inman says, “The talented cast and crew bring our audience a production that is true to history, highly entertaining, and inspiring. Every American should know the story of Kings Mountain and the crucial role it played in granting us the freedoms we enjoy today.”

So why is it that OUR story is not told this well HERE? I am not sure that we can claim that the Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irish were the sole exponents or exporters of liberty, but our role was hugely important, and has become embedded into the psyche of the USA. 

One of the things that has seemed to bewilder commentators and academics over the decades is the ‘conditional loyalty’ of the (let’s be blunt about it) Ulster Protestants. But when you understand our history, you will see that it has been in our DNA  for, I would suggest, nearly 500 years. I would also suggest that our loyalty has been firstly to liberty - religious and civil - and to the monarch or the nation very much second.

Many left the nation behind, but they took liberty with them, beating in their chests and pumping through their veins.

Find out more here.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Burial Isle and Hamilton's Rock, Ballyhalbert

Burial Isle is part of a jagged reef just off Ballyhalbert, and is said to contain a Danish Viking burial chamber full of gold. I am planning to kayak round it this summer.

Some interesting news cuttings below, including an 1878 reference to 'Hamilton's Rock' but sadly no-one I've spoken to knows now which rock that is. Of course I am assuming a connection to Sir James Hamilton of 1606 fame.

As you can see from the pics it was very dangerous for ships unfamiliar with our coastline, there have been many wrecks and drownings on it. I know a few locals who have been on the island; again the cuttings below are interesting as they talk about bird-watching trips, and of one local who confronted some bird watchers to make sure they weren't there to steal eggs.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mapping the Scotch-Irish: The 2015 American Community Survey - the 25 largest ancestry groups

Maps are all from this website. I have coloured them to help distinguish them from each other. British, English and Welsh are also distinct categories in the same survey.

Scotch-Irish: Scotch Irish 2015 Survey

Irish: Irish 2015 Survey

Scottish: Scottish 2015 Survey

Chris Stapleton - "I always played music and sang in church with my brother; my dad played the radio a lot and my mom would sing around the house"

He’s one of the finest exponents of (proper) country music today. Raised in Staffordsville, east Kentucky, I have no idea of his ancestry but the geography speaks volumes of his cultural environment. This is often more culturally important than strict 'bloodlines'. To retain or take on cultural traits, when others who were born into the community choose to devalue or reject its traits, is an interesting dynamic that deserves much thought. 

"... my grandmother from Kentucky. She was among the first emigrants to the blue grass, but whether from the Carolinas or Virginia, I do not know.Anyway they were, every mother's son and daughter of them, Scotch-Irish...

Beyond the circle of my relatives in that region, I do not know personally much about our race. The MacMillans, Reids, Grays, Woods, Lynches, and Devers, all one way or another relatives, were evidently, from the names, of the elect race by the male line. But there were others, the Kentucky Robinsons and Martins, also relatives of ours, who were no doubt English people who had been brought into the royal line of the Scotch-Irish by accidentally falling into the clutches of Scotch-Irish girls. Any fellow who did that, whatever his race or faith, was a goner. He had, will-he, nill-he, to obey the scripture injunction to forsake father and mother and cleave to his wife, and his wife clave to the Church and to her clan, and so he had no chance of getting away. He must perforce learn to sing Rouse psalms and argufy theology.

I suppose this same process went on historically and everywhere. 1 do not see how else we are to account for the fact that the people of so small a territory as Ulster should show such a numerical and geographical extension in America and in the British colonies as they did..."

– from 'How God Made the Scotch-Irish' by W.C. Gray (1894) online here

Just two miles from Staffordsville, on the banks of Paintsville Lake, is an open-air museum built around an 1850s farm called Mountain HomePlace, described as "a reconstructed 1800s Scotch-Irish settler’s farmstead with costumed interpreters. All the buildings were moved there from Paintsville. The setting is wonderfully replicated …". The farm was originally built by David McKenzie. Another place to visit in 2018 all being well (DV).


Friday, May 19, 2017

"Woodrow Wilson was actually as close to a dictator as America has ever had"

Shapior Rubin

So says Ben Shapiro in conversation with Dave Rubin. The video isn't embeddable, you have to view it here on YouTube. The Woodrow Wilson quote is at around 10min 50 seconds. Maybe he is an Ulster-American President of the USA we should be more careful about celebrating! 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shamrock, Rose and Thistle

Starting to see these references everywhere. 

William Shamrock Rose Thistle 2

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Foghorn Stringband - from Ballyhalbert to Ballyboughal

Ballyhalbert Ballyboughal

It was a friend’s recommendation. It turned out to be one of the best musical nights ever. The Foghorn Stringband have played in Northern Ireland a few times, but on this tour they were staying down south - Dingle, Baltimore and Clonmel, as well as tiny Ballyboughal north of Dublin. So we set off to see them, a 2hr 45min drive down and the same up again.

The venue was the small St Patrick's Hall, a fantastically basic wee venue maybe not unlike older Orange Halls you get up here. No carpets, no amplification, no windows it seemed, and a room packed with about 50 locals who all apparently knew each other. We were complete strangers, but were made so welcome, the folk were delighted and a bit astonished we had made the trek down. We were all asked to turn our phones off but I snuck a few photos anyway.

St Patricks Ballyboughal

The Foghorn Stringband have quite a lot of gospel stuff in their normal repertoire, but interestingly they didn't do any that particular evening. We had them for about 2 hours of playing time with a short interval, we were sat just across the room from them. My jaw was on the floor. My gasps were a bit too audible at times! Spectacular authenticity, and Caleb Klauder is probably now my favourite mandolin player. He gets the old-timey stuff in a way that a 100mph bluegrass picker doesn't. He has flashes of Bailes Brothers, Blue Sky Boys and even the Stanley Brothers' mandolin players ('Pee Wee’ Lambert and Richard ‘Curly’ Lambert) about him. A great great talent who just knows what's needed.

Carter Family covers, Louvin Brothers covers, Hank Williams covers, trad songs and tunes from the Appalachia of the 1800s, tunes which the band had learned from old-timers, as well as original compositions too. Spontaneous waltzing and 'dosy doe' dancing - we managed to avoid that bit! The very next night, Tim O'Brien (yes, who appeared on Wayfaring Stranger and said good things about the Ulster-Scots) was playing at the Séamus Ennis Centre just up the road at (the) Naul. O'Brien is a West Virginian who grew up singing in church. The Ballyboughal folk were urging us to come back down and see him too - but sadly the tickets were long-gone. The warm welcome was pretty wonderful, a stark contrast to some church events my brother and I have played at I can tell you!

It is just a pity, maybe even a disgrace, that up here in the Scotch-Irish home province of Ulster, that there were no dates and presumably therefore not much demand compared with the rest of the island. Music is for everyone. But I do have this niggling question now about why there isn't a buzzing 'scene' for this type of stuff in Ulster-Scots heartlands such as County Down and County Antrim. (there is of course the annual Bluegrass festival in September at the Ulster-American Folk Park, a place called The Red Room in Cookstown, and the Bronte Music Club near Rathfriland).

On the other hand, there maybe is a demand, but perhaps the present-day gatekeepers of the publicly-funded arts centres and the locally-run community venues are just on a whole different wavelength. It seems to me that these places are doing very little by way of cultural affirmation, appreciation and education.

It was interesting that the folk were a bit incredulous that I had no idea who Séamus Ennis was. Goes to show the huge cultural gulf that exists.

(I should maybe book the Foghorn Stringband for a gospel gig next time they're in the vicinity). IMG 8196 IMG 8209 IMG 8195 IMG 8197IMG 8193IMG 8194

Mary McKeehan Patton – Gunpowder Heroine of the Battle of King's Mountain

Pam lisa pouring blackpowder mary patton

Among the community who settled at Watauga (see previous post) was a Mary McKeehan. She is said by numerous websites to have been born in England in 1751. Where exactly no-one seems to know, but the surname would suggest ancestry in Scotland or Ireland *. She emigrated and in Pennsylvania she married emigrant Ulsterman John Patton in 1772. They had a gunpowder mill and when the skirmishes eventually turned into war the Pattons were kept busy. They left Carlisle in Pennsylvania and headed for the mountains of East Tennessee. A contact called Andrew Taylor set up a new mill for them and the place became known as Powder Branch.

Mary supplied 500 pounds of gunpowder to the Ulstermen who headed off to confront the King’s troops at the Battle of King’s Mountain. There is now a road named after her called The Mary Patton Highway, at Elizabethton, Tennessee.

She features in the Ulster-Scots Community Network booklet Ulster and Tennessee (pdf online here).

In the late 1800s a Charles L McKeehan was Secretary of the Pennsylvania Scotch-Irish Society.

* The English birthplace might be an error which has been repeated over and over again. There are numerous Presbyterian McKeehan graves in Pennsylvania, some of which (such as this one, to Elizabeth McKeehan, born 1745) specify Northern Ireland as the birthplace. This website refers to a Benjamin McKeehan who emigrated to Pennsylvania from County Antrim. Big Spring Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania was founded around 1737 with a John McKeehan as one of its elders. A few Google searches throw up many more examples of Ulster McKeehans in 1700s Pennsylvania.