Thursday, July 28, 2016

Obama's Scotch-Irish cultural values

(go to 36:15 in)

" ... And it's got me thinking about the story I told you twelve years ago tonight, about my Kansas grandparents and the things they taught me when I was growing up. See my grandparents, they came from the heartland; their ancestors began settling there about 200 years ago. I don't know if they had their birth certificates, but they were there. And they were Scotch-Irish mostly, farmers, teachers, ranch hands, pharmacists, oil-rig workers. Hardy, small-town folk. Some were Democrats, but a lot of them, maybe even most of them, were Republicans. Party of Lincoln. And my grandparents explained that folks in these parts, they didn't like show-offs. They didn't admire braggarts or bullies. They didn't respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, what they valued were traits like honesty and hard work. Kindness. Courtesy. Humility. Responsibility. Helping each other out.

That's what they believed in. True things. Things that last. The things we try to teach our kids.

And what my grandparents understood was that these values weren't limited to Kansas. They weren't limited to small towns. These values could travel to Hawaii; they could travel even to the other side of the world ..."

"the Scotch-Irish were unmatched. No other ethnic group would be as significant in shaping the culture of West Virginia."


Title from this article.

West Virginia state coat of arms illustrated 1876

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Presbyterian prison cottages

"It is astonishing,” he says, "how little idea Presbyterians have of pastoral beauty; the Catholic has ten times more fancy — but a Presbyterian minds only the main chance. If he builds a cottage, it is a prison in miniature; if he has a lawn, it is only grass ; the fence of his grounds is a stone wall, seldom a hedge. ... A Presbyterian has a sluggish imagination : it may be awakened by the gloomy or terrific, but seldom revels in the beautiful."

– Gamble's Sketches of History, Politics and Manners in Dublin and the North of Ireland in 1810

Refugees Welcome? Not in New England in 1718

A South East View of the City of Boston in North America 1

Above: Boston, 1730

"But what shall be done for the great number of people that are transporting themselves thither from ye North of Ireland?” - Cotton Mather

Mather's family were familiar with Dublin life, his father was at Trinity College and his two uncles were rectors in the city. He wrote letters to 'diverse persons of honour' with the aim of attracting them to the New World. He had a fair idea of the type of people who would come, not urban Dubliners, but northern Presbyterians with the Siege of Derry still in their veins. He hoped they would in some way be similar to Francis Makemie, who had made a huge impact since his arrival in 1683, and whose work he greatly admired. But not everyone was so keen when the Ulster-Scots turned up:

"... The early ties of religious sympathy and common purpose of the two countries were such that it was natural for Ulster emigration to set strongly toward New England. But when the Scotch-Irish began to arrive in Boston in large numbers, they were not entirely welcome. Their ministers were received with marked courtesy by such leading citizens as Cotton Mather and Samuel Sewall, but in general the large arrivals of 1718 appear to have been viewed with anxiety. In July and August Scotch-Irish arrivals in Boston numbered between five and seven hundred. On August 13 the selectmen chose an agent to appear in court, "to move what he shall think proper in order to secure this town from charges which may happen to accrue or be imposed on them by reason of the passengers lately arrived here from Ireland or elsewhere." In the course of the winter a number were warned to leave or find sureties for their support ..."
– Henry Jones Ford, The Scotch-Irish in America (1915)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Boston, Eagle Wing and the Merrimack River - 1600s, 1700s, 1800s

As I sat in Boston airport last week waiting for our flight back to Dublin, I remembered that less than one hour north was the proposed location of the settlement for the Eagle Wing and her passengers in Autumn 1636.

1636: Eagle Wing’s Ulster-Scots Presbyterians sail for the Merrimack River
Led by 3 or maybe 4 Presbyterian ministers, they planned to become part of the Massachussetts Bay Colony (official seal shown below). Here is the exact site, marked in green on a map of the late 1700s, and a Google Map from today showing the area more accurately. The small city of Newburyport  (population 18,000) now dominates the location.

Merrimack Eagle Wing

Merrimack Boston

"The territory lying between Ipswich and the Merrimack River was well situated, and covered an area of more than thirty thousand acres of upland and marshland. In the summer of 1634 it had been carefully examined by an agent sent over by " divers gentlemen of Scotland," who "wrote to know whether they might be freely suffered to exercise their presbyterial government amongst us ; and it was answered affirmatively that they might."

We received letters from a godly preacher, Mr. Levinston [Livingstone], a Scotchman in the north of Ireland, whereby he signified that there were many good Christians in those parts resolved to come hither, if they might receive satisfaction concerning some questions and propositions which they sent over.

September 25, 1634, the General Court ordered "that the Scottishe & Irishe gentlemen which intends to come hither shall haue liberty to sitt downe in any place up Merrimacke River, not ppossessed by any." The company embarked for New England, "but, meeting with manifold crosses," abandoned the enterprise and returned home. Before the failure of the expedition was known, however, the town of Ipswich, in the exercise of its authority over the unoccupied territory still under its control, made the following conditional grant with the Irish plantation in mind : —

“December 29th 1634 – It is consented unto that John Pirkins, Junior, shall build a ware [fish trap] upon the river of Quasycung [now river Parker] and enjoy the profitts of itt, but in case a plantation shall there settle then he is to submitt himself unto such conditions, as shall by them be imposed.”

The History of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1635-1902,  John J. Currier (Boston, 1902)

The Parker River mentioned in that quote is just south of the Merrimack and flows into Plum Sound. Today it is a National Wildlife Refuge which each February hosts the Merrimack River Eagle Festival (and here is the website for the Refuge, the map of which shows the Eagle Hill River. Cropped section below).


Parker River crop

Eagle Wing of course failed in her voyage, driven back by hurricanes. I wonder how often her story was told at Ulster firesides in the generations which followed.

1718: Four ships of Ulster-Scots Presbyterians reach the Merrimack River
Nearly a century later it was Presbyterian ministers leading a fresh migration. In summer 1718 four ships arrived in Boston, carrying Ulster-Scots Presbyterian passenger families. They were the first shiploads of the vast exodus of that century, of which you can read more here. These first families grew America’s first white potato, the seed crop of which they had brought with them from Ulster on the voyage. They settled in a few different places in the general area. The settlement of Nutfield became the town of Londonderry, just a few miles from the banks of the Merrimack, which was officially chartered 4 years later in 1722. Presbyterian churches were founded in New England.

1800s: Robert Dinsmoor, Ulster-Scots poet, on the Merrimack River
The eagle-eyed among you will spot that this is the same Merrimack River community where Ulster-Scots poet Robert Dinsmoor the ‘Rustic Bard’ emerged in the early 1800s, at Windham, New Hampshire, (just south of the towns of Derry and Londonderry) with his poems published in Haverhill on the north shore of the river in 1828.

Late 1800s: Opposition from the Merrimack River
NB: The post below – “The Scotch-Irish Shibboleth analyzed and rejected” – mentions Lowell, Massachussetts. Lowell is also on the Merrimack River. It’s pretty remarkable that Joseph Smith airbrushed away the Ulster-Scots history of his adopted home, probably a consequence of the vast demographic change which took place in Boston and other port towns following the arrival of ‘Famine Irish” in the mid & later 1800s.

Willey’s Book of Nutfield (1895) is online here.
• New England Historical Society article ‘How the Scots-Irish Came to America' is online here

(with thanks to Mary Drymon for providing some of these details a while back)


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"The Scotch-Irish shibboleth analyzed and rejected", Washington DC, 1898

 There has long been opposition to the notion of Ulster-Scots and Scotch-Irish/Scots-Irish identity. This publication by the American-Irish Historical Society is just 30 pages long but has much content that’s worth reading, especially the two poems at the back. To be fair, some of the pro-Scotch-Irish publications of the late 1800s and early 1900s are a bit, as we would say today, “O.T.T.” in places but they also contain much of interest and value. This counter-perspective is also worth reading.

The author, Joseph Smith (1853-1929), was born in Dublin, and emigrated as a young man. He saw military service in the US Cavalry in Mexico from 1873–1878 and spent some years travelling in South America. He later became a journalist. At the time of writing the Scotch-Irish book he was secretary of the police commission in Lowell, Massachussetts.

I am just back from a 3 week break in Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Scotch-Irish heritage is often better understood and appreciated on the other side of the Atlantic than it is here at home. For all of the talk that there’s been over the years, formal links are still to be made to both countries’ mutual benefit.