Tuesday, October 04, 2016

"They came to this country from the north of Ireland, and were usually called Scotch-Irish" - Peterborough, New Hampshire, 1839

Main St East Peterborough NH

Again here is an early reference to the term ‘Scotch-Irish”, this time in An Address, Delivered at the Centennial Celebration in Peterborough, New Hampshire by John Hopkins Morison (1808–1896) which was published in Boston in 1839 - and is available here on Archive.org. it was one of Rev. W.F. Marshall’s sources for his famous 1943 booklet Ulster Sails West.

The town of Peterborough in the early 1800s had about 2,000 people, about the same as Ballywalter has today; now it has a population of just over 6000 people, about the same as Donaghadee. It dates from 1739, but grew rapidly in 1759 with the arrival of –

‘forty five or fifty familes from Lunenburg, Londonderry, and some immediately from Ireland. They all, however belonged to the same stock. They came to this country from the north of Ireland, and were usually called Scotch-Irish’.

The book is full of great stirring descriptions so typical of the heroic (and to modern readers, partisan) early Scotch-Irish volumes. The author could himself remember one of the early settlers, a Mrs Sarah M’Nee ‘who died within my memory, aged 97, or as some supposed, one hundred years old’. This is important. The author knew the oldest surviving original settlers. They, and their community and descendants, are who he is referring to when he says they 'were usually called Scotch-Irish’.

Morison was not imagining an ancestry. He knew these folk to talk to. The Centennial was a local event to a local audience. Anyone who gives talks to historical societies knows full well that you make sure you get your facts right, because somebody present will know more than you do and will very soon correct you if you are wrong, or if you are making things up to suit yourself. It is the most pointed form of ‘peer review’, carrying the risk of instant public humiliation within your own home area. The 31 year old Morison would have made sure to get his facts right.

William Smith sounds like an outspoken sort, see page 11, where he uses similar language to the famous Rev James McGregor quote. Smith went on to become a delegate to the Provincial Congress of 1774.

There is a lovely description of the interior of their homes on page 17 - dresser, fireplace, tales of olden days, ‘the pre-eminence of Ireland’, a family Bible from which a chapter would be read and then prayers offered.

On page 28 is a glimpse of their speech - “we maun aye be carefu’ how we handle them. Keep yoursel’ to yoursel’”, and on page 46 “Aweel, aweel dear Joan, an it maun be a log-house, do make it a log heegher nor the lave”.

Remarkably, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Steele, then aged 86, was present at the Centennial Celebration and read it aloud to the audience. And John H Steele, presumably a relative, gave a few addresses, in one of which he described the early settlers and, on page 92, referred to one of their songs entitled ‘The Battle of the Boyne’.

Their ‘Association Test’ of 1776 - a kind of Solemn League and Covenant for their context - was enthusiastically embraced and signed. Across the whole state of New Hampshire 8,199 men over 21 signed, whilst just 773 refused to and so remained loyal to the King. The names of the Peterborough signatories is pretty much an Ulster phone book.

“It was the sternness of the Scotch covenanter softened by a century’s residence abroad amid persecution and trial, wedded there to the comic humour and pathos of the Irish, and then grown wild in the woods among these our New England mountains”.

• It seems that the author, John Hopkins Morison, was a Unitarian minister.
• His ancestry is available here
• The Historic New England website has photographs of the inside of Morison's home, called Bleakhouse.
• A statue of Morison stands in Peterborough Library - he was one of the founders in 1833. It is said to be the ‘oldest tax supported free public library in the world’.