Saturday, October 22, 2016

Looking the wrong way

New england colonies 1607 1760

Much of Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irish thought has been on the pioneering spirit, the move southwards into the mountains, or the move west towards the open plains and eventually the western coast. California has one of the highest census figures for Scotch-Irish awareness. These places were settled in the later 1700s, the 1800s and afterwards. Very little published work has been done to see what stories survive in the original landing places of New England, which was settled from 1718 onwards. There is a vast well of material lying there, easy to access, and as yet untapped.

In the mid 1800s, when the Great American Narrative was taking place in the South, the Mountains, the Plains or even multiple Civil War Battlefields - and reinforced ever since in books, songs and movies – back up in the north east even the littlest towns in the New England states were celebrating their centennials, having been founded 100 years beforehand. The obscure little publications which survive are scattered through with great references to Ulster and the Scotch-Irish.

There are so many places to visit there, historic buildings and landscapes of relevance to us.

The name ‘New England’ has maybe put us off, with the assumption that the only people and story there is an English one. There were of course many Europeans there. In his seminal 1903 two-volume set Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America, historian John Fiske had this to say:

“The earlier writers on American history were apt to ignore or pass over in silence the contributions to American civilisation that have been made by other people than the English. Perhaps this may have been because our earliest historians were men of New England whose attention was unduly occupied with their own neighbourhood … the non-English elements in our composite civilisation were not so much denied as disregarded … Your Ulsterman is clear that the migrations of Englishmen to Virginia and New England were small affairs compared with the migration from Ulster to Pennsylvania …"

Fiske’s writing is important as, for his time, he seems to have been re-thinking both the Anglocentric view of America by drawing attention to non-English nationalities, but then also countering the reactive ethnocentric view of America which had arisen in the 1800s (of which the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA was just one organisation). Fiske’s work is more nuanced, bringing recognition to the often-overlooked Dutch colonisation of the early 1600s, and also showing how various cultures blended into something new: 

“Accordingly, in spite of a very rigid theology, they [Ulster Presbyterians] stood for a liberal principle, and other Protestant sects such as Lutherans, Mennonites and Dunkers, found it possible to harmonise with them, especially in the free atmosphere of Pennsylvania. The result was the partial union of two great streams of immigration, the Ulster stream and the Palatinate stream”.

The Ulster role in the USA can be seen in more places than is normally assumed. There is a big job to be done in New England, in today's states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. We were there too. We are still there today.