The Scots-Irish were Presbyterians by Covenant–

American genealogy researchers already know that the term Scots-Irish (Scotch-Irish used by many people) is an American designation. Before they arrived here, they were called Ulster Irish and before that Ulster-Scots. And indeed, many of the more than 250,000 who eventually emigrated to America between 1717 and 1790, considered themselves to be Irish. And referred to themselves as Irish in their first records in America: Robert Ferguson, in the biography which accompanied his obituary in West Virginia, stated “he was born Irish.”

The Scots-Irish were Presbyterians by Covenant. The first Protestant settlement was made by law in 1560. And as occurred in England at the same time, the government swung back and forth between the old church and the new settlement as the strength of the monarchy shifted. Catholic France was a strong influence in both kingdoms and their kings were persuaded by their wives to be lenient. In 1603, the two crowns were joined as James VI of Scotland became James I of England. This whole history is complicated and of great trial to the Protestant converts in Scotland.

  1. Scottish immigrants into Ireland were almost invariably Presbyterians–Scottish migration back and forth between Scotland and Ireland was a very old trend. Many family naming patterns included Scottish variants when they lived in Scotland and Irish naming variants when they lived in Ireland. Elizabeth I tried to plant Protestant colonies in Ireland during her reign. These colonies were not really successful. She also encouraged loyal retainers in southern Scotland, like James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, to plant their own private colonies. And these settlements became more successful–and these Scottish settlers were almost invariably Presbyterian in their worship.  Later plantations in Ulster and other parts of Ireland transplanted Sots and English Protestants. The Scots were still  Presbyterian when they left for America.
  2. In Ireland, the English settlers who were planted under Elizabeth I and later monarchs, were Protestants (most were Anglicans) and required to be members of the Church of Ireland by law. The Roman Catholic faith, which the vast majority of native Irish followed, was banned at pain of death. These English settlers, when they moved to America (and many of them did), deserted the Anglican faith almost when they stepped on the shore. They were only Anglican and expedient members of the Church of Ireland to receive lands in Ireland. Once in America they were Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, and very shortly Baptists.
  3. Intermarriage that occurred as the years passed, between Scottish and Irish partners often became absorbed into a Presbyterian congregation. If you are tracing your ancestry back in time through Ireland on the way to Scotland and England, Presbyterian Scots did not usually marry the Catholic Irish. Nor did they look kindly on them after hundreds of years. Where the intermarriage lurks is in the already mingled families–where the blood lines had been merged for centuries of time. Scots and Irish had served as subtenants on the same farms and served side-by-side in the same militia units over time and it was natural for those families to continue to intermarry to keep their property in the family.
  4. Intermarriage between the Catholic Irish and the English within the Pale–the area immediately around Dublin–was banned by law. In 1610, the law was lifted.

For a balanced and interesting discussion, see James G. Leyburn, “Intermarriage with the Irish,” The Scotch-Irish: A Social History (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1962). This is an older and very good history of who the Scots-Irish really are–Leyburn’s conclusion:

If one must give his verdict, the weight of evidence seems to be on the side of little inter-mixture. The Scotch-Irish, as they came to be known in America, were overwhelmingly Scottish in ancestry and Presbyterian in faith. To the extent that occasional intermarriage occurred, the Irish partner seems almost invariably to have been absorbed into the Presbyterian element.

I also recommend that you add to your Spring Reading List another, older text, carefully researched and thoroughly documented:

R.J. Dickson, Ulster Emigration to Colonial America 1718-1775. Ulster-Scot Historical Series,London: Routledge and Kegan- Paul, 1966.

Dickson quantifies the history of the Scots-Irish and identifies the ports through which they left Ireland and where they entered the American Colonies. New Castle DE was the port of choice for 1.5% of those who came; Philadelphia admitted 53%; New York City, 18.5%; and Charleston SC, 11.2%.

Appendix D includes a detailed run-down on each ship arriving from Belfast, Londonderry, Newry, Larne, and Portrush, 1771-1775. These facts are taken from the Belfast Newsletter and the Londonderry Journal. These two newspapers also listed the passengers on board from signatures recorded in letters to the editor sent back to Ireland upon their arrival in America.

These publications are indexed online: Indexed Belfast Newsletter, 1737-1800.  20,000 surviving pages of the newspaper create a database of information that contains nearly 300,000 items of news and advertisements.

Irish Genealogical Abstracts from the Londonderry Journal, 1772-1784.

Roman Catholic genealogy in the British Isles is complicated and often controversial. In the records generated and the underlying legalities you will find many “lost ancestors.”  They really did leave tracks for you to find–you just have to get into the right records.  Genealogy by Religion is a reality for many ethnic backgrounds. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle 

PS A new Research Guide to Using Church Records–in America, in the British Isles, and in Europe is being completed in March 2017. You can order a copy of the Guide and its accompanying audio DVD from Amazon.

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