Editor’s note: This genealogy column ran in the Sept 6, 1998, issue of the Tribune-Star.
Last week I began the story of the so-called “Scotch-Irish” migration to the American colonies between 1717 and 1775. This was actually a migration of English and Scottish people who lived on the border between England and Scotland. These borderers were removed to Northern Ireland under King James I for political reasons and subsequently migrated from Ireland to the American colonies in search of economic security. They did not assimilate with the Irish and were a unique cultural group who brought their ways to the new world.
The 700-year history of war, lawlessness and violence on the English-Scottish border was reflected in the culture of the borderers. The basic social unit was the clan, led by heads, or “thanes,” who were both warlords and landlords. Their tenants were both farmers and warriors. They were used to always being ready to fight, whether the battle was against an invading army or another clan. Thus, family and clan relationships became critical for survival, and family were the only people to be trusted.
When they migrated to the American colonies, these borderlands people were the object of scorn and prejudice because of their reputation of being ungovernable and poor yet proudly independent. They arrived in Pennsylvania and were not wanted by the Quakers and other ethnic groups, who encouraged them to move on westward. This suited the “uncivilized” borderers just fine. They took to the wagon roads and trails through the mountains and eventually settled southwestern Pennsylvania, parts of Virginia and North Carolina, and much of South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. On their way, they encountered many hostile Indian tribes, but the borderers were well suited to fight in Indian battles.
Many aspects of the culture of the American South are directly related to the culture that the borderers brought with them to the colonies. Back on the English-Scottish border, they did not construct elaborate permanent dwellings because they would just be destroyed by enemies in the constant state of war. Their typical dwelling was a one-room wood and earth “cabbin,” easily built and re-built. Similar cabins were constructed in the American backwoods by the borderers.
The lawlessness of the border region and the reliance on family and clan connections led to “blood battles” to settle disputes. The practice of family feuds in the American Appalachian region is a direct reflection such blood battles.
The borderers exhibited a mistrust of being governed and a strong sense of independence and pride in self. These attitudes are still reflected in the politics of the area and contributed to the South’s “states rights” stance during the Civil War.
Their speech pattern was a distinctive slow cadence which is the speech we still recognize as “southern” in the United States.
Their naming patterns reflected a preference for teutonic names and saints or kings of Scotland. Popular male names were Robert, Richard, David, Patrick, Archibald, Ronald, Wallace, Bruce and Howard. A first-born son was often named for the father’s father, and a first-born daughter was named for the mother’s mother.