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C h a p t e r T h r e e Ethnicity and Mobility Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in Eighteenth-Century America Maine. The ultimate borderland. Rocky, thin soil. Thick pine forests. Fierce cold. Spring came late; summer departed early. Devastating Indian wars. A frontier far removed from Boston and the sweet virtues of Puritan divines. Farther south, in the Shenandoah Valley, was another borderland, this one a world away from Williamsburg and the gracious living of Tidewater Virginia. The land on this western frontier was rolling, the soil was fertile, the climate warmer than in Maine, but in 1720, the Shenandoah Valley was raw, remote, and largely uninhabited, even by Indians. Two frontiers, two extremes. One bordered Puritan New England in the north, the other Anglican eastern Virginia in the south. Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, the ultimate border people, gravitated to both places, and their presence along the margins of the British empire was hardly surprising. They were fiercely religious, stubbornly independent, and extremely mobile. New Englanders never knew what to make of these migrants from Northern Ireland (were they Scottish or Irish? Catholic or Protestant?), nor did colonists to the south. One contemporary dismissed the Scotch-Irish as “the very scum of mankind.” Another, watching a group of Scotch-Irish passengers disembark in Delaware following a transatlantic voyage, described them as “mostly poor beggarly idle people [who] will give trouble to the inhabitants.” Yet others saw them as criminals who “love to drink and to quarrel.”1 Stereotypes, mostly. What the Scotch-Irish were was the largest white immigrant group in prerevolutionary America, with some 225,000 of them coming to the New World between 1718 and 1775. The vast majority of these Scotch-Irish were not drunkards but stout Presbyterians who valued edu- 76 The Protestant Sojourner cation and embraced a church that emphasized discipline and conformity. Their reputation as footloose frontiersmen was well deserved, though. The Scotch-Irish were among the most restless of the restless, a highly mobile people who sought prosperity in the British Atlantic world by venturing to remote, often hostile locales—places such as Ulster, Ireland; Boothbay, Maine; and Augusta County, Virginia.2 Their mobility presents an interesting challenge in the effort to understand Protestant migrations in all their complexity: What lay behind such restlessness ? After all, unlike their Puritan counterparts, Presbyterians from Ulster did not move to the next valley in an effort to find their own version of a Canaan. Nor were they troubled seekers like Devereux Jarratt, wandering about in a search of religious fulfillment and a chance to be reborn. Ironically, however, they shared some common ground with their English cousins, with whom the Scotch-Irish often feuded. Both groups belonged to state churches whose identity was intimately tied to conceptions of nationality and politics. To be a Scot from the Scottish Lowlands was to be Presbyterian, while to be English was often to be Anglican. Yet Anglicanism’s impact on mobility differed greatly from Presbyterianism’s; as the previous chapter shows, the English church helped to anchor devout members to their parishes. Such a contrast to the Scottish experience raises the question of whether something within Presbyterianism propelled its members to move about. Not exactly. The story of Scotch-Irish migrations in eighteenth-century America did not involve land or kinship or even religion, although all of these elements were present and were important to varying degrees. Instead, the Scotch-Irish story involved the role of ethnic/religious identity in mobility. Certain immigrant groups developed an ethnic identity through their religion. Ethnicity reinforced religious identity at the same time that religion reinforced ethnic identity. Church services thus became, in the words of one historian, “a symbolic rite of affirmation to one’s ethnic association.” Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians were classic examples of this phenomenon, but plenty of others existed in early modern Europe: Dutch Calvinists, German Lutherans, and Spanish Catholics, among others.3 Ethnicity could be a potent force in the movements of religious pilgrims. It gave shape to underlying cultural trends and channeled powerful currents that coursed through history, nationalism, economics, and religion. Ethnicity entangled religion with cultural and economic developments and thus encouraged migration. The intertwining of these diverse currents helped determine when and why Scottish Presbyterians moved. The first great exodus of 77 Ethnicity and Mobility Lowland Scots occurred in the seventeenth century, when nearly one hundred thousand migrated to Ulster in Northern Ireland, a Catholic land hostile to Protestantism and the English in...


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