Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy


Emigration – the Ulster-Scots (Scots-Irish) What made them seek a better land?

Hollywood would have us believe that emigration from Ireland was a result of the Great Famine in 1849-50, and consisted solely of native Irish persons with lilting brogue and sultry looks. But emigration in numbers from Ireland began much earlier and was largely of people of Scottish origin.

For the Scottish Planter families in the 1630s, the turning point for some came with an increase in the opposition to Stuart religious policies. They had tried hard to fit their Scottish ecclesiastical system into the Irish system which held the Church of Ireland as the lawful church, and had some success.

Yet they became increasingly unsettled with the growth of a strong evangelical movement in Scotland and they had seen the persecution of the Puritans and their emigration in 1620 . The death of King James I in 1625 saw the accession of his son, Charles I , who imposed new taxation, threatened to take back church lands and dealt severely with the Covenanters.

Charles I was thus responsible for the ensuing Civil War and his own demise under the headsman’s axe in 1649. This was followed by the rule of Cromwell and the Commonwealth and, in 1690, war with France.

In Ireland Thomas Wentworth , Earl of Strafford, became Lord Deputy and new Bishops were appointed which led to a severe anti-Presbyterian measures. In 1634 contact was made with the Massachusetts settlers and the subsequent response encouraged them to go to new lands and enjoy the religous freedom they craved.

Unfortunately their initial attempt to sail to America was to end in failure when the purpose built ship Eaglewing was forced back by bad weather. Although there were no more immediate attempts to emigrate, the seed was sown for a later exodus.

There was almost constant turmoil in Ireland through the 17th and 18th centuries with assorted rebellions in 1640, 1650 (Cromwell) 1690 (Battle of the Boyne when William of Orange – Protestant, overcame James II – Catholic with French allies) and the 1798 and 1803 Rebellions.

There was plenty to flee from, and of course, the ministers of the church went with or followed after their congregation when the latter emigrated. In the American colonies there was for a long time resentment against Catholics but the Presbyterians and other non-conformists enjoyed freedom of religion and thrived there.

This head start by the non-conformist churches was an important factor in later emigration because it set up the family connections to which the new emigrant naturally went. There was for a while in the early 18th century relative stability with some good harvests but even so there were still high rents, uncertainty about tenure of land, the bitter pill of having to pay tithes to support a church they did not attend, and the the encouragement of those who had already emigrated with success.

Emigration was very heavy in the early 1770s but came to a halt in the summer of 1775 with the firing of Lexington and Concord and was virtually at a standstill for the next eight years restarting in August 1783. The war had some beneficial effects in Ireland as it meant there was greater demand for food and linen goods for the army. A modest prosperity meant that the would-be emigrant was also able to save something towards a later emigration.

For more information go to the link on the rhs

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