The Royal Colony of North Carolina

The Scots-Irish Settlers During the Royal Period (1729 to 1775)

Scots emigration to the colonies soared to 145,000 between 1707 and 1775. Generally poorer than the English, the Scots had greater incentives to emigrate and the union of 1707 (when England and Scotland agreed to form the United Kingdom) gave them legal access to all of the colonies.

The growth in Scots overseas shipping also provided more opportunities and lower costs for passage. After a few early emigrants prospered, their reports homeward attracted growing numbers in a chain migration. During a tour of northwestern Scotland, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson saw the locals perform a popular and symbolic new dance called “America,” in which a few original dancers gradually drew in the entire audience.

The Scottish diaspora flowed in three streams: Lowland Scots, Highland Scots, and Ulster Scots (most commonly referred to as Scots-Irish).

Nearly half of all so-called Scots emigrants came from Ulster, in Northern Ireland, which their parents and grandparents had colonized during the 1690s. Like the Highlanders, the Ulster Scots sought to escape from deteriorating conditions. During the 1710s–20s they clashed with the Irish Catholic and endured a depressed market for their linen, several poor harvests, and increasing rents. The Ulster Scots emigration to the colonies began in 1718 and accelerated during the 1720s and 1730s. The destitute sold themselves into indentured servitude, while the families of middling means liquidated their livestock to procure the cost of passage. Of course, most of the Ulster Scots remained at home, preferring the known hardships of Northern Ireland to the uncertain prospects of distant America.

The Ulster Scots emigrated in groups, generally organized by their Presbyterian ministers, who negotiated with shippers to arrange passage. Once in the colonies, the Ulster Scots gravitated to the frontier, where land was cheaper, enabling large groups to settle together. In the colonies, they became known as “the Scots-Irish.” At first, the Ulster Scots emigrated to Boston, but some violent episodes of New English intolerance persuaded most, after 1720, to head for Philadelphia, a more welcoming seaport in a more tolerant colony. More sparsely settled than New England, Pennsylvania needed more settlers to develop and defend the hinterland.

Beginning in the 1740s, as the seeds of the upcoming French and Indian War (1756-1763) were being sowed with more and more Indian raids along the Pennsylvania frontier, many Scots-Irish took to the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania, through the Shenandoah valley, down to North Carolina and South Carolina. The Scots-Irish immigrated to the Carolinas in droves, from the very-late 1730s to the 1760s, quickly filling up the Midlands and Backcountry of South Carolina, and the Piedmont up to the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina.

The Scots-Irish were Protestant, as compared to the much smaller number of Irish in Carolina, who were Catholic. In the seventeenth century a large amount of the Irish immigrants were situated in the West Indies, but in the eighteenth century there were a few Irish settlements in North America. Pennsylvania was in 1790 the colony that had most persons of Irish nationality, but it was mainly in the nineteenth century that the mass immigration of Irish Catholics to North America started.

Other than the Ulster Irish of Northern Ireland, there is scant historical records of "regular Irish" coming to the Carolinas until well into the 1800s. Certainly, there were "more than just a handful" that did make their way out of Ireland, but there simply isn't much to include here. The Irish just did not have a very large contingent in either North Carolina or South Carolina because most of them were Catholic and the colony simply had no toleration for Catholics until after the American Revolution.

The great influx of the Scots-Irish into North Carolina began in the 1730s, but mostly took off in the mid-1740s because of increased hostilities of the Native Americans along the Pennsylvania frontier - that eventualy led to the French and Indian War (1756-1763).

The first Scots-Irish came to the Cape Fear River region of North Carolina around 1736, when Henry McCulloch brought a shipload of them that settled along the Black River, in what is present-day Pender County. Some of these, along with some who had previously settled in Bladen County, soon made their way to what is present-day Anson County in the late 1730s and early 1740s.

This was a rarity - most of the following Scots-Irish came to North Carolina via the Great Wagon Road from the Pennsylvania western frontier, starting in the mid-1740s, and very few of these made their way to the seacoast. The Scots-Irish preferred the Piedmont area, well inland, with the rolling hills and rocky lands that they were more used to, both back in Northern Ireland and in western Pennsylvania.

The first great wave of Scots-Irish that drove their Conestoga wagons down the Great Wagon Road in the 1740s settled in the Piedmont area of what are the present-day counties of Davie, Rowan, Catawba, Lincoln, Gaston, Rowan, Union, and Mecklenburg. In the late-1740s, the Scots-Irish from Pennsylvania settled further west near the Appalachian Mountains in what is present-day Surry County.

Other groups of Scots-Irish, coming from more easterly parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia drove their wagons down the Fall Line Road from Fredericksburg, Virginia and settled in present-day Wilson, Wayne, Moore, Nash, and eastern Sampson counties.

In the 1750s, the immigration increased, and the Scots-Irish from Pennsylvania found their way down the Fall Line Road to the central part of North Carolina and settled in what are the present-day counties of Warren, Vance, Franklin, Wake, Chatham, Johnston, and Sampson. Those coming down the Great Wagon Road settled in what are the present-day counties of Iredell and Cabarrus around 1753. With the new Upper Road that led from Fredericksburg, Virginia to west of the Fall Line Road, but east of the Great Wagon Road, the Scots-Irish arrived in the present-day counties of Cleveland, Randolph, and Alamance counties around 1756.

In the late 1750s, the Scots-Irish came down the Great Wagon Road and settled further west near the base of the Appalachian Mountains in the present-day counties of Yadkin and Wilkes, while small groups went further south and settled in what are present-day Rutherford and Polk counties.

In the 1760s, Scots-Irish made their way to the present-day western counties of Watauga, Yancy, and Burke. Another group of Scots-Irish from New Jersey arrived in the Piedmont and settled what is present-day Davidson County in 1761.

At the start of the American Revolution, there were very few present-day counties in North Carolina - those that had been settled by any group - that had not been settled by the Scots-Irish. There were some, but not many.

By 1790 - only fifteen years after the Royal Period - the first United States census indicated that the State of North Carolina included roughly 27.6% Scots and 13.3% Irish - at the time the appellation "Scots-Irish" was apparently not heavily used, or those who were of the Ulster Scots (aka Scots-Irish) merely claimed to be Scots.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved